The Mudd Library was recently given the unique opportunity to exhibit an original Mozart manuscript. Technically speaking, it was an autograph (meaning Mozart wrote it himself) leaf (one page, double-sided) from one of his compositions.

To share this artifact with Lawrence students, Music Librarian and Associate Professor Antoinette Powell, and Director of Technical Services and Assistant Professor Jill Thomas put together a presentation focusing on not just the manuscript, but also historical background to put it in context. Antoinette explains:

“By researching and examining the leaf, Jill and I were able to talk about Mozart’s compositional style, the types of materials he used, the history of western Europe at that time and daily life in Salzburg. It was an extraordinary opportunity for students and faculty to see something Mozart touched.”

All of the books Antoinette and Jill used to conduct the research about the score and its historical context came from the Mudd’s collection. Their extensive research revolved around:

  • the work itself
  • the circumstances of its creation. Mozart wrote it for a family friend who was graduating from college. It was Finalmusik, which is music to be performed outdoors to honor the professors at the end of the school year.
  • how the owner acquired it
  • Mozart’s life at this time (he was 17 when he wrote it in 1773)
  • European and American history in 1773. In what is now the U.S., people were wearing hats made out of raccoons and dumping tea into Boston Harbor, while in Salzburg people were wearing elegant clothes and listening to Mozart  in a refined outdoor setting.
  • the paper and ink with which the work was created, including the differences in paper over the past 400 years

The title of the work is Serenata (Serenade in D major, K. 185.) The leaf we had on loan is from the fourth movement, Menuetto – Trio.   It contained the final 10 measures of the menuetto on one side and the first 16 measures of the trio on the other.

Over 60 people viewed the item over four days in the Milwaukee-Downer room in the Mudd Library. The students and faculty  were primarily from music composition and theory classes in the Conservatory. The students saw the autograph and were able to compare it to a modern published edition, as well as other pieces that were published around the same time and after to analyze the differences in paper making. Antoinette and Jill also showed the students what can be learned about Mozart’s process of composition by examining the leaf, including:

  • he worked fast
  • the composition was completed in his head before he put the pen to paper
  • at this time he was traveling a lot and preferred using small-format paper

The thoughtful owner of the leaf is a Lawrence University alum from the class of 2010. Although it has been returned to its owner, we are grateful to have had this unique opportunity to share such a rare piece of history with students at Lawrence.