“That carriage jolted the very souls out of our bodies”: the stresses and strains of 18th-century touring

We’re warming up for a scintillating Mozart spectacular with the Korean “Queen of Coloratura” Sumi Jo on Friday night. So, to get into the spirit between now and then, we’ll share Mozartian nuggets here each day. Watch this space.

The mail coach in a thunderstorm on Newmarket Heath, Suffolk, 1827

Mozart’s letters, writes Stephen Rose, are a mine of information about the conditions faced by travellers in late eighteenth-century Europe:

the relentless heat and choking dust when travelling through Italy in August; the filthy roads that made it difficult to walk in Paris; and the sheer discomfort of riding along bumpy roads. On 8 November 1780 Wolfgang described a particularly painful journey to Munich: “That carriage jolted the very souls out of our bodies—and the seats were as hard as stone… For two whole stages I sat with my hands dug into the upholstery and my backside suspended in the air.”

Below is a further account of Wolfgang’s – a letter to his father from Vienna, where he had been summoned by the Archbishop Colloredo, who was planning celebrations for the coronation of Joseph II. The journey had taken him no less than five whole days.

Mon tres cher amy! Yesterday, the 16th, I arrived here, thank God, all by myself in a post chaise at nine o’clock in the morning. I travelled in the mail coach as far as Unterhaag but by that time I was so sore in my behind and its surrounding parts that I could endure it no longer. So I was intending to proceed by the ordinaire, but Herr Escherich, a government official, had had enough of the mail coach too and gave me his company as far as Kemmelbach. There I was proposing to wait for the ordinaire, but the postmaster assured me that he could not possibly allow me to travel by it, as there was no head office there. So I was obliged to proceed by extra post, reached St. Polten on Thursday, the 15th, at seven o’clock in the evening, as tired as a dog, slept until two in the morning and then drove on straight to Vienna.

For further information about the concert, to book tickets, watch a preview, or to read the concert programme, visit the AAM website.

One comment

  1. Fortunately the German roads and public transport has improved dramatically! Mozart’s accounts probably explain why travel by road was avoided whenever possible and the waterways were much preferred, despite the hazards on some of them.

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