Lot 76
  • 76

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus.

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Autograph letter signed ("W: A: Mozart[paraph]"), to his fellow freemason Michael Puchberg ("Verehrungs=würdiger O[rdens]:. B[ruder]:. liebster, bester freund!")
  • paper and ink
the first in the famous series of begging letters, an urgent, highly frank and revealing appeal for financial assistance to his friend, chief creditor and fellow freemason, and referring to the subscription of the great string quintets in C (K.515), G minor (516) and C minor (K.406/516b), and to the composition of the Piano Trio in E major, K.542, commencing with a heartfelt statement of his conviction that he is indeed his friend and a man of honour, then stating his bold financial plan, asking him straight out for a loan of one or two thousand gulden for one or two years at a reasonable rate of interest, describing the rationale behind this substantial request, admitting that without a minimum of capital, and reliant on various odd sums, it is impossible to live and to regulate one's affairs, observing that with nothing one can do nothing, stating that if he will do him this kindness, he can, firstly, meet necessary expenses as and when they occur, whereas he now has to postpone payments and spend all he receives at one go, and, secondly, work with a more carefree state of mind and with a lighter heart, thus earning more, supposing that he will not have any doubts as to security since he knows his intentions and how matters stand with him, reassuring him about the subscription [of the string quintets K.515, 516 and 406/516b], the period for which he is extending by a few months, adding that he has hopes of finding more music lovers abroad than in Vienna, admitting that he (Mozart) has acted as a true brother [freemason] by opening his whole heart to him in this matter which is of the greatest importance to him, and noting that it is only with a true brother that one can unburden oneself fully, begging him, however, should he be unable immediately to spare such a sum, to lend him till the next day a few hundred gulden, since he has had to pay his landlord in the Landstrasse on the spot to avoid an unpleasant scene, something which has made life very awkward for him; in the closing part of the letter Mozart informs Puchberg that he will be sleeping tonight for the first time in his new quarters, Währingergasse, bei den Drei Sternen, No. 135, which are cheaper and more pleasant during summer to autumn as he has a garden too, states that he will remain there for the summer and winter, observes rather unconvincingly that he prefers the change as he does not have a great deal in town to do and will have more time for composing, not being exposed to so many visitors, and notes that any fiacre will take him in to town for ten kreuzer; he closes with a postscript in which he attempts to lighten the mood by asking when they are to have a little musical party at his house again, tempting him with the information that he has composed a new trio [the Piano Trio in E, K. 542]    

2 pages, 4to (23.3 x 18.3cm), modern integral blank, annotated at the foot of the second page by Puchberg ("d[en] 17 Juny 788. f200 gesendet."), the number "4" in an unidentified hand at the lower right-hand corner of the second page, no place or date [Vienna, on or before 17 June 1788], horizontal and vertical fold, some light creasing

...Wenn Sie die liebe und freundschaft für mich haben wollten, mich auf 1 oder  2 Jahre, mit 1 oder 2 tausend gulden gegen gebührenden Intereßen zu unterstützen, so würden sie mir auf acker und Pflug helfen! - Sie werden gewis selbst sicher und wahr finden, daß es übel, Ja ohnmöglich zu leben sey, wenn man von Einahme zu Einahme warten muß! - wenn man nicht einen gewissen, wenigstens den nöthigen vorath hat, so ist es nicht möglich in ordnung zu kommen. - mit nichts macht man nichts; - wenn Sie mir diese freundschaft thun, so kann ich 1:mo /: da ich versehen bin :/ die nöthigen ausgaben zur gehörigen zeit, folglich leichter entrichten, wo ich izt die bezahlungen verschieben, und dann eben zur unbequemsten zeit meine ganze Einahme oft auf einmal hinausgeben muß. 2:do kann ich mit sorgenlosern gemüth und freyern herzen arbeiten, folglich mehr verdienen. - wegen sicherheit glaube ich nicht daß sie einigen zweifel haben werden! - Sie wissen so ohngefähr wie ich stehe - und kennen meine Denkungsart! - wegen der Souscription därfen sie keine Sorge haben; ich setze nun die zeit um einige Monathe mehr hinaus; - ich habe hofnung auswärtig mehrere liebhaber zu finden als hier. -
Nun habe ich ihnen, in einer angelegenheit die mir sehr wichtig ist, mein herz ganz sehen lassen, folglich als ein ächter br:. gehandelt...wenn Sie vieleicht so bald nicht eine Solche Summa entbehren könnten, so bitte ich sie mir wenigstens bis Morgen ein paar hundert gulden zu lehnen, weil mein hausherr auf der Landstrasse so indiskret war, daß ich ihn gleich auf der stelle /: um ungelegenheit zu vermeiden :/ auszahlen musste, welches mich sehr in unordnung gebracht hat! - wir schlafen heute daß erstemal in unserem neuen quartier, alwo wir Sommer und winter bleiben; - ich finde es im grunde einerley wo nicht besser; ich habe ohnehin nicht viel in der stadt zu thun, und kann, da ich den vielen besuchen nicht ausgesezt bin, mit mehrerer Musse arbeiten; - und muß ich geschäfte halber in die stadt, welches ohnehin selten genug geschehen wird, so führt mich Jeder fiacre um 10 X: hinein, um das ist auch das logis wohlfeiler, und wegen frühJahr, Sommer, und Herbst, angenehmer - da ich auch einen garten habe. - das Logis ist in der Waringergasse, bey den 3 Sternen N:o 135....

