Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Mozart's Salzburg Days

I won. Played Tarot


Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Oct. 2012

In the time of Mozart, Tarot was still one of the most popular card games in Europe. People played in gentlemen’s residences, taverns and even in theaters, during operas. The idea of a theater where everyone could sit and carefully listen from the first to the last notes to the works of the best composers of the time is wrong. This occurred only in court theaters. In fact the audience who attended private theaters, that is, ones managed by businessmen, was mostly interested in listening  to the great singers of the time, especially the castrati, real celebrities who sang their specialty numbers, pieces of bravura in which they excelled, and which often had nothing to do with the opera being presented that evening.

The auditorium was structured as a sort of luxurious abode of refreshment, whose tables had playing cards and full glasses of good wine. The majority of the boxes were constructed so as to be opened and  closed as desired. Inside them the audience devoted itself to many diverse activities - apart from the card games, let the reader imagine what they could be - and the doors were opened only for important moments, i.e. when the much revered stars were performing


Mozart, like every other person of the time, was fascinated by Tarot; he was so charmed that he even dedicated to them, as a good freemason, a work of initiatory character: The Magic Flute (1). We learn about Mozart’s love of  Tarot from his sister Nannerl’s diary, “which he himself took over writing occasionally, with devilishly comic consequences. As we shall see there are signs of Mozart transforming and transposing tendencies, along with his signature mocking humor” (2). Here are some passages written between August 12 and August 31, 1780, when he was twenty-four (German original followed by English translation, leaving the Italian, Latin, and French phrases of the original).



den 13ten: um 10 uhr in der kirche in den Cathedrale Domm in der 10 uhr heiligen Mess. bey der balbiererkatherl. hr: wirtenstädter bestgeber, die Rasiererkatherl gewonnen. mit der tarock karten tarock karten gespielt. um 7 uhr in Mirabellgarten wie man im Mirabellgarten spatsieren geht, spatsirn gegangen, wie man spatzieren geht, gegangen, wie man geht. Regnerisch, doch nicht geregnet, Nach und Nach – lächelt der himmel!


The 13th: at 10 o’ clock to the cathedral for the 10:00 Mass. Then to Surgeon-Katherls. Herr Wirtenstadter contributed the target [for Bölzelschiessen, a game of shooting with an airgun at a painted target]. Barber-Katherl won. Played Tarot cards with the Tarot cards. At 7 o’clock took a walk in the Mirabell gardens just the way, in the Mirabell gardens, one takes a walk, as one take it, took, as one takes. Rainy, but no rain. Little by little…the skies clear!...



den 20ten: um 10 uhr in der Mess. der fuchs=schwanz von einem esel den ich ganz abgegriffen hab, und der Esel der mich geleckt hat, hat als ein esel selbst das beste gegeben. mein bruder gewonnen. hernach tarock gespielt. das abscheulichste wetter. nichts als gieß, gieß, gieß et caetera.

The 20th: 10 o’clock Mass. The Foxtail [“schwanz”, tail, also slang for male organ] of a jackass whom I wore out [with caresses, as the Italian translation suggests ?] and the jackass who licked me contributed the target like a jackass. My brother won. Then played Tarot. Dreadful weather. Nothing but pour, pour, pour, etc.



den 21ten: um halb 7 uhr in der Mess. beym Mayrischen und Dammenherrichter. Nachmittag beym aquatrono.  Mad:sell  braunfagotist bey uns. hierkleid gespiellt. geregnet, hat sich abends oder abwesend nach und nach entkleidet oder ausgezohen. Tarotkarten gespielt


The 21st: at half past six, to Mass, at Mayr’s and  the sawbones’. Afternoon at Acquatrono. Mlle Brown-bassoon [bassoonist?] at our house. Amused ourselves here. Rain,  but gradually clearing or cleaning [literally, undressing or stripping] in the evening or erring [literally, absently]. Played tarot.



den 62ten: apud die conteßine de Lodron. alle dieci e demie war ich in templo. Posteà chés le signore von Mayern. Post prandium la sig:ra Catherine chés uns. wir habemus joués colle carte di Tarock. à sept heur siamo andati spatzieren in den horto aulico. faceva la plus pulchra tempestas von der welt.


The 62nd: (the 26nd) (3) apud the contessine de Lodron. Alle dieci e demi [10:30] I was at the templo [temple]. Posteà chés le signore von Mayrn. [Afterward at the von Mayr women’s]. Post prandium signorina Catherine chés us. [After lunch Miss Katherl at our house]. We habemus joués colle carte di Tarot . [We played with Tarot cards]. À sept heur [At seven o’clock] siamo andati [we took] a walk in the horto aulico [court gardens, i.e. the Mirabell]. Faceva la plus pulchras tempestas in the world. [It was the most beautiful weather in the world].



den 72ten:, um 10 uhr in Dom. die 10 und halb 11 uhr Mess gehört. hernach beym Robinischen meine visite gemacht. fiala Bestgeber. Ich gewonnen. tarock gespielt. Um ¼ über 6 der graf thurn bey uns. Um 7 uhr spatziern mit dem Papa und Pimperl. schön wetter. Nachmittag ein wenig geregnet. aber gleich wieder schön. die Gesellschaft und Musick war heute in Miarabell. um 10 uhr der Pinzker uns eine Machtmusik mit zwey Bratschen Gemacht.  


The 72nd (the 27nd): at 10 o'clock in the cathedral. Heard the 10:00 and 10:30 Masses. Afterward paid a call on the Robinigs. Fiala contributed the target, I won. Played Tarot. At quarter past six Count Thurn at our house. At 7 o’clock took a walk with Papa and Bimperl. Fine weather. A bit of rain in the afternoon. But then fine again. A party and music in Mirabell today. At 10 o’clock Pinsker and two violinists played a Nachtmusik for us.



[German not available to us; our translation is from the Italian] Il 31: alle nove e mezza dai Lodron. Il pomeriggio Schachtner, Stadler, Weyrother, Fiala, Pinzger e Feiner da noi. Provati quartetti di Hoff­meister. Poi giocato a tarocchi. Tempo bello.


The 31st: at half past nine at Lodrons’. In the afternoon Schachtner, Stadler, Weyrother, Fiala, Pinzger and Feiner  at our place. Rehearsed Hoffmeister’s quartets. Then played Tarot. Nice time (4).




1 - The Magic Flute (K 620), original title Die Zauberflöte, a Singspiel in two acts, libretto by Emanuel Schikanader. It was first performed at the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna on September 30, 1791.
2  -  David Henry Feldman, “The transformational imperative,” in On Mozart, Edited by James. M. Morris, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 65.
3 - “Mozart means the 24th: the inversion of the numerals  should be connected to the composer's maniacal joke of the 'reversals', starting with his name Trazom, 'retrograde' for Mozart". Cf: Francesco Attardi, Viaggio intorno al Flauto magico (Voyage around the Magic Flute), Chapter XXI “Tarot and the combinatorial Ars", Musical Italian Library Editor, Lucca, 2006, p. 363.
4 - Cf:  Amedeo Poggi - Edgar Vallora, Mozart: signori, il catalogo è questo (Mozart: Gentlemen, this is the catalogue), Turin, Einaudi, 1991, p.377 and Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Mozart, Frankfurt am Main 1977, pp. 141-142, English translation, New York 1982, by Marion Faber, pp. 133-134. The English translation here is Faber’s, except that the word “Tarock”, when it refers to the game, is translated here as “Tarot” instead of “Tarot cards”. The corrections in the English of the spelling of people’s names, as well as the lack of capitalizations, are Faber’s. Comments in brackets are ours.