Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an Austrian composer and pianist. Many people think he was one of the best composers of music of all time. He was born in the city of Salzburg on January 27, 1756. During his short life he wrote over 600 pieces of music, including the operas (music with a story) Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute. His first work was a minuet (a dance) that he wrote when he was four, and his last piece was the Requiem, which he left unfinished. Mozart could play the piano when very young and he was known as a great piano player as well as a great composer. He died close to 1am on December 5, 1791 because of rheumatic fever.
Family and early years [change]
Mozart was born into a musical family during the classical period of music. His father Leopold Mozart was a famous violinist and composer who worked for the Archbishop of Salzburg. He had one older sister called Maria Anna whose nickname was Nannerl (there were other brothers and sisters who died as babies). Mozart was baptized on the morning after his birth in the cathedral in Salzburg. The Latin form of his name was “Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart”. He was usually known as “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart” and his nickname was “Wolfi”. The house where he was born in the street called Getreidegasse is now a Mozart museum.
Mozart was a child prodigy. From a very early age he showed extraordinary musical talent. His father gave up composing in order to teach his son music. Wolfgang was learning the keyboard at the age of three and was soon learning the violin and organ as well. There are two short piano pieces written when he was five. They were written in his father’s handwriting, so it is not easy to say how much help he might have had.
Soon his father started to show off his son, making him play in concerts in front of lots of important people. Nowadays this would be called “exploiting” the young genius, but in those days people saw nothing wrong with letting a child to be used in this way. It is amazing that it seemed to do him no harm, and that he grew up to become the great composer that he deserved to be.
Mozart played in public in Salzburg when he was five. Then he was taken to Vienna when he was six. He also played in Linz and Pressburg (now called Bratislava). Twice he played in front of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. At these concerts he played pieces that adults usually played. He played at sight, improvised and played with a cloth covering the keyboard, played blindfolded and with one hand crossing another. He also made up accompaniments to tunes that were put in front of him. Many people who heard him wrote about this amazing boy and that is how we know a lot of what happened. It is also known that he could remember all the notes on a piece of music after looking at it only once.
Travels abroad [change]
Soon Mozart was travelling to other countries. He played in Munich, Prague, Paris, The Hague and London. In London he played to King George III and met a composer by the name of Johann Christian Bach, one of the sons of Johann Sebastian Bach. He liked Johann Christian Bach’s music and he played piano duets with him. While Mozart was in London, the Royal Society studied him to see if was a child prodigy or just a very small person. In 1767 he was in Vienna again where he was ill with smallpox, but he recovered, and his father saw this as a sign from God that his child would do well. He went to Italy where he heard music by many famous Italian composers, including Gregorio Allegri who had written a piece called Miserere. This piece had been written for the Pope for the choir of the Vatican to sing. No one was allowed to see the written music so that no other choir would be able to sing it. Mozart heard the piece once and then wrote it all down from memory. He met the Pope and was given a knighthood (Order of the Golden Spur).
In 1777, he went on a journey with his mother. In Mannheim he fell in love with a girl called Aloysia Weber. She was 16 years old and studying singing. Mozart wanted to take her to Italy to make her famous, but his father wrote him back very stern letters telling him to stop thinking about such nonsense. By 1778 Mozart and his mother were in Paris, but there his mother died.
Mozart in Vienna [change]
Mozart wrote some small operas when he was young, but his first really important opera was Idomeneo. It was first performed in Munich in 1780. The next year he went to Vienna. By this time he was working, like his father, for the Archbishop of Salzburg. When he went back to Salzburg he argued with the Archbishop who actually kicked him out. Mozart went off to Vienna where he would spend the rest of his life.
In 1782 he married Constanze Weber, one of the three younger sisters of Aloysia (who by now was married to someone else). They were to have seven children, but five of them died in childhood. Mozart’s father did not approve of the marriage. Constanze was a loving wife, but, like Mozart, she was not good at looking after money, so they were often very poor.
In that same year, 1782, Mozart wrote another very successful opera: Die Entführung aus dem Serail ("The Abduction from the Seraglio"). One famous story tells that, after the emperor had heard the opera, he told Mozart that there were “too many notes”. Mozart answered: “Just as many as are necessary, Your Majesty.”
