Leopold Kozeluch

Leopold Kozeluch, Czech composer (1747-1818)

There is little written about Leopold Kozeluch, but on searching in the Internet, you will come across some interesting or controversial contributions. So did I. One of the first articles which struck me immediately is by Gary Smith: “Leopold Kozeluch, The “Real Salieri”. Already the title means nothing good for Kozeluch. Such a beginning would be perfect for any tabloid… but on a Mozart forum? But not only the beginning is unfriendly to Kozeluch, the whole article is written in a sarcastic, negative tone. Somehow it sounds as if the author was personally insulted by the existence of Kozeluch. Of all the biographies of Mozart’s contemporaries written by Gary Smith on the same forum, only Kozeluch merits this poisoning language… Why?! If the author finds him so repellent, why bother to write about him then?

I hesitated for a while if it was worth making any comments on such a “compilation” of different sources (say Mozart biographies). But since this is what the people find as one of the first entries in Google and as a musician, I must object to such a partial and false approach! I will make things short and leave only a few commentaries on passages I find most absurd:

1. Kozeluch “composed small ballets and pantomimes. His successes with these between 1771 and 1778 led him to decide to give up becoming a lawyer and take up music full time instead.” Already this sentence shows the little knowledge of the customs in Bohemia of this period. Around and after 1750 most of the Czech composers, all having a modest background, first studied at the university (usually civil law), while studying music as well, and chose music as their main occupation only later. For example the now forgotten Tomaschek attended: philosophy, law (as he calls it “Brotstudium” = bread giving study), anatomy, surgery, mathematics – all along studying music and composing. As he writes himself in his autobiography: “ Mein Zweck war, mich vielseitig zu bilden” (It was my aim to have a good, versatile education). But we do not need to go to Bohemia – Leopold Mozart studied in Salzburg law and philosophy – and became a musician…

2.“Beethoven had the perfect description for him: miserabilis!” The most used quotation for almost any author on Kozeluch! It is from Beethoven’s letter to G. Thomson on February 29, 1812 and the exact phrase is: “In this field (songs) I esteem myself a little higher than Herr Kozeluch (Miserabilis), and I hope and believe that you have sufficient discrimination to do me justice.” But if we take this remark for granted, then we will also have to take account of this: Beethoven criticized Mozart as playing in a very choppy way. Do we assume that Mozart did not know how to play or did not play well? Beethoven had a very low opinion of Rossini: “true music found little recognition in this age of Rossini and his consorts…”. Probably you will never listen to Rossini again?… That Kozeluch had a bad temper – that’s not a secret. Was he a bad composer because of that? Beethoven’s friend, the Czech J. Dolezalek wrote: „die Komponisten waren damals gegen Beethoven, den sie nicht verstanden, und der ein böses Maul hatte” (the composers were then against Beethoven, whom they did not understand and who had a sharp and harmful tongue). Can we, should we judge a composer by his character, his temper?

3.“In 1784 Kozeluch acquired the backing to found his own publishing business…..Mozart had several works published by him…..”
And then: “In November of 1791, piano reduction scores of arias from Die Zauberflötte K.620 were published by this firm, allowing Kozeluch to cash in on the popularity of Mozart’s opera.” Kozeluch (as many other publishers did) cashed from publishing his own and other composers works – and what is wrong with it? That’s why most publishers publish, I presume!

4. “Mozart and Kozeluch no doubt had their first real “meeting” over the Princess Elisabeth of Wurttemberg. One may recall that in 1781 Mozart was considered for the post of instructing her in music……. Kozeluch and his supporters lobbied him for the post and he succeeded in gaining it, but the suspicion is that it was here that he began his dislike for Mozart. A dislike that, unlike Salieri’s reputed one, was in fact well known.” Really bad man, this Kozeluch, supporting somebody he dislikes!

5.“…there appears to be no documentation for any Kozeluch/Salieri rivalry…”. Yet Salieri intrigued against Kozeluch – later, after Mozart’s death. But maybe the best is said by Mary Burke: “The world of Viennese music was a tangle of friendships, feuds, favoritism, politicking, and jockeying for position. Musicians relied on networking and self-promotion at least as much as on actual ability (and in some cases, more so) […] Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart all knew Kozeluch, but didn’t like him. Beethoven didn’t think much of Haydn as a teacher, but was polite to him; Haydn had his doubts about Beethoven’s music, but was polite in turn. Kozeluch badmouthed Haydn to Mozart, and Beethoven to Haydn.”

6.“Modern consideration of them (Kozeluch’s works) shows that they do not display any highly individualistic characteristics that set them apart from other contemporary composers”. What “modern consideration” does the author mean? His own one? There is no serious research, no real paper on Kozeluch until today, except “Leopold Koželuh: život a dílo” by M. Poštolka, published 1964 in Prague (in Czech). Kozeluch was one of the first to begin his piano sonatas with a slow movement, later Beethoven and many other composers will do the same, Kozeluch was one of the first to be interested in the new instrument pianoforte and to explore its possibilities– for example he composed his Capriccios op.44 in such a way, that the pedal is and can be held through the whole piece.

