Having A Ball On Mozart’s Birthday
I’ve been had – and more than once! Oh, it happened a long time ago. But I realized it only recently, in anticipation of celebrating Mozart’s birthday with you.
I was introduced to those famous confections that originated in Mozart’s hometown: Salzburg, Austria. Simply said, they’re fancy candies: little ball-shaped candies with a portrait of Mozart on the foil wrapping. Slightly smaller than a ping pong ball, they’re called Mozartkugeln. Kugel is one of the German words for “ball.”
Inside the foil, once you’ve realized that they’re for eating and not just for admiring the artwork, you get to enjoy marzipan, pistachio, and nougat, all covered with chocolate. And in Salzburg, you get to enjoy these fancy candies at fancy prices.
I recall having seen them from time to time in this country. Just one was enough to remind me of Salzburg.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a Mozartkugel. And the thought came to me to check online to see if they’re still making them.
Still making them? I learned that there’s some fierce competition among the manufacturers of Mozartkugeln!
This was news to me. I had just assumed that there was a single source. Well, the story is told that there was an Austrian confectioner named Paul Fürst who introduced Mozartkugeln back in 1890 and originally called them “Mozartbonbon.” But confectioners back then weren’t thinking about things like copyright. And so, almost from the outset, others began to produce Mozartkugeln as well.
Over the years, even more companies joined in. The situation seems to suggest another of the meanings of the German word Kugel: “cannon ball,” at least metaphorically, as the manufacturers battled to outdo each other for a larger market share. According to Martina Trummer in a February 2019 article at the Salzburg tourist board website, there are 13 different kinds of Mozartkugeln.
The company which traces its roots back to Fürst is still around and reminding everyone that they’re the original. They fought a legal battle with another Austrian firm that has used words like “real” or “authentic.” And I’ve learned that only those two companies are permitted to have a completely round ball. All others have to have a flat surface.
Glancing at pictures of the various Mozartkugeln, I realized that I may not have had an original recipe Mozartkugel - even in Salzburg! And the ones I have found in this country may have been from places well outside of Austria.
From my recent research, I now know that you can tell them apart by the appearance of the portrait on the foil wrapping, the color of the wrapping or the name of the manufacturer. Having thought that there was just one source for Mozartkugeln, I never really noticed. I wouldn’t make it as an art sleuth. If I had noticed, I probably would have written it off as “variations on a theme.” Mozart wrote lots of those. But he also lifted tunes from various contemporaries. I should have been thinking more along those lines.
One company didn’t stop at Mozartkugeln. They also make Constanzekugeln (named for Mozart’s wife: Constanze). There are confections, though not ball-shaped, with a portrait of the two of them on the cover. There’s even one with Kugel ingredients in a candy bar. Mozart and a keyboard are pictured on the wrapper. And there’s an assortment featuring the balls packed in a box shaped like a violin. I couldn’t believe all of this when I saw it.
I came upon another website that offers a Mozartkugel-inspired gelato creation. It’s huge and neither ball-shaped nor foil-wrapped. Though it contains ingredients of a Mozartkugel, the photo doesn’t make it look all that inviting.
I’m surprised that during the worldwide popularity of the film Amadeus, nobody came up with Salieri candies. They might have been filled with bitter or sour-tasting ingredients, in the spirit of the fictitious portrait of composer Antonio Salieri in the film version of Peter Schaffer’s stage work.
So, will the Kugel mania ever end? There was a report by Martin Eder at Bloomberg on November 30 that one of the Austrian companies, which has been producing Mozartkugeln for 124 years, has filed for bankruptcy. The decline in the number of tourists and family get-togethers has resulted in a dramatic drop in sales.
No need to panic-buy. There ought to be enough out there for a long time. And even if they did run out, there’s plenty of Mozart’s music everywhere. I just wanted to be sure that those who never imagined that such things happen in conjunction with classical music knew about all this.
And if you want to hear the music that inspired it in the first place, tune in for Classic Mornings. Join us Monday through Friday from 9-noon on FM 90.9 or online at will.illinois.edu.