Mozart started a series of concerts in which he played his own piano concertos, conducting from the keyboard. He met the composer Joseph Haydn and the two men became great friends, often playing together in a string quartet. Haydn said to Leopold Mozart one day: "Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste, and what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition." Mozart was in the same Masonic Lodge as Haydn, and he dedicated some of his string quartets to him.
Mozart and Prague [change]
The audiences in Vienna did not give Mozart much support after a few years, so he often went to Prague where the audiences loved him. His opera The Marriage of Figaro was very popular, and in 1787 he gave the first performance there of his opera Don Giovanni.
Final illness and death [change]
There are several stories about Mozart’s last illness and death, and it is not easy to be sure what happened. He was working on an opera The Magic Flute which is one of his best works and a very popular opera today. It is written in German, not Italian, like most of his other operas. In some ways it is like an English pantomime. At the same time that he was working on this he was asked by a stranger to compose a requiem. He was told to write this in secret. Then he was asked to write an Italian opera La Clemenza di Tito, which was performed in Prague during September 1791. At the end of September The Magic Flute was given its first performance. Mozart then worked very hard at the Requiem. He must have realized that he was already very ill, and that in a way the requiem (a mass for the dead) was for himself. He died before he could finish it. Constanze asked another composer, a man called Franz Xaver Süssmayr, to finish the work. Today we are not sure which bits Süssmayr added, but probably most of the music is Mozart’s own work.
Mozart’s music [change]
Mozart's music, like that of Haydn, is the very best of what is known as the Classical style. At the time he started to compose, the Baroque period was just coming to an end. Tastes were changing in music. Form, balance and elegance were thought of as more important than counterpoint. Mozart was the first great composer to write music for the piano, an instrument which had only just become popular. He wrote almost every kind of music: symphonies, operas, solo concertos, chamber music, especially string quartets and string quintets, and the piano sonata. He also wrote a lot of religious music, including masses, as well as popular music like dances, divertimenti and serenades.
When Mozart was young a symphony was usually a short, simple piece for entertainment. Mozart made the symphony into a carefully worked-out piece lasting up to half an hour. His last three symphonies are especially fine masterpieces. His concertos, especially his piano concertos, are far more advanced than anything that had been written before. Although Mozart behaved in truly childish ways at times, he was good at understanding human character. This is clear in his operas, where he introduced many subtle effects to describe the characters in the story.
Mozart's operas are among his greatest works. He understood people's characters very well and was able to write music which tells us everything about the personalities in the operas. The three operas in which he set words by Lorenzo Da Ponte: Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) and Cosi fan tutte each include some very clever ensembles in which several characters are singing at once, each one showing his or her view of the situation.
As well as many great masterpieces, Mozart wrote many pieces in a more popular style, including some tunes that everybody knows today. His serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik is known everywhere, as is the Turkish Rondo from his Piano Sonata in A, the opening of the Symphony no 40 in G minor K550, and the birdcatcher’s song from The Magic Flute.
Catalogue of Works [change]
Some time after Mozart’s death a man called Köchel studied all Mozart’s music, tried to put them in chronological order, and gave them a number. The number helps us to know exactly which work is meant, for example Symphony in G minor K183 is not the same piece as Symphony in G minor K550 (K stands for Köchel. Sometimes it is written "KV550" standing for "Köchel Verzeichnis" i.e. "Köchel Catalogue"). The highest Köchel number is 626, his requiem mass.
- "Biography of Mozart". http://www.its.caltech.edu/~tan/Mozartreq/main.html. Retrieved 12-07-2009.
- "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart". http://www.azopera.com/learn.php?subcat=composerbios&composer=Mozart. Retrieved 12-07-2009.
- "The Royal Society puts historic papers on line" (in English). BBC News. November 30, 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8385560.stm. Retrieved 2009-11-30.
Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie; 1980; ISBN 1-56159-174-2
Other pages [change]
Other websites [change]
- The Mozart Project
- Mozart livecams Live pictures of Mozart Birth house, Mozart Monument, Mozart View and so on.