Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

On this day…

in the year 1756…

in Salzburg Austria…

…was born one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozart. Unrivaled in significance and influence among all composers of Classical Music, his works are loved by many and are still frequently performed.

Mozart`s musical ability started to become apparent when he was a toddler. He was the son of Leopold Mozart, one of Europe`s leading musical pedagogues, whose influential textbook Versuch einer grndlichen Violinschule was published in 1756, the same year as Mozart`s birth. Mozart received intensive musical training from his father, including instruction in both the piano and violin. Musically, he developed very rapidly and began to compose his own works at the age of five.

Leopold soon realized that he could earn a substantial income by showcasing his son as a Wunderkind in the courts of Europe. Mozart`s older sister, Maria Anna, nicknamed “Nannerl”, was a talented pianist and often accompanied her brother on Leopold`s tours. Mozart wrote a number of piano pieces, in particular duets and duos, to play with her. On one occasion when Mozart became ill, Leopold expressed more concern over the loss of income than over Mozart`s well-being. Constant travel and cold weather may have contributed to his subsequent illness later in life.

During his formative years, Mozart completed several journeys throughout Europe, beginning with an exhibition in 1762 at the Court of the Prince of Bavaria in Munich, then in the same year at the Imperial Court in Vienna. A long concert tour soon followed, which took him with his father to the courts of Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London, The Hague, again to Paris, and back home via Zurich, Donaueschingen, and Munich. They went to Vienna again in late 1767 and remained there until December 1768.

After one year spent in Salzburg, three trips to Italy followed. During the first of these trips, Mozart met G.B. Martini in Bologna, and was accepted as a member of the famous Accademia Filarmonica. A highlight of the Italian journey, which is now an almost legendary tale, occurred when he heard Gregorio Allegri`s Miserere once in performance, then wrote it out in its entirety from memory, only returning a second time to correct minor errors.

In September of 1777, accompanied only by his mother, Anna Maria, Mozart began a tour of Europe that included Munich, Mannheim, and Paris, where she died.

During his trips, Mozart met many musicians and acquainted himself with the works of other great composers. Baroque and Classical-era Masters such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Friedrich Hndel, and Joseph Haydn. Even non-musicians caught his attention: He was so taken by the sound created by Benjamin Franklin`s glass harmonica, he composed several pieces of music for it.

In 1782, he married Constanze Weber against his father`s wishes. He and Constanze had six children, of whom only two survived infancy. 1782 was an auspicious year for Mozart`s career; his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio was a great success, and he began a series of concerts at which he premiered his own piano concertos as conductor and soloist.

Mozart`s final illness and death are difficult scholarly topics, obscured by Romantic legends and replete with conflicting theories. Scholars disagree about the course of decline in Mozart`s health – particularly at what point Mozart became aware of his impending death, and whether this awareness influenced his final works.

The Romantic view holds that Mozart declined gradually, and that his outlook and compositions paralleled this decline. In opposition to this, some contemporary scholarship points out correspondence from Mozart`s final year indicating that he was in good cheer, as well as evidence that Mozart`s death was sudden and a shock to his family and friends.

According to popular legend, Mozart was penniless and forgotten when he died, and was buried in a pauper`s grave. In fact, though he was no longer as fashionable in Vienna as he had once been, he continued to have a well-paid job at court and receive substantial commissions from more distant parts of Europe, Prague in particular.

Many of his letters survive, but they are evidence not so much of poverty than his ability to always spend more than he earned. He was not buried in a mass grave but a regular communal grave according to the laws of the day.

In the decades following Mozart`s death there were several attempts to catalog his compositions, but was not until 1862 that Ludwig von Kchel succeeded in this enterprise by publishing the Chronological-Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Musical Works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The prefix K or KV which accompanies catalog numbers assigned to Mozart`s works (instead of the more common “Opus”) are derivative of Kchel`s name.

Kchel catalog numbers not only attempt to establish chronology, but also give a helpful shorthand to refer to Mozart`s works. Many of his famous works are referred to now by only their Kchel catalog number; for example, the Piano Concerto in A Major is often referred to simply as “K. 488.”

Many important composers since Mozart`s time have worshiped or been in awe of Mozart. Ludwig van Beethoven once wrote that he would never be able to think of a melody as great as that of the first movement of Mozart`s Piano concerto No. 24, and paid homage to Mozart by writing variations on several of his themes. After the only meeting between the two composers, Mozart noted that the young Beethoven would “give the world something to talk about.”

Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his Mozartiana in praise of him and Gustav Mahler died with the word “Mozart” on his lips.


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