Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (full name Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791) was a prolific and influential Austrian composer of the Classical era. His more than 600 compositions include works widely acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music, and he is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers.
Mozart was born in Salzburg into a musical family and showed indications of prodigious abilities at a very young age. When he was five years old, he could both read and write music and had precocious skills as a keyboard and violin player. Much of his childhood and adolescence was taken up with tours, which included performances before many of the royal courts of Europe. In 1773, aged 17, he accepted a post as a court musician in Salzburg, but was unhappy with his low pay and limited opportunities. Over the next eight years, he frequently traveled in search of a better position and composed abundantly. This situation continued until his dismissal from Salzburg in 1781 by his employer, the Prince-Archbishop, and his subsequent departure for Vienna.
He spent the rest of his busy life in Vienna, where he achieved relative fame. However, his finances remained precarious, with periods of prosperity and of penury. In 1782, he married Constanze Weber against the wishes of his family; six children were born, of whom two survived infancy. Musically, this was a period of outstanding creativity which saw the production of many of his best known symphonic, concertante and operatic works, and his final, incomplete Requiem. The circumstances of his death, at the age of 35, have been much mythologized, but were most likely commonplace.
In his youth, Mozart had used his gifts of imitation and mimicry to learn from the works of others. From these lessons, in maturity, he fashioned a style that ranged in mood from the light and pleasant to the dark and violent, from a vision of humanity "redeemed through art, forgiven, and reconciled with nature and the absolute". His influence on all subsequent classical music has been profound. Beethoven wrote much of his early music in Mozart's shadow. Joseph Haydn, sometime mentor and later friend and admirer, wrote, "Posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years". Others claim that, more than two centuries after his death, his talent remains unsurpassed.
Mozart's father Leopold Mozart (1719–1787) was deputy Kapellmeister to the court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg and a minor composer. He was also an experienced teacher; in the year of Mozart's birth he published a successful violin textbook, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule.
When Nannerl was seven, Leopold began giving her keyboard lessons. The three-year old Mozart looked on, evidently with fascination: his sister later recorded that at this age "he often spent much time at the clavier [keyboard], picking out thirds, […] and his pleasure showed it sounded good [to him]." Nannerl continued: "in the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier. […] he could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time. […] At the age of five he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down." Among them were the Andante (K. 1a) and Allegro in C (K. 1b).
Biographer Maynard Solomon notes that while Leopold was a very devoted teacher to his children, there is evidence that Wolfgang was motivated to make progress even beyond what his father was teaching him. His first independent (and ink-spattered) composition, and his initial ability to play the violin, were both his own doing and were a great surprise to Leopold. The father and son seem to have been close; both of the precocious episodes just mentioned brought tears to Leopold's eyes.
Leopold eventually gave up composing when his son's outstanding musical talents became evident. He was Wolfgang's only teacher in his earliest years. He taught his children languages and academic subjects as well as music.
These trips were often arduous, because of the primitive conditions of travel at that time, the need to wait patiently for invitations and reimbursement from the nobility, and long, near-fatal illnesses endured far from home: first Leopold (London, summer 1764) then the two children (The Hague, autumn 1765)
After one year in Salzburg, Leopold and Wolfgang left for Italy, leaving Wolfgang's mother and sister at home. This journey took from December 1769 to March 1771, and like earlier journeys had the purpose of displaying the now-teenaged Mozart's abilities as a performer and as a rapidly maturing composer. Mozart met G.B. Martini in Bologna, and was accepted as a member of the famous Accademia Filarmonica. In Rome 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.
In Milan, Mozart wrote the opera Mitridate Rè di Ponto (1770), performed with success. This led to further opera commissions, and Wolfgang and Leopold returned twice from Salzburg to Milan (August–December 1771, October 1772–March 1773) for the composition and premieres of Ascanio in Alba (1771) and Lucio Silla (1772). Leopold hoped these visits would result in a professional appointment for his son in Italy, but these hopes were never fulfilled.
Despite these artistic successes, Mozart gradually grew more discontented with Salzburg and made increasingly strenuous efforts to find a position elsewhere. The reason seems to be in part his low salary, 150 florins per year. In addition, Mozart longed to compose operas, and Salzburg provided at best rare occasions for opera productions. The situation became worse in 1775 when the court theater was closed, and the other theater in Salzburg was largely reserved for visiting troupes.
