- Summary - Brief history of Mozart
- 1756-1772 - The Formative Years
- 1773-1777 - Munich, Salzburg & Vienna
- 1777-1781 - Early Adulthood; Struggles at Work
- 1781-1787 - The Independent Life
- 1788-1791 - The Final Years
Mozart was actually christened as "Joannes Chrysotomus Wolfgangus Theophilus," but adopted the Latin term "Amadeus"FN1 as his name of choice.
Mozart was one of seven children born to Leopold and Anna, however, only one other sibling survived. Maria Anna Mozart was affectionately known to her younger brother as "Nannerl." Nannerl and Mozart both exhibited musical abilities at an early age and, with guidance and instruction from their learned father, performed regularly in front of royalty and religious echelons.
Leopold has grown over history to be considered a strict but adoring father to Mozart. In a letter addressed to his son reflecting on the child's early formative years, Leopold wrote "As a child and a boy you were serious rather than childish and when you sat at the clavier or were otherwise intent on music, no one dared to have the slightest jest with you. Why, even your expression was so solemn that, observing the early efflorescence of your talent and your ever grave and thoughtful little face, many discerning people of different countries sadly doubted whether your life would be a long one."
Unfortunately, Mozart's life was a short one. He died just prior to turning 36 years old on December 5, 1791 after suffering an illness which attacked Mozart viciously and rapidly. The rumors of the day included that Mozart had been poisoned, a basis for the musical Amadeus -- which attributes the death of Mozart to the efforts of Antonio Salieri, a rival musician of the day.
Despite his relatively short life, Mozart has made a tremendous impact on music even 250 years after his birth. With major compositions ranging from the delightful opera The Magic Flute to dark and powerful scores within his Requiem in D minor, Mozart displayed versatility and an ability to use music to connect the listener with Mozart's soul and spirit.
Although Mozart spent a part of his life in the service of the Church, Mozart did not dedicate a great number of his works to the Holy Faith. Mozart's major compositions for church-related purposes included the Requiem mentioned above and the Coronation Mass.
Instrumental music was the mainstay of Mozart's composition efforts. When reflecting on Mozart's musical contributions, the student of Mozart will find:
- 41 symphonies
- 21 concertos for piano and orchestra (not including one Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra & one for three pianos and orchestra)
- 5 concertos for violin and orchestra
- 4 for horn and orchestra
- 2 for flute and orchestra
- 1 for clarinet and orchestra
- 1 for bassoon and orchestra
- 13 serenades
- 23 divertimenti
- 35 sonatas for violin and piano
- 12 duets for wind instruments
FN1: Mozart also used "Amadé" in some writings.
1756-1772: The Formative Years
With a successful father with musical inclination, Mozart began instruction very early. Leopold Mozart was a celebrated composer and violinist in his own right. When Leopold realized the potential his son and daughter had in the musical realm, the father displayed his children's talents for all of Europe to see.
Mozart wrote his first compositions at the tender age of five years. The pieces, which were relatively simple, displayed the five year old's grasp of music compositional form and structure. The compositions are what Mozart is remembered for today, but Mozart was also well known as a youngster for his abilities on the harpsichord (a pre-cursor to the piano), clavier and violin.
Leopold, who sought to promote his children's abilities outside of Salzburg, commenced tours of the European continent with the first tour, which started in January with travels to Munich. After travels to Pressburg and Vienna, the Mozart family returned almost a year later on January 5, 1763. The second tour was the first in which the Mozarts journeyed across the European continent over a span of three and one-half years.
The tour, which began on June 9, 1763, included Brussels, Paris and the southern portions of Germany. The last stop on the first leg was in Paris, where Mozart had his first compositions published. The four violin sonatas (K.6 through K.9) were composed during the winter of 1763-1764.
After the winter season completed, Mozart and his family headed to London, where the young prodigy would spend a year and a half. In London, Mozart met Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Although Johann Christian was nowhere near the composer his father was, the young Mozart was impacted strongly by the composer. During his time in London, Mozart composed his first two symphonies, K. 16 and K. 19. The influence of Bach and his colleague, Karl Friedrich Abel, is evident as the early pieces of Mozart are similar in structure and sound as J.C. Bach. The J.C. Bach influence continued into the later years as Mozart would utilize several Bach piano sonatas as the basis for some piano concertos.
After spending the 1765-66 winter in Holland, the Mozarts returned home through final stops in Brussels, Paris, Geneva, Berne and Munich. A second trip began shortly after this first one was complete. On September 11, 1767, the family again left Salzburg for a trip to Vienna. During the Vienna trip, Mozart composed his first German operetta, Bastien und Batienne (K.50), and his first Italian opera, La finta semplice (K.51).
