What would you call a child who started composing at the age of five and made public appearances at the age of eight? A prodigy isn’t it? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sits at the top of the list of music composers who hold a special place in the realm of music. In a short span of 35 years, he became the most celebrated musician, writing almost 600 musical pieces all of which are hailed as master pieces. Throughout his life, Mozart travelled all over the world, composed in abundance, remained a voracious student of music, explored and experimented with almost all genres of music. His works are considered to be the pinnacles of symphonies, operas and chamber music. The final phase of his life was very productive, as some of his best known operas, symphonies and concertos belong to that period. His friend Joseph Haydn wrote, ‘posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years’. Scroll down and learn all about the childhood, life and career of Mozart.
Childhood And Early Life
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, as the son of Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart at Getreidegasse in Salzburg (part of present day Austria which was at that time part of Roman Empire). Hailing from Augsburg, his father was a composer a teacher and was appointed as a chapel master in the court orchestra of archbishop of Salzburg. Mozart’s only sibling to survive was Maria Anna, his elder sister. A day after his birth, Mozart was baptized at St. Rupert’s cathedral. As per the sources, the Latinized form of his name in baptismal records is Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. When Mozart reached the age of four, his father taught him a few minuets which he played effortlessly. By the time he reached the age of five, Mozart could compose small pieces.
Leopard Mozart was the only teacher the young Mozart had during childhood. Mozart was always enthusiastic and keen to learn much beyond what he was taught then. His early compositions and efforts often surprised his father, who gave up composing when Mozart’s musical talent became apparent. Apart from music, Mozart’s father also taught him languages.
In his younger days Mozart made many journeys to Europe where he and his sister performed as child prodigies. In 1762, his trip to the court of the Prince-elector Maximilian III of Bavaria in Munich and to the Imperial Court in Vienna and Prague extended to almost three and half years. On this trip he also visited places like Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London, Hague, Zurich and Donaueschingen. It was during this trip that Mozart got acquainted with the works of other musicians and composers; the most important among them was the works of Johann Christian Bach. In 1767, when the family was in Vienna, Mozart composed a Latin Drama and performed at Salzburg University. After returning back to Salzburg, Mozart went to Italy with his father in December 1769. This trip gave him a chance to meet G. B. Martini, in Bologna and was made a member of the reputed ‘Accademia Filarmonica’. While in Milan, Mozart wrote the opera, ‘Mitridate, re di Ponto (1770) and performed it successfully. Later, he visited Milan in the years 1771, 1772 and 1773 for the premiers of ‘Ascanio in Alba’ (1771) and ‘Lucio Silla’ (1772). By the end of the last Italian Journey, he wrote his first work, ‘Exsultate, jubilate’.
After returning home in 1773, Mozart was appointed to the court of the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. It was during this time that he produced five violin concertos and piano concertos, of which some are considered as breakthroughs in the realm of music, by the critics. During his stay in Salzburg, he and his father visited Vienna and Munich; the latter resulted in a premiere of his opera ‘La finta giardiniera’. By this time he had numerous friends and admirers and worked in wide variety of genres including symphonies, sonatas, string quartets and minor operas. Moreover, Mozart also strived to create operas, for which Salzburg did not offer much opportunities. Situations got worse when the only court theatre in Salzburg was closed.
In 1777, Mozart resigned from his job and travelled to Augsburg, Mannheim, Paris, and Munich in search of a better career. Though he developed acquaintances with Mannheim, the famous orchestra in Europe, it did not fetch him much benefit. He also fell in love with Aloysia Weber who belonged to a musical family. He was offered the post of an organist in Versailles, which he rejected and eventually fell into debts. In 1778, Mozart’s mother passed away. Mozart was again offered the job as court organist and concert master in Salzburg. Though he was not willing to accept it but, unable to find a suitable job in Mannheim and Munich, Mozart returned home in 1779 and took up the job.
In 1781, Mozart’s opera ‘Idomeneo’ was premiered in Munich. Soon, Mozart was invited to the court of Archbishop Colloredo. Mozart felt offended by the way he was treated at the court by Colloredo, who prevented him from performing before, the Emperor at Countess Thun's for a fee that equalled half of his yearly salary in Salzburg. A quarrel that ensued led to Mozart’s to resign but his resignation was refused initially. However, later, the composer was dismissed. After this incident, Mozart settled in Vienna as a freelance performer and composer.
