Read an 18th-Century Eyewitness Account of 8‑Year-Old Mozart’s Extraordinary Musical Skills

‘Tis the very nature of par­ent­hood to view one’s chil­dren as excep­tion­al.

Anoth­er aspect of the con­di­tion is spend­ing time in the com­pa­ny of oth­er par­ents, some of whom have yet to mas­ter the art of self-restraint. Their babies are the most phys­i­cal­ly adroit, their tod­dlers the most gen­er­ous, their ele­men­tary school­ers the most culi­nar­i­ly dar­ing.

Pride in one’s chil­dren’s gifts is under­stand­able. A straight­for­ward brag or two is per­mis­si­ble. But after that, I’d real­ly like some cor­rob­o­rat­ing evi­dence, such as the Hon­ourable Daines Bar­ring­ton’s account of meet­ing a “very remark­able young musi­cian” whose father had been drag­ging him around the con­ti­nent on a 3‑and-a-half year con­cert tour.

Clear­ly, Johannes Chrysos­to­mus Wolf­gan­gus Theophilus Mozart (1756–1791) was a very accom­plished kid, but the term “prodi­gy” must have stuck in Friend of the Roy­al Soci­ety Bar­ring­ton’s craw, even after he’d attend­ed some of the boy’s pub­lic per­for­mances. Deter­mined to let sci­ence be the judge, he devised a series of on-the-spot chal­lenges designed to eval­u­ate the boy’s musi­cian­ship beyond the rig­or­ous prac­tice sched­ule imposed by his dis­ci­pli­nar­i­an father. (We all saw Amadeus, right?)

Bar­ring­ton’s detailed descrip­tion of these exper­i­ments would make a gim­crack Sci­ence Fair project for any lit­tle Ein­stein smart enough to get through 18th-cen­tu­ry typog­ra­phy with­out throw­ing a tantrum because the s’s all look like f’s (see the 18th cen­tu­ry text below). It might take a recre­ation­al math­e­mu­si­cian on the order of Vi Hart to tru­ly appre­ci­ate the com­plex­i­ty of the tasks that Bar­ring­ton assigned his young sub­ject (some­thing to do with hav­ing him play five con­tra­dic­to­ry lines simul­ta­ne­ous­ly…).

I can inter­pret the data with regard to some of Bar­ring­ton’s oth­er find­ings. Mozart, he wrote, not only looked like a young child, he ditched his harp­si­chord to chase around a cat and ran about the room “with a stick between his legs by way of a horse.” So it’s not the clas­si­cal peri­od equiv­a­lent of a stage mom lying about her kid’s age to bet­ter his chances at an audi­tion. Actu­al­ly, it’s always a relief to hear about these super-kids act­ing like… well, my kids.

Read Bar­ring­ton’s let­ter to the Roy­al Soci­ety — Account of a Very Remark­able Young Musi­cian — in its entire­ty here or below. And by all means share it with the worst offend­ers on your PTA.

via Rebec­ca Onion and her Slate blog, The Vault

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New­ly Dis­cov­ered Piece by Mozart Per­formed on His Own Fortepi­ano

Great Vio­lin­ists Play­ing as Kids: Itzhak Perl­man, Anne-Sophie Mut­ter, & More

The Musi­cal Mind of Albert Ein­stein: Great Physi­cist, Ama­teur Vio­lin­ist and Devo­tee of Mozart

Ayun Hal­l­i­day pro­vid­ed an hon­est account of home­school­ing her 12-year-old son in The East Vil­lage Inky #51 Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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