La finta semplice met resistance from the Italian led portion of the Austrian Imperial Court and was not produced, although it was ordered by the Emperor. Mozart was allowed, however, to conduct a new mass (Mass in C minor, K. 139) before the Emperor for the dedication of the Waisenhäus Church on December 7, 1768. When Mozart returned to Salzburg, longtime family friend and patron, Archbishop Sigismund von Schrattenbach, caused La finta semplice to be performed in the Archbishop's palace and named Mozart as his Konzertmeister.
In December, 1769, the Mozarts started a fifteen month tour of Italy, which included stops in Milan and Padua. The second Italian tour, which was only four months in length, included a commissioned work by Empress Maria Theresa for her son's impending marriage. During the third tour, Archbishop died and was followed in office by Count Colloredo, the bishop of Gurk. In April, 1772, Mozart composed a festive opera for the installation of the Count to the office of Archbishop.
1773-1777: Munich, Salzburg, & Vienna
Leopold tried to get Mozart an appointment to the Imperial court in Vienna when they visited in 1773. As a sign of things to come, the appointment was not granted and Mozart was unable to remain in the stable position of court musician. Mozart's trip to Vienna was not in vain, however, as he was able to meet and study with Franz Joseph Haydn. Haydn's influence is first seen in six string quartets Mozart composed when Haydn's Opus 20 quartets came to being in 1772. The quartets, K.168 to K.173, adopt the Viennese four movement form rather than the Italian three movement standard. Although Mozart was quite arrogant according to history and legend, he was very gracious when speaking of Haydn's works. Haydn's influence is also seen if what some consider the most famous piece Mozart wrote during this time was the Symphony #25 in G Minor (K.183).
Mozart spent the last portion of 1773 and most of 1774 composing at home in Salzburg. Major Compositions during this time include the Bassoon Concerto in Bb Major (K.191) and four symphonies (K.199-K.202). After a four month stint in Munich from December 1774 to March, 1775, Mozart again came home to Salzburg not finding a new court appointment. The failure to secure a court appointment didn't keep Mozart from composing. During the rest of 1775 through September, 1777, Mozart stayed in Salzburg and wrote several pieces, including the opera Il ré pastore (K.208), several violin concertos (K.207, 211, 216, 218 & 219), and the Credo Mass, technically entitled Mass in C Major (K.257).
1777-1781: Early Adulthood; Struggles at Work
The strain of life as a servant musician began to show its effect on Mozart and his employer, Archbishop Colloredo. In August, 1777, Mozart formally requested to be discharged from his duties and the Archbishop allowed Mozart and Leopold to "seek their fortune elsewhere, according to the Gospel." As Mozart and Leopold had already been travelling throughout Europe trying to secure a new appointment, it is not surprising that Mozart was unable to secure another prestigious appointment and did not break with the Archbishop until years later.
Although Mozart had not been able to secure employment on any of his tours prior, he and his mother immediately left Salzburg in September 1777. Travelling without his father, Mozart journeyed though Germany to Paris, where Mozart hoped to find a permanent position. Mozart would not reach his goal. However, the trip was not unimportant in the Mozart history. While on the trip, the Mozarts met Fridolin Weber and Mozart fell in love with his second daughter, Aloysia.
Aloysia was a talented coloratura soprano and Mozart had hoped to journey with her to Italy, but his father refused to let Mozart divert from his course to Paris. Mozart left the Webers and Munich for Paris. While in Paris, Mozart's mother died on July 3, 1778. Rather than journey quickly back to Salzburg, Mozart took a slow path back, including a stop in Munich where he longed to see his beloved Aloysia. Unfortunately for Wolfgang, Aloysia didn't pay much attention to him, if any. Mozart's journal seems to reflect that she barely recognized him. Mozart's journal entry was dated December 29, 1778. After this entry, Mozart immediately went to Salzburg, where he arrived in January, 1779.
Mozart finally found some success in his search for a court appointment when he applied for the position of court organist in Salzburg. Mozart commenced his tenure in early 1779. During this time, Mozart was able to compose some brilliant sacred pieces, including the Coronation Mass (K.317), a Missa Solemnis in C Major (K.337) and Symphony #34 in C Major (K.338).
Friends from Munich secured a commission for an opera for Mozart to compose. The opera, Idomeneo, King of Crete, was the first opera seria which Mozart exhibited the extent of his abilities to take a simple libretto (text) and make something grand of it. When it premiered to astounding acclaim in late January, 1781, Idomeneo also caught the attention of the music court of the Emperor of Austria, Joseph II.
Relations with the Archbishop finally reached the boiling point when he summoned Mozart back to Salzburg to perform for his subjects. Colloredo treated Mozart as a servant. He was forced to eat with the other servants, could not perform in homes of other members of the aristocracy and was treated like a low-grade commoner. Mozart had enough of the treatment and resigned. When he did not receive an official dismissal, allowing him to secure work elsewhere, Mozart went to the Prince-Archbishop's palace, where he was kicked out "on his behind" by the Archbishop's steward.
