Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus


One of the greatest composers the world has yet known; born at Salzburg, Austria, 1756. His father, Leopold Mozart, was a man of fine education and profound religious feeling and a thorough musician. Of seven children there grew up only Wolfgang and an elder sister, Maria Anna, who early showed great musical ability and as a child, traveled with her brother on his concert tours. When only three years old Mozart took deep interest in his sister's music lessons and learned to pick out thirds on the piano. When only four he began learning little pieces and when five he dictated to his father some minuets and composed a concerto so difficult that no one could play it. In 1762 the family made their first concert tour, playing at Munich, where the Elector received them kindly; at Linz and at Vienna. Here at court they made a most favorable impression, especially Wolfgang, whose remarkable talent and childish naturalness charmed the Emperor and, Empress. After appearing in several concerts the family journeyed to Presburg, returning to Salzburg early 'in 1763. The first tour had proved so successful that early in June, 1763, they started again, with Paris as their goal. In 1764 they went to London and played three times at court. Mozart also played the organ and, during an illness of his father, wrote his first symphony. His father had six of his sonatas for harpsichord and violin engraved and dedicated them to the Queen, and in 1765 he presented to the British Museum copies of all his printed compositions and an engraving from the Carmontelle picture. They left England to play at the Court of Holland. After playing the organ at Ghent and Harlem they went to Paris, where Mozart played several times at court. On the way home they stopped at Munich, where the Elector was much pleased with Wolfgang's progress. They reached Salzburg in November.

During all the time of their travels Leopold Mozart had educated his children most carefully and on their return to Salzburg guided his son in a careful study of Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum. The archbishop gave Wolfgang the first part of a sacred cantata to compose and during this period he also wrote a Passions-cantate; his first piano concerto; and a Latin comedy, Apollo et Hyacinthus. In September, attracted by the approaching betrothal of Archduchess Josepha, the family went to Vienna, but when smallpox broke out fled to Olmütz, where both children were ill of the disease. They did not return to Vienna until 1768, when they were well received at court.

In December, 1769, with his father, Mozart started for Italy. In Verona he performed one of his symphonies, composing and singing an air to words that were given him; in Milan after playing in concert he was commissioned to write an opera for the next stagione. At Bologna he met Padre Martini, who delighted in him, instructing him and giving him fugues to work out, which he did to the great critic's satisfaction At Florence he was graciously received by Archduke Leopold and played at court, accompanying Nardini, the great violinist, and solving hard musical problems set before him by Marquis des Ligniville, director of Court music and a thorough contrapuntist. Reaching Rome on Wednesday of Holy Week he heard Allegri's famous Miserere in the Sistine Chapel and wrote out the entire composition from memory. On his return to Rome in June the Pope granted him the Order of the Golden Spur, with which he had also honored Gluck. When Mozart reached Bologna he was elected a member of the Accademia Filarmonica, of which he became maestro di cappella in 1771, and he received from Padre Martini a formal testimonial. He wrote a Miserere which shows the impression made on him by one he had heard in Rome. Returning to Milan he set to work on his opera, Mitridate, Re di Ponto, which after a deal of trouble with singers and musical rivals he brought out very successfully in December, 1770. After stopping at Vicenza and Verona, he returned to Milan in August to compose the opera, Ascanio in Alba, which he had been commissioned to write for the carnival. He reached Salzburg in 1771 and was soon working on an opera, II Sogno di Scipione, which was performed in 1772. The next year he went again to Milan to work on the opera, Lucio  Silla, produced most successfully in December. During this year he also composed the important litany, De Venerabile. 

He returned to Salzburg in 1773 and devoted himself to composing, going that summer to Vienna, where he first became familiar with Haydn's quartets, compositions by which he was strongly influenced. His position at Salzburg in time became so distasteful to him that after the Archbishop had refused his father permission to go with him on a concert tour, he applied for his discharge, which was angrily granted, and determined to set out in company with his mother.

In September, 1777, after a sorrowful parting with his father, Mozart and his mother started for Munich, their first stop, where they received a most discouraging reception. At Mannheim they met many congenial people and remained for some time. There was Cannabich, to whose daughter Mozart gave piano lessons, Wieland and Freiherr von Gemmingen, Holtzbauer and Schweitzer and the quartet, RaaflF, Wendling, Ramm and Ritter and also the Webers, who played so important a part in Mozart's after life. About this time he fell in love with Aloysia Weber; he taught her singing and proposed to arrange for her appearance in opera in Italy. On hearing this his father peremptorily ordered him to Paris, whither he went reluctantly in March, 1778. He heard opera by Gluck, Gretry, Monsigny and Philidor, and wrote his Paris Symphony. In July his mother died suddenly in Paris, and heartbroken, he left in September for Salzburg. He arrived in Salzburg the middle of June the following year and worked steadily there until 1780, when he received a commission from Karl Theodore to write an opera for the Munich Carnival of the following year. This opera, Idomeneo, King of Crete, written to a libretto of Abbate Varesco, was very successful and established Mozart's position as a dramatic writer. For a while after this he made a scant living teaching and composing, and had leisure to fulfil his plan of writing a German opera to a libretto furnished him through the influence of the Emperor. The result was The Escape from the Seraglio, performed very successfully, and at the Emperor's special command in July, 1 82. About a month after this he married Constanze Weber, a sister of Aloysia. His married life proved a sad one, for although the tenderest affection existed between him and his wife they were constantly involved in pecuniary difficulties.

