Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart
Born January 27, 1756
Salzburg, (now Austria, then a principality of the Holy Roman Empire)
Died December 5, 1791
Vienna, Austria, Holy Roman Empire
born to Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, in the front room of nine
Getreidegasse in Salzburg, the capital of the sovereign Archbishopric
of Salzburg, in what is now Austria, then part of the Holy Roman Empire.
His only sibling who survived beyond infancy was an older sister: Maria
Anna, nicknamed Nannerl. Mozart was baptized the day after his birth
at St. Rupert's Cathedral. The baptismal record gives his name in Latinized
form as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Of these
names, the first two refer to John Chrysostom, one of the Church Fathers,
and they were names not employed in everyday life. The fourth name,
meaning "beloved of God" in Greek, was variously translated
in Mozart's lifetime as Amadeus (Latin), Gottlieb (German), and Amadé
(French). Mozart's father Leopold announced the birth of his son in
a letter to the publisher Johann Jakob Lotter with the words "...the
boy is called Joannes Chrysostomus, Wolfgang, Gottlieb". Mozart
himself preferred to use the third name, and he also took a fancy to
"Amadeus" over the years. (see Mozart's name).
Leopold Mozart (1719–1787) was one of Europe's leading musical
teachers. His influential textbook Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule,
was published in 1756, the year of Mozart's birth (English, as "A
Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing", transl.
E.Knocker; Oxford-New York, 1948). He was deputy Kapellmeister to the
court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg, and a prolific and successful
composer of instrumental music. Leopold gave up composing when his son's
outstanding musical talents became evident. They first came to light
when Wolfgang was about three years old, and Leopold, proud of Wolfgang's
achievements, gave him intensive musical training, including instruction
in clavier, violin, and organ. Leopold was Wolfgang's only teacher in
his earliest years. A note by Leopold in Nannerl's music book –
the Nannerl Notenbuch – records that little Wolfgang had learned
several of the pieces at the age of four. Mozart's first compositions,
a small Andante (K. 1a) and Allegro (K. 1b), were written in 1761, when
he was five years old.
The years of travel
"Bologna Mozart" - Mozart age 21 in 1777, see also: face onlyDuring
his formative years, Mozart made several European journeys, beginning
with an exhibition in 1762 at the Court of the Elector of Bavaria in
Munich, then in the same year at the Imperial Court in Vienna and Prague.
A long concert tour spanning three and a half years followed, taking
him and his father to the courts of Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London
(where Wolfgang Amadeus played with the famous Italian cellist Giovanni
Battista Cirri), The Hague, again to Paris, and back home via Zürich,
Donaueschingen, and Munich. During this trip Mozart met a great number
of musicians and acquainted himself with the works of other great composers.
A particularly important influence was Johann Christian Bach, who met
Mozart in London in 1764–65. Bach's work is often taken to be
an inspiration for Mozart's music. They again went to Vienna in late
1767 and remained there until December 1768. On this trip Mozart contracted
smallpox, and his healing was believed by Leopold as a proof of God's
plans concerning the child.
After one year in
Salzburg, three trips to Italy followed: from December 1769 to March
1771, from August to December 1771, and from October 1772 to March 1773.
Mozart was commissioned to compose three operas: Mitridate Rè
di Ponto (1770), Ascanio in Alba (1771), and Lucio Silla (1772), all
three of which were performed in Milan. During the first of these trips,
Mozart met Andrea Luchesi in Venice and G.B. Martini in Bologna, and
was accepted as a member of the famous Accademia Filarmonica. A highlight
of the Italian journey, now an almost legendary tale, occurred when
he heard Gregorio Allegri's Miserere once in performance in the Sistine
Chapel then wrote it out in its entirety from memory, only returning
to correct minor errors; thus producing the first illegal copy of this
closely-guarded property of the Vatican.
On September 23,
1777, accompanied by his mother, Mozart began a tour of Europe that
included Munich, Mannheim, and Paris. In Mannheim he became acquainted
with members of the Mannheim orchestra, the best in Europe at the time.
He fell in love with Aloysia Weber, who later broke up the relationship
with him. He was to marry her sister Constanze some four years later
in Vienna. During his unsuccessful visit to Paris, his mother died in
dedicated to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Václavské námestí
square in Olomouc (Czech Republic). Mozart in 1767 as an 11-year-old
boy was fleeing from Vienna due to a smallpox epidemic and wrote his
Sixth Symphony in F Major in Olomouc
In 1781, Idomeneo,
regarded as Mozart's first great opera, premiered in Munich. The following
year, he visited Vienna in the company of his employer, the harsh Prince-Archbishop
Colloredo. When they returned to Salzburg, Mozart, who was then Konzertmeister,
became increasingly rebellious, not wanting to follow the whims of the
archbishop relating to musical affairs; and expressing these views,
he soon fell out of the archbishop's favor. According to Mozart's own
testimony, he was dismissed – literally – "with a kick
in the arse". Mozart chose to settle and develop his own freelance
career in Vienna after its aristocracy began to take an interest in
On August 4, 1782,
against his father's wishes, he married Constanze Weber (1763–1842),
her name is also spelled "Costanze"; her father Fridolin was
a half-brother of Carl Maria von Weber's father Franz Anton Weber. Although
they had six children, only two survived infancy: Carl Thomas (1784–1858)
and Franz Xaver Wolfgang (1791–1844; later a minor composer himself).
