Mozart the Airgunne...
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Mozart the Airgunner

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That Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his family were ardent airgunners is not well known outside of Mozart history circles. But in fact the Mozart family were enthusiastic competitive indoor shooters, perhaps with bellows rifles such as this:



The practice of the time was for upper class families to have quite formal shoots on weekends and holidays. Surprisingly perhaps, given that women were also allowed to join the fun, the target cards were often 'saucy'.

Maestro Mozart wasn't the only famous musical airgunner, it seems. In Air Gunner, in 1998, John Atkins wrote that Elvis Presley was also an airgunner, as shown in a photograph that appeared in the book Elvis: In the Twighlight of Memory.

The following article about Mozart and airguns by GüNTHER G. BAUER appeared in the Salzburg newspaper Saltzburger nachtrichten and was expertly translated into English by the author of The Encyclopedia of Spring Air Pistols, John Griffiths, (for which, many thanks):


From: Salzburger Nachrichten (Salzburg News)

W. A. Mozart: Der getreue Schütze
22. Jänner 2005


What is known only to lovers of Mozart: The Mozarts were a family of indoor airgun target shooting enthusiasts!

At the time when they lived in Salzburg, the Mozart family’s favourite entertainment on Sundays and religious holidays involved indoor target shooting competitions using dart-shooting airguns (Bölzelbüchsen). These events took place in the family apartments in the large Tanzmeisterhaus building (the former residence of the Salzburg “dance master”). Mozart’s father, Leopold, had his own little shooting society, which also included Mozart's mother and his sister Nannerl. Wolfgang Amadée himself was also for many years an airgun dart shooting enthusiast.

On July 4, 1781 Mozart wrote to his "dearest, best sister" Nannerl from Vienna: "Well I assume it will soon be time for the marksman’s dinner? I beg to drink solemnly to the health of a loyal marksman, and when it is my turn to provide the target let me know and I will get one painted." Mozart was then 25 years old and had already been a member of his father Leopold’s small but fine shooting group for seven years. He had known about dart shooting since 1763, as a surviving letter from London has confirmed.

The successful young opera composer, who had returned from Italy in the late autumn of 1773, was shooting regularly at a time when the Mozart family had moved from their inadequately small apartment in his birthplace in the Getreidegasse into a the larger, classier Tanzmeisterhaus in Hannibal Square, (now Makart Square). In the bright hall of the Tanzmeisterhaus not only was the space adequate for musical entertainment, but the large area was also ideal for dart target shooting.

The use of air guns or "Bölzelbüchsen": What form did dart- or "Bölzel”- shooting take?

Archbishop Colloredo had strictly forbidden any form of entertainment on Sundays and religious holidays before 4.00 pm in private homes, guest and coffee houses, and this included all games and even music!. However, the Archbishop had to allow target shooting at any time, and so these clever citizens of Salzburg seized the opportunity to enjoy themselves after the Sunday roast with highly entertaining dart shooting before four o’clock arrived, by which time they could take to the card tables!

Shooting involved “Windbüchsen", also called "Bölzelbüchsen" or Bolzenbüchsen, which today we would simply call dart shooting airguns. Square wooden or paper targets, 18 x 18 cm in size were used, at a distance of 8-10 meters. The small dart or "Bölzel" had a steel tip and pig bristles as flights. The 1st prize, known as "The Best", was usually one guilder (quite a significant sum at that time), with other prizes of lower value. Turns were taken in being the “Best-provider” (in effect the sponsor of the competition) and could be a man or woman, as women took equal part in the shooting contests, and they would be responsible for organising the event. This included donating the prizes, providing an amusing target with an original painted design, and supplying food and drink. Such dart shoots were organised by several “dance companies" in the large Salzburg town houses, such as that of Ferdinand of Schiedenhofen, a great friend of Mozart, in the Old Town Hall, and the smaller one of Leopold Mozart in Tanzmeisterhaus. At its height Leupold’s group had 14 members, with a rifle loader, a shooter’s book, and strict rules and laws. As a meeting could not be cancelled or postponed, there must have been at least 500 competition shoots over the period 1773-1787! On almost a hundred occasions in the Mozart letters and diaries these “dart shoots” are mentioned, more often than musical events. Whenever Mozart was travelling, full information about the Salzburg shooting event was sent to him. On occasions competitions were even shot on his behalf.

Thanks to the many Leupold letters we also know something about the various (sometimes quite cheeky and rude) lyrics of Wolfgang Amadées. In the winter of 1777 Mozart wrote in a letter to Mannheim: "Yesterday, H. Purser provided the “Best”, and on his target was my sister Nannerl at the piano; as she sits and plays, Pimperl is sitting in front of her on the piano expectantly. Painted quite nice, of course, even showing Nannerl’s and Pimperl’s clothes quite accurately. There were no accompanying verses though, but I will write something suitable. "

For the summer of 1783 there are a number of highly interesting references to the Mozart family shoots in the diary of his sister Nannerl. The shooting competitions were not only held every Sunday in the Tanzmeisterhaus in honour of celebrity Viennese guests, but were also held as welcoming, farewell and birthday celebrations, with a number of "extra shooting events" as well. Mozart must have been the competition sponsor (“Best-provider”) on many of these occasions..

