Most of us know at least a little something about Mozart. He’s what we think of when we hear “child prodigy.” He’s probably the most famous classical composer (aside from Beethoven, Bach and Brahms).
People are aware that he died young and many think that he was perhaps a little crazy – an impression given to us largely by the Academy Award-winning movie Amadeus.
But who was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? He was born in Salzburg, a city that embraces the heritage of Mozart’s birthplace to this day. Mozart truly was an extremely talented child, learning from his father Leopold, an experienced music teacher. Beginning with the clavier, a keyboard instrument that he played beautifully, he then picked up the violin, and started to compose his own pieces by age five. With his older sister Maria, little Wolfgang was taken on a years-long tour of Europe, beginning when he was only six. The Mozart children performed before royalty and nobility in the era’s great cities, including Munich, Vienna, Prague, Paris, and London. Mozart wrote his first symphony in 1764 at age eight.
When he was twelve, Mozart and Leopold left Austria again and spent over a year touring Italy. At age fourteen, he wrote his first opera while in Milan – the perfect place to do it! Returning to Salzburg in 1773, Mozart was employed as a poorly-paid court musician. He had time to explore genres and wrote many important violin and piano concertos – however, he felt stifled in Salzburg, as many people do in their hometowns, and eventually quit in 1777 to look for a job elsewhere. During this time, he met the Weber family in Mannheim, Germany, and fell in love with Aloysia, one of four sisters. Mozart moved on to Paris in March 1778; eventually his father got him a job back in Salzburg with the Archbishop Colloredo. On his way back, he again met Aloysia, but she had lost interest. He returned to Salzburg in early 1779.
Mozart hoped to use the Archbishop to meet the Emperor and perhaps get a job working for him in Vienna. The Archbishop, however, didn’t want Mozart to perform elsewhere and tried to constrain him. Mozart’s father was on the Archbishop’s side, wanting Mozart to remain in Salzburg, but it was no good. Mozart tried to resign and then was summarily fired.
Moving to Vienna as a freelance musician and composer was life-changing. Mozart boarded with the Weber family, who had also moved there. Aloysia Weber had married someone else, and Mozart eventually married her sister Constanze. Mozart’s father didn’t want him to marry Constanze, but he did so in 1782 without waiting for Leopold’s permission, which arrived in the mail the next day. Mozart and his wife had six children, but only two lived: Karl and Franz.
During the 1780s, Mozart performed frequently and composed constantly. He often appeared in unusual performance spaces, such as restaurants, and these concerts were very popular. This was the only period of true financial success for Mozart, who began living a lavish lifestyle that unfortunately couldn’t be sustained.
Mozart’s domineering father died in May 1787, not living to see the success of the great operas The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, nor Mozart’s longed-for appointment by the Emperor Joseph II as chamber composer, a part-time job that provided a small but steady income. According to court records, the Emperor wanted to keep Mozart in Vienna – much the same way that Leopold had wanted to keep him in Salzburg.
At the end of the decade, Mozart began to have financial problems, as Austria’s war with the Ottoman Empire reduced prosperity for the public as well as for the nobility who hired him. He seldom appeared in concert anymore. He did continue to compose at an amazing rate, and some of his finest work came in those final years. Mozart conducted the premiere of his opera The Magic Flute just two months before his death at age 35.
Now that you know a bit more about Mozart, don’t miss the chance to hear two of his most beautiful – although very different – works on November 3 and 4. Get tickets now for Magnificent Mozart: visit capesymphony.org or call 508.362.1111.