Neither of these sons married or had children who reached adulthood.
Carl did father a daughter, Constanza, who died in 1833.
The year 1782 was
an auspicious one for Mozart's career: his opera Die Entführung
aus dem Serail ("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 director of the ensemble and soloist.
Mozart became closely acquainted with the work of J.S. Bach and G.F.
Handel as a result of the influence of Baron Gottfried van Swieten,
who owned many manuscripts of works by the Baroque masters. Mozart's
study of these works led first to a number of works imitating Baroque
style and later had a powerful influence on his own personal musical
language, for example the fugal passages in Die Zauberflöte ("The
Magic Flute"), and in the finale of Symphony No. 41.
In 1783, Wolfgang
and Constanze visited Leopold in Salzburg, but the visit was not a success,
as his father did not open his heart to Constanze. However, the visit
sparked the composition of one of Mozart's great liturgical pieces,
the Mass in C Minor, which, though not completed, was premiered in Salzburg,
and is now one of his best-known works. Wolfgang featured Constanze
as the lead female solo voice at the premiere of the work, hoping to
endear her to his father's affection.
In his early Vienna
years, Mozart met Joseph Haydn and the two composers became friends.
When Haydn visited Vienna, they sometimes played together in an impromptu
string quartet. Mozart's six quartets dedicated to Haydn (K. 387, K.
421, K. 428, K. 458, K. 464, and K. 465) date from 1782–85, and
are often judged to be his response to Haydn's Opus 33 set from 1781.
In a letter to Haydn, Mozart wrote:
A father who had
decided to send his sons out into the great world thought it his duty
to entrust them to the protection and guidance of a man who was very
celebrated at the time, and who happened moreover to be his best friend.
In the same way I send my six sons to you... Please then, receive them
kindly and be to them a father, guide, and friend!... I entreat you,
however, to be indulgent to those faults which may have escaped a father's
partial eye, and in spite of them, to continue your generous friendship
towards one who so highly appreciates it." (Bernard Jacobson (1995)
in CD no. 13 of the Best of the Complete Mozart Edition [Germany: Philips])
Haydn was soon in
awe of Mozart, and when he first heard the last three of Mozart's series
he 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: He has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of
During the years
1782–1785, Mozart put on a series of concerts in which he appeared
as soloist in his piano concertos, widely considered among his greatest
works. These concerts were financially successful. After 1785 Mozart
performed far less and wrote only a few concertos. Maynard Solomon conjectures
that he may have suffered from hand injuries ; another
possibility is that the fickle public ceased to attend the concerts
in the same numbers.
Mozart was influenced
by the ideas of the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment as an
adult, and became a Freemason in 1784. His lodge was specifically Catholic,
rather than deistic, and he worked fervently and successfully to convert
his father before the latter's death in 1787. Die Zauberflöte,
his second last opera, includes Masonic themes and allegory. He was
in the same Masonic Lodge as Haydn.
Mozart's life was
occasionally fraught with financial difficulty. Though the extent of
this difficulty has often been romanticized and exaggerated, he nonetheless
did resort to borrowing money from close friends, some debts remaining
unpaid even to his death. During the years 1784-1787 he lived in a lavish,
seven-room apartment, which may be visited today at Domgasse 5, behind
St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna; it was here, in 1786, that Mozart
composed the opera Le nozze di Figaro.
 Mozart and Prague
Mozart had a special relationship with the city of Prague and its people.
The audience there celebrated the Figaro with the much-deserved reverence
he was missing in his hometown Vienna. His quotation "Meine Prager
verstehen mich" (My Praguers understand me) became very famous
in the Bohemian lands. Many tourists follow his tracks in Prague and
visit the Mozart Museum of the Villa Bertramka where they can enjoy
a chamber concert. In the later years of his life, Prague provided Mozart
with many financial resources from commissions . In
Prague, Don Giovanni premiered on October 29, 1787 at the Theatre of
the Estates. Mozart wrote La clemenza di Tito for the festivities accompanying
Leopold II's coronation in November 1790; Mozart obtained this commission
after Antonio Salieri had allegedly rejected it.
Final illness and
Mozart's final illness and death are difficult topics for scholars,
obscured by romantic stories and replete with conflicting theories.
