The religious turn in eighteenth-century studies over the last two decades has created opportunities to revisit and refine some of our most entrenched ideas about this period in history. Revisionist histories of the Enlightenment emphasize various compromises between religion and secularism, tradition and individual freedom, faith and reason. One important nexus among these tendentious beliefs and values is the Jesuit education system. Using Leopold Mozart, father of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as a case study, this essay argues that “enlightened Christianity” long predated the Age of Enlightenment. The Jesuit educational system, which was founded on the humanist neoclassicism that proliferated in the Renaissance, was both philosophically sophisticated and theologically uncompromising.

Leopold Mozart’s Jesuit education was centered on humanistic studies and, specifically, classic Greek and Roman texts. His philosophy of art and general worldview reflect the influence of those texts, and, as I argue, his particular shade of rationalism is best understood in light of his internalization (and reappropriation) of humanist philosophy, aesthetics, and ethics. Leopold’s humanistic orientation is prominently exhibited in the concept of taste. Five central aspects of Leopold’s aesthetic ideal of taste emerge from his personal and professional writings—moderation, clarity, propriety, expression, and ornamentation. These operate within a (predominately Ciceronean) humanist framework that promotes reason beyond rules—reason born of wisdom and experience and fitted to navigate uncertain situations that may defy a predetermined ideal. Taste, itself frequently associated with dogma and rules, is here revealed as a counterpoint to them and a keystone to Leopold’s humanistic shade of rationalism.

Author Biography

Katherine Walker joined the department of music at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2013. Her research interests include eighteenth-century musical aesthetics and intersections of race and popular music in the U.S. since 1920. Walker holds dual bachelor of arts degrees in music and psychology, as well as master and doctoral degrees in musicology (Cornell University, 2013). She also earned a performance certificate in double bass from the François Rabbath Institute at the Nadia Boulanger Conservatoire de Paris, France, and spent 2003 studying music of the African diaspora as a Rotary Ambassadorial Fellow in Cape Town, South Africa.

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