Friday, July 07, 2006

Photo of Mozart's Wife Surfaces

Looking at this image of Costanze Weber Mozart, it's hard to picture the lively young girl, a singer raised in a "Bohemian" and musical family, who captured W.A. Mozart's heart and shared a good and loving (if in some ways profligate) marriage with him until the genius' untimely and tragic death.
The previously unknown print was discovered in archives in the southern German town of Altötting, local authorities said on Friday, and has now been authenticated as including Mrs Mozart, on the far left.

The long-lost photograph was taken in October 1840, when Constanze Weber was 78 years old, at Max Keller's home. The Altötting state archive said it was the only time in her life that she was photographed.

The picture is one of the earliest examples of photography in Bavaria, it said. Daguerrotype photography was first practised in the southern German state around that time.

The photo of Mozart's widow was not the original but a copy made in the second half of the 19th century, officials added.

What a wonderful--improbable?--find, after all this time.

I've been drawn back to this picture again and again since late this afternoon, fascinated by the austerity and Costanze's downcast eyes and the way in which her body is turned slightly away from everyone else's, though the man next her had been a friend for decades and she must have known his entire family very well indeed. (As noted in the article, she and her second husband, a Danish diplomat and Mozart biographer, had visited them often.) Such an enigmatic, and yet pedestrian, image of a woman so closely associated with one of the greatest talents of all time.

What could it have been like, to have been so intertwined with such a genius, such a character (and such a child, in many ways)? And then to have continued living a a remarkable life, despite grief and some challenging times earlier on?

No hint to be had in this stark picture. Oddly, that makes the image all the more fascinating.

I've enjoyed this year of Mozart, which of course marks the 250th anniversary of his birth. As I think wrote in a post on my hibernating blog earlier this year, I started hearing large doses of Mozart in utero, because my mother was pregnant with me during her senior year in college as a music major and my father was finishing up his masters (also music). Mozart's music, and especially the Oboe Concerto in C and the Clarinet Concerto in A, are intimately and inextricably tied up with all sorts of memories--maybe even pre-memories?--for me. No wonder, then, that I get such a kick out of discoveries such as this photograph of Costanze; I suppose one could say I was born to it.

Anyway, for anyone interested in Mozart, this user-friendly and accessible site is worth exploring.

Update: The photograph is challenged as a fake. Thanks to Cal for pointing this out in the comments section of my post.