Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria to Leopold Mozart and his wife, Anna Maria. Leopold was a successful composer and violinist and served as assistant concertmaster at the Salzburg court. Mozart and his older sister, Maria Anna, were the only two of the family’s seven children to survive infancy. Both children showed great musical potential and Leopold began instructing them at a very early age. His benefactor, the archbishop of the Salzburg court, Sigismung von Schrattenbach, was also very supportive of the Mozart children’s remarkable talents.
At the age of three Mozart was able to pick out tunes on the piano and by the time he was five he was composing minuets. Both Mozart and his sister played the harpsichord exceedingly well and Mozart also mastered the violin. Leopold was eager to exhibit both of his children’s musical abilities so, when his son was seven, he left his position at the Salzburg court to take his family on a concert tour of Western Europe. Mozart and his sister performed in the major musical centers of Europe, including Mannheim, Mainz, Frankfurt, Brussels, Paris, London, and Amsterdam. During this time, Mozart continued to compose, completing his first symphony at the age of nine and publishing his first sonatas that same year. The family returned to Salzburg in 1766 but, after spending less than a year there, they left again for Vienna, where Mozart completed his first opera, La Finta Semplice, in 1768, when he was just 12 years old. Shortly after, Mozart was appointed honorary Konzertmeister at the Salzburg court.
Mozart and his father traveled to Italy in 1769, where he toured for more than a year in Rome, Milan, Florence, Naples, and Bologna. While in Italy, Mozart completed another opera, Mitridate, re di Ponto and also received a papal audience, during which the Pope conferred knighthood as a tribute to the boy’s genius. In the next few years Mozart would make two more trips to Italy and complete two more operas, Alba in 1771 and Lucio Silla in 1772, as well as eight symphonies, four divertimentos, and several other works.
In 1771, Archbishop von Schrattenbach, who had been a great supporter of Mozart since his childhood, died and was succeeded by Hieronymus von Colloredo. Although Mozart did not get along well with his new patron, he remained in his position in Salzburg for many more years. In 1777 Mozart obtained leave from Salzburg and set out on tour with his mother, in hopes of securing a better position. They traveled through Munich, Augsburg, and Mannheim, but Mozart was unsuccessful in finding a post. The next year they continued to Paris, where Mozart composed the Paris Symphony. While they were there, Mozart’s mother became ill and soon after the symphony’s premiere, she died.
Mozart returned to Salzburg and was given the post of court organist and Konzertmeister. He produced numerous works during this period, including the Coronation Mass in 1779. In 1780, he was commissioned to compose an Italian opera for Munich. Idomeneo, re di Creta was completed the next year and became his first great operatic success. Soon after, Archbishop Colloredo summoned Mozart back to Vienna, where the Salzburg court was in residence on the accession of a new emperor. Fresh from the success of Idomeneo, Mozart was exacerbated to find himself back in the service of the court. This, combined with his growing resentment of his employer, soon led to conflict and in 1781 he left his post.
Mozart remained in Vienna and in 1782 married Constanze Weber. The couple had six children but only two of them survived. That same year, he completed the opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail, which was an immediate success. Also in 1782, Mozart was appointed to the position of chamber composer for Emperor Joseph II, a post that he held until 1787. These years were very productive for Mozart, during which he met Italian librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. Their partnership produced three of the most popular and best loved operas of Mozart’s career, the first of which, Le Nozze di Figaro, premiered in Vienna in 1786. Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte followed soon after in 1787 and 1790.
Despite these successes, Mozart and his wife lived well beyond their means and were in continual debt. In 1787, Mozart was appointed to the post of Kammermusicus, although the salary did little to lessen the couple’s financial hardships. In 1791, Mozart was commissioned to compose a score to Emanual Schikaneder’s Die Zauberflöte, which was inspired by the group they were both members of, the Free Masons. The opera premiered in Vienna to large success. Also in 1791 was the premiere of La Clemenza di Tito, which would be the last of the 20 operas Mozart wrote in his lifetime. During this time of financial strain, Mozart also composed his last three symphonies: E flat, G minor, and the Jupiter in C.
In 1791, Mozart was commissioned to write a requiem, but he would never finish the piece. He became quite ill, although he had never known very good health, and he died on December 5, 1791 at the age of 35. His death, which gave rise to false rumors of poisoning, is thought to have resulted from rheumatic fever, a disease which he had suffered from repeatedly throughout his life. Despite his unquestionable reputation as the greatest musical mind of his time, Mozart was buried with little ceremony in an unmarked grave in Vienna, as was legally required for all those without noble or aristocratic birth.