Incidentally the whole dart-shooting scene was a costly affair. Firstly, you had to pay the cashier Nannerl an entry fee, secondly at regular intervals you had to be the one to sponsor the event, providing the "Best" and other prizes, thirdly you had to buy your own airgun. As we know from E. Schikaneder a new gun would cost about 20 guilders. Mozart had his own target gun, and the probate inventory for his father Leopold listed two "dart guns with iron barrels”. These subsequently fetched at auction 5 guilders 31 cruisers and 12 guilders 1 cruisers.


Mozart’s personal shooting fund

Apparently Mozart also had his own shooting fund pot of money in Salzburg, for in 1781 he wrote to his sister from Vienna in his December letter . "... Because of my shooting fund I know not what to do –there must be an accumulation of a hundred guilders there - I have to stop short of this -. maybe I'll be more comfortable next year - " Apparently Nannerl had reminded her brother of outstanding accounts and that he had to sort out the shooting accounts by the end of the year. The fact that the "marksman Mozart", had 100 florins in his kitty , however temporarily, is highly unusual, because by Salzburg standards it was a small fortune. (for example the annual rent for their Tanzmeisterhaus apartment was 90 guilders!)

Mozart certainly shot darts many times in his last two years in Salzburg. In 1779 alone there are 15 relevant entries in his sister Nannerl’s diary. On Easter Sunday, she wrote: "this afternoon the shooting sponsor Katherl, the usual paymaster, and later the Colonel-in-chief stayed with us, and we played until 6 clock.." Leopold Mozart frequently got visits from such eminent people. At the time the Colonel-in-chief was Franz Graf Firmian Lactantius, and it would have been quite natural for him to stay on and attend the target shoot in the evening.

It is a pity that we never know from the diary pages which particular shooting targets Mozart provided when he was the “ Bestgeber”. Similarly it is apparent that the Maestro did not win the “Best” in any of the 15 documented shooting tournaments.. In contrast to his father, sister or the funny Katherl he was not a particularly good shot. Perhaps when target shooting his mind was really on his work, his numerous compositions and his music? There is a diary note for August 20, 1780 in Mozart's own hand: "... and the ass provided the “Best”, which was won by my brother; afterwards we played cards; the weather was terrible....." The "ass" was in fact Karl Bernhard von Feigele, who was also a popular cards partner for the Mozart family. In the week of 18 to 28 July, they played cards with him every afternoon! When Mozart finally travelled to Munich at the beginning of November for the "Idomeneo" rehearsals, his father told him on November 11 about a rescheduled target shoot, and a week later told him about the shooting success of Emanuel Schikaneder, who had come to Salzburg as theatre director, and was allowed to shoot with the Mozart group.

It is well known that an important and indispensable contract from Munich drove Mozart directly to Vienna, where he remained following an altercation with Archbishop Colloredo as a freelance musician until his death. Whether he ever shot again while he was in Vienna we unfortunately do not know.

Dart shooting contests, as well as their accompanying card games, board games, and lottery games, were an important and indispensable distraction for Mozart from his intense and exhausting composing work. He needed this relaxing and mostly harmless entertainment before and after the long hours of intense concentration while scoring music and writing scripts. It was in the morning after organ service in the cathedral or during the nights, that he wrote his many sonatas, symphonies, serenades, marches, songs and arias at an indescribable pace. Afternoon dart shooting would have brought him excitement and entertainment among pleasant and important company. It offered him countless opportunities to let himself go, and was a welcome opportunity to forget the past years of disappointments and professional failures!

And now that Mozart had no more financial worries, up to the death of his father he remained what he had been for over a decade without interruption: The "true shooter" Wolfgang Mozart Amadée.

© SN.

Bölzelschießen (“Dart shooting”)
For the Mozart family in Salzburg, the pastime of Bölzelschießen was followed by card playing, and was an important social activity and a regular Sunday treat. It was traditional for close social groups, of mixed male and female membership, to have the target shooting events first and for the gaming to follow on. These meetings generally took place in inns or in larger rooms. At a time of strict segregation of the sexes, apart from dance balls these meetings provided a rare opportunity for men and women to meet freely. The “ Bölzelschießen” scene was apparently all the rage at the end of the 18th century.
Bölzelschießen involved shooting at a target with an air rifle. The shooting targets were partially self-painted and were often also provided with amusing poems. In around 100 of Mozart’s letters he mentions the Bölzelschießen events. The shooting contests generally had a monetary prize, known as the “Best”, and this would have been provided by the so-called “ Bestgeber” (“Best-giver”).

Posted : 12/12/2017 16:04:56