P: S: Wenn werden wir denn wieder bey ihnen eine kleine Musique machen? - -
   Ich habe ein Neues Trio geschrieben! -


Formerly in the celebrated collection of Louis Koch, and earlier belonging to Alfred Ritter von Franck (1808-1884), one of the earliest Austrian autograph collectors. In 2006 this letter was displayed at the exhibition held in the Albertina, Vienna, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth.


Otto Jahn, Life of Mozart, translated by Pauline D. Townsend (London, 1882), pp.30-31; Georg Kinsky, Manuskripte. Briefe. Dokumente von Scarlatti bis Stravinsky. Katalog der Musikautographen-Sammlung Louis Koch (Stuttgart, 1953) 31, pp.35-36; W.A. Bauer and O. E. Deutsch (eds.), Mozart. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen, iv (Kassel etc., 1963), pp.65-67 (the transcription here diverges in a few small points from the autograph); Emily Anderson, The Letters of Mozart and his Family (London, 1989), pp.915-916; Ruth Halliwell, The Mozart Family (Oxford, 1998), pp.640-641; John Arthur, 'N.N.' Revisited: New Light on Mozart's Late Correspondence', Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven. Essays in Honour of Alan Tyson, ed. Sieghard Brandenburg (Oxford, 1998), pp.127-145.


Condition is described in the main body of the cataloguing, where appropriate.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The most important Mozart letter to be offered at auction in the last twenty years.

Letters by Mozart are of even greater rarity at auction than his autograph music manuscripts, and letters from his maturest creative period in Vienna, even rarer still. Only five letters are even known for sure to have been written by Mozart in 1788, for example, and of these only three survive in autograph.

This is a profoundly moving, profoundly beautiful document in which Mozart bares his soul to the only friend to whom he could turn in his financial distress, its contents being intensified for the modern reader by the knowledge that at the same time Mozart was writing some of the greatest music ever written, the Symphony in E flat, K.543, the first symphony in the great final trilogy, being entered in the composer's thematic catalogue of his works only days later on 26 June 1788.

Among the letters of Mozart, which rank as some of the liveliest, most perceptive and humane written by any musician, a special, not to say tragic, position is occupied by the score or so, mostly requesting financial assistance, which the composer addressed to the Viennese textile merchant, amateur musician and fellow freemason, Johann Michael Puchberg (1741-1822) (it is worth noting in passing how terrifyingly thin have been the threads of these letters' survival: fewer than half survive in autograph today, the rest known only from Nottebohm's publication of them in 1880, his transcriptions being based on copies in the archive of Breitkopf and Härtel, later destroyed in the war). The present letter is evidently the first of what became an increasingly pathetic and desperate series, in which Mozart expressed his desire for a substantial consolidating loan, one that would not only free him from current embarrassments but give him the peace of mind to compose, secure in the knowledge that future expenses would also be able to be met. Unfortunately, Puchberg, who derived his wealth from his position as a 'Niederlagsverwandter', i.e. as a member of the privileged society of merchants entitled to keep warehouses and to trade wholesale, never seems to have acceded to this eminently sensible plan, lending Mozart between the summers of 1788 and 1791 only more modest amounts (although apparently without interest), these ranging between 10 and 300 gulden (on the present letter he notes sending Mozart not the hoped-for 2000 gulden, but 200), sums which nevertheless totalled over 1400 gulden, or, in other words, 175% of Mozart's sinecure salary of 800 gulden as Imperial and Royal Chamber Composer. According to Nissen's biography of Mozart, Puchberg did not press his claim to 1000 gulden owed by Mozart at the time of the settlement of the estate, requesting repayment (duly made by Constanze) only at a later time.   