7.”…If anything, they (Kozeluch’s works) are often mistaken for middle period Haydn works when first heard.” What a pity, that the British Library staff did not know that! From Thayers book “Life of Beethoven: “The autographs of three pieces for four hands, a Gavotte, an Allegro and a fragment of Marcia lugubre, form part of a collection in the British Museum (BM, No.31,7480, which was listed as “Mozart Autographs” in the “Catalogue of Additions to the Manuscripts in the British Museum”, published in 1882 to cover the period 1876-81. In 1910/1911 they were considered to be not Mozart but early Beethoven by St. Foix and Wyzewa, and they were published by St. Foix in his “Œuvres inédites de Beethoven“ as Tome II of publications de la Société Française de Musicologie (1926). In 1944 it was discovered accidentally that all three pieces were from Kozeluch’s ballet La Ritrovata Figlia di Ottone (produced at Vienna on February 24, 1794).” So much for middle period Haydn works…

8. “Mozart’s early biographer Niemetschek wrote to the publishers Breitkopf & Härtel that he became Mozart’s friend at the coronation ceremonies in Prague. In a letter of 1799 to them Niemetschek stated that he had deliberately refrained from mentioning Kozeluch’s name in Mozart’s biography, the reasons being given in the relevant portion as: ” Leopold Kozeluch…continually followed Mozart in Prague with the most petty jealousy. At coronation time he slandered him villainously and even attacked his moral character.”
The moral character of Mozart is a mistery even today. Yet there are some discoveries about Niemetschek. From Cambridge MOZART Encyclopedia : “… the ‘personal experience’ (with Mozart in Prague) claimed by Niemetschek appears to be nothing more than an effort to validate his capacity to render judgments in the realm of music, something not to be taken as self-evident in a gymnasium instructor trained as a teacher of German and pedagogue……….Nor are there any accounts of Niemetschek in contact with musicians of his period….. Constanze Mozart was one of Niemetschek’s primary sources and she is known to have falsified some information…..”.

(More info)

Further Niemetschek: “Kozeluch lost all his credit: I got to know this small man and small composer since he lived at a friend’s and did not compose the cantata on Meissner’s text within four weeks but with the sweat of his brow he patched it together and with a curse gave birth to-a changeling.” Implying, one suspects, that Kozeluch cribbed material from other sources (perhaps obvious ones?) and hence produced this work.” And if we write, based on speculations as this one, then it makes me hardly suspect that Niemetschek had his own, very private reasons for revenge on Kozeluch.
What should we say then about Haydn presenting Pleyel’s work as his own or Mozart’s borrowings from Michael Haydn, Schroeter, Schobert and many others?
Just a small example:


9. “For his efforts, talents and connections, Leopold Kozeluch, miserablis, was on June 12, 1792 awarded the post of Royal Orchestra Master (Kapellmeister) and Court Music Composer, which was conferred on him for life. His salary was set at 1500 gulden, or 1.875 times that of Mozart’s court pay.”

Besides his many other sins, he is now even responsible of being paid more than a dead colleague. Well, in this case, he is even guilty to be still alive after Mozart’s death…

Certainly Gary Smith is not the only one to try to discriminate Kozeluch. A year ago in a German musical magazine I read a comment on a newly published Sonata by Kozeluch with the statement that Kozeluch, being a son of a shoemaker, wrote for such and the sonata was not worth playing and publishing. What was funny for me, but rather invidious for both the publisher (Dohr Verlag) of the Sonata and the critic was, that a defect score without left hand printed had been sent to the critic. Did the critic ever open it?

Personally I think that such “contributions” have no value for anybody interested in this still neglected, yet important period of piano music (18th /19th centuries). What we need is an objective and correct approach, profound researches and the most important – new printing of all the scores out of print!


  1. M. Poštolka «Leopold Koželuh: život a dílo» Prague 1964
  2. Thayer’s Life of Beethoven
  3. Kozeluch Sonatas, capriccios (scores)

Music to listen:




Filed under: Music

4 Responses

  1. assadourian jean-marc Says:

    I know Kozeluh for long date.
    I find his sonatas outstandings.
    His concertos are fine examples of
    the evolution of this form before
    Mozart .It would be interesting to
    rediscover his operas and cantatas.
    Like Vranicky or Vanhal he is one
    of the outsandings czech composers
    in Vienna.

    Posted on December 10th, 2013 at 15:22

  2. Anna Says:

    yes, that would be wonderful.Till now only his oratorio Moesè in Egitto has been recorded.

    Posted on December 11th, 2013 at 00:21

  3. John Harrington Says:

    Thanks for this defense of Kozeluch. For the first time in my life, I heard his music this morning (a symphony in C major, Postolka I:6, aka Op. 24/1), and was impressed enough to go searching for information about him. If that symphony is typical of his abilities, he was a very fine composer. I will be listening more.

    Posted on May 24th, 2014 at 16:03

  4. Ludwig de Klerk Says:

    Thanks for your article. I have just become acquainted with Kozeluch’s music and really enjoy everything that I have heard – what a pleasure. Is that not what music is there for?

    Posted on August 27th, 2017 at 22:47

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