Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Biography
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, supreme musical genius was born on January 27th 1756 in Salzburg Austria. His father was Leopold Mozart a musician and mother named Anna Marie. Only two of their seven children survived Wolfgang and his sister Anna Marie nicknamed “Nannerl” five years older than him who was to become his performing partner in his youth. Mozart started to play the harpsichord and violin at the age of five. When he was six he and “Nannerl” began performing for royalty in Germany and Austria. By the next year they performed in Paris for Louis the 15th and court. At the age of seven his first printed pieces four Violin Sonatas were composed. He toured all over Europe with his sister under the tutelage of his father. His first opera La Finta Semplice was written at eleven. Many of his concerts took on the air of stunts wherein spectators would give Mozart poems or musical themes and he would improvise a piece on the spot. Whether Leopold Mozart’s behavior in all this represented the pride of a father in his son’s genius or a ruthless exploitative act is open to question. Unfortunately the exploiting of prodigies in Mozart’s day was a common practice. The balance of his teen years was spent touring Europe now without his sister including a long stay in Italy amazing and bewildering his fellow musicians with his skill. More Operas, Concertos Sonatas, Serenades, Divertimentos and early symphonies appeared in profusion.
At the age of twenty two he toured Paris and even wrote a piece for the occasion, the Symphony entitled the Paris his 31st surviving work in the form. As Mozart reached adulthood he started to have adverse events affect his life. At twenty two his mother died. His position as a concert master in Salzburg offered a guaranteed salary proffered by the Archbishop of Salzburg. In 1781 he lost this position, the current Archbishop felt he was neglecting his duties which included leading the towns orchestra and providing music for secular and religious functions for working on foreign commissions. Among the works that sprung from the period was what is recognized after a long period of neglect his first great opera Idomoneo and the Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra with its very beautiful slow movement.
Mozart after his dismissal left Salzburg and moved to Vienna to live on his own. He initially fell in love with a young women Aloysia Weber upon her rejection he married her sister Constanze. In those years he produced his joyous opera Der Enthfuhrung aus Dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) a comic opera in German with extensive dialogue. Unlike his early operas that revolve around classical Greek and Roman plots that seem formulistic and static to modern sensibilities this opera is in the vernacular and written for a real audience not just a circle of aristocrats. From this period also come two of his most popular Symphonies #35 Haffner and # 36, the Four Horn Concertos, many of his great violin and piano sonatas,quintets,six piano concertos, his first great string quartets and perhaps above all the magisterial torso of the incomplete Great Mass in C minor that is so hauntingly used in the film Amadeus. To the already rococo perfection of the Salzburg period he now adds an emotional depth and beauty that now propels him to a level that is unique in music the only parallel in the arts are the great Italian Renaissance painters. Mozart at this time was starting to raise a family, though his supposed poverty during this time has been exaggerated, he had no formal position that provided him with a guaranteed income. Many of his financial problems can be attributed to the fact that the supreme master of musical mathematics often spent far more then he earned. His copious correspondence which mirrors the mundane and the sublime observations of this extraordinary little man (he was barely five feet tall). During this period he joined the Mason’s which at the time was more of a political movement espousing enlightened thought in regards to science, philosophy and individual liberty then a social order. Mozart wrote significant music on Masonic themes including his penultimate opera the Magic Flute and a six minute piece Masonic Funeral Music that is the very essence of sublimity. He sums up this second period with six strings Quartets dedicated to Joseph Haydn. It was on this occasion when Haydn told Leopold Mozart that “Before god and as an honest man your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name”
The final phase of career can be said to start with the comic opera Le Nozze de Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) in 1786. This opera which was the first of the three operas he was to write with a libretto supplied by Lorenzo Da Ponte was a triumph. The opera is considered by many the most perfect ever written. During this period he wrote five of his greatest piano concerto #20 in D minor, 21 in C the so called “Elvira Madigan”, #22 in E flat, 23 in A major, # 24 in C minor, and # 25 in C major. During a visit to Prague he honored it with a symphony that is named after the Czech capitol his 38th. Prague was also to be the city where Mozart second great Da Ponte was to be premiered Don Giovanni. The opera was subtitled “opera giocoso” (jocular) a misleading title, while respecting the conventions of comic opera it has a demonic side as Don Giovanni defiant behavior leads him to his doom. In the 19th century the Romantic Movement in literature and music took this as his and their signature work. It was in this period that his father died, while not quite as harrowing as portrayed in Amadeus we know from his letters that it had a sobering effect, the last vestige of his youth was gone.