Two long job-hunting expeditions interrupted this long Salzburg stay: Wolfgang and Leopold (they were both looking) visited Vienna from 14 July to 26 September 1773 and Munich from 6 December 1774 to March 1775. Neither visit was successful, though the Munich journey resulted in a popular success with the premiere of Mozart's opera La finta giardiniera.
In August 1777, Mozart resigned his Salzburg position and embarked (23 September) on yet another job-hunting tour, with visits to Augsburg, Mannheim, Paris, and Munich. Since Archbishop Colloredo would not give Leopold leave to travel, Mozart's mother Anna Maria was assigned to accompany him.
In Mannheim Mozart became acquainted with members of the Mannheim orchestra, the best in Europe at the time. He also fell in love with Aloysia Weber, one of four daughters in a musical family. There were some prospects of employment in Mannheim, but eventually they failed to pan out, and Mozart left for Paris (14 March 1778) in order to continue his search. His luck there was hardly better; one of his letters home indicates what may have been a job offer as organist at Versailles, but it was a job Mozart did not want. He eventually fell into debt and took to pawning valuables. The nadir of the visit occurred when Mozart's mother took ill and died (23 June 1778); There had been delays in calling a doctor, which Halliwell speculates may have been due to lack of funds.
While Wolfgang was in Paris Leopold was energetically pursuing opportunities for him back home in Salzburg, and with the support of the local nobility obtained a better post for him, as court organist and concertmaster, at a pay of 450 florins. However, Wolfgang was reluctant to take up this position, and after departing from Paris (26 September 1778) he tarried in Mannheim, then Munich, still hoping to find a job outside Salzburg. In Munich he encountered Aloysia again, now a very successful singer, who made it plain to Mozart that she was no longer interested in him.
Mozart finally reached home on 15 January 1779 and took up his new position. His discontent with Salzburg continued.
Among the better known works that Mozart wrote on the Paris journey are the A minor piano sonata, K. 310/300d, from 1778; and the "Paris" Symphony (no. 31), performed in Paris on the 12th and 18th of June, 1778.
The quarrel with the archbishop was made harder for Mozart by the fact that his father took the archbishop's side: hoping fervently that his son would come home when Colloredo returned, his father exchanged emotionally intense letters with Wolfgang, urging him to reconcile with their employer. Wolfgang passionately defended his intention to pursue his career alone in Vienna. The debate ended when Mozart was dismissed, freeing himself both of his oppressive employer and of his father's demands to return. Solomon thus characterizes Mozart's resignation as a "revolutionary step," and it greatly altered the course of his future life.
Near the height of his quarrels with Colloredo, Mozart moved in (1 May or 2 May 1781) with the Weber family, who had moved to Vienna from Mannheim. The father, Fridolin, had died, and the Webers were now taking in lodgers to make ends meet. Aloysia, who had earlier rejected Mozart's suit, was now married to the actor Joseph Lange, and Mozart's interest shifted to the third daughter, Constanze. The couple were married, with father Leopold's "grudging consent" (New Grove), on 4 August 1782. In the marriage contract, Constanze "assigns to her bridegroom 500 gulden... which the latter has promised to augment with 1,000 gulden", the balance "to pass to the survivor". Further, each would inherit the other's entire estate upon death. The couple had six children:
During 1782–1783, Mozart became closely acquainted with the work of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel as a result of the influence of 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 Wolfgang's family in Salzburg, but the visit was not a success, as Leopold and Nannerl were, at best, only polite 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. Constanze sang in the premiere.
Following his move to Vienna, Mozart met Joseph Haydn and the two composers became friends; see Haydn and Mozart. 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. Haydn stood in awe of Mozart; when he first heard the last three of Mozart's series, he told the visiting 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 composition."
During the years 1782–1785, Mozart put on a series of concerts in which he appeared as soloist in his own piano concertos. He wrote three or four concertos for each concert season, and since space in the theaters was scarce, he booked unconventional venues: a large room in the Trattnerhof, an apartment building; and the ballroom of the Mehlgrube, a restaurant. The concerts were very popular, and the concertos Mozart composed for them are considered among his finest works. Solomon writes that during this period Mozart created "a harmonious connection between an eager composer-performer and a delighted audience, which was given the opportunity of witnessing the transformation and perfection of a major musical genre".
