MOZART, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)
Plaque erected in 1939 by London County Council at 180 Ebury Street, Belgravia, London, SW1W 8UP, City of Westminster
Music and Dance
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART 1756-1791 composed his first symphony here in 1764
Plaque re-erected in 1951 following war damage.
The Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart produced masterpieces in all the genres of his time and remains one of the most influential figures in classical music. In 1764 the eight-year-old prodigy composed his first symphony at 180 Ebury Street in Belgravia, where he and his family stayed for several weeks.
Mozart, his father Leopold (1719–87) and his elder sister Maria Anna (1751–1829) spent over a year in London from April 1764 on a European grand tour. They moved to Belgravia from lodgings in Soho on 6 August. Ebury Street – then known under the more bucolic name of Five Fields Row – was chosen as a suitable place for Mozart's father to recover after a minor illness. Dating from the 1720s, number 180 is one of the oldest houses in Belgravia and would have been a semi-rural lodging when Mozart and his family stayed there.
At this time, Mozart and his sister were performing as child prodigies in many London theatres and at court. However, to accelerate Leopold’s recovery, the children were forbidden to play instruments in the house. And so it was there that, ‘in order to occupy himself’ – as his sister recalled – ‘Mozart composed his first symphony for all the instruments of the orchestra, especially for trumpets and kettledrums’.
It seems that the work she remembered is lost, but the symphony now referred to as Mozart's first (K.16 in E flat major) was also written at this time, being one of the precocious works aired at the Haymarket Little Theatre in February 1765. Not long after this, Queen Charlotte gave the boy composer – who had presented her with an engraved edition of six sonatas and made himself quite a favourite at court – a much-needed present of 50 guineas.
When Leopold had recovered, the family moved back to central London in September 1764, when they took lodgings at 20 Frith Street in Soho. While there, Mozart met the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian, who had an important influence on Mozart’s musical style.
But it appears London had few redeeming features for Mozart’s father apart from its musical society. Leopold regarded England as a godless, expensive, culinary wasteland, and particularly deplored the English habit of ‘guzzling solidified fat’, by which he presumably meant dripping. The Mozarts left their Soho residence in July 1765 and continued on their European tour. Mozart later returned to his home town of Salzburg before eventually settling in Vienna, where he died aged 35.
After 20 Frith Street was judged unsuitable for commemoration due to substantial rebuilding, a sepia brown tablet with cream lettering was installed in Ebury Street in 1939. The plaque was re-erected in 1951, following war damage.