Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (baptised Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus) was born in Salzburg 1756 and died Vienna 1791 aged only 35.
He was an Austrian composer, keyboard player, violinist, violist and conductor.
Mozart’s Early Years
Mozart’s father was Leopold Mozart, Kapellmeister to Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg.
The young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy, playing klavier at 3 years old and composing at 5!
Mozart’s elder sister Maria Anna was also a very talented keyboard player and Leopold Mozart was keen to show off his children’s talent.
The Mozart Family “On Tour”
In 1762, Leopold Mozart began a long “tour” with his children of some of the European courts to showcase their exceptional talent. They went to a large number of courts, including those in Munich, Vienna and Paris and even spent 2 weeks at Louis XV’s court in Versailles.
In 1764 they arrived in London where Mozart studied with J.C. Bach and wrote his first 3 symphonies.
Have a look/listen to Mozart’s First Symphony (which he composed when he was just 8 years old!!) performed by The San Fransisco Academy Orchestra.
Having returned to Salzburg in 1766, Mozart went to Italy in 1769 where he continued to demonstrate his extraordinary genius. Whilst in Rome, the young Mozart heard Allegra’s miserere and wrote it out from memory!! (The Oxford Dictionary Of Music, Kennedy, M. 1985)
Mozart “The Man”
Mozart went on more visits to Italy as well as Munich, Mannheim and Paris until he returned to Salzburg as court and cathedral organist in 1778.
In 1782, Mozart moved to Vienna and married Constanze Weber in August of that year.
The last 9 years of Mozart’s life from 1782-1791 were a combination of “financial troubles with an astonishing outpouring of masterpieces in almost every genre.” (The Oxford Dictionary Of Music, Kennedy, M. 1985)
The circumstances surrounding Mozart’s death had enough mystery to ensure that it has been a topic of debate ever since.
Why did one of Vienna’s most famous celebrities received such a cheap and anonymous funeral?
The location of Mozart’s grave remains unknown to this day and, whilst the myriad of conspiracy theories seem rather unlikely, there is some reason for “believing that things were not quite as they seem.” (The Oxford Dictionary Of Music, Kennedy, M. 1985)
The scope of Mozart’s work is vast and covers a huge range of instrumental and vocal combinations and genres.
Mozart’s music is characterised by form and symmetry.
Mozart Instrumental Music
Mozart Piano Music
Piano sonata 11
Mozart’s piano sonata no. 11 is based on a theme and variations form.
Have a look at the sheet music and listen to me performing the opening of the sonata:
Piano concerto 21
Mozart’s piano concerto no. 21 is one of his most famous concertos.
Have a look/listen to this extract played by Maurizio Pollini and the Berliner Philharmoniker:
Mozart also wrote pieces for other solo instruments.
Notable examples of these are his clarinet concerto and violin concerto no 3.
Mozart Chamber Music
Traditionally it has always been thought that Mozart wrote 41 symphonies (however, this number is now a matter of considerable debate as the number is thought to be significantly greater).
Whatever the official number, it is clear that Mozart’s symphony writing was prolific in his short life.
Having composed his first symphony when he was just 8 years old, he completed hi 41st, “Jupiter” when he was 32 years old.
Have a listen to this extract from the 1st movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”:
Mozart Vocal Music
Mozart produced a significant number of vocal works ranging from individual pieces to grand works and operas.
Individual Vocal Pieces
Mozart wrote a number of secular and sacred vocal pieces.
One example of his sacred music is “Ave verum corpus”, which remains very popular today.
Below is a pdf copy of the sheet music.
Please feel free to download it and follow it whilst you watch the video below of the piece performed by the choir of Kings College Cambridge.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sadly died on 5th December 1791 without finishing his requiem.
He had only recently been commissioned to write the requiem by an anonymous person (it turned out to be on behalf of Count Franz von Walsegg-Stuppach who was wanting the mass to commemorate his deceased wife).
Thankfully, the requiem was completed by his pupil Sussmayer and remains to this day one of the most glorious vocal works ever written.
Here is a video of the Lacrimosa from the requiem performed at the Lucerne Festival:
Operas By Mozart
Mozart wrote a staggering 22 operas in his 35 years.
In his operas, Mozart added dramatic feeling previously unheard in the genre, whilst he also extended the boundaries of vocalists.
Here are a few well known examples of Mozart’s operas:
Mozart was commissioned to write an opera for Prague. The resulting opera, “Don Giovanni” was based on the legend of Don Juan.
It is both a tragedy and a comedy combined with elements of the supernatural.
The opera was a great success in Prague, but initially failed to gain popularity in Vienna.
Have a look/listen to this extract of “Non mi dir, bell’idol mio” from Don Giovanni, sung by Cheryl Studer.
The Marriage of Figaro
The Marriage of Figaro explores the power of the aristocracy through a combination of comedy and deep emotion.
It was a very timely piece of music, premiering in 1786, just 3 years before the start of the French Revolution in 1789.
Here is an extract from the finale of The Marriage of Figaro:
The Magic Flute
Written for a suburban Viennese theatre, this opera combines comedy and “pantomime”, but also gives an insight into Mozart’s spiritual beliefs as it explores the search for wisdom and virtue.
Have a look/listen to Diana Damrau performing the “Queen of The Night” aria from The Magic Flute:
A critic once said “Mozart is music” (The Oxford Dictionary Of Music, Kennedy, M. 1985) and, whilst there are other composers who have claimed a place among the “greats”, Mozart’s music is widely performed, recorded, listened to and acclaimed to this day.
No study of the great composers of the Western classical music tradition would be complete without reference to this man and the extensive body of work he managed to produce in his short 35 years on earth.