The actual causes of Mozart's pecuniary distress (like the causes of his death) have been much debated - these including the effects of the Turkish war (notably the absence of the aristocracy and the curtailment of concert life), his wife Constanze's medical bills, the high cost of heating and lighting, a suspected penchant for gambling (possibly in connection with another very important supporter of Mozart's, Baron Raimund Wetzlar von Plankenstern, whose name was obliterated by Georg Nikolaus Nissen in a number of late letters), as well as his generally observed taste for an upper middle-class lifestyle (witnessed to by his expensive wardrobe and the famous billiard table) - although it is safe to say that barring the emergence of fresh documentary evidence they will remain obscure. (At least in this no doubt accidental way Mozart has managed to preserve vis-à-vis posterity something of his "Ehre und Credit" [honour and credit], whose loss he so greatly feared in another letter to Puchberg, that of 27 June 1788.) The fact that Mozart was moving to newer, cheaper accommodation on the day he wrote the present letter (to Währingerstrasse in the Alsergrund suburb - in today's 18th district) is symptomatic of his financial problems: it is extraordinary to compare the apparently retiring Mozart of this letter who had now 'very little to do in town' with the gregarious composer who, little over a year earlier, had been living in the centre of Vienna in the richly ornamented apartment in the so-called Camesina house where he had entertained Haydn, given famous quartet parties and composed Le nozze di Figaro. It is indeed an ominous sign of the intractable nature of Mozart's financial troubles that he describes in the letter an unpleasant scene caused not by his former landlord of his city flat on the corner of Schultergasse, but by the one (Joseph Urban Weber) before that, the landlord of Mozart's flat in the Landstrasse suburb, where the composer had lived between April and December 1787. By the beginning of 1789 Mozart had moved again, back in to the city this time at Judenplatz 4, a dwelling which witnessed the least productive period in Mozart's creative life. In the autumn of 1790, around the same time that he finally succeeded in obtaining a larger loan - this time for 1000 gulden over a period of two years at 20% interest, from the Viennese merchant Heinrich Lackenbacher - he moved in to the fairly centrally situated flat in the Rauhensteingasse, in which he would die. But if the productivity of Mozart's last year might suggest the return of some degree of financial stability, a recently uncovered lawsuit against Mozart by Prince Karl Lichnowsky for the repayment of 1435 gulden 32 kreuzer in November 1791 indicates perhaps that a new and potentially catastrophic nadir in Mozart's fortunes, one involving public disgrace as well as bankruptcy, had been reached.

Although probably only the most visible representative of all those whom Mozart approached for financial assistance, Puchberg bisected the composer's biography in many and varied ways, his first wife being a member of the Saliet family known to Mozart from the time of his 1773 visit to Vienna. He is first mentioned in Mozart's correspondence in a letter to the composer's brother-in-law, dated 29 September 1787, where Mozart asks for his share of his father Leopold's estate to be sent to Puchberg at the house on the Hohe Markt of Count Walsegg-Stuppach, the later commissioner of the Requiem (possibly this work too owed its existence in some way to Puchberg's good offices). Puchberg was also well acquainted with Haydn: in December 1789 Mozart invited just the two of them - a signal honour - to attend a rehearsal of his opera Così fan tutte. Like Mozart, Puchberg was also an 'Ordens-Bruder' ['Brother of the Order'], i.e. a freemason, although active in a different lodge. Musical, and with musical offspring, Puchberg appears to have been the dedicatee of one of Mozart's most stupendous creations, the incomparable String Trio (in the appropriately masonic key of E flat), K.563, entered in Mozart's work catalogue under the date of 27 September 1788 (the reference in Mozart's letter of 16 April 1789 from Dresden in which the composer mentions a performance of the 'trio which I wrote for Herr von Puchberg' is possibly ambiguous: this might refer instead to the shimmeringly beautiful E-major piano trio K.542, which is very definitely the work referred to in the postscript of the present letter). Unjustly enough, in view of all his many kindnesses towards Mozart - for which his name will stand for ever on the side of the angels - Puchberg himself appears to have died, in 1822, in poverty.