1781-1787: The Independent Life
Free from the rigors of court life, Mozart had nothing to keep him solvent. As the first musician since George Frederic Handel to work without the aid of a patron. Mozart's initial successes would prove to be just initial successes. Emperor Joseph II commissioned a new opera from Mozart in 1781, shortly after he was dismissed by the Archbishop. The opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, struck several negative chords with the predominantly Italian comprised music court of Joseph II. The topic, a Seraglio (or Harem) in Turkey was considered inappropriate for a National Theater. Additionally, the use of German text rather than the more accepted Italian upset the traditionalist court, who had difficulty accepting Mozart's willingness to exceed their conservative boundaries. The opera debuted nonetheless in 1782 to great success.
By this time, Mozart had already fallen in love with another Weber daughter. Despite strong protests from Leopold, Wolfgang married Constanze Weber in August, 1782. Weber became pregnant quickly and in 1783, Mozart and Constanze saw their first child, Raimund Leopold, die in infancy. Wolfgang and Constanze went to Salzburg in August, 1783. Constanze was not well-liked by either Leopold or Nannerl. Many criticisms of Constanze have been leveled, including her lack of control of money. But it is undoubtedly true that she cared very deeply for Mozart and his well being.
Mozart spent most of his efforts supporting his family composing and performing piano concerti for the public. As the piano was a fairly new instrument and was still being refined at the time, Mozart was not just a master performer on the instrument, but he also displayed a mastery of the mechanical aspects of the piano. Mozart even had technicians modify his piano to add a pedal for his use in performance. Despite being an active performer and composer, the performances were not paying the bills for the young couple. With additional children on the way, freedom was becoming more costly to the young Mozart.
The Mozart's second child, Carl Thomas was born in 1784 and lived to his mid-seventies. Another child, Johann Thomas Leopold Mozart, was born in 1786 and did not survive. The first girl born to the couple, Theresia Constanzia Adelheid Friedericke Maria Anna Mozart was born in 1787 and survived long enough to see the next year, but died in 1788.
Leopold visited Vienna for two months in 1785 and bore witness to some of Mozart's greatest success. Mozart completed a series a string quartets he had dedicated to Haydn during this time period (K.387, 421, 428, 458, 464 & 465). Haydn came to Mozart's apartment and heard the final three performed. Haydn spoke a few words to Leopold which should have boosted his pride in his son, despite his regrets over his choice of independent lifestyle with Constanze. Haydn told Leopold "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."
The Marriage of Figaro debuted in Vienna on May 1, 1786. An enormous success, Mozart followed Figaro with the dark opera Don Giovanni. Don Giovanni was a huge success in Prague, where it debuted. In early December, 1787, Mozart was able to secure an appointment as chamber composer for Joseph II. His pay was set at 800 gulden annually (his predecessor, Christoph von Gluck, made 2,000 gulden annually.)
1788-1791: The Final Years
The last three symphonies Mozart Composed, (Eb Major, K.543; G minor, K.550 & C Major (Jupiter), K.551, were all composed in 1788. Don Giovanni, which had opened so successfully in Prague, was a dismal failure in Vienna.
The lack of a patron now was causing Mozart great financial stress and difficulty. Mozart borrowed from many of his friends, including members of his Masonic lodge. In efforts to make money to save his finances, Mozart took a tour in 1789, hoping to raise funds. The tour was not a great success and there was not a great impact on Mozart's finances.
Mozart would have two last children. Anna, the fifth Mozart child not to survive, was born and died in 1789. The last child born, Franz Xaver Wolfgang was born in 1791. Xaver lived to maturity and died in 1844, fourteen years before his older brother would pass away.
Mozart's final compositions include a Requiem Mass, which was commissioned by a stranger. Although the musical Amadeus depicts rival musician Antonio Salieri commissioning the Requiem Mass from Mozart, the facts are otherwise. In the summer of 1791, Count Franz von Walsegg commissioned the Requiem Mass from Mozart with intents on performing the piece under his own name. Walsegg often paid professional musicians for works which he would then perform under his own name. Such was the intent in this instance.
Mozart became quickly and violently ill in the autumn of 1791. Because of his quick decline in health, many rumored that he was poisoned. The play Amadeus uses these rumors, along with a confession by an insane elderly Salieri as the basis for his play. In 1966, physician Carl Bür performed a detailed analysis and concluded Mozart died of heart failure cause by rheumatic fever and excessive blood letting.
Mozart died on December 5, 1791 in Vienna. He was buried the next day in an pauper's grave, along with several other people's bodies in a mass grave. Constanze was left with two children and enormous debts. She later remarried and died in Salzburg in 1842.
This biography was prepared with the assistance of Encyclopædia Britannica.