How a day is composed in the hours between sleep o’clock and symphony o’clock.
BY MARIA POPOVA
“The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us,” Mary Oliver wrote in contemplating how our routines give shape to our inner lives. This, perhaps, is why we’re so transfixed by the daily routines of great artists, writers, and scientists — a sort of magical thinking under the spell of which we come to believe that if we were to replicate the routines of geniuses, we would also replicate some dimension of their inner lives and, in turn, their outer greatness.
Still, magical thinking aside, without insight into the routines of those who lead creatively fruitful lives, we would have never been able to study the psychology of the ideal daily routine. And few lives have been more creatively fruitful than that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756–December 5, 1791). In a letter to his father from December of 1777, found in Letters of Mozart (free ebook | public library), 21-year-old Mozart describes his daily routine at Mannheim, where he had traveled in search of employment. Unable to find work, he moved in with the musical Weber family he had befriended and fell in love with Aloysia, one of the family’s four daughters, who rejected his suit.
He describes his days at the Weber house:
I am writing this at eleven at night, because I have no other leisure time. We cannot very well rise before eight o’clock, for in our rooms (on the ground-floor) it is not light till half-past eight. I then dress quickly; at ten o’clock I sit down to compose till twelve or half-past twelve, when I go to Wendling’s, where I generally write till half-past one; we then dine. At three o’clock I go to the Mainzer Hof (an hotel) to a Dutch officer, to give him lessons in galanterie playing and thorough bass, for which, if I mistake not, he gives me four ducats for twelve lessons. At four o’clock I go home to teach the daughter of the house. We never begin till half past four, as we wait for lights. At six o’clock I go to Cannabich’s to instruct Madlle. Rose. I stay to supper there, when we converse and sometimes play; I then invariably take a book out of my pocket and read…
But as he struggled to reconcile the growing demands of his evolving career and with those of his romance with Constanze, the third Weber daughter, his daily routine changed considerably. In a letter to his sister penned in 1782, a few months before he married his beloved, Mozart outlines a routine so intense that it left him a mere five hours of night’s sleep:
At six o’clock in the morning I have my hair dressed, and have finished my toilet by seven o’clock. I write till nine. From nine to one I give lessons. I then dine, unless I am invited out, when dinner is usually at two o’clock, sometimes at three, as it was to-day, and will be to-morrow at Countess Zichi’s and Countess Thun’s. I cannot begin to work before five or six o’clock in the evening, and I am often prevented doing so by some concert; otherwise I write till nine o’clock. I then go to my dear Constanze, though our pleasure in meeting is frequently embittered by the unkind speeches of her mother, which I will explain to my father in my next letter. Thence comes my wish to liberate and rescue her as soon as possible. At half-past ten or eleven I go home, but this depends on the mother’s humor, or on my patience in bearing it. Owing to the number of concerts, and also the uncertainty whether I may not be summoned to one place or another, I cannot rely on my evening writing, so it is my custom (especially when I come home early) to write for a time before going to bed. I often sit up writing till one, and rise again at six.