The two main labels that have been used to describe Mozart's nationality are "Austrian" and "German". However, in Mozart's own time, these terms were used differently from the way they are used today, because the modern nation states of Austria and Germany did not yet exist. Any decision to label Mozart as "Austrian" or "German" (or neither) involves political boundaries, history, language, culture, and Mozart's own views. Editors of modern encyclopedias and other reference sources differ in how they assign a label to Mozart (if any) in light of conflicting criteria.
Mozart was born in Salzburg, the capital of a small, essentially sovereign state called the Archbishopric of Salzburg. Thus in one sense Mozart's nationality could be said to be "Salzburgian", though English-language biographers do not generally use this term to designate his nationality.
The Holy Roman Empire
The Archbishopric of Salzburg was but one of more than 300 similarly independent states in the part of Europe that was populated by German speakers. Most of these states, Salzburg included, were included in a larger political entity, the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire was German in various ways: most of its population was German-speaking, its official full name was the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" (German: Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation), it conducted most of its business in German, and one of the titles held by its emperor was "King in Germany." Beales adds, "[the emperor] and the Empire were foci of German patriotism. Even in Hamburg, Protestant and remote from his court [in Vienna], prayers were regularly said for him and his birthday was celebrated."
However, although the Holy Roman Empire was largely German, it was hardly a nation state, but only a very loose confederation, the feeble residue of an empire that had been robust centuries earlier. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the princes whose states comprised the empire "legislated at will, levied taxes, concluded alliances, and waged wars against each other ... The imperial Diet meeting in Regensburg had degenerated into a debating society without authority or influence. The splendid [imperial] coronation ceremony in Frankfurt am Main could not disguise the fact that the office conferred on its holder little more than prestige."
Thus, although the phrase "Mozart was German" can be given a cultural interpretation (see below), it cannot be taken to mean that Mozart was a citizen of Germany. During his time, there was no German nation-state that he could have been a citizen of.
According to Beales (2006a, 30–31), in Mozart's time the word "Austria" (German: Österreich) had several meanings.
The original Austria was the Archduchy of Austria, a rather small state centered around Vienna, roughly coextensive with the modern Austrian states of Upper Austria and Lower Austria. Starting in 1282 this core area was ruled by the Habsburg dynasty. Over the centuries, the Habsburgs accreted ever more lands to their holdings, both inside and outside the Holy Roman Empire, and both German and non-German speaking. Despite this expansion, the Habsburg dynasty retained an Austrian identity, maintaining their capital in Vienna and referring to their aggregated lands as "the Austrian Monarchy". The word "Austria" was sometimes used as an informal cover term for all of the lands ruled by the Habsburgs. The power of the Habsburgs was such that they came to dominate the emperorship of the Holy Roman Empire: starting in 1452, the "Electors" (the handful of princes who held the right to elect the next emperor) virtually always chose the Habsburg monarch for the emperorship whenever the office became vacant. The emperors who served in Mozart's time were Francis I, Joseph II, and Leopold II. Of these, the latter two were Habsburg descendants; Francis I was the husband of the Habsburg ruler Maria Theresa, who held the emperorship on her behalf since as a woman she could not legally serve.
For administrative purposes, the Holy Roman Empire was divided into "circles". The Austrian Circle included the original Archduchy of Austria, as well as a number of other areas now part of modern Austria. Salzburg was not included; it was part of the Bavarian Circle.
In sum, "Austria" in Mozart's time could mean (in increasing order of size), the Archduchy of Austria, the Austrian Circle, and the Habsburg-ruled lands. None of these included Salzburg.
Although Mozart was not born in Austria (as then defined), he had close connections there. He made three extended visits to Vienna in his youth, and in 1781 moved to Vienna to pursue his career; he remained there to the end of his life (1791).
The map below (click twice to enlarge) portrays the Holy Roman Empire as of 1789, surrounded by a red dashed line. The Prince-Archbishopric of Salzburg, shaped somewhat like a thick inverted capital T, is shown in lavender in the southern portion of the map, sandwiched between the extensive Habsburg territories (shown in orange-brown) and Bavaria (pale green). The great number of small independent states that are now mostly part of Germany can also be seen. The extensive territories ruled by the Habsburgs but outside of the Holy Roman Empire are not indicated on the map.
For maps depicting the Circles of the Holy Roman Empire, see Imperial Circle.
