AD
1785

Mozart and Haydn

Consider the following from the 1856 book, “The Cyclopaedia of Anecdotes of Literature and the Fine Arts:”

A good story is told of Mozart, the great composer, at the time he was a pupil with Haydn. It shows that a long nose is sometimes useful:

Haydn one day challenged his pupil to compose a piece of music which he could not play at sight. Mozart accepted the banter, and a supper and Champagne were to be the forfeit. Everything being arranged between the two composers, Mozart took his pen and in five minutes dashed off a piece of music, and, much to the surprise of Haydn, handed it to him, saying, “There is a piece of music which you cannot play, and I can. You are to give it the first trial.”

Haydn smiled contemptuously at the visionary presumption of his pupil, and placing the notes before him, struck the keys of the instrument. Surprised at its simplicity, he dashed away until he reached the middle of the piece, when, stopping all at once, he exclaimed, “How is this, Mozart? How is this? Here my hands are stretched to both ends of the piano, and yet there’s a middle key to be touched. Nobody can play such music – not even the composer himself.”

Mozart smiled at the half-excited indignation of the great master, and taking the seat he had quitted, struck the instrument with such an air of self-assurance that Haydn began to think himself duped. Running along through the simple passages, he came to that part which his teacher had pronounced impossible to be played. Mozart, as many are aware, was endowed with an extremely long nose – prodigious nose, which in modern dialect, “stuck out about a foot.” Reaching the difficult passage, he stretched both hands to the extreme end of the piano, and leaning forward, bobbed his nose against the middle key, which “nobody could play!” Haydn burst into an immoderate fit of laughter and, after acknowledging the “corn,” declared that nature had endowed Mozart with a capacity for music which he had never before discovered.

I like this story. I like that the author’s conclusion is “a long nose is sometimes useful.” I mean, really? That’s the life lesson here?

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