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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756 - December 5, 1791) was one of the most significant and influential of all composers of Western classical music. His works are loved by many and are frequently performed.

Mozart's Life

Mozart was born in Salzburg, now in Austria but at the time the capital of a small mozartindependent Archbishopric within the Holy Roman Empire. He was baptized on the day after his birth at St. Rupert's Cathedral as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. The full version of Mozart's name fluctuated considerably during his lifetime; for details, see Mozart's name.

The years of travel
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 textbook Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (roughly, "Essay on the fundamentals of violin playing") was published the year of Mozart's birth and became influential. Mozart received intensive musical training from his father, including instruction in playing both the piano and the violin. He developed very rapidly and began to compose his own works at the age of five.

Leopold soon realized that he could make 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 pieces for two pianos, to play with her. On one occasion when Mozart became ill, Leopold expressed more concern over the loss of income than over Mozart himself. The cold weather and constant travel may have contributed to his later illness.

During his young years, Mozart completed several journeys in 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. Then a long concert tour (three and a half years) 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.
Mozart's birthplace at 9 Getreidegasse, Salzburg, Austria
Mozart's birthplace at 9 Getreidegasse, Salzburg, Austria

After one year spent in Salzburg, three trips to Italy followed (December 1769-March 1771, August-December 1771, October 1772-March 1773). During the first of these trips he met in Bologna G.B. Martini, and was accepted as a member of the famous Accademia Filarmonica. A highlight of the Italian journey, which became a semi-legendary tale about Mozart, occurred when he listened to Gregorio Allegri's Miserere once in performance, then wrote it out in its entirety from memory (he returned a second time to correct minor errors).

In September 1777 Mozart began a tour of Europe, accompanied only by his mother, that took them to Munich, Mannheim and Paris (where she died).

During his trips, Mozart met a great number of musicians, and knew the works of other great composers (among them J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, 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.

Mozart in Vienna
In 1781, Mozart visited Vienna in the company of his employer, the harsh Prince-Archbishop Colloredo, and had a falling out with the Archbishop. According to Mozart's own testimony, he was dismissed with a literal kick in the seat of the pants. Mozart, who had found that the aristocracy of Vienna took some interest in him, chose to settle in the city and attempt to make his career there.

On August 4, 1782, he married Constanze Weber, against his father's wishes. He and Constanze had six children, only two of whom survived infancy (neither child, Karl Thomas [1784 - 1858] or Franz Xaver Wolfgang [1791 - 1844], married or had children).

1782 was also an auspicious year for Mozart's career; his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio was a great success, and he also began the series of concerts at which he would premiere his greatest piano concertos, performing as soloist.

As an adult, Mozart became a Freemason and worked fervently and successfully to convert his father before his death, in 1787. His late opera The Magic Flute includes Masonic themes and meanings. He was in the same masonic lodge as Joseph Haydn.

Mozart had a difficult life. Often he received no payment for his work, and what sums he did receive were consumed by an extravagant lifestyle. Gradually, his health declined, until he finally died of what is presumed to have been mercury poisoning while being treated for syphilis. There is an alternate theory that he died from trichinosis brought on by a meal of poorly cooked pork. Mozart did not complete his last work, a requiem.

In popular legend, Mozart died penniless and forgotten, buried in a pauper's grave. In fact, although he was no longer as fashionable in Vienna as he had once been, he continued to receive substantial commissions from more distant parts of Europe, Prague in particular. Many of his begging letters survive, but they are evidence not of poverty but of his ability to always spend more than he earned. He was buried in a mass grave, not due to his family's inability to pay for a proper burial, but under orders of the Emperor to combat an outbreak of the bubonic plague.

Mozart spent his final years in Vienna, where one of the apartments he lived in is still to be visited at Domgasse 5 behind St. Stephen's Cathedral. In this house Mozart composed Le nozze di Figaro in 1786. Mozart lived just a little over half of Beethoven's life span, yet was amazingly prolific musically from early childhood until his death in 1791.

In 1809, Constanze married Danish diplomat Georg Nikolaus von Nissen (1761 - 1826). A Mozart fanatic, he edited vulgar passages out of many of the composer's letters, and wrote a Mozart biography.

Works, musical style and innovations
Mozart was prolific and wrote in many genres. Perhaps his best admired work is in opera, the piano concerto, the symphony, and in the string quartet and string quintet. Mozart also wrote much work for solo piano, other forms of chamber music, masses and other religious music, and endless dances, divertimenti, and other forms of light entertainment.

Major composers since Mozart's time have worshipped or been in awe of Mozart. Beethoven told his pupil Ries that he (Beethoven) would never be able to think of a melody as great as that of the first movement of Mozart's 24th piano concerto, and did Mozart homage by writing variations on his themes (such as the two sets of Variations for Cello and Piano on themes from Mozart's Magic Flute) and cadenzas to several of the piano concerti, most notably the Concerto No. 20 (K. 466). (After their only meeting, Mozart noted that Beethoven would "give the world something to talk about.") Tchaikovsky wrote his Mozartiana in praise of him; and Mahler died with "Mozart" the last word on his lips. The music critic James Svejda, when filling out a job application that asked for his religion, entered "Mozart".

The Köchel catalog
In the decades following Mozart's death there were several attempts to inventory his compositions, but it was only in 1862 that Ludwig von Köchel, a Viennese botanist, mineralogist, and educator, succeeded in this enterprise. Köchel's stout book of 551 pages was entitled "Chronological-Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Musical Works of WOLFGANG AMADE MOZART". Köchel is the source of the ubiquitous "K" (or KV) prefix on the numbers given to Mozart's works instead of the more usual "Opus". This was, and still is, helpful to all musicians alike. For example, Mozart wrote two Piano Concertos in Minor. We can distinguish between the two, as one is K466, and one is K491.

Mozart as a fictional character
Mozart is unusual among composers for the number of stories of a legendary character that have sprung up around him, for example the tale that Mozart composed his Requiem believing it was for himself. Some of these stories are probably true, but sorting out the fabrications from the real events is a vexing (and continuing) task for Mozart scholars. Dramatists and screenwriters, free from responsibilities of scholarship, have found the Mozart legends to make excellent raw material.

For example, the claimed rivalry between Mozart and Antonio Salieri is the subject of Aleksandr Pushkin's play Mozart and Salieri, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Mozart et Salieri and Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus, later made into a film. In fact, Salieri admired Mozart. Shaffer's play attracted criticism for portraying Mozart as vulgar and loutish, a description felt by many to be unfairly exaggerated (see, for instance, this link (

Mozart and child development
In the late 20th Century, Mozart's music found an unusual application in the emerging field of accelerated learning, also known as SALT (Suggestive-Accelerative Learning and Teaching) techniques or Superlearning. Researchers in this work, led by Bulgarian psychologist Georgi Lozanov, have asserted that listening to such music promotes enhanced learning.


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