The political situation that prevailed in Mozart's lifetime did not long endure, with radical changes resulting from the Napoleonic Wars. Holy Roman Emperor Francis II first decreed (1804) a new Austrian Empire, consisting solely of the lands ruled directly by the Habsburgs. Two years later (1806), he allowed the Holy Roman Empire to lapse, ending its centuries-long existence.
The wars also had drastic consequences for Salzburg. In 1800 it was occupied by Napoleon's troops; the reigning prince-archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo (Mozart's old employer) had to flee. He never again exercised political rule, though he retained his ecclesiastical title. In the negotiated settlements that followed, Salzburg was first made into an independent secular state (the Electorate of Salzburg, 1803), then unified with the Austrian Empire (1805), then awarded to Bavaria (1809), and finally returned again to the Austrian Empire (1816).
The Austrian Empire underwent further political evolution, ultimately disintegrating in 1918 at the end of the First World War, at which time the small residual nation of Austria—including the old territory of Salzburg—was created.
"Germany" as cultural concept
As noted above, there was no country called "Germany" in Mozart's day; rather, there were hundreds of independent or quasi-independent German-speaking states. Of these, Prussia (blue on the map) was already on the rise, expanding its territory, and it was under Prussian leadership that Germany was ultimately unified in 1871. It was only as of that year that one could speak of a German nation-state.
However, the word "German" (in German: "deutsch") was in use well before this time, designating the people of central Europe who shared German language and culture. To give an example, when in 1801 Mozart's old colleague Emanuel Schikaneder opened the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, a Leipzig music journal praised the new theater as "the "most comfortable and satisfactory in the whole of Germany". The city of Salzburg, owing to its fine ecclesiastical architecture, was sometimes called "the German Rome".
Mozart himself used the word "German" in this sense, and apparently felt a sense of national or ethnic pride in being German. The following passage, from a letter to his father Leopold, attests to this:
... I believe I am capable of bringing honor to any court—and if Germany, my beloved Fatherland, of which, as you know, I am proud, will not take me up—well, let France or England, in God's name become the richer by another talented German—and that to the disgrace of the German nation!
A series of similar recorded utterances from Mozart is given by Kerst (1906) and may be accessed on line. From this evidence, it is clear that Mozart considered himself to be German. However, for the reasons just given, the relevant sense is necessarily a linguistic or cultural one, there being no country of "Germany" of which Mozart could have been a citizen. Roselli (1998, 10) asserts that "Mozart was born into a part of Europe where nationality in the modern sense did not exist."
As can be seen, evidence is available to support a variety of opinions about Mozart's nationality. Thus, he was Austrian because the town in which he was born and raised is now located in Austria, and because he made his career in Vienna, the Austrian capital. He was German because he felt himself to be German, and because the residual and moribund empire that included Salzburg was labeled as and felt to be German. He was neither Austrian nor German because Salzburg was independent, neither part of the Habsburg Austrian possessions nor part of a (yet to exist) German nation-state.
The scholars who prepare biographies and reference works have made varying choices in assigning Mozart a nationality.
The widely-consulted Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians calls Mozart an Austrian composer, as do the Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography (2003), the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music (Bourne and Kennedy 2004) and the NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music (Libbey 2006). The practice of the Encyclopedia Britannica is split: the brief anonymous summary ("Micropedia") article calls him Austrian, but the main article ("Macropedia"), written by H. C. Robbins Landon, makes no mention of a nationality.
Sources describing Mozart as German are more abundant in earlier work, particularly before the founding of the modern nation-state of Austria in 1918. A London newspaper, reporting the composer's death in 1791, referred to him as "the celebrated German composer". In Lieber et al. (1832, 78), Mozart is introduced as "the great German composer"; Ferris (1891) included Mozart in a book called The Great German Composers. Other descriptions of Mozart as German appear in Kerst (1906, 3), Mathews and Liebling (1896), and MacKey and Haywood (1909); also (much later) Hermand and Steakley (1981).
Sources sometimes have changed their practice over time. The Grove dictionary did not always call Mozart "Austrian"; the designation appears to have added with the first edition of the "New Grove" in 1980. Similarly, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians did not originally offer a nationality but added the word "Austrian" to its opening sentence for the 8th edition (1992) and has retained it since. The Encyclopedia Britannica, now an "Austrian" source, long ago listed Mozart as a German composer.
