Maria Theresia Paradis (1759 – 1824)
Mozart’s student and fellow victim
I listen to the pieces and then try to play them. The fingering is improved, and in one lesson I often learn one and a half solos without much difficulty.
Maria Theresia Paradis became blind for unknown reasons when she was four and learned to play music by ear. She became famous despite – or possibly because of – her handicap.
Impressed by hearing her play an organ concert at the age of eleven, Empress Maria Theresia granted her a lifelong stipendium of 200 florins per year. She also commissioned a craftsman to make a special letter case so that she could write her own letters, print her music and teach blind and sighted students together in this way. The system was a forerunner of braille.
Like the Mozart child prodigies, she was coached and pushed by her parents and performed for prominent figures and nobility throughout Europe. She was acquainted with Joseph Haydn and was taught by Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
In 1785 Leopold Mozart reported on a new piano concerto that his son had written for Paradis in Paris.
In 1777 Franz Anton Mesmer sought to heal the 18-year-old musician of her blindness by means of animal magnetism. He appeared successful at first and she was able to see light and then shapes. But her new sightedness was too much of an emotional strain for her. Mesmer was attacked by his medical colleagues as a quack and charlatan and had to flee from Vienna. He never believed that the girl was truly blind and reproached her parents for ignoring the results of the cure, because if their daughter had been able to see again she would have lost the stipendium and would no longer have been famous.
Twelve years later in Così Fan Tutte, Mozart made fun of Mesmer’s treatment, when Despina revives Ferrando and Guglielmo, who are pretending to be dead, with a magnet.
Maria Theresia Paradis went on tour again with her mother, performed, composed and later founded a music school for blind children.