Mozart Manuscript Scores and Documents: Mankind's Treasure December 23 2022

The biography and works of Mozart can only be traced down using several historical documents, mainly The Wolfgang family letters, contemporary documents, and Mozart’s autographs.



Mozart in an unfinished portrait from 1789

The Wolfgang family letters can be divided into several collections depending on when they are dated. However, it is important to note that the surviving correspondence is incomplete. In fact, numerous found letters and documents make reference to correspondence that can’t be found anywhere. Many letters also no longer survive in the originals but only in copies.

[IMAGE] Mozart in an unfinished portrait from 1789 by Joseph Lange, his brother-in-law

There are only very few surviving letters by Leopold Mozart from 1756 or earlier. Most of these letters are addressed to his Augsburg friend and publisher Johann Jakob Lotter and concern the publication of one of Mozart’s works : Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (1756). The chief part of the correspondence, however, begins with the family tour to Vienna in 1762 and continues with accounts of the grand tour between 1763 and 1766 and the return to Vienna in 1767/1768.

Fewer letters are available from 1773 to 1777. During this period, the Mozart family was mainly located in Salzburg. The only exceptions are letters deriving from their short journeys to Vienna in 1773 and Munich in 1774/ 1775. There are also a few letters from Italy between 1770 and 1773 when only Mozart and his father were on tour. These letters are mainly written by Mozart and addressed to his wife.

Finally, the remainder of the Mozart family letters were written after Mozart’s death by his widow, Constanze, and his sister, Maria Anna. These posthumous letters can be divided into two collections; the first collection of these letters was addressed to the Offenbach publisher Johann Anton André and concern the sale of Mozart manuscript in 1799. The second collection was addressed to Breitkopf and Hartel’s and concern their attempts to collect Mozart’s works for a projected complete edition.

Wolfgang Mozart autograph letter to his father

Wolfgang Mozart autograph letter to his father Leopold - Front and verso

These Wolfgang family letters are considered to be the most extensive and richly detailed correspondence of any composer of the eighteenth century or earlier. They represent a fundamental source of information concerning Mozart’s daily life at the time and his personality. As a matter of fact, numerous details of Mozart’s life can be pieced together only from the letters. This includes details of his early tours and his time in Vienna, his unrequited love for Aloysia Weber, the death of his mother in Paris in July 1778, the troubled relationship he had shared with his father, and its eventual breakdown.

These letters also give information concerning Mozart’s compositional activities, including otherwise unknown works. Even beyond illuminating the genesis, authenticity, and chronology of his compositions, however, the letters also give evidence concerning its performance, including questions of ornamentation, scoring, tempo, and the size of the orchestras he played with, in Salzburg and elsewhere.

Wolfgang Mozart autograph letter to his sister Nannerl Wolfgang Mozart autograph letter to his sister Nannerl, page 2 and 3



In addition to the family letters, there are also many contemporary documents providing direct information concerning Mozart’s biography and his works. These documents can be divided into three main types : documents that directly derive from Mozart, private or semi private documents, and public documents.

Many details regarding Mozart and his works were also derived from private or semi private documents which were not intended for general dissemination. These documents include the correspondence of other individuals, diaries, courts records, and catalogs compiled by various institutions.

Mozart - Autograph manuscript 2 Menuets for Orchestra K164 Salzburg 1772

Mozart - Autograph manuscript 2 Menuets for Orchestra K164 Salzburg 1772

Unlike the private or semi private documents, the public documents were intended for broad circulation. These documents mainly consist of widely circulated printed sources, primarily contemporary newspapers and periodicals. They include published reports of Mozart’s trips and public appearances, reviews of his published and performed works, and advertisements by music dealers.

The interpretation of all the previously mentioned contemporary documents couldn’t have been done in isolation due to their vagueness of the information they provide. The evaluation of these documents often depended not only on other documents but also on the evidence of the family letters and Mozart Manuscript.



The number of documents that derive directly from Mozart is small but significant. They include entries in various private albums, such as those Of his friends. However, the most important document to derive directly from Mozart is thought to be Verzeichnüss aller meiner Werke, a catalog that Mozart kept during the golden age of his career - from 1784 to just before his death in 1791.

The catalog contained a chronological list of all of Mozart’s compositions. Its first entry, dated February 9, 1784, is for the Concerto K. 449, and the last is dated November 15, 1791, for the Masonic cantata Laut verkunde unsre Freude, K. 623.

