How Do You Pronounce “Mozart”?

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In some cultures names are held to be so important and personal that members of the culture keep them secret from strangers.

Even in Western society, names stir emotions. It bothers us to see our names misspelled or hear them mispronounced. Journalists try hard to avoid offending the subjects of their stories by doing either.

I recall the confused ripple General Colin Powell caused on NPR as announcers stumbled over the pronunciation of his first name. They were used to the traditional short o pronunciation of the name “Colin” and required a day or so to settle to the long o with which the general pronounces it.

Not all the NPR announcers have yet figured out that Bill Clinton does not pronounce “Clinton” with a t, but with a glottal stop.

When it comes to living people, the pronunciation of a name can be settled by asking the person to whom it belongs. That’s not the case with the names of long-dead writers or composers.

The name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been pronounced the same way by English speakers for a very long time now. It seems to me that the traditional pronunciation of the name can be considered the correct pronunciation.

So why are some people beginning to pronounce “Mozart” as if they were saying “Moe’s art”?

I’ve heard more than one radio announcer pronounce it that way.

Can this be the thin edge of the wedge? Is the next step going to be pronouncing “Beethoven” and “Bach” as [bee-thoven] and [bahtch]?

Heaven forfend!

Here, for the benefit of the young and inexperienced are the traditional pronunciations of the Big Three as given at Inogolo, a site dedicated to conveying the correct pronunciation of proper names.

Click on the name to go to a page that has an audio clip of the pronunciation.

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23 thoughts on “How Do You Pronounce “Mozart”?”

  1. Beethoven, Strange word.

    In German “Every” letter is used.

    The word beenden, it means by the way “to finish”, is pronounced be-en-den. Not as in English Bean-den. Also there is no glide on the e, so I guess where you see a letter E it should sound closer to “eh!”, but with out the sounding like exclamation 🙂

    also the Germans sound the letter V as an F.

    So Beethoven should sound more like Beh-eht-ofen.

    The TH is also sounded more like a T as well 🙂

    Motzart is not Moet-zart again no glide on the o so the Mo is sounded more like the MO in Molly. The more common english language sounds like the O has an umlaut

    Really not sure on how to say Bach in german the CH has a bit of a life of it’s own, also varies with different dialects, and its position in the word.

  2. Moe’s art?? Goodness, that’s horrific.

    I believe Americans also have a tendency to pronounce the philosopher Nietsche as neat-shee, which is not how a German would say it at all!

  3. Not all the NPR announcers have yet figured out that Bill Clinton does not pronounce “Clinton” with a t, but with a glottal stop.

    Seems to me that’s a completely different thing. The glottal stop is a variant of the /t/ phoneme for some English speakers, but speakers who don’t use that variant shouldn’t be expected to use it just because someone who does says their name that way (and vice versa…speakers who do use it can be expected to use it in the names of people who don’t).

    Is the next step going to be pronouncing “Beethoven” and “Bach” as [bee-thoven] and [bahtch]?

    Reminds me of the people saying Xerxes should be pronounced “Zersees”….ugh.

    Well, I’ve heard “beet-hoven” before now….and there’s an actor named John Bach, which is pronounced “baysh”, and a New Zealand word for a summer home is “bach”, pronounced “batch”.

  4. I didn’t mean to imply that I think that German names should be pronounced in English as they are in German. I’m just saying that these are the traditional English pronunciations of these names.

  5. I’m a piano teacher, and I’m always correcting my students on their pronunciation of the composers. Just yesterday I had this same “Moe’s Art” discussion with a student. How timely!

    Now can let everyone know how to pronounce “Chopin,” “Handel,” and “Dvorak” correctly? 🙂

  6. Well in England, we say Nietsche as Nietsche would have said Nietsche – so it is a traditional English pronunciation, over here at least.

    I’d always assumed that Americans were just wrong when they said neat-shee, but perhaps it’s standard (non-UK) English?

  7. Bach is pronounced as ‘bah’ in German:

    and combination of ‘ch’ is just ‘h’ over there… without any ‘k’!

  8. It’s always jarred with me the way US speakers pronounce Van Gogh as ‘Van Go’. In the UK, we end ‘Gogh’ either with an ‘f’ sound, or with a rather limp-wristed guttural that I suppose we think of as an Anglicised version of the alarming throat-clearing that a native Dutch speaker would employ.

