Transcript of our podcast from 08 April 2010
by Moritz Eggert
Mozart was a great lover of word games and riddles and loved to communicate them in his many letters. Some of them were actually quite naughty - there is for example a huge correspondence with his "Bäsle", a cousin that he was very much in love with, that is on one hand extremely funny but of a nature that I cannot translate for you, my dear Dice Tower listeners. Very often Mozart used code, a mixture of different languages or dialects that sometimes make understanding a sentence a mystery.
A big part of 18th century culture was a game called "Pfänderspiel" (or directly translated "pawn broking" game). These games were usually taking the form of giving a task or riddle to another player that he or she could either fulfill or fail at, after the latter there would be some kind of punishment. These games sometimes had elaborate rules and were most certainly the predecessor of today's party games like "Wits & Wagers" or "Taboo".
There is a famous jealousy episode in Mozart's life - his wife Constanze was partaking in a "Pfänderspiel" while Mozart was away, and as it happened another gentleman won a peek at her naked knee, which because of the particular clothing habits at the time meant he saw a little more than that... Mozart was angry about that event for years, but demanded a lot of understanding from his wife when he was involved in similar games when HE was away…
But it is clear that most of all the riddles themselves fascinated Mozart, and today he would certainly enjoy Sudoku or even Trivial Pursuit.
There is a sequence of word riddles by Mozart that actually were deemed so popular that they were published in a national newspaper. These riddles were of a similar nature as the riddles that Gollum gives to Bilbo in "The Hobbit", in them one has to recognize verbose circumscriptions of words like "Time", "Age" or "Laughter".
Imagine somebody like Elliott Carter, one of the most important contemporary composers of the US today, would write riddles for a magazine like Reader's Digest today and you can tell how much times have changed.
Mozart was also obsessed with mathematics, and many of his scores have sequences of numbers on them that cannot completely be explained. One particularly interesting example has various rows of 6 numbers combined with various multipliers. One newer theory today is that Mozart actually notated numbers for a lottery he wanted to partake in, and also calculated his winning odds and possible prizes.
Lottery was a new invention of the time, and had yet to become the national phenomenon that it is today. In an interesting twist many lotteries today very often are used to fund the arts, for example the National Lottery in England, which helps young composers with money, among many other things.
"Punctiren" was another of Mozart's favorite pastimes, but is more of a sage's advice than an actual game. In it one would be asked certain questions and then quickly make a succession of quick pen dashes on a piece of paper without thinking too much. The number of these strokes would then be counted and analyzed and would then be the subject of some kind of prophecy or answer to an important question. This practice was probably a variation of the Chinese I-Ching oracle that works similarly, and could have been imported by Marco Polo to Europe.
Another game of Mozart was "Kegeln", which was the European predecessor to modern bowling. Men and women together would bowl for whole nights for various prizes. Mozart was a busy man, though, and used the time when he was not bowling himself for composing on a sheet of paper. This is how one of his most famous pieces, the "Kegelstatt-Trio" is supposed to have come about, completely written during a game of bowling.
Another game that Mozart used to compose at the same time was Billiard - guests at his house often found him bent over the billiard table calculating a shot while also scribbling down music.
Finally one can say that Mozart probably lost a lot of money with the same game that Casanova did: "Pharao", which is today called "Faro", a game similar to "Black Jack" that at Mozart's time was all the rage. Munich was Mozart's favorite place in Europe at the time - it seems to have been a gambling den much like Las Vegas is today. Casanova and Mozart only nearly missed each other there, but they could have played in the same casino in short succession.
Gambling was mostly illegal at the time, and one had to pay incredible fines when caught gambling for money, but in Munich the law seems to have been laxer. For all we know Mozart could have lost a lot of money in gambling, but still was not a poor man when he died.
I could now talk about Mozart's love for games and playfulness in his music, but that probably would go too far for this segment. Nevertheless we can be sure that Mozart would visit Boardgamegeek every day if he lived today, and that he would very much enjoy the games we play today.
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