Life In Vienna
In Vienna, Mozart often performed as a pianist. Soon, he established himself as a keyboard player and a composer. The opera, ‘Die Entführung aus dem Serail’ (‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’) which was premiered in 1782 was a great success and stamped his reputation as a talented composer. While he was struggling with the conflict with Colloredo, he met Aloysia Weber’s family in Vienna who had moved from Mannheim. Mozart got involved in a relationship with Aloysia’s sister, Constanze. Though, they were separated briefly, they got married in 1782, in St. Stephens cathedral. The couple had six children, of which only two survived.
Flourishing Of The Career
During the period between 1782 and 1783, Mozart became familiar with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. This inspired Mozart to compose in baroque style and later led to the development of his own unique musical language. In 1783, Mozart and his wife visited Salzburg where he composed one of his greatest pieces, ‘Mass in C minor’. Though, the work was not completed, it was premiered in Salzburg with Constanze singing the solo part. In 1784, Mozart met Haydn who became his lifelong friend. Mozart later dedicated the six quartets to Haydn. During this time Mozart also presented concerts as a soloist, with three or four piano concertos in a season. As the theatres had little space, he chose unconventional venues such as a large room in an apartment or a ball room. His concerts and concertos are regarded as benchmarks in the realm of music, even today.
With his financial stability improving owing to the returns from the concerts, Mozart along with his wife adopted a lavish lifestyle and moved to an expensive apartment. In 1784, Mozart became a freemason. This decision had a great impact in the later parts of his life; he made plenty of Freemason friends, composed Masonic music.
Return To The Operas
After the huge success of ‘Die Entführung aus dem Serail’, Mozart did not contribute much to the world of music for some time. Later, he collaborated with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte and composed ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, which was premiered in Vienna in 1786. The warm reception it received inspired him to go for a second collaboration with Da Ponte and composed ‘Don Giovanni’, premiered in 1787. The opera met with success in Prague and in Vienna in the following year. These two operas are the masterpieces in the genre of opera even today, though, the musical complexities pose great challenge to the performers as well as to the listeners. Mozart’s father passed away in 1787.
In 1787, Mozart was appointed ‘chamber composer’ by the emperor Joseph II for 800 florins a year. The job required Mozart to compose music for dances for annual balls. However, the historical accounts suggest that the emperor’s aim was to keep Mozart in Vienna and not allowing him to leave the city in search of better prospects.
By 1786, the musicians in Vienna were having a tough time as Austria was at war and the financial capabilities of aristocracies to patronize musicians were at stake. By 1788, Mozart, along with his family moved to the suburb of Alsergrund to cut down his rental expenses. During this time, Mozart travelled to Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Frankfurt, Mannheim, and other German cities in search for better fortunes. These journeys did not yield much success.
Last Years & Death
The later phases of Mozart career were very fruitful. In later years, he composed numerous works, such as The Magic Flute, K. 595 in B-flat, K. 622, K. 614 in E-flat, K. 618 and K. 626, which he left unfinished. Mozart’s financial conditions also improved mainly from the annuities given to him by the rich patrons in Amsterdam and Hungary. He also earned monetary benefits from the sale of dance music which he wrote for the Imperial chamber. In the last years, he was immensely satisfied mainly due to the success of his works, most notably, ‘The Magic Flute’.
Mozart fell ill during the premiere of the opera ‘Opera La clemenza di Tito’ in 1791. Though, he continued to make public appearances for some more time, his health continued to deteriorate and made him bedridden. In 1791, on the 5th of December, Mozart died at the age of 35. However, the cause of his death still remains vague and researchers have listed at least 118 probable causes of his death.
Though Mozart lived only for 35 years, Mozart’s legacy is unparalleled. With almost 600 musical pieces, Mozart’s influence reigns supreme in all the genres of music ranging from symphonies, concertos, operas, chamber music to piano solo. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest musicians ever, if not the greatest.
- Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor
- Requiem Mass in D minor
- Kyrie in F major
- 6 Menuets
- 3 German Dances, k.606