With the substantial money Mozart earned in his concerts and elsewhere, he and Constanze adopted a rather plush lifestyle. They moved to an expensive apartment, with a rent of 460 florins. Mozart also bought a fine fortepiano from Anton Walter for about 900 florins, and a billiards table for about 300. The Mozarts also sent their son Karl Thomas to an expensive boarding school and kept servants. These choices inhibited saving, and were the partial cause of a stressful financial situation for the Mozart family a few years later.
On 14 December 1784, Mozart became a Freemason, admitted to the lodge "Zur Wohltätigkeit" ("Beneficence"). Freemasonry played an important role in the remainder of Mozart's life; he attended many meetings, a number of his friends were Masons, and on various occasions he composed Masonic music. For details see: Mozart and Freemasonry.
In December 1787 Mozart finally obtained a steady post under aristocratic patronage. Emperor Joseph II appointed him as his "chamber composer", a post vacated the previous month when Gluck died. It was a part-time job, however. It paid only 800 florins per year, and merely required Mozart to compose dances for the annual balls in the Redoutensaal. Mozart complained to Constanze that the pay was "too much for what I do, too little for what I could do". However, even this much proved important to Mozart later on when hard times arrived. Court records show that Joseph's intent was explicitly to help make sure that Mozart, whom he esteemed, did not leave Vienna to seek better prospects elsewhere.
In 1787, the young Ludwig van Beethoven traveled to Vienna for two weeks in hopes of studying with Mozart. The evidence for what happened during this visit is conflicting, and at least three hypotheses are in play: that Mozart heard Beethoven play and praised him; that Mozart rejected Beethoven as a student; and that they never even met. (See: Mozart and Beethoven.)
Around 1786 he had ceased to appear frequently in public concerts, and his income dropped. This was in general a difficult time for musicians in Vienna because Austria was at war, and both the general level of prosperity and the ability of the aristocracy to support music had declined.
By mid-1788, Mozart and his family moved from central Vienna to cheaper lodgings in the suburb of Alsergrund. Mozart began to borrow money, most often from his friend and fellow Mason Michael Puchberg; "a pitiful sequence of letters pleading for loans" (New Grove) survives. Maynard Solomon and others have suggested that Mozart suffered from depression at this time, and it seems his output rate sank somewhat. The major works of the period include the last three symphonies (1788: 39, 40, 41; it is not certain whether these were performed in Mozart's lifetime), and the last of the three Da Ponte operas, Cosi fan tutte, premiered 1790.
During this time Mozart made long journeys hoping to improve his fortunes: a visit in spring of 1789 to Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin (see: Mozart's Berlin journey), and a 1790 visit to Frankfurt, Mannheim, and other German cities. The trips produced only isolated success and did not solve Mozart's financial problems.
Mozart's financial situation, which in 1790 was the source of extreme anxiety to him, also began to improve. Although the evidence is uncertain it appears that admiring wealthy patrons in Hungary and in Amsterdam pledged annuities to Mozart, in return for the occasional composition. Mozart also probably made considerable money from the sale of dance music that he wrote for his job as Imperial chamber composer. He ceased to borrow large sums from Puchberg and made a start on paying off his debts.
Lastly, Mozart experienced great satisfaction in the public success of some his works, notably The Magic Flute (performed many times even during the short period between its premiere and Mozart's death) and the Little Masonic Cantata K. 623, premiered 15 November 1791.
Mozart fell ill while in Prague, for the 6 September premiere of his opera La clemenza di Tito, written in 1791 on commission for the coronation festivities of the Emperor. He was able to continue his professional functions for some time, for instance conducting the premiere of The Magic Flute on 30 September. The illness intensified on 20 November, at which point Mozart became bedridden, suffering from swelling, pain, and vomiting.
Mozart was tended in his final illness by Constanze, her youngest sister Sophie, and the family doctor, Thomas Franz Closset. There is evidence that he was mentally occupied with the task of finishing his Requiem. However, the evidence that he actually dictated passages to Süssmayr is very slim.
