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Georg Nikolaus von Nissen
Biographie W.A. Mozarts

(Leipzig: Breitkopf und Hrtel, 1828 [i.e., 1829])

Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, Biographie W.A. Mozarts

Following Mozart’s death in 1791, a number of writers (including Schlichtegroll, Niemetschek, Winckler, and Arnold) produced short biographical works. Even Stendhal, soon to be famous as a novelist, published one under the pseudonym Bombet, but it was plagiarized from Winckler. A full-length biographical study, however, did not appear for nearly four decades. When it finally arrived, the author, Georg Nikolaus Nissen (1761–1826), may have seemed an unlikely candidate, for he was a Danish diplomat who had been dead for more than two years. Nissen’s qualification for the job was unusual: he was married to Constanze Weber Mozart, the composer’s widow. Following Nissen’s death, Constanze recruited Johann Heinrich Feuerstein to finish his work, although Feuerstein’s name appears on the title page only as the author of the foreword. Later researchers have discovered many errors in the book, but it is still a crucial source for Mozart scholars. Nissen’s marriage to Mozart’s widow and their connections to other people who had known Mozart gave him access to their personal recollections as well as many important documents, even if the presentation of this information was sometimes adjusted to cast Mozart and Constanze in a favorable light.

Although the title page is dated 1828, the book was actually published in 1829. It is dedicated to Queen Marie Sophie Friederike of Denmark, Nissen’s home country.

Even before marrying Constanze Mozart, Nissen had helped her sell many of her husband’s manuscripts to raise much-needed cash. The Gilmore Music Library’s Opochinsky Collection contains one such manuscript: one half of a page of a trumpet part for the Missa Brevis, K. 192. It bears a note by Nissen reading “Von Mozart und seine Handschrift” (by Mozart and in his hand).

The full text of another copy of this book is available online.


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