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Mozart was and is one of the most influential musicians and today nearly everyone knows his name and probably some of his famous compositions. During his lifetime he certainly was a well known musician at least in the royal courts of Europe. But would a common person in Europe or the Holy Roman Empire like a farmer or a tavern owner have heard Mozart's music during his lifetime?

Would they have even heard about him or did his name and music spread much later?

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    Rather like this question (which means I don't know the answer either, and am curious now as well).
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 9, 2023 at 23:17
  • Mozart wrote a lot of dance music - for the court, but according to this it was published, and sold well. No doubt printed music was comparatively expensive, but if professional dance bands played it, it could conceivably have been heard by the general public. Mar 10, 2023 at 9:46
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    During 19th century, with the expansion of bourgeoisie, cheap instruments and magazines (the latter included sheet music), the answer would be yes. During 18th century I would say no, but maybe somebody else has sources to put a good answer.
    – Santiago
    Mar 10, 2023 at 12:29

3 Answers 3

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Tickets to the première of the Magic Flute in 1791 were available at the theater's normal prices, which were, when it opened four years earlier, as low as 7 Kreuzer for the gallery. A box seating eight people was 5 florins or 37.5 Kreuzer per person.

In a letter of 1777, Mozart writes of the price of copying a sheet of music being between 6 and 24 Kreuzer. I couldn't find data for the cost of everyday items in 1790s Vienna, but I suppose that it isn't unreasonable to think that a tavern owner could afford such prices. The theater and the piece Schikaneder commissioned for it were, after all, directed toward a different market from that of the Italian opera of the nobility.

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Mozart lived in Modern Europe (died 1791, soon after the French Revolution); not in medieval, obscure times. Mozart's music was sold (print music sheets), adapted, re-arranged, played by memory, played at home, on the streets, on theaters, etc., during his lifetime enough so that most people in Central European countries would have heard it. Most people would have listened to enough Mozart to recognize his personal style, top melodies, etc.

Music prints were generally available (see: earliest Mozart editions) and although expensive, people copied them themselves at home very cheaply (also, cheap copies were sold). Playing the violin was quite popular, and playing the piano was to become very popular very soon (think 1810). Small string orchestras were also very common in all the German-speaking area to play symphonies and such.

Mozart was a famous child prodigy touring courts, and then, later in life he become "a normal composer". Although famous (think like a Kardashian), he often struggled financially, just like any musician, because at the time, music was not yet an industry and was not perceived as something "useful" people paid for.

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    This looks like a good answer but can add sources? Mar 10, 2023 at 13:20
  • I'm a musician and for fun I had and additional look at Incidents in the Life of Mozart. The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular , Dec. 1, 1869, Vol. 14, No. 322 (Dec.1, 1869), pp. 295-297 jstor.org/stable/3353093
    – James
    Mar 10, 2023 at 14:37
  • German-speaking central Europe- maybe. But if you were to include the rest of Europe (from Ireland to European parts of Russia) - most likely - no. Mar 10, 2023 at 15:04
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    @KateBunting More like two years into the French Revolution. The King still had his head.
    – Spencer
    Mar 10, 2023 at 17:58
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    Those "most people" comments seem a bit dubious. It's estimated that in 1800, in the Austrian Empire, only about 3.2% of the population was urbanized. The highest rate in Europe was in the Netherlands, which was 28.6% urbanized. Were people in villages and in the countryside able to purchase sheet music? Where were those small string orchestras performing?
    – Juhasz
    Mar 10, 2023 at 18:12
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What is important to add to the other answers is that Mozart music became popular before the emergence of modern democratizing mass media (like radio and television). This has two somewhat contradictory consequences:

  • Few of the people living at a distance further then a few hours walk from a nearby theater would have a possibility to ever hear Mozart's music played
  • In absence of television and radio, theaters and wandering actors/musicians were the main source of mass entertainment, and Mozart could be considered as a public celebrity equivalent to Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber in modern times, rather than a classical musician, appreciated mostly to upper classes. (No offense intended - if you prefer, you may compare him to Whitney Houston or Leonard Cohen.)

As the other answers have pointed out, the access to mass entertainment was somewhat popularized from XVII-th to XIX-th century due to the expansion of small bourgeoisie (equivalent of modern class.) However, I would think that lower classes also had access to theaters - in the same way as more than two centuries earlier they had already had access to Shakespear's Globe theater.

Those living in the countryside might have heard of Mozart via wandering musicians. Pushkin in Mozart and Salieri, published in 1832, describes a (fictional) scene where Mozart is amused by a blind street violinist rendition of Mozart's music (translation borrowed from here):

Mozart

Just now. I had
Something to show you; I was on my way,
But passing by an inn, all of a sudden
I heard a violin... My friend Salieri,
In your whole life you haven't heard anything
So funny: this blind fiddler in the inn
Was playing the "voi che sapete". Wondrous!
I couldn't keep myself from bringing him
To treat you to his art.
Entrez, maestro!

(Enter a blind old man with a violin.)

Some Mozart, now!

(The old man plays an aria from Don Giovanni; Mozart roars with laughter.)

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