  9. Quixote is an instance of Americans attempting to pronounce a name as the Spanish speakers do while the British give it an English pronunciation. And how about the way Byron pronounced Don Juan to rhyme with “true one”?!

  10. I’ve been asked via email how to pronounce VanGogh. I found this set of guidelines on a trivia forum:

    The first /g/ of Gogh is not the same sound as English /g/ in God. Technically speaking, it’s a voiced velar fricative, not a plosive. The final g is a voiceless velar fricative (in phonetic transcription: /x/). The first sound is typical of Dutch. The second occurs in Dutch and in Scottish English.
    The a is different from English /a/ (as in cat ) as well. It’s a very open back vowel. But if you pronounce ‘van’ as in ‘Van’ Morrison and ‘Goch’ as in loch and with the usual English /g/, everybody is going to understand you perfectly.

    I think I’ll just continue pronouncing it /VanGo/.

  11. Maeve: it really depends who you ask…Dutch speakers, like English speakers, don’t all use the same sounds. Van Gogh was from an area near the Belgian border, and wouldn’t likely have pronounced either of the g’s the way your source claims, which is a northern accent.

  12. God forbid people start mispronouncing the names of these famous composers! I would absolutely be horrified to hear someone say “Moe’s art” instead of “Mozart”. The same goes with “Bee-thoven”, ‘Beet-hoven”, or “Beeth-oven” instead of “Beethoven”!
    Granted, I don’t listen to classical music too often, but at least I know how to pronounce the 3 most famous composers!

  13. Johann Strauss => Yo-Harn Sh-tr-ow-ss

    How about Leonhard Euler (Famous Swiss Mathematician)

    Ley-on-heart Oiler

    The Surname is usually pronounced on English You-ler. or as my German teacher used to say that’s the English way of saying it, “how Quaint”.

  14. I think this is all unnecessary. When pronouncing foreign names (words are a bit different) pronounce them as closely as possible to the way the natives do WITHIN the confines of English. Don’t try to make sounds that English simply doesn’t have. So, say “Bay-toh-ven” (which is Dutch, BTW, not German). Say “Bock” (the German a is closer to an English o like in block, which is a perfectly normal English sound, so don’t say “Batch”). But the ch sound at the end doesn’t exist in English, so don’t try it. Ck is close enough. Likewise say Moat-sart. The z is like an s. Easy enough. Just like we say peet-sa, which approximates the Italian without sounding silly. Van Go is actually closer to Dutch than van Gock would be.
    But tradition and LONG history often create exonyms. In our case, that is English names for non-English names. That’s ok, too. So it’s fine to say Jeezus, not Yaysus, which is from Greek anyway, or Yayshoo, or whatever it would be. You don’t have to say Yoolius Saezar (or however someone guesses it would be pronounced in Latin). You aren’t speaking Latin. Likewise, Confucius (no, that’s not his Chinese name, but I don’t speak Chinese) or EYE-v’n the Terrible– the murderous czar, not ee-VAN the Terrible who sounds like someone’s mean aunt.

  15. What a polemical topic !

    I agree with those who said the names should be pronounced exactly like the person’s parents intented to.

    From German to English it shouldn’t be so difficult.

    In German the ‘Z’ is pronounced ‘TZ’. That’s all.
    As in ‘Zeitgeist’.

    I see no problem in using foreign words/expressions and depending on how important the term is to the culture, I see no problem in trying to pronounce it as close to the orginal as we could.

    Have you guys seen ‘Gone with the wind’? If so, you know what’s a ‘beau’ and how to say it, don’t you?

  16. “names should be pronounced exactly like the person’s parents intented to.”

    Ridiculous. As said above, stick-to, “WITHIN the confines of English. Don’t try to make sounds that English simply doesn’t have.” Forget the ch of loch and Bach, or the nasal N of French, or the thousands of exotic vowels that fill the non-Anglophonic world. Say MOATS-ART. That’s fine (it’s a TS, not a TZ, by the way). And if there is a long established exonym for someone, as is the case with many historical figures, use them. Saying Confucius is FINE. Likewise Jesus, Moses, all the other biblical names. Mark Anthony, MONTEZOOMA, Frederick the Great, JOOlius SEEzur, etc. etc. Stop being so self-concious about foreignisms and try pronouncing your own English language right for a change (as this post describes).

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