Mozart died at 1 in the morning on 5 December. The New Grove describes his funeral thus: "Mozart was buried in a common grave, in accordance with contemporary Viennese custom, at the St Marx cemetery outside the city on 7 December. If, as later reports say, no mourners attended, that too is consistent with Viennese burial customs at the time; later Jahn (1856) wrote that Salieri, Süssmayr, van Swieten and two other musicians were present. The tale of a storm and snow is false; the day was calm and mild.
The cause of Mozart's death cannot be determined with certainty. 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, and a rare kidney ailment. The practice of bleeding medical patients, common at that time, is also cited as a contributing cause. However, the most widely accepted version is that he died of acute rheumatic fever; he had had three or even four known attacks of it since his childhood, and this particular disease has a tendency to recur, leaving increasingly serious consequences each time, such as rampant infection and heart valve damage.
Mozart's sparse funeral did not reflect his standing with the public as a composer: memorial services and concerts in Vienna and Prague were well attended. Indeed, during the period following his death, Mozart's musical reputation rose substantially; Solomon describes an "unprecedented wave of enthusiasm" for his work. Biographies were written (initially by Schlichtegroll, Niemetschek, and Nissen), and publishers vied to produce complete editions of his works.
Mozart's physical appearance was described by tenor Michael Kelly, in his Reminiscences: "a remarkable small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine, fair hair of which he was rather vain". His early biographer Niemetschek wrote, "there was nothing special about [his] physique […] He was small and his countenance, except for his large intense eyes, gave no signs of his genius." His facial complexion was pitted, a reminder of his childhood case of smallpox. He loved elegant clothing: Kelly remembered him at a rehearsal: "[he] was on the stage with his crimson pelisse and gold-laced cocked hat, giving the time of the music to the orchestra". Of his voice Constanze later wrote that it "was a tenor, rather soft in speaking and delicate in singing, but when anything excited him, or it became necessary to exert it, it was both powerful and energetic.
Mozart worked very hard, a great deal of the time, and finished works where necessary at a tremendous pace. When composing he often made sketches and drafts, though (unlike Beethoven's sketches) these are mostly not preserved, Constanze having destroyed them after his death.
He was raised Roman Catholic and remained a loyal member of the Catholic Church throughout his life.
Mozart lived at the center of Viennese musical life, and knew a great number of people, including not just his fellow musicians, but also theatrical performers, fellow transplanted Salzburgers, and many aristocrats, including a fairly close acquaintance with the Emperor, Joseph II. Mozart had a considerable number of friends, of whom Solomon estimates the three closest were Gottfried Janequin, Count August Hatzfeld, and Sigmund Barisani. Others included the singers Franz Xaver Gerl and Benedikt Schack, Haydn (mentioned above), and the horn player Joseph Leutgeb. Leutgeb and Mozart carried on a curious kind of friendly mockery, often with Leutgeb as the butt of Mozart's practical jokes.
Particularly in his youth, Mozart had a striking fondness for scatological and sexual humor, which is preserved in his many surviving letters, notably those written to his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart around 1777–1778, but also in his correspondence with his sister Nannerl. Mozart even wrote scatological music, the canon "Leck mich im Arsch" (literally "Lick me in the arse", sometimes idiomatically translated "Kiss my arse" or "Get stuffed") K. 231.
Mozart's music, like Haydn's, stands as an archetypal example of the Classical style. His works spanned the period during which that style transformed from one exemplified by the style galant to one that began to incorporate some of the contrapuntal complexities of the late Baroque, complexities against which the galant style had been a reaction. Mozart's own stylistic development closely paralleled the development of the classical style as a whole. In addition, he was a versatile composer and wrote in almost every major genre, including symphony, opera, the solo concerto, chamber music including string quartet and string quintet, and the piano sonata. While none of these genres were new, the piano concerto was almost single-handedly developed and popularized by Mozart. He also wrote a great deal of religious music, including masses; and he composed many dances, divertimenti, serenades, and other forms of light entertainment.