In 1785 his father visited him in Vienna, taking the greatest delight in his playing and composition, and while there joining the Free Masons, in which order Wolfgang was deeply interested. A performance of Idomeneo, given at the palace of Prince Auersperg, attracted the attention of the dramatist, Da Ponte, who obtained the Emperor's consent to adapt Beaumarchais' Manage de Figaro for Mozart. The first performance of this opera, given in May, 1786, was received with the greatest enthusiasm. But even after this Mozart received no aid from court, and obtained his only encouragement from Prague, where Figaro had created a sensation. The composer was invited to come there and was greeted with an ovation; in fact this visit is one of the few bright spots in his latter years. Here was written Don Giovanni, to a libretto of Da Ponte's, and produced in the autumn of 1787. Soon after this Gluck died and Mozart went to Vienna, hoping to be given a suitable position, but was greatly disappointed to receive only the minor appointment of Kammercompositor, with a salary of about four hundred dollars a year. During 1787 he composed his three finest symphonies, those in E flat, G minor and C. During 1788 he conducted a series of concerts organized by van Swieten, for whom he added wind parts to Handel's Messiah, Ode to St. Cecilia's Day, and Acis and Galatea.

In 1789 he accepted an invitation from Prince Karl Lichnowsky to go to Berlin. On arriving there he was taken to Potsdam and presented to the King, who showed his appreciation of Mozart's genius by offering him the position of chapelmaster, which he refused because he did not wish to leave his Emperor. He gave a concert in Leipsic, played before the Queen in Berlin, and returning in June to Vienna set to work to write some quartets ordered  by the King. Receiving a commission from the Emperor he began Cosi fan tutti, of Da Ponte's, but before it was finished the Emperor died. On the coronation of his successor, Leopold II., at Frankfort, Mozart made his last professional tour. He gave a concert at the Frankfort Stadttheatre and afterward played before the King of Naples and the Elector at Munich; but these concerts brought him no commission and he returned to Vienna greatly discouraged. Soon after he bade goodbye to Haydn, whom he had met in 1781, and whose friendship had been of the greatest benefit to him. He worked very hard during this time and produced a beautiful motet, Ave Verum, a forerunner of the Requiem and the Magic Flute. He wrote The Magic Flute to aid Schikaneder, who had a little theatre in the suburb of Wieden, and while hard at work on it received a commission to write a requiem from a mysterious personage who enjoined secrecy. Soon after he was asked to write an opera for the coronation of Leopold II., at Prague, in which city he composed and conducted La Clemenza de Tito, performed on the evening of the coronation, when it received but little attention from the Court audience. Disappointed and ill, Mozart returned home and finished The Magic Flute, which was introduced in September and after a few performances became very popular. He now turned his attention to the Requiem, but illness and disappointment $ had induced a state of deep dejection and he was unable to proceed. Seized with a haunting belief in his approaching death, the Requiem score was taken away from him. Then for a time he rallied, composing and even conducting a cantata for his lodge, but soon after relapsing and finally taking to his bed. About this time brighter prospects appeared for him; the nobles of Hungary raised a fund guaranteeing him a certain annuity, and the people of Amsterdam took a subscription to have him write some compositions for them. But it was too late. He tried vainly to proceed with the Requiem, and on December 4 attempted to sing it through with Hofer, Shack, and Gerl, but on reaching the Lacrimosa burst into tears and put it by. He died Dec. 5, 1791, and was buried in a pauper's grave, the location of which is unknown.

His life was one of struggle and disappointment, for through appreciation of his work did not come until after his death. He was unfailingly industrious, and in the short time that he lived he wrote many compositions. His religious writings comprise fifteen masses, four litanies, four Kyries, and many other sacred vocal compositions, of which may be mentioned as important his Litania de Venerabili, Laurentanae; two Litanie de Venerabili in B flat and E flat; two vespers in C; the motet, Misericordias Domine Venite populi; the marvelous Ave Verum; the mass in C minor; and the unfinished Requiem, greatest of alt. Of his forty-nine symphonies the best known are the dreamy one in E flat, the one in G minor, the Jupiter symphony, vigorous and dignified. His many beautiful quartets are equaled only by those of Haydn and Beethoven. Of his operas, Idomeneo; Figaro; Don Giovanni; and The Magic Flute are the most important. Besides these he has writen chambermusic, songs, and many beautiful sonatas. Throughout all his compositions there is a purity of conception, a wealth of beauty such as is found only in works of genius. In whichever of the many branches of composition he worked we see the greatest technical knowledge linked to loftiness and purity of thought.