Peter Branscombe's brief biography (2006, 304) begins with the description "composer and keyboard player"—in an encyclopedia that otherwise always specifies the nationality of composers, suggesting the omission of nationality may have been deliberate. Other authors who say nothing about Mozart's nationality (whether deliberately or not) are Hermann Abert, Maynard Solomon, and Robbins Landon, mentioned above; and among encyclopedias the Riemann Musik Lexicon (1961), and the International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians (1985). The prestigious German music encyclopedia Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart lists no nationality, but this follows the policy it applies to all composers.
Some sources mention both nationalities: the Brockhaus Riemann Musik Lexikon (1975) begins its article "composer, on the father's side of Augsburg-south German ancestry; on the mother's side Salzburg-Austrian". Julian Rushton, in his Mozart biography, summarizes many of the facts given above and concludes: "Mozart, by modern criteria Austrian, counted himself a German composer."
- For details and citation, see section "Scholarly practice", below.
- See discussion and references below. Modern Austria came into being in 1918; Germany in 1871.
- Abert (2007, 1)
- For discussion of the independence of Salzburg see Beales (2006a, 31) and below.
- Sadie (2006, 3–4)
- In French, "salzbourgeois" was, and still is, fairly common. The German equivalent is quite common.
- No sources consulted in preparing "Scholarly practice" (section below) employed this term.
- Mozart scholar Otto Erich Deutsch suggested that Mozart was actually not a citizen of Salzburg, but of Augsburg. Discussing Mozart's baptismal record, he writes that Mozart's father Leopold, born and raised in Augsburg, "remained a citizen of that town, so that Nannerl and Wolfgang, though born at Salzburg, were actually Augsburg citizens" (Deutsch 1965, 9). At the time Augsburg was, like Salzburg, a small independent state; i.e. a Free imperial city.
- Beales (2006b, 199)
- Beales (2006a, 33)
- For the exceptions see Beales (2006b, 200).
- Beales (2006b, 200)
- Beales (2006b, 200). The Habsburgs, who generally served as emperor (see below) and most of their lands they ruled were Roman Catholic.
- The history of the empire and its centuries of decline are related in detail in the article "Germany", Encyclopedia Britannica, 1988 edition, vol 20, pp. 47–79.
- "Germany", Encyclopedia Britannica, 1988 edition, vol 20, p. 76.
- Beales (2006a, 30)
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 1988 edition, "Habsburg", p. 515
- Beales (2006a, 30–31) enumerates the Habsburg lands thus: "the present-day Austrian republic (except the province of Salzburg); Bohemia (including Moravia), now the Czech Republic; greater Hungary (which embraced, as well a modern Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia and the south-western tip of modern Ukraine); Transylvania and the banat of Temesvar (both for a time treated as part of Hungary and now mostly part of Romania); the duchy of Carniola (now Slovenian); south Tyrol, much of Lombardy and certain other lands now withint Italy; small and scattered possessions in southern Germany; the 'Austrian Netherlands' (that is Luxemburg and the greater part of modern Belgium); Galicia after 1772 (now divided between Poland and Ukraine) and, after 1775, the Bukovina (now divided between Romania and Ukraine)."
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 1988 edition, "Habsburg", p. 517
- Beales (2006a, 32). A three-year exception occurred when Maria Theresa inherited the Habsburg titles but—as a woman—could not legally serve as Emperor. During the crisis of the War of Austrian Succession, the emperorship was voted (1742) to her enemy Charles Albert of Bavaria. Following the revival of Habsburg fortunes and the death of Charles Albert (1745), the emperorship became Habsburg property again with Francis I; see main text.
- Beales (2006a, 32)
- Deutsch (1965) gives the following dates: September–December 1762, September 1767-January 1769, July–September 1773.
- Branscombe (2006)
- The perils that Salzburg faced as a small buffer state between two larger neighbors are discussed in Heartz (1995, 485–487)
- Halliwell (2006, 99)
- Clive (1993, 40)
- Halliwell (2006)
- By the Peace of Pressburg; Roman (2009, 541)
- By the Treaty of Vienna; Leger (1889, 647)
- By the Treaty of Munich; Leger (1889, 647)
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 1988 edition, article "Austria", p. 516.
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 1988 edition, article "Germany", p. 88
- For extended discussion on this point see Beales (2006b).
- The journal was the 'Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung; quotation from Honolka (1990, 187).