The catalog was entirely written in Mozart’s hand. It consists of the date, title, or description of all of Mozart’s works during that period. It also included the names of the singers in the case of the operas and other vocal works. The importance of this catalog mainly lies in the evidence it provides concerning the authenticity of Mozart’s works

Mozart’s widow, Constanze, was fully aware of this document’s significance. she guarded the document zealously after Mozart’s death along with other documents and refused to relinquish or share it. However, at the turn of the 19th century, she eventually agreed to send it to the composer and musical publisher Johann André located in Offenbach am Main. Towards the end of his life, André attempted to sell his Mozart manuscript but was unsuccessful.

The documents were inherited by André‘s six sons and one son-in-law. The catalog was eventually sold in an auction to the Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist, biographer, and autograph manuscript collector Stefan Zweig In 1935. After Zweig's death, in 1956, the Zweig heirs deposited the catalog to the British Museum on loan, while continuing to add to Zweig's collection.

In 1986, the Zweig family ended up donating Zweig’s entire collection of literary, historical, and musical autograph collections to the British Library, including Mozart’s catalog. The document remains preserved in the Library to this day.

In 2006, this historic document became the first of the Library’s Mozart sources to be digitized. It was made available via the Turning the Pages website on the virtuoso composer’s 250th anniversary. It is also available as an e book and via the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts portal. 

Mozart_s record of his compositions between 1784 and 1791

Mozart's record of his compositions between 1784 and 1791 



Although Mozart manuscript copies or printed editions contain many of the composer’s works, these usually represent second or later generation sources. As a result, autographs are considered to be the primary and most reliable musical documents transmitting Mozart’s works.

After he died in 1791, Mozart’s autograph collection was passed to his widow, Constanze. She carefully preserved them until in 1799 when she sold them to the music publisher Johann Anton André along with Mozart’s Catalogue. The collection contained just under just under 300 autographs, as well as some copies.

André’s original intention was to publish new editions of Mozart’s works based on the composer’s autographs. However, he soon became more interested in studying the documents. He was particularly concerned to distinguish Mozart’s hand from others he found in the scores and to order the un-dated autographs chronologically according to the characteristics of the handwriting.

In 1811, André sold twenty-two of Mozart’s autographs, including the original manuscripts of the last ten quartets and other chamber and keyboard works to Johann Andreas Stumpff in London. These autographs eventually became part of the British Museum, and then the British Library.

Besides these few sold autographs, most of the collection remained in André’s possession until he died in 1843. He attempted to offer the collection to the courts in Vienna, Berlin, and London in 1842 but his offer was turned down.

Consequently, after his death, the collection was split among his heirs. Most of the autographs eventually found their way into the former Royal Library in Berlin. However, attacks on Berlin during World War II made it necessary to move them, along with other treasures belonging to the Berlin libraries, to secure hiding places. After the war, Mozart’s autographs were largely split between East and West Germany and Poland. They were presumed lost for many years. However, they were finally announced as recovered.

A lot of these autographs were eventually deposited at the Biblioteka Jagiellonska in Krakow. Other Mozart autographs are now owned by numerous major and minor libraries while some of them are held by private collectors. However, the British Library now holds most of the collection of autographs along with Mozart manuscript and other documents.

Score of 2 minuets, 1772

Score of 2 minuets (1772), sold for almost US$400,000 in 2019 



A significant proportion of Mozart’s autographs are either signed or dated, or both. While some of the dates have been tampered with, or do not add up with other evidence, most of these dates can be accepted as more or less accurate.

The date of remaining undated autographs, however, has been determined based on two techniques : the study of the chronological development of Mozart’s handwriting and the analysis of the types of paper on which these autographs had been written.


Mozart’s handwriting during the 1760s and after 1781 was fairly stable. However, we can identify some major differences in the period between 1760 and 1781. According to Wolfgang Plath's investigations, We can use Mozart’s handwriting to divide the autographs into three main categories, with each category belonging to a different period. These periods extend from 1770 to 1771 or 1772, 1772 to 1774, and 1775 to 1780.

The second technique which is the analysis of the types of paper makes it generally possible to determine where these autographs were written. We can also identify the date on which they were written by investigating whether the same type of paper had been used in other dated autographs.



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