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Mozart's Wife 23
By Juliet Waldron
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Rated "PG" by the Author.
The consequences of all that sex--
The Emperor Joseph always arose at four in the morning, and every fashionable person in Vienna slavishly followed his example. I thought a good wife should accompany her husband and so got up when Mozart did. Besides wanting to be with him, I knew that I’d better watch Liserel or she’d fill the place with smoke or ruin the coffee.
Mozart liked this early rising, because he could work undisturbed before his round of visits and lessons began. After his man came to help him do his hair and shave, he sat in his dressing gown for a couple of hours and composed.
One morning Wolfi was deep in his music, humming softly and lost to the world. He slouched across the top of the klavier making it double as a desk. The friseur was late and his thick golden hair bloomed in sleepy abandon.
All of a sudden, a wave of nausea rose. Jumping up, I dashed to the nightstand. The basin was still on top, filled with a residue of soapy wash water, but it was too late for niceties. I vomited into it, a bitter, yellow bile.
“Stanzi! What’s wrong?”
What a question! Didn’t the man pay attention to anything outside of his own head?
Solicitously, he offered the damp wash rag that still lay on top of the nightstand. I wiped my mouth, then staggered back to bed. Wolfi came clucking behind me, all concern and bewilderment.
“Do you have a fever?”
Rolling onto my back I stared up at him miserably.
“Stupid.” I said. “I’m pregnant.”
Mozart sank into the featherbed beside me. “Whew!”
There was absolute silence while he considered this astonishing revelation.
“I guess it was bound to happen.” There was a soft chuckle as he reached to soothe my forehead.
Mozart had been making plans for us to visit his family in Salzburg, but right away he wrote and canceled. It was not a good time to be out of town anyway, because the aristocrats were starting their winter party season.
I was heartily relieved; relieved that he wasn’t upset by my pregnancy and relieved that I would be spared the trip to Salzburg. I couldn’t make up my mind who I was more terrified of, his talented sister or his disapproving father.
Life went on. All too early every morning Mozart set off to the Countesses Rumbeck’s, Zichy’s, or Thun’s, or to the wealthy Von Ployer’s or Von Trattner’s. After he understood about the baby, he didn’t expect me to get up, too. I knew that he missed my company at breakfast, but he was willing to forgo that when he realized how miserable I was.
“Rest, darling. Make your pretty belly grow fat.”
It was all too easy to bury my head and go back to sleep, in spite of the friseur gossiping in the next room as he worked on Wolfi’s hair.
Our news got around and everyone teased us. It made me blush, but no matter where we were Mozart would just beam and cover me with kisses. I think he would have done it in front of the Emperor.
Around this time, Mozart made friends with Baron Wetzlar, a wealthy man who adored musicians. The Baron offered us an apartment in one of his buildings and we were delighted to accept.
Soon after Christmas we moved. Wolfgang, of course, was away at work. My nausea was almost blinding, but I supervised the men who moved our belongings. I was afraid the movers would nick the fortepiano or the beautiful new sideboard, or worse, run off with our clutch of golden trinkets.
Gaukerel was frightfully upset by these strange men who were carrying all our things away. Finally, she gave one of them a nasty bite. I had to pay him extra to keep him on the job.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted and shaking. Still, I had finished the move. And all by myself, too. Our handsome new fortepiano had made it up the stairs with only one scrape, and I knew how to fix that with walnut skins. My precious china was uncracked and all the watches and snuffboxes seemed to be accounted for.
By the end of January I was feeling much better. When Wolfi returned home late, he would invade the bedroom, silver candelabrum in hand. Kissing me awake, he’d throw back the blankets and pull up my nightgown. When I was done squealing about the cold, he would caress my rounding belly with wonder. The change fascinated him.
At first there was just a thickening way down low. Then, a lump popped out just above the bone, the proverbial bun in the oven. Unlike my prima donna sister, I was looking forward to the real swelling, when the whole world would see that I carried my man’s child.
The next three months were the best time of all. My stomach was fat, but not unwieldy. My skin glowed and I felt wonderful. There was an unceasing round of parties, and at Carnival time, we gave a dance.
