Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was probably the greatest genius in Western musical history. He was born in Salzberg, Austria on January 27, 1756. The son of Leopold Mozart and his wife Anna Maria Pertl. Leopold was a successful composer and violinist and assistant concertmaster at the Salzberg court. At the age of three, Wolfgang showed signs of remarkable musical talent. He learned to play the harpsichord, a keyboard instrument related to the piano, at the age of four. Wolfgang began composing minuets at the age of five.
When he was only six years old, he and his older sister, Anna Maria, embarked on a series of concert tours to Europes courts and major cities. They played for the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa at her court in Vienna in 1762. Both children played the keyboard, but Wolfgang became a violin virtuoso as well. Before he was fourteen, Mozart had composed many works called sonatas for the harpsichord, piano, or the violin as well as orchestral and other works. His father recognized Wolfgangs amazing talent and devoted a lot of his time to his sons general and musical education.
Wolfgang never attended school; his father took him to concert tours through much of Europe. Wolfgang composed, gave public performances, met many musicians and played the organ in many churches. In 1769, like his father before him, he began working for the archbishop of Salzburg, who also ruled the province. The Mozarts often quarreled with the archbishop, partly because Wolfgang was often absent from Salzburg. The archbishop dismissed young Mozart in 1781. Mozart was actually glad to leave Salzburg, a small town, and seek his fortune in Vienna , one of the music capitals in Europe.
By this time people tool less notice of him because he was no longer a child prodigy. However, he was a brilliant performer and active as an orchestrator. Much to his fathers dismay, Mozart married Constanze Weber from Germany in 1782. He did not have a regular job in Vienna and tried to earn a living by selling his compositions, giving public performances, and giving music lessons. None of these activities produced enough income to support his family. He even traveled to Germany for the coronation of a new emperor, but his concerts there did not attract as much attention as he had hoped.
He died in poverty on December 5, 1791. He was given a cheap funeral at Saint Stephens Cathedral and buried in an unmarked grave at the cemetery of Saint Marx. Mozart excelled in almost every kind of musical composition. Several of his twenty-two operas gained worldwide recognition soon after his death, and they still please audiences all over the world. The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni (1787) are operas he composed with words in Italian. The Magic Flute (1791) has German words.
Each of these contains arias (beautiful melodies for singers), recitative (Rapidly sung dialogue), ensembles in which several people sing at the same time, and choruses. The orchestra provides an ever-changing expressive accompaniment. The drama ranges from comedy to tragedy. Mozart wrote over forty symphonies, many of which are performed today. Some originally were overtures (orchestral introductions) for operas, and last only a few minutes. His later symphonies, which are the most popular, are full-length orchestral compositions that last twenty to thirty minutes. Most of them consist of four sections.
Mozarts last and most famous symphony, Number 41 (1788), is nicknamed the Jupiter. Mozart composed a great amount of church music, most of it for performance at the Salzburg Cathedral. He wrote Masses and shorter pieces called motets; and he set psalms to music, especially for the afternoon or evening service. The music is beautiful and varied. It includes choral and solo parts, usually with accompaniment by organ and orchestra. Mozarts best-known sacred work is the Requiem (Mass for the Dead). He began it in the last year of his life and while writing it is said to have considered his own death.
Parts of the Requiem were composed during his final illness. He died before the work was finished. Mozart wrote other, generally lighter, orchestral works, called serenades. Some were intended for outdoor performance. One has become well known as Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music, 1787). Mozart also wrote many compositions called concertos for a solo instrument such as the violin or piano, with orchestral accompaniment. He often played the solo part. Throughout his life Mozart composed chamber music – works for a small number of instruments in which only one musician plays each part.
Mozart concentrated on string quartets (two violins, viola, and cello). He was influenced in this by Haydn, whose quartets he admired. He dedicated six quartets to Haydn. Mozarts sonatas for piano and for violin and piano are outstanding. The piano was still fairly new and was widely played by amateurs. More than any other composer, Mozart helped to make the instrument popular. His melodies for piano had a singing, sustained quality, with gradual changes between soft and loud. In spite of his hardships and disappointments as a composer, much of Mozarts music is cheerful and vigorous.
He had a sense of humor and liked puns and practical jokes. He composed many lighter works. These compositions include the opera Cosi Fan Tutte (All Women Are Like That, 1790), much of his early instrumental music, and canons (rounds) with nonsense words. Mozart also produced deeply serious music. His most profound works include the piano concerto in D minor, several string quartets, the string quintet in G minor, and his last three symphonies – E flat major, G minor, and the Jupiter. Larger works may contain both serious and light elements, as does Don Giovanni.
Mozart belonged to the Order of Freemasons and wrote several compositions for their meetings. Some scenes from his fairy-tale opera The Magic Flute was inspired by Masonic traditions and beliefs. A catalog of Mozarts works was first prepared by Ludwig Kochel (1800-1877), a German music lover. Today, Mozarts works are still identified by the number Kochel assigned to them. Today Mozarts music is well known and admired throughout the world. His compositions continue to exert a particular fascination for musicians and music lovers today.