“This must be Clavierland!” These were Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s words in a letter to his father dated 2 June 1781. Only six days later, he resigned from his position as organist for the Archbishop of Salzburg. This resignation had been preceded by a rushed departure from Salzburg after an infamous “kick in the butt” which Count Arco – the Archbishop’s chamberlain – had applied to the excessively free-spirited Mozart. Now, as Mozart saw it, “Clavierland” awaited: Vienna.
As in all big cities, the music scene in Vienna proved to be very versatile. On the one hand, there was the musical mainstream that served the up-to-date fashion. On the other hand, Vienna was full of amateur musicologists who devotedly indulged in exotic interests, which especially impressed and inspired Mozart. Salzburg, where everything followed the taste of Archbishop Colloredo, felt like the backwoods to the libertine Mozart.
Vienna was also full of wealthy patrons of music. In 1782, Mozart became well acquainted with one of them, Gottfried van Swieten, a diplomat who at that time was prefect of the library of the royal court in Vienna. In that position, he had access to numerous musical works of the Baroque era. In 1782 – a time in which all unnecessary grandiloquence and gaudiness in music was being rejected – this kind of music was regarded as highly old-fashioned. Nevertheless, van Swieten brought together a group of steadfast lovers of Baroque music. At their weekly Sunday ‘music meetings’ they listened to what was known as stile antico: music composed by Georg Friedrich Handel, Johann Sebastian Bach and other old masters of music – at the time an extremely exotic repertoire.