About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Leopold Mozart: Tiger Dad?

I haven't read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, but I have read about it. And, it struck me as I was reading Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon, that Leopold Mozart was something of a tiger parent himself.

From what I gather, the thought behind tiger parenting is to demand the highest level of achievement from one's children, even when that means acting in ways that some would call unnecessarily harsh. For example, Ms. Chua told her daughter that the homemade birthday card the girl made for her wasn't good enough. (In her defense, she later explained it was a folded piece of paper with a smiley face drawn on it that had taken her daughter almost no time or thought to do.) The tiger mom also drills her children in areas like math both so they will get better and so they will feel more confident and like the subject.

The only acceptable musical instruments for the children of a tiger parent are violin or piano, or both, and hours of daily practice are required. Both of Ms. Chua's children demonstrated a high level of achievement in music, one performing at Carnegie Hall, though the other eventually rebelled and quit, taking up tennis instead.

Obviously, a tiger parent exerts a great deal of control over his or her children. The ultimate goal of the tiger mom is the success of her children, which she can take pride in. This mother seems to realize that in the end, her children will have their own lives, which she has worked hard to prepare them for.

Leopold Mozart was a working professional musician, with a home filled with music through friends and students. It was an ideal environment for the talents of his children to surface and be nurtured. The family letters and others' accounts show that Leopold loved his children dearly, especially Wolfgang, but that he was quite an autocratic parent as well. He did require hours of practice from both children. Wolfgang played both piano and violin extremely well, and Nannerl was an excellent pianist as well. (Most likely Nannerl did not play the violin because of the standard for the idealized female countenance, which the violin would have pulled askew.) He pushed them to work hard, which probably resulted in the several serious illness Wolfgang and Nannerl had in childhood. At one point on tour Nannerl received last rites. Leopold also took total charge of his children's education. Neither child went to school or had tutors. He appears to have done an excellent job. Wolfgang and Nannerl were well read and spoke several languages.

Unlike the tiger parent of the 21st century, Leopold could not let go of his children as they grew up. In Mozart: A Life, Solomon uses the family letters to show that Leopold tried to convince Wolfgang that he (Wolfgang) was incapable of managing on his own. Leopold wrote to him, arguing that Wolfgang had no experience arranging travel and would not be able to cope with these demands. He later tried to persuade Wolfgang that he should write pieces that people would like and not experiment with new ideas, and that he should move back to Salzburg and become a court violinist and organist. Nannerl didn't marry until she was in her 30s, very unusual for the time. Though there is nothing to indicate why she didn't marry earlier when she had suitors, some have speculated that Leopold either didn't find any of the potential husbands good enough, or he wanted to keep Nannerl at home to take care of him.

So was Leopold Mozart a tiger dad? He had some of the characteristics of one, but also had some unusual ideas about the goal of child rearing.