The central traits of the classical style can be identified in Mozart's music. Clarity, balance, and transparency are hallmarks of his work. A more simplistic notion of the delicacy of his music obscures the exceptional power of some of his finest masterpieces, such as the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491, the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, and the opera Don Giovanni. Charles Rosen has written (1997): "It is only through recognizing the violence and sensuality at the center of Mozart's work that we can make a start towards a comprehension of his structures and an insight into his magnificence. In a paradoxical way, Schumann's superficial characterization of the G minor Symphony can help us to see Mozart's daemon more steadily. In all of Mozart's supreme expressions of suffering and terror, there is something shockingly voluptuous. Especially during his last decade, Mozart explored chromatic harmony to a degree rare at the time. The slow introduction to the "Dissonance" Quartet, K. 465 rapidly explodes a shallow understanding of Mozart's style as light and pleasant.
From an early age, Mozart had a gift for imitating the music he heard. His travels provided him with a rare collection of experiences from which to create his unique compositional language. In London as a child, he met J.C. Bach and heard his music. In Paris, Mannheim, and Vienna, he heard the work of composers active there, as well as the Mannheim orchestra. In Italy, he encountered the Italian overture and opera buffa, both of which were to be hugely influential on his development. Both in London and Italy, the galant style was all the rage: simple, light music, with a mania for cadencing, an emphasis on tonic, dominant, and subdominant to the exclusion of other chords, symmetrical phrases, and clearly articulated structures. This style, out of which the classical style evolved, was a reaction against the complexity of late Baroque music. Some of Mozart's early symphonies are Italian overtures, with three movements running into each other; many are "homotonal" (all three movements having the same key signature, with the slow middle movement being in the relative minor). Others mimic the works of J.C. Bach, and others show the simple rounded binary forms commonly being written by composers in Vienna. One of the most recognizable features of Mozart's works is a sequence of harmonies or modes that usually leads to a cadence in the dominant or tonic key. This sequence is essentially borrowed from Baroque music's Phrygian style, especially J. S. Bach. But Mozart shifted the sequence so that the cadence ended on the stronger half, i.e., the first beat of the bar.
As Mozart matured, he began to incorporate some more features of Baroque styles into his music. For example, the Symphony No. 29 in A Major K. 201 uses a contrapuntal main theme in its first movement, and experimentation with irregular phrase lengths. Some of his quartets from 1773 have fugal finales, probably influenced by Haydn, who included three such finales in his recently published Opus 20 set. The influence of the Sturm und Drang ("Storm and Stress") period in music, with its brief foreshadowing of the Romantic era to come, is evident in some of the music of both composers at that time. Mozart's Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183 is another excellent example of this style.
Over the course of his working life, Mozart switched his focus from instrumental music to operas, and back again. He wrote operas in each of the styles current in Europe: opera buffa, such as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, or Così fan tutte; opera seria, such as Idomeneo; and Singspiel, of which Die Zauberflöte is probably the most famous example by a composer. In his later operas, he developed the use of subtle changes in instrumentation, orchestration, and tone colour to express or highlight psychological or emotional states and dramatic shifts. Here his advances in opera and instrumental composing interacted. His increasingly sophisticated use of the orchestra in the symphonies and concerti served as a resource in his operatic orchestration, and his developing subtlety in using the orchestra to psychological effect in his operas was reflected in his later non-operatic compositions.
More important is the influence Mozart had on later composers through the example of his works. Following the surge in his reputation after his death, the study of works by Mozart became part of the training of every classical musician, and has been ever since.
Ludwig van Beethoven, whose life overlapped with Mozart's, seems to have been particularly strongly influenced by him. Beethoven became closely acquainted with Mozart's work as a teenager (he is thought to have played Mozart's operas in the court orchestra in Bonn). He traveled to Vienna in 1787 in the hope (unfulfilled) of studying with Mozart. It is thought that some of Beethoven's works have direct models in comparable works by Mozart. Beethoven also wrote cadenzas (WoO 58) to Mozart's D minor piano concerto K. 466.
A number of composers have paid homage to Mozart by writing sets of variations on his themes. Beethoven wrote four such sets (Op. 66, WoO 28, WoO 40, WoO 46). Others include Frédéric Chopin's variations for piano and orchestra on "Là ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni (1827) and Max Reger's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart (1914), based on the variation theme in the piano sonata K. 331. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his Orchestral Suite No. 4 in G "Mozartiana" (1887) in tribute to Mozart.