Concerning Elisabeth Mara and her husband, Johann, see The Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1769–1791), 2 vols., trans. from the collection of Ludwig Nohl [Mozarts Briefe (Salzburg 1865)] by Lady Wallace (New York 1866), 1:307–10. Mozart writes to his father from Munich on 24 November 1780:
I will tell you the whole story about Mara. I did not write to you before on the subject, because I thought that, even if you knew nothing of it, you would be sure to hear the particulars here; but now it is high time to tell you the whole truth, for probably additions have been made to the story, — at least, in this town, it has been told in all sorts of different ways. No one can know about it better than I do, as I was present, so I heard and witnessed the whole affair.
When the first symphony was over, it was Madame Mara’s turn to sing. I then saw her husband come sneaking in behind her with his violoncello in his hand; I thought she was going to sing an aria obligato with violoncello accompaniment. Old Danzi, the first violoncello, also accompanies well.
All at once Toeschi (who is a director, but has no authority when Cannabich is present) said to Danzi (N.B., his son-in-law), “Rise, and give Mara your place.” When Cannabich saw and heard this, he called out, “Danzi, stay where you are; the Elector prefers his own people playing the accompaniments.” Then the air began, Mara standing behind his wife, looking very sheepish, and still holding his violoncello. The instant they entered the concert-room, I took a dislike to both, for you could not well see two more insolent-looking people, and the sequel will convince you of this.
The aria had a second part, but Madame Mara did not think proper to inform the orchestra of the fact previously, but after the last ritournelle came down into the room with her usual air of effrontery to pay her respects to the nobility. In the mean time her husband attacked Cannabich.
I cannot write every detail, for it would be too long; but, in a word, he insulted both the orchestra and Cannabich’s character, who, being naturally very much irritated, laid hold of his arm, saying, “This is not the place to answer you.” Mara wished to reply, but Cannabich threatened that if he did not hold his tongue he would have him removed by force. All were indignant at Mara’s impertinence.
A concerto by Ramm was then given, when this amiable couple proceeded to lay their complaint before Count Seeau; but from him, also, as well as from every one else, they heard that they were in the wrong. At last Madame Mara was foolish enough to speak to the Elector himself on the subject, her husband in the mean time saying in an arrogant tone, “My wife is at this moment complaining to the Elector — an unlucky business for Cannabich; I am sorry for him.” But people only burst out laughing in his face. The Elector, in reply to Madame Mara’s complaint, said, “Madame, you sang like an angel, although your husband did not accompany you;” and when she wished to press her grievance, he said, “that is Count Seeau’s affair, not mine.” When they saw that nothing was to be done, they left the room, although she had still two airs to sing.
This was nothing short of an insult to the Elector, and I know for certain that, had not the Archduke and other strangers been present, they would have been very differently treated; but on this account Count Seeau was annoyed, so he sent after them immediately, and they came back. She sang her two arias, but was not accompanied by her husband.
In the last one (and I shall always believe that Herr Mara did it on purpose) two bars were wanting — N. B., only in the copy from which Cannabich was playing. When this occurred, Mara seized Cannabich’s arm, who quickly got right, but struck his bow on the desk, exclaiming audibly, “This copy is all wrong.” When the aria was at an end, he said, “Herr Mara, I give you one piece of advice, and I hope you will profit by it: never seize the arm of the director of an orchestra, or lay your account with getting at least half a dozen sound boxes on the ear.”
Mara’s tone was now, however, entirely lowered; he begged to be forgiven, and excused himself as he best could. The most shameful part of the affair was that Mara (a miserable violoncellist, all here declare) would never have been heard at court at all but for Cannabich, who had taken considerable trouble about it. At the first concert before my arrival he played a concerto, and accompanied his wife, taking Danzi’s place without saying a word either to Danzi or any one else, which was allowed to pass.
The Elector was by no means satisfied with his mode of accompanying, and said he preferred his own people. Cannabich, knowing this, mentioned to Count Seeau, before the concert began, that he had no objection to Mara’s playing, but that Danzi must also play. When Mara came he was told this, and yet he was guilty of this insolence. If you knew these people, you would at once see pride, arrogance, and unblushing effrontery written on their faces.