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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the greatest music composers who ever lived. His name and the word 'genius' are often bandied about together by music writers and critics and many would argue rightly so.
Mozart had a fantastic ear for writing a catchy tune with perfect orchestral arrangement. His compositions have a rich and distinctive sound; it can be said that in his brief lifetime (only 35 years) that he wrote a masterpiece in every genre of classical music without much apparent effort.
Original and completed music poured out of his mind and his music scores showed little correction. His wife, Constanze, said that he wrote out the overture of his opera Don Giovanni on the day of its première.
Mozart described his method of composing in a letter:
When I am.. say travelling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the nights when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them... When I proceed to write down my ideas, I take out the bag of my memory, if I may use that phrase, what has previously been collected... the committing to paper is done quickly enough, for everything is, as I said before, already finished; and it rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination.
Mozart was born on 27 January, 1756, and was named Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, but called Wolfgang Amadeus by his family. His father, Leopold, was a musician at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg, and later became Konzertmeister or Court Composer. Wolfgang could play complicated pieces of music on the piano at the of age four, and at five he was composing, with his father writing down the creation.
Leopold, knowing that people would see his children as special and talented, took them on tour across Europe to play music to the public and Royal Courts. At the age of 8, Mozart began to write his first symphony.
In 1771, Mozart was given a part time job at the Archbishop's court. The new Archbishop Colloredo did not appreciate music, and his frosty personality made Mozart's life intolerable. Mozart hated Colloredo's manipulative, condescending and poisonous attitude.
In 1777, Mozart quit his post at Salzburg and travelled to Mannheim and Paris with his mother, who unfortunately died during the journey. Mozart returned to Salzburg, and back into the service of the Archbishop Colleredo.
The Archbishop was summoned to Vienna, with his musical servants for the coronation of the new emperor Joseph II. Colleredo handed out numerous humiliations to Mozart, one of which was making him sit at the household servants' table during a banquet.
In 1781, Mozart quit the Archbishop's service again after a heated exchange, and left Salzburg to pursue a freelance career in Vienna, as a composer. The next ten years of Mozart's life are perhaps without parallel in history as the greatest decade of creative genius.
In 1782, Mozart married Constanze Weber. He settled down with his new wife in Vienna, and made money teaching, composing and giving public performances of his new work.
While in Vienna, Mozart made the acquaintance of composer Franz Joseph Haydn. The two became close friends and the older composer's music had a profound influence on Mozart. Between 1782 and 1785, Mozart composed a series of six string quartets which he dedicated to Haydn. Upon playing through some of them together, Haydn said to Mozart's father, who was present,
Before God and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer I know, either personally or by name.
From 1784, Mozart took advantage of playing the Lenten Season concerts, from which he could make the public more aware of his new work. Although his financial problems were very apparent, the Vienna Court Composer Antonio Salieri, who was more popular than Mozart in his day, schemed against Mozart by stopping him from getting a coveted court position.
In 1785, Mozart started work on his new opera The Marriage of Figaro with Lorenzo da Ponte providing the words. It was first performed 1786, after it was delayed by Salieri.
Just before Mozart finished his new opera, Don Giovanni (1787) his father Leopold died. The opera went ahead and was a big success in Prague, where it was premiered. Unfortunately, it went down less well in Vienna, where Mozart was beginning to become less fashionable among the fickle Vienna public.
Mozart was especially productive in his last four years, churning out one masterpiece after another. Examples include Horn Concertos 1, 3 and 4, Clarinet Concerto and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, which means A Little Night Music in English.
Some of His Music
Leopold Mozart came to Vienna on 10 February, 1785, to find his son racing to finish his new piano concerto, which he would premier at his public concert that evening. It was his famous Piano Concerto No 20 in D Minor K466.
This piece of music was a forerunner of the later Romantic style of Beethoven. It shows its temper immediately, and the interplay between piano and orchestra creates tension, conflict, vulnerability, shock and sheer bliss. Beethoven and Brahms both wrote cadenzas for this concerto.