Both musikers and nobility attended, all in Carnival masquerade. Among them were the Lange’s, the surgeon, Gilowsky, the Baroness Waldstadten, Count Palffy, and Baron Wetzlar. Filled with the geniality of the season, everyone rubbed shoulders equitably.
There were plenty of musicians too, Stadler with his clarinet, the horn player, Leutgeb, and most of the singers who had performed in Wolfgang's "The Abduction from the Seraglio."
All night long people came and went. None of us could believe it when the cold winter sun rose inside a pink shroud and gilded the frosty windows. Twelve whole hours partied away!
About a month later we lost our nice home to Wetzlar’s mistress. She had been a guest at our Carnival ball and had liked the place so much that she asked him for it. The Baron never did charge us a kreutzer of rent, and he did put us into another of his apartments. He even paid to move us. Still, the new apartment was dingy and small. I cried buckets and Mozart fretted, but there was nothing to be done.
Mozart took to hiring carriages so we could drive out to the Prater or the Augarten to see spring blowing in. I was doubly grateful for these outings. As the weather warmed the whole apartment had begun to smell. Someone had put out poisoned bait, and rats by the score had died in our walls. I spent days holding a nosegay to my face, praying that a contagion wouldn’t fasten on me and my precious load.
Dutifully, I began to make baby clothes and hem diapers, but in that dreadful place it was hard to find the heart.
We had to find a new maid, too. Wolfgang had finally been forced to admit that Liserel was not working out. The last straw was the appearance of a boyfriend.
While we were out taking the air, this fellow came in and brought wine. Liserel was only used to drinking beer, and wine made her terribly drunk.
The first time we discovered them together, we opened the front door and heard boots clumping speedily away down the backstairs. Mozart thought someone was making off with his gold snuffboxes and rushed after the sound. On his way through the parlor he discovered Liserel, her great gawky length flopped across the sofa.
She was so drunk she couldn’t stand, and she looked rather rosy and tousled. I certainly had my suspicions that more than drinking had been going on.
“What if she gets pregnant, Wolfi?”
It was funny to find myself playing the part of the respectable matron.
“What will everyone in Salzburg say?” I persisted, maintaining what I hoped would pass for an expression of prim disapproval.
Wolfi pulled on his long nose, and I congratulated myself upon hitting what I knew was a sensitive spot.
“You’re right, Stanzi. I’ll talk to her as soon as she sobers up.”
Good as his word, Mozart delivered a lecture that would have done his father proud. He threatened to send Liserel home if she didn’t behave.
She wept and promised, promised, promised to be good, but it wasn’t three weeks before we found her again, this time passed out in her bedroom and sick all over herself and her sheets.
In spite of the mess, I rejoiced.
At last I could get rid of Liserel!
Directly I made Wolfi send her home.
Toward the end of April we moved again. This time to a clean, bright apartment with a kitchen, a servant’s room, a parlor, and a bedroom. This move I also supervised alone, not sick this time, but big as a house.
In spite of my size, I felt tolerably well and managed to maintain good spirits. It was so wonderful to be getting out of that hole on the Kohlmarket. I hired a new maid too.
All the time my belly was growing, the navel turning inside out. If, while in bed, I reclined on my back, the baby squirmed and writhed and made a great show of what were, I supposed, feet and elbows.
Wolfi was fascinated. He loved to lie next to me and watch my belly ripple and change shape. My desire for sex waned and my husband sweetly obliged, but not without comic pantomimes of suffering. I think he was in awe of the obstacle my belly presented.
I made friends with Mama again. Our new apartment on the Judenplatz was only a few squares from hers, so it was easy to visit back and forth. Now that I was so visibly full of her grandchild, she was willing to forget last winter’s quarrels. When she learned that I hadn’t found a midwife yet, she made a great to-do and set straight to work to find me a good one.
The initial examination was made at Mama’s house, and I was grateful for her company. No one had ever touched me in those places but Wolfgang, and it was queer and unpleasant to have this strange woman so matter-of-factly handle me.
When I’d settled my skirts decently again, the midwife made the chilling announcement that there were only five or six weeks left before the baby came.