Scholars disagree about the course of decline in Mozart's health –
particularly at what point (or if at all) 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 present-day scholars point 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. Mozart's
attributed last words: "The taste of death is upon my lips...I
feel something, that is not of this earth." The actual cause of
Mozart's death is also a matter of conjecture. His death record listed
"hitziges Frieselfieber" ("severe miliary fever,"
referring to a rash that looks like millet-seeds), a description that
does not suffice to identify the cause as it would be diagnosed in modern
medicine. Dozens of theories have been proposed, including trichinosis,
influenza, mercury poisoning, rheumatic fever, and a rare kidney ailment.
The practice of bleeding medical patients, common at that time, is also
cited as a contributing cause.
Mozart died at approximately
1 a.m. on December 5, 1791 in Vienna. With the onset of his illness,
he had largely ceased work on his final composition, the Requiem some
days earlier. Popular belief has it that Mozart was thinking of his
own impending death while writing this piece, and even that a messenger
from the afterworld commissioned it. Documentary evidence has established
that the anonymous commission came from one Franz Count of Walsegg on
Schloss Stuppach, and that most if not all of the music had been written
while Mozart was still in good health. A younger composer, and Mozart's
pupil at the time, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, was engaged by Constanze
to complete the Requiem. He was not the first composer asked to finish
the Requiem, as the widow had first approached another Mozart student,
Joseph Eybler, who began work directly on the empty staves of Mozart's
manuscript but then abandoned it.
Because he was buried
in an unmarked grave, it has been popularly assumed that Mozart was
penniless and forgotten when he died. In fact, though he was no longer
as fashionable in Vienna as before, he continued to have a well paid
job at court and receive substantial commissions from more distant parts
of Europe, Prague in particular . He earned about 10,000
florins per year, equivalent to at least 42,000 US dollars in 2006,
which places him within the top 5% of late 18th century wage earners,
but he could not manage his wealth. His mother wrote, "When Wolfgang
makes new acquaintances, he immediately wants to give his life and property
to them." His impulsive largesse and spending often had him asking
for loans. Many of his begging letters survive, but they are evidence
not so much of poverty as of his habit of spending more than he earned.
He was not buried in a "mass grave" but in a regular communal
grave according to the 1784 laws in Austria.
Though the original
grave in the St. Marx cemetery was lost, memorial gravestones (or cenotaphs)
have been placed there and in the Zentralfriedhof. In 2005 new DNA testing
was performed by Austria's University of Innsbruck and the US Armed
Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, to determine
if a skull in an Austrian Museum was actually his, using DNA samples
from the marked graves of his grandmother and Mozart's niece. Test results
were inconclusive, suggesting that none of the DNA samples was related
to the others.
In 1809 Constanze
married Danish diplomat Georg Nikolaus von Nissen (1761–1826).
Being a fanatical admirer of Mozart, he (and Constanze?) edited vulgar
passages out of many of the composer's letters and wrote a Mozart biography.
Nissen did not live to see his biography printed, and Constanze finished
Rumours and controversies
Mozart is unusual among composers for being the subject of an abundance
of misconceptions, partly because none of his early biographers knew
him personally. Many rumours began soon after Mozart died, but few have
any basis in fact; biographers often resorted to fiction in order to
produce a work. An example is the story that Mozart composed his Requiem
with the belief it was for himself. Sorting out fabrications from real
events is a vexing and continuous task for Mozart scholars, mainly because
of the prevalence of story in scholarship. Dramatists and screenwriters,
free from responsibilities of scholarship, have found excellent material
among these rumours.
An especially popular
case is the supposed rivalry between Mozart and Antonio Salieri, and,
in some versions, the tale that it was poison received from the latter
that caused Mozart's death; this is the subject of Aleksandr Pushkin's
play Mozart and Salieri, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Mozart and
Salieri, and Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus. The last of these has been
made into a feature-length film of the same name. Shaffer's play attracted
criticism for portraying Mozart as vulgar and loutish, a characterization
felt by many to be unfairly exaggerated, but in fact frequently confirmed
by the composer's letters and other memorabilia. For example, Mozart
wrote canons on the words "Leck mich im Arsch" ("Lick
me in the arse") and ";Leck mich im Arsch recht fein schön
sauber" ("Lick me in the arse nice and clean") as party
pieces for his friends. The Köchel numbers of these canons are
231 and 233.
Another debate involves
Mozart's alleged status as a kind of superhuman prodigy, from childhood
right up until his death. While some have criticised his earlier works
as simplistic or forgettable, others revere even Mozart's juvenilia.
In any case, several of his early compositions remain very popular.
The motet Exultate, jubilate (K. 165), for example, composed when Mozart
was seventeen years old, is among the most frequently recorded of his
vocal compositions. It is also mentioned that around the time when he
was five or six years old, he could play the piano blindfolded and with
his hands crossed over one another.