About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Monday, September 2, 2013

Did people in the 18th century have more fun?

When we think about life in the past, we often think of what people didn't have -- indoor plumbing, central heat, air conditioning, shopping malls, airplanes -- the things that make our lives easier and more comfortable. People in the past, of course, didn't realize that they were missing these things. We might also have an impression of lives of hard labor, poor medical care, and a lack of education for many. This was no doubt true for many, though some might argue that it's still true today in many places in the world.

I have been thinking about this because of The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context, by Ruth Halliwell (see previous blog post here). Halliwell includes lots of information about the daily life of the Mozart family, as well as the economics and politics of their time and place. The Mozarts would fall into middle class of 18th century Salzburg. They were not rich, but neither were they poor. They were educated and valued education. Leopold had a reasonable position with a salary in Salzburg that enabled him to support his family and retire with income to live on. He was always hoping for a better position or a promotion, but on the other hand, his job allowed him to travel extensively with his family.

Aside from the extraordinary three-year tour of Europe when Wolfgang and Nannerl were children and the later trips to Italy with just Wolfgang and Leopold, what were their daily lives like? Halliwell has used Nannerl's diaries to find a window into those lives. Nannerl's diary is a barebones account of activities, with no description or commentary (though there are a few lighthearted or nonsensical additions from Wolfgang), so, Halliwell explains, most historians have not found much value in them. She has used the entries to reconstruct the events during the visit of Wolfgang and Constanze to Salzburg in 1783.

During the three months that Wolfgang and Constanze visited, Nannerl went to church nearly every morning, sometimes with Constanze. Mornings were often devoted to giving lessons, or sometimes to playing visits. After the mid-day meal, many Salzburgers had a three to four hour break from work!! The Mozarts spent this time entertaining, walking, or playing music. They had visitors almost every day. Nannerl mentioned over 170 people in her diary during the mid-1770s, an indication of how social the family was. Of course, during this three month period in 1783 there were no doubt many friends who wanted to see Wolfgang, but its' clear that even at other times the family had frequent visitors. A group of friends regularly came over to shoot air guns with darts (Bolzlschiessen). Members took turns designing a humorous target, which sometimes featured members of the group in caricatures, and prizes were awarded for the best shooting. Other days they would host musical afternoons with various musician friends. Other entertainments included card playing and skittles.

In the evenings there were sometimes concerts at the court, which Leopold would participate in as part of his job, or the theater. The Mozarts lived across the street from the theater and would go every day that the troop was in town. As an "old" man Leopold wrote that he could only manage to get to the theater once a week. ("Old" because that is how Leopold described himself, though he was 67 when he passed away.)

When I told my husband about all of the above, his remark was, "I think they had more fun than we're having."

In addition, carnival season offered many opportunities for entertainment. Carnival in 18th century Germany was the weeks before Lent began, so it included February, to give some perspective. (Carnival today in Rio is a modern version.) Because Lent is time for forgoing many pleasures, such as rich foods and some types of entertainment, carnival was the season for concerts and operas, masquerade balls and other parties. New operas and other works were commissioned for carnival. Mozart's operas Lucio Silla, Mitridate, re de Ponto, and Idomeneo were commissioned for carnival seasons. The Mozarts celebrated carnival not only in Salzburg, but in Munich, Vienna, and Italy. Nannerl attended a masked ball in Munich one year dressed as an Amazon. There is no record of the reaction to her costume,as far as I know.

Certainly many things were harder in the 18th century. Many children died in infancy; Leopold and Anna Maria had five infants die. Travel was difficult, slow, and dangerous. Opportunities were limited, especially for women. But, the amount of free time, at least for people in the Mozarts' circle, is astounding, as well as the amount of socializing they did and the number of friends and acquaintances. Maybe they did have more fun.

(Facts in this post come from The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context by Ruth Halliwell, Mozart's Women by Jane Glover, and Mozart; A Life by Maynard Solomon. If there are errors or omissions they are mine, not these authors'.)

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