- Encyclopedia Britannica, 1988 edition, "Salzburg"
- Letter of 17 August 1782, quoted from Mersman (1972). The original reads: "Ich glaube so viel im Stande zu seyn, daß ich jedem Hofe Ehre machen werde. Will mich Teutschland, mein geliebtes Vaterland, worauf ich (wie Sie wissen) stolz bin, nicht aufnehmen, so muß in Gottes Namen Frankreich oder England wieder um einen geschickten Teutschen mehr reich werden, – und das zur Schande der teutschen Nation." (taken from Hermann Abert's Mozart biography, available on line in German ()
- See , , or , pp. 69–74
- Rushton (2006, 2), Beales (2006b, 200)
- , 
- ,  Archived November 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- , 
- Cited from the Grove Music Online edition of this work
- Discussion here refers to the 1988 edition.
- Eisen (2007) (introduction to Niemetschek 2007)
- Slonimsky (1984, 1992) and Kuhn (2001)
- In the famous 11th edition (1910–11); available on line at
- Abert (2007)
- Solomon (1995)
- Original German "Komponist, vom Vater her augsburgisch-süddeutscher, von der Mutter her salzburgisch-östr. Abstammung".
- Rushton (2006, 2)
- Abert, Hermann (2007; originally published 1924). W. A. Mozart. New edition translated by Stewart Spencer and with footnotes by Cliff Eisen. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Beales, Derek (2006a) "Austria, Austrian, Austrian Monarchy," in Cliff Eisen and Simon P. Keefe, eds., The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Beales, Derek (2006b) "Germany," in Cliff Eisen and Simon P. Keefe, eds., The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Bourne, Joyce and Michael Kennedy (2004) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Branscombe, Peter (2006) "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart", in Cliff Eisen and Simon P. Keefe, eds., The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Clive, Peter (1993) Mozart and his circle: A biographical dictionary. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Deutsch, Otto Erich (1965) Mozart: A Documentary Biography. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
- Ferris, George T. (1891) The great German composers. New York: D. Appleton. Available on line: .
- Halliwell, Ruth (2006) Colloredo, Hieronymus Franz de Paula von, in Cliff Eisen and Simon P. Keefe, eds., The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Hermand, Jost and James Steakley, eds. (1981) Writings of German Composers: Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Brahms, Mahler, Strauss, Weill, and others. Continuum.
- Heartz, Daniel (1995) Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School: 1740–1780. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
- Honolka, Kurt (1990) Papageno: Emanuel Schikaneder, Man of the Theater in Mozart's Time. Hal Leonard Corporation.
- The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography (2003) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Kerst, Friedrich (1906) Mozart: the Man and the Artist, as Revealed in His Own Words. Translated by Henry Edward Krehbiel. London: Gay and Bird.
- Kuhn, Laura, ed. (2001) Baker’s biographical dictionary of musicians. New York: Schirmer Books.
- Leger, Louis (1889) A history of Austro-Hungary from the earliest time to the year 1889. Translated by A. B. Hill. G.P. Putnam's sons.
- Libbey, Theodore (2006) The NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music. Workman Publishing.
- Lieber, Francis, E. Wigglesworth and T. G. Bradford (1832) Encyclopaedia Americana. Philadelphia.
- MacKey, Albert G. and Harry LeRoy Haywood (1909) Encyclopedia of Freemasonry 1909.
- Mathews, William Smythe Babcock Mathews and Emil Liebling (1896) Pronouncing and defining dictionary of music. Cincinnati: The John. Church Company.
- Mersmann, Hans, ed. (1972) Letter of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Dover Publications.
- Niemetschek Franz Xaver (2007) Mozart: The First Biography, trans. Helene Mautner, with an introduction by Cliff Eisen. Berghahn Books.
- Roman, Eric (2009) Austria-Hungary and the Successor States: A Reference Guide from the Renaissance to the Present. Infobase Publishing.
- Rosselli, John (1998) The Life of Mozart. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Rushton, Julian (2006) Mozart. The Master Musicians Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Sadie, Stanley (2006) Mozart: The Early Years 1756–1781. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Slonimsky, Nicolas, ed. (1984) Baker’s biographical dictionary of musicians. 7th edition. New York: Schirmer Books.
- Slonimsky, Nicolas, ed. (1992) Baker’s biographical dictionary of musicians. 8th edition. New York: Schirmer Books.
- Solomon, Maynard (1995) Mozart: A Life. New York: Harper Collins.