Mozart Timeline

Mozart and Carnival Time

Mozart loved carnival. And dance. During his lifetime he composed numerous pieces of dance music – on several occasions for the Imperial Austrian masked balls during the Viennese carnival. Carnival at the time of Mozart, however, was very different from today – and these ornate balls followed very strict rules of conduct.

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The occasion, location, time and date for dance events were subject to strong regulations in Mozart’s time. Dancing was explicitly forbidden at Christmas and during Lent, equally on holidays and Saturdays. On the other hand, during carnival - the time from Candlemas to Ash Wednesday - one dance event followed another. Mozart himself was a passionate dancer who even attended carnival balls as a child with his father. Later in life, he loved to join in the merry chaos of carnival with his wife Constanze. When he was appointed to the position of imperial court composer in 1787, one of his duties was to compose dances for the masked balls at court.

The most popular dances of this time were minuets, contra dance and the so-called German dance. The times for dancing each individual dance were meticulously arranged, as were the breaks during which revellers treated themselves to refreshments. Much time was dedicated to choosing the right costume. It was a matter of pride to find a disguise that made it impossible to identify its wearer. Records telling us about a carnival ball hosted in 1776 by Joachim Ferdinand von Schiedenhofen, an acquaintance of the Mozart family, have survived. In these, descriptions of the costumes worn by the Mozarts can be found: Leopold Mozart went as a concierge and Wolfgang as a barber’s apprentice.

Class determined the way of dancing

It goes without saying that it was inconceivable that the different social classes would mingle during carnival. During balls hosted by the imperial court and nobility, stilted minuets were danced, while the bourgeoisie preferred contra dances and the German dance. Contra dance was more of a game, with constantly changing positions and patterns. After 3am it was permitted to dance the German dance, during which the dancers were even allowed to touch one another. The German dance rose in popularity in the 18th century and many revellers indulged in the raunchy fun. Inevitably, Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg had enough, banning several dance events and passing sumptuary laws decreeing that women must wear dresses that were long enough to cover their calves – to prevent revealing too much when they twirled.

Mozart loved carnival time

Mozart loved carnival time

Carnival Mask Source: Wikimedia