The cries of laboring women weren’t unfamiliar to me. Neither were tales of death in childbirth. Suddenly, I was scared.
A few weeks after Aloysia gave birth to her second child, Mozart and I paid her a visit. Besides wanting to give my sister the sacques that I had sewn for her baby, I wanted to hear what she might say about the ordeal I faced shortly.
Aloysia greeted us in bed. She was still lying in, but had on a gorgeous lacy gown that must have cost a fortune. In spite of all her finery, she looked pale and feverish.
Her new son amazed us. So tiny, yet possessed of a full compliment of adorable fingers and toes. He wasn’t happy about being disturbed and made angry mewling noises while his nurse displayed him.
After Lange and Mozart withdrew, my sister’s description of childbirth was succinct and unpleasant. It involved a comparison—like passing a melon—which I found quite alarming. Typically, the prima donna’s main concern was whether she had injured her voice. She said she had bitten on a rag, but in the end had been unable to keep from screaming.
That frightened me more than ever. I tried to tell myself that Aloysia was so high strung that everything was worse for her, but it didn’t help much.
Finally, I broached the subject with Mama. She patted my hand and told me not to fret. Then, in the very next breath, she said that labor was very painful.
“Still,” she went on, “It’s amazing how quickly you forget when you hold your own dear little baby.”
Just as I was beginning to take comfort from that, she added, “In the middle of your birth, Konstanze, I remember asking myself how I ever could have forgotten such agony?”
And Mozart! He was worse than anyone.
As my time approached, he insisted that we go to Mass as many as three times a week. Instead of behaving in his usual fashion, craning his neck around to see who else was there or criticizing the music or falling asleep, he prayed intently.
On our way back from Evensong one night, I asked him to explain his new interest in religion. After some dodging, he finally confessed that one of Papa Leopold’s letters had contained the news that a young noblewoman, a family friend, had recently died in childbirth. Not three years ago Wolfi had composed serenades for her wedding party.
The letter had scared him and it scared me, too. I tried not to brood, but sometimes I would wake up with one of those attacks of indigestion that afflict the end of pregnancy. Unable to go back to sleep, I’d start worrying and be awake most of the night.
Mozart had a friend from Salzburg, Doctor Barasini, who was not only Head Physician at the General Hospital but a regular player at our quartet parties. As my time grew closer, Mozart began to bombard the poor man with a thousand questions about childbirth.
The doctor joked that never in his life, not here and not in Salzburg, had he ever seen Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart show interest in anything besides music.
Physicians generally left the business of birth to midwives, but Barasini did explain the method for calculating a woman’s term.
Then, of course, Mozart couldn’t rest until he had figured it out. He pestered until I supplied him with the pertinent date. The midwife had said the fifth or sixth of June, but, by calculation, my husband reckoned around the sixteenth.
I hoped that the midwife was right. At this point, I simply longed to have it over, but the days dragged on and on. As the midwife’s date came and went, I began to despair of ever being relieved of my burden.
Wolfi kept dragging me off to the Prater for walks, convinced by Barasini that it was good for pregnant women to exercise.
Struggling to keep up with the nervous trot of my husband, I felt like a fat lap dog, waddling and out of breath.
Speaking of dogs, Gaukerel and I were both expecting. It was one of the wretched Liserel’s crimes. The careless monkey had dropped the dog’s leash while walking her. At least, we knew who the father was, a handsome poodle who lived down the street.
I watched Gaukerel whelp her first litter behind the wood box only a few days before my own delivery. She groaned and panted for an hour, staring up at me the whole time with big reproachful eyes.
I patted her silky head, assuring her that this was all stupid Liserel’s fault, not mine. Finally, big ripples compressed her sides and one after another, two curly puppies emerged.
As each one came, Gaukerel gave a yelp. Afterwards, she licked them and without any more fuss began the business of motherhood. I remember fervently hoping that it would be that easy for me.
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|Reviewed by Felix Perry
|You have such a great grasp of this era and not only the surroundings but the thoughts and ideas people had of so many things back then. I also loved the way you captured her pregnancy and the way a couple do tend to deal with the adjustments that come with it.