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Josepha Barbara Auernhammer

Josepha Barbara Auernhammer (b. Vienna, Sept. 25, 1758; d. Jan. 30, 1820)

Josepha Barbara Auernhammer (also Aurnhammer) was born in Vienna on September 25, 1758 to Johann Michael Auernhammer and Elizabeth Timmer. Her first music teachers were Georg Friedrich Richter (or Joseph Richter) and the Bohemian pianist Leopold Anton Kozeluch. In 1781 her family took in a border, newly arrived in Vienna, named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and she became one of his first students in this city. In Mozart’s many letters to his father this year he frequently mentioned her. It seems that she had a sound technical facility, but he noted “in cantabile playing she has not got the real delicate singing style”. Soon, though, he declared that he was thoroughly pleased with her progress and delighted with her keyboard skills.

In June of 1781 Mozart asked his father to copy and send several of his works to him, including the concerto for two pianoforte in E flat major (K365). By September the composer reported that Josepha was “worrying me to death” about the piece —apparently it had not yet arrived — and only on October 13 did he write home to say that he and Fräulein Auernhammer were grateful to have received it. They went on to perform it at the Auernhammers’ home in Vienna on November 23, 1781, and also on May 26, 1782. Included in the November concert was the brilliant concertante, Sonata in D, K. 448, for two pianos, written specifically for this concert. It is an indication of her great skill that Mozart wrote the "primo" part for her.

During the summer of 1781 Mozart prepared for publication a set of six sonatas for piano and violin, what he called his “Opus 2” and are now labeled K.376, 296, and 377-380. These he dedicated to Josepha and they have become known as the “Auernhammer sonatas”. There is strong evidence that she was involved in edited them for publication: in the preface to the Henle editions of these works it states:

Although it can never be proved, a number of discrepancies between the autograph manuscripts and the first edition suggest that this highly gifted pianist may have read proof for the Artaria print.

Further evidence of her pianistic skill and close involvement in the publication of these works appears in the biography of Abbey Maximilian Stadler:

“When he [Mozart] arrived in Vienna and had his six sonatas for piano and violin engraved by Artaria and dedicated to Mlle Auernhammer, he took me along to the rehearsal. Artaria brought along the first proofs, and Mlle Auernhammer played the fortepiano. Instead of playing the violin, Mozart accompanied her on a second adjoining fortepiano. I was completely delighted with the performance by the master and his pupil” (Mozart-Jahrbuch 1957, p. 83).

The twenty-two year-old Josepha was taking daily music lessons, and performing, with the twenty-five year-old Mozart and it wasn’t long before she had fallen hopelessly in love. When Mozart became aware of this he wrote a scathing account of her personal hygiene to his father in an apparent gesture of reassurance that he was not about to marry her. He moved to other accommodations and made his intentions clear with Josepha, but their friendship and musical collaboration continued for years. He was instrumental in helping her when her father died in 1782 and she needed to move out of her home, by arranging free board and lodging with the Baronness Waldstatten.

Josepha’s association with Mozart gave her confidence to perform in public and compose seriously. Her music lessons had gone beyond basic keyboard technique to include improvisation as well as studies in theory and composition. In an article entitled “Mozart as a Teacher”, Alfred Mann and Mario Mercado write:

Josepha von Auernhammer established herself as a pianist, composer, and teacher in Vienna. Among her various compositions was a set of variations on "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja," which was published in 1793. Keyboard variations became established as very fashionable forms with the rising class of cultivated music amateurs of late-eighteenth century Vienna and Paris; for themes or subjects, composers chose opera arias or songs. As publications, variation sets functioned in a fashion analogous to the widely disseminated songs. As a teaching vehicle, the variation form developed by Mozart proved ideal, providing for each hand pianistic problems and idioms; interpolated into the series of ongoing figure patterns were variations contrasting in style, mode, and tempo. In a sense, the variation sets tested all aspects of contemporary pianistic technique and occupied the role which collections of pianistic studies or études were to assume in the nineteenth century. Unlike other genres of works, the majority of Mozart's variation sets were published during his life.

In 1786 Josepha married Johann Bessenig (ca. 1752-1837), with whom she had four children. She retained her maiden name in her professional life as a concert pianist in Vienna and as a composer. She ranked alongside the most renowned artists in Vienna and from the 1790’s gave regular concerts in the Burg Theater. Her last public performance was on March 21, 1813 in the Burg Theater. It included her daughter, Marianna, who became a professional singer under the name Auenheim and taught voice and composition in Vienna.

As a composer Josepha wrote a set of six German songs, a violin and piano sonata, piano sonatas and duets and a dozen sets of variations, the best known being the set of six variations on 'Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja’ from Mozart’s Die Zauberflote, published in 1793 (available from Hildegard Publishing Co.). Her works are known for their comprehensive knowledge of piano technique and artful use of the instrument.

Angermuller, Rudolph. 'Auernhammer, Josepha Barbara'. Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Ed. Stanley Sadie London: Macmillan, 1980.
Cohen, Aaron I. ' Aurenhammer, Josefa Barbara'. International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. 2nd edition. Books and Music, USA. 1987.
Mann, Alfred and Mario R. Mercado. 'Mozart As A Teacher' on Music Associates of America.com. Accessed Sept. 19, 2006. [http://www.musicassociatesofamerica.com/madamina/1991/mozartasteacher.html]
Seiffer, Wolf-Dieter. 'Preface to W. A. Mozart 'Violin Sonatas'. G. Henle Edition, Munich, spring 1995. Accessed Sept. 19, 2006. [http://www.henle.de/katalog/Vorwort%2F9080.pdf].
'Josepha Barbara Auernhammer.' German Wikipedia. Accessed Sept. 19, 2006. [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josepha_Barbara_Auernhammer].
Program notes Mozart's Concerto in E-flat major for Two Pianos and Orchestra, K.365/316a for the New York Philharmonic. Accessed Sept. 19, 2006. [http://www.newyorkphilharmonic.org/programNotes/Mozart%20Concerto%20in%20E-flat%20major%20for%20Two%20Pianos.pdf].

Written by Rose Eide-Altman
September 20, 2006

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