Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart; January 27, 1756 – December 5, 1791) was a prolific and highly influential composer of Classical music. His enormous output of more than six hundred compositions includes works that are widely acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. Mozart is among the most enduringly popular of European composers, and many of his works are part of the standard concert repertoire.
Family and early years
Mozart was born to Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, in the front room of 9 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 Wolfgangeus Theopheilus 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, while the fourth, meaning "beloved of God", 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 the third name (see Mozart's name).
Mozart's father Leopold (1719–1787) was one of Europe's leading musical teachers. His influential textbook Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, or "Essay on the fundamentals of violin playing", was published in 1756, the year of Mozart's birth. 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. 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. citation needed
The years of travel
During 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 with 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 befriended 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 considered by Leopold as a proof of God's intentions 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 re 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 (1778).
Mozart in Vienna
In 1780, Idomeneo, widely 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, soon fell out of favor with him. According to Mozart's own testimony, he was dismissed – literally – "with a kick in the seat of the pants." Mozart chose to settle and develop his own freelance career in Vienna after its aristocracy began to take an interest in him.
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 seven children, only two survived infancy. Neither of these two, Karl Thomas (1784–1858) and Franz Xaver Wolfgang (1791–1844; later a minor composer himself), married or had children who reached adulthood. Karl 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.
During 1782–83, 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 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 in an impromptu string quartet. Mozart's six quartets dedicated to Haydn date from 1782–85, and are often judged to be his response to Haydn's Opus 33 set from 1781. 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 what is more, 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 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 (1784). His lodge was a specifically Catholic, rather than a deistic one, 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; it was here, in 1786, that Mozart composed the opera Le nozze di Figaro.
Mozart and Prague
Mozart had a special relationship with Prague and its people. The audience here celebrated their 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 citation needed. 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 death
Mozart's final illness and death are difficult topics for scholars, obscured by romantic legends 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, mercury poisoning, and rheumatic fever. The practice, common at that time, of bleeding medical patients is also cited as a contributing cause.
Mozart died around 1 a.m. on December 5, 1791 in Vienna. Some days earlier, with the onset of his illness, he had largely ceased work on his final composition, the Requiem. Popular legend 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. However, documentary evidence has established that the anonymous commission came from one Count Franz Walsegg of 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. However, 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, but not a mass 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 citation needed. 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 percent of late 18th century wage earners, but he could not manage his own 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 put him in the position of having to ask others 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. However, test results were inconclusive, suggesting that none of the DNA samples were related to each other.
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 it.
Works, musical style, and innovations
In the decades after Mozart's death there were several attempts to catalogue his compositions, but it was not until 1862 that Ludwig von Köchel succeeded in this enterprise. Many of his famous works are referred to by their Köchel catalogue number; for example, the Piano Concerto in A major (Piano Concerto No. 23) is often referred to simply as "K. 488" or "KV. 488". The catalogue has undergone six revisions, labeling the works from K. 1 to K. 626.
Myths and controversies
Mozart is unusual among composers for being the subject of an abundance of legend, partly because none of his early biographers knew him personally. They often resorted to fiction in order to produce a work. Many myths began soon after Mozart died, but few have any basis in fact. 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 legend in scholarship. Dramatists and screenwriters, free from responsibilities of scholarship, have found excellent material among these legends.
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 "Lick me in the ass" and "Lick me in the ass nice and clean" as party pieces for his friends. The Köchel numbers of these canons are 231 and 233 (their original German texts are "Leck mich im Arsch" and "Leck mich im Arsch recht fein schön sauber").
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.
Benjamin Simkin, a medical doctor, argues in his book Medical and Musical Byways of Mozartiana that Mozart had Tourette syndrome. However, no Tourette syndrome expert, organization, psychiatrist or neurologist has stated that there is credible evidence that Mozart had this syndrome, and several have stated now that they do not believe there is enough evidence to substantiate the claim.
Milos Forman’s 1984 motion picture Amadeus, based on the play by Peter Schaffer, won eight Academy Awards and was one of the year’s most popular films. While the film did a great deal to popularize Mozart’s work with the general public, it has been criticized for its historical inaccuracies, and in particular for its portrayal of Salieri’s intrigues against Mozart, for which little historical evidence can be found. On the contrary, it is likely that Mozart and Salieri regarded each other as friends and colleagues: it is well documented, for instance, that Salieri frequently lent Mozart musical scores from the court library, that he often chose compositions by Mozart for performance at state occasions, and Salieri taught Mozart's son, Franz Xaver.
In addition, the image of Mozart as the divinely inspired effortless creator, popularized by the film, is certainly an exaggeration. The idea that he never revised his compositions, unforgettably dramatized in the film, is easily exploded by even a cursory examination of the autograph manuscripts, which contain many revisions. Mozart was a studiously hard worker, and by his own admission his extensive knowledge and abilities developed out of many years' close study of the European musical tradition.
In fairness, Schaffer and Forman never claimed that Amadeus was intended to be an accurate biographical portrait of Mozart. Rather, as Shaffer reveals on the DVD release of the film, the dramatic narrative was inspired by the biblical story of Cain and Abel — one brother loved by God, and the other scorned.