Mozart in 1788 created a musical miracle, within a matter of weeks he composed three masterpieces the serene Symphony # 39 E flat, the tragic Symphony # 40 in G minor, Symphony #41 in C major nicknamed the “Jupiter” for its Olympian grandeur. It would take a highly competent musician to copy out the parts in the time it took Mozart to fully compose them. During this time Mozart became friendly with a clarinetist Anton Standler for whom he wrote a Clarinet Trio, a Quintet for Clarinet (that gained pop culture status when it was used for the last episode of Mash) and a great Clarinet Concerto. During 1789 he visited Berlin and Potsdam where he performed for King Wilhelm Friedrich the Second concurrent with the composition of his last four string quartets. In 1790 the last of the great trio of Da Ponte operas Cosi Fan Tutte (Thus do All Women) was composed this comedy of errors about sexual fidelity was considered far too frivolous a subject for 19th Century romantics and gained its current popularity in the latter half of the twentieth century.
1791 the last year of his life Mozart wrote two operas the formal “opera seria” La Clemenza di Tito and the great masterwork (I believe his greatest) Die Zauberflute (The Magic Flute). The opera takes what seems on the surface to be a boy meets girl plots and transfigures it with an allegory of the force of blind evil against enlightenment and benevolence which triumphs. Mozart’s Masonic beliefs highly influenced the opera. A strange episode occurred toward the end of 1791, a stranger called on him to compose a Requiem Mass for an anonymous party that was believed to be an employee of a Count Von Walsegg who commissioned the Requiem. It is believed the Count wanted to pass it off as his own work that was to be written in memory of his wife. Mozart was to die before he completed the work and it was to be finished by his student Sussmayr based on sketches, resetting of the latter part of the liturgy with music from the opening Kyrie and some moments of original music by Sussmayr. Mozart was never in good health developed uremia and died on December 5th 1791. A few myths around this tragic event need to dispelled, the Austro Italian composer Salieri Mozart’s professional rival had nothing to do with his death. Mozart was not dumped in a pauper’s grave during a raging storm; he was removed from the grave when Constanze did not pay for the upkeep of the grave (bad enough). The rumors of Salieri poisoning Mozart were spread by the suddenness of his death, Salieri was viewed as an intriguing foreigner and posthumous guilt by the Viennese over the under appreciation of Mozart’s greatness needed to find a villain rather than to admit to their collective indifference. The lesson to take was the one Peter Shaffer offered in Amadeus that the powerful are more comfortable with a very competent individual who has political skills then a genius who is indifferent to these sorts of maneuvers.
Mozart as intimated earlier was viewed in the 19th century by the intellectual arbiters of the Romantic Movement as a great genius but one that didn’t explore the deepest emotions. It was only in the period after the first war when the subtlety of Mozart’s genius was fully realized. Helping this was the early pioneering work of musicologist Ludwig Koechel categorizing and collecting chronologically Mozart’s work (that’s what the k’s stand for at the end of the titles), great musicians as Richard Strauss, Bruno Walter, Sir Thomas Beecham, Walter Gieseking, George Szell among others performing his works in concert and on record. The phonographic record and CD has done more for Mozart than any other great composer, the dozens of Divertimentos, Serenades and Marches that were written for the aristocratic settings of palace ballrooms were once the province of only musical scholars can now be heard by everyone who can listen to a CD a radio or a computer. Many a dollar has been made by different variant’s of “Mozart makes you smarter” if the claims may somewhat exaggerated, for this one listener there is nothing in Art that gives one the spiritual equilibrium or the sense of what a human being can accomplish at the highest possible level then Mozart at his greatest.