Mozart gives a piano lesson

Dr Joseph Frank (1765-1810) was a distinguished physician and a keen amateur musician and composer. In 1790 he spent six weeks in Vienna and took twelve piano lessons from Mozart. I’ve always liked Mozart’s unorthodox attitude to teaching as related here. No nonsense about doing remedial exercises, etc. Instead: “I will play the piece to you; you will derive more benefit from hearing me than from playing it yourself…”

I found Mozart to be a little man with a broad head and fleshy hands; he received me rather coldly. ‘Now’, he said, ‘play me something!’ I played him a fantasia of his own composition. ‘Not bad’, he said to my great astonishment, ‘now I’ll play it for you’. What a wonder! The piano became a completely different instrument under his fingers. He had had it amplified by means of a second keyboard, which he used as a pedal. Mozart then made a few observations about the way I should play his fantasia. I was fortunate enough to understand him and to satisfy him. – ‘Do you play other pieces of my composition?’ -‘Yes, sir’, I replied, ‘your variations on the theme Unser dummer Pobel meint, and a sonata with violin and violoncello accompaniment’. – ‘Good, I will play the piece to you; you will derive more benefit from hearing me than from playing it yourself. – I soon became intimate with Mozart. As I always found him busy studying the scores of French operas, I was bold enough to ask him if he would not do better to devote his attention to Italian scores. ‘In respect of melody yes, but in respect of dramatic effectiveness, no. Moreover, the scores which you see here, apart from those of Gretry, are by Gluck, Piccini, Salieri, and there is nothing French about them but the words’. Once when we were speaking about instruments Mozart said that he loathed the flute and the harp. That is practically all I remember having heard from this great composer. The twelve lessons which I had from him are not enough for me to call myself his pupil.

Here is Walter Chodack playing the variations on Unser Dummer Pobel Meint attempted by Dr Frank. Chodack’s account of Mozart’s variations is certainly the best I’ve ever heard. The clip is programmed to start with Unser Dummer Pobel Meint, but you can listen to the complete set here.

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