Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on Tarot

I won. Played Tarot

Mozart’s Salzburg days


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 12ten: um halb 9 uhr in der kirche. hernach bey Lodron und Mayer. Nach = Mittag katherl bey uns. und fiala. ein donnerwetter und stark geregnet.

(The 12th: at half past eight, church. Then to Lodron and Mayr. Afternoon Katherl at our house. And Fiala. Thunderstorm and heavy rain).


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 15ten: um 9 uhr in domm. um 11 uhr zum Hagenauer, dort geessen, weil der Papa und mein Bruder beym Antretter gespeist haben. Nachtisch zur Jungen frau hinauf. um halb 6 uhr Hansel mich nach haus geführt. um 7 uhr mit meinem Papa in Mirabell garten spatzieren gewesen. Hüpsch wetter. Nachmittag ein donnerwetter. und geregnet.


(The 15th: at 9 o’clock to the cathedral. At 11 o'clock to Hagenauer.  Ate there, as Papa and my brother dined at Andretter’s. Dessert up at the Maiden. At half past five Hansel accompanied me home. At 7 o’clock took a walk with my papa in the Mirabell gardens. Fine weather. Thunderstorms in the afternoon, and rain).


den 16ten: um halbe 7 uhr in der Kirche #). zum Mayrischen doch gleich wieder zurück weil nichts gewesen wegen den nicht zu hause seyn, sondern im lazaret seyn, hernach beym oberbebereiter seiner nicht ietzigen letzten nemlich dritten, sondern vorletzten nemlich zweyten, auch nicht, sondern Ersten frau ihrer tochter. nachmittag beym Lodron +)
#) du hast weiter nicht hergeschrieben, daß der Wirtenstädter im beuerlauben ist da gewesen.
+) du hast weiter nicht hergeschrieben, daß der B. Frauenhofer im beurlauben ist da gewesen.
Nach dem Nachtessen zu der final Musique bey Hof und im Colegio, geregnet, dann ausgeheitert. und wider geregnet.


(The 16th: at half past six to church #). To Mayrs’, but home right away since nothing was happening, since they were not at home but at the Lazarette chapel.  Afterward to the daughter of the Chief Purveyor, not by his present wife, the third, nor by the next-to-last, the second, but rather by his first wife. Afternoon at Lodron’s +)
#) You didn’t add that Wirtenstädter was there on furlough.
+) You didn’t add that B. Frauenhofer was there on furlough. After supper went to the Finalmusik at the court and at the College Chapel. Rain, then clearing. And rain again). [Signs + and # are Wolfgang's footnotes to his sister's diary entry].

den 17ten: um 9 uhr in der kirche, beym Lodron und Mayrischen: Nachmittag bey der Gylofsky katherl x). der Bruder mit dem schachtner: und hernach der Papa auch hingekommen.
x) bey der Mad' sell heiligin, die sich mit der grosse Zähe die Nase aus=stiert, mit der katherl gewesen.

(The 17th: at 9 o’clock to church. At Lodrons’ and Mayrs’. Afternoon at Katherl Gylofsky’s x). My brother came with Schachtner. Afterward, Papa came too. Rain.
x) With Katherl at the home of Mlle the Saint, who picks her nose with her big toe.)


den 19ten: um scheissen, meine wenigkeit, ein Esel, ein bruch, wider ein Esel, und endlich eine Nase, in der kirche. Zu haus geblieben der Pfeif mir im arsch, pfeif mir im arsch ein wenig übel auf. Nachmittag die katherl bey uns. und auch der Herr Fuchs=schwanz, den ich hernach brav im arsch geleckt habe; O köstlicher arsch! – Doctor Barisani auch gekommen. den ganzen tag geregnet.


(The 19th: While shitting, my humble self, a jackass, a pair of breeches, again a jackass and finally a nose, in church. Stayed home, a pipe up my arse, pipe to my arse a bit. Afternoon Katherl at our house. And Herr Foxtail [“schwanz”, tail, also slang for male organ], too, whose arse I dutifully licked; O delicious arse! - Dr. Barisani came, too. Rain all day).


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.


(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]).


den 23ten: um 6 uhr aufgestanden, und um 4 uhr in der Mess. um 5 uhr und ein virtl beym hagenauer, um 11 uhr beym Oberbereiter. Nachmittag beym Lodron, um halb 8 uhr die katherl bey uns. um 7 uhr in Mirabellgarten spatzieren, schön Wetter. nicht wahr, ich bein ein rechter fex? Oder ein fuchs=schwanz, Esel und Kreutz=sprung.

The 23rd: arose at 6 o’clock and to Mass at 4 o’clock. At quarter past five to Hagenauer. At 11 o’clock to the Chief Purveyor. Afternoon to Lodron. At half past seven Katherl at our house. At 7 o’clock took a walk in the Mirabell gardens. Aren’t I a scamp? Or a foxtail, jackass, and scissors-leg?


den 42ten: um halb 9 uhr bey der Gylofsky. in dom. um 10 uhr beym Lodron. um 3 uhr wir drey zum stieglbreü keglscheiben zu schauen. um halb 6 uhr spatzieren. schön Wetter. herr vetter.


(The 42nd (3): at half past 8, to Gylofsky. To the cathedral. At 10 o’clock to Lodron. At 3 o’clock we three went to watch bowling at the Stieblbräu. At half past five a walk. Fine weather. Birds of a feather).


den 52ten: Augustiner. um bin ich kirche halbe 7 uhr gegangen. zum obermayer und betreiterischen.
Lodrn zum Nachmittagischen. uns bey fiala. um drey sind wir alle sechs spatzieren gegangen, gegangen, gegiren, gegoren, gegungen. es tag ein schöner war.


(The 52nd: at the Augustiner. At I to church 7 o’clock went. To Chiefmayr and the Purveyor.
Lodron at our house in the afternoonish. We went to Fiala’s. At 3 o’ clock all six of us went walking, welking, wulking, wolking, wilking. It day a fine was).


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: 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: 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.