Beethoven, commenting on Mozart's Piano Concerto No 20 said:
Ah, we shall never be able to do anything like this.
Many people believe that Mozart's 27 piano concertos were his ultimate creative genius: they are incredibly tuneful and haunting. The concertos were performed for the paying public, where Mozart could show his own musical virtuosity on the piano with a hired orchestra.
Nowhere else can you see Mozart's maturing style than in their composition.
You know my greatest desire is to write operas.
The Marriage of Figaro had been banned in Paris for its attack on the feudal powers of the aristocracy. In the original play, the two servants, Figaro and Susanna, struggle with dignity against their bullying master, Count Almaviva. Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte added warmth and a comic air to this brilliant opera.
Mozart wrote over 50 symphonies, though only 41 are actually numbered. He wrote his greatest symphonies in his last decade. Two of which were written to coincide with his visits to cities Linz, No 36 K425, and Prague, No 38 K504. In 1788, Mozart wrote three great symphonies in only six weeks. The beginning of Symphony No 40 K550 is often beeped out these days as a mobile phone ring.
All of Mozart's compositions were listed, indexed and catalogued by Ludwig von Kochel and they are all uniquely identified by 'K' numbers.
Last Days and Final Composition - Requiem Mass K626
In the summer of 1791, a mysterious figure clad in grey arrived on Mozart's doorstep, and announced that his anonymous master, who was Count Franz von Walsegg-Stuppach, who liked to order music from professional composers and pass them off as his own, would like to commission a Requiem Mass for the Dead from Mozart, for the fee of 50 ducats.
Mozart accepted. Unfortunately, due to a hectic workload which included the completion of two operas; La Clemenza di Tito and The Magic Flute, Mozart was unable to start work on the requiem until October, 1791, by which time he was beginning to suffer from the illness which would eventually claim his life. On his return to Vienna from Prague, Mozart said to his shocked wife Constanze,
I am writing that Requiem for myself. I know I must die.
At the beginning of December, 1791, Mozart was bed ridden, suffering from a raging temperature and swollen joints. Mozart's musical friends and pupils joined him at his bedside to sing the Requiem he was trying to finish. Sadly, he broke down in tears:
If only I can stay alive long enough... this must be a masterpiece and my swan-song.
On the evening 4 December, 1791, the doctor was called to Mozart's house. Mozart was sinking fast; he had a high fever, red hot forehead and he was covered in sweat. The Doctor eventually arrived at 11pm and prescribed cold compresses to be placed across Mozart's head. As soon as the cold cloths were applied he lost consciousness forever. He died a few hours later, on the morning of 5 December, 1791. His final utterances were the drum patterns he was describing for the Requiem.
Before his death, Mozart had completed sketches for the first seven sections of the Requiem Mass and explained to his pupils FX Freysadtler, Joseph Eybler and Franz Sussmayr how to complete it. All three pupils worked on the Requiem and had their individual part to play in its finished state.
Mozart was buried in a communal, unmarked grave on the 6 December, 1791 in the graveyard of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.
O Mozart, immortal Mozart, how many, how infinitely many inspiring suggestions of a finer, better life have you left in our souls?
- Franz Schubert
Beethoven is always storming heaven but Mozart lives there.
- Josef Kris (Conductor)
Beethoven is the greatest composer - but Mozart is the only one.
- Gioacchino Rossini
He emancipated music from the bonds of a formal age, while remaining the true voice of the 18th Century.
- Sir Thomas Beecham (Conductor)
It (one of the piano concertos) has the effect of a fountain of youth.
- Karl Bohm (Conductor)
I have literally hundreds of favourite Mozart works; operatic, symphonic, concerti and chamber music. It's the very life and existence of Mozart which, for me, remains the greatest miracle and blessing for this world.
- Sir George Solti (Conductor)
Too many notes, my dear Mozart.
- Emperor Joseph II to Mozart
Exactly the right number, Your Majesty.
- Mozart to Emperor Joseph II