1778 | Paris

Clear-Sighted Ambition

Mozart does not care to wrestle with dwarfs.

One thing is certain—I must compose a great opera or none. If I write only smaller ones, I shall get very little, for here everything is done at a fixed price, and if it should be so unfortunate as not to please the obtuse French, it is all up with it. I should get no more to write, have very little profit, and find my reputation damaged.

If, on the other hand, I write a great o­pera, the remuneration is better. I am working in my own peculiar sphere, in which I delight, and I have a greater chance of being appreciated, because in a great work there is more opportunity to gain approval. I assure you that if I receive a commission to write an opera, I have no fears on the subject. It is true that the devil himself invented their language, and I see the difficulties which all composers have found in it. But, in spite of this, I feel myself as able to surmount these difficulties as anyone else. Indeed, when I sometimes think in my own mind that I may look on my opera as a certainty, I feel quite a fiery impulse within me and tremble from head to foot through the eager desire to teach the French more fully how to know and value and fear the Germans. Why is a great opera never entrusted to a Frenchman? Why is it always given to a foreigner? To me the most insupportable part of it will be the singers. Well, I am ready. I wish to avoid all strife, but if I am challenged, I know how to defend myself. If it runs its course without a duel, I should prefer it, for I do not care to wrestle with dwarfs.

God grant that some change may soon come to pass! In the meantime, I shall certainly not be deficient in industry, trouble, and labor.

From a letter. Describing the composer’s work on The Marriage of Figaro, his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte wrote, “As fast as I wrote the words, Mozart set them to music. In six weeks everything was in order.” The Magic Flute premiered on September 30, 1791; less than three months later, Mozart was dead at the age of thirty-five.