Wolfgang Amadeus, was the last and only surviving son of Anna Maria Pertl and Leopold Mozart, a composer and music teacher in the court of Prince Archbishop Leopold Anton Freiherr von Firmian. He was born in Salzburg in 1756, five years after his sister Maria Anna called Nannerl, and, as is well-known, demonstrated his very precocious musical talent at a very young age.
A child prodigy at the age of seven his father took him on a series of tours throughout the most important musical centers of Europe to perform both in royal courts and in public, alone or with his sister as violinist. Wonder and admiration for the extraordinary musical capabilities of that son who even he often called “the miracle that God had born in Salzburg” followed them everywhere they went.
To emphasize his son’s genius further, Mozart’s father often made him play blind, that is with the keyboard covered, or had the public pick a work for him to play at first sight. Soon after these early triumphal tournées other trips followed and especially important from the perspective of Mozart’s musical formation were the three he made to Italy. The first was in the company of his father and occurred between 1769 and 1773. The primary stops were Turin, Milan, Venice, Verona, Bologna, Rome, Naples and along the way he met many musicians and other important people; in Milan among those he met were Hasse, Piccinni, Sammartini, one of Bach‘s sons, Johann Christian, and Giuseppe Parini – who wrote librettos for him such as Ascanio in Alba. In Bologna, he visited the famous Farinelli and Padre Martini, with whom he studied counterpoint. In Naples – the Naples of 1700’s, European capital of music and of the Kingdom of the two Sicily’s where there were more than “300 maestri” (as he wrote in a letter to his father) – he came into contact with an impressively abundant and very high quality production of music. After all these experiences returning to the small and provincial reality of Salzburg did not seem to offer young Mozart much in the way of stimulus and opportunity, so after obtaining the Archbishop’s permission, the 21 year old composer along with his mother visited both Germany and Paris but found no more concrete opportunities in either. In fact Leopold renegotiated new employment for him in the Salzburg court as organist and Amadeus reluctantly returned.
Shortly thereafter Mozart moved to Vienna in 1781. Vienna, the city where the 25 year old Mozart would spend the last ten years of his life, was already a true metropolis: more than 2 million inhabitants. These were the years of his greatest success and there he wrote some of his most famous compositions, even though he was not always on good ground financially, especially after his marriage with Costanza Weber in 1782.
Mozart died while he was working on his famous Requiem (which was completed by his friend Franz Xaver Süssmayr). As is widely known Mozart’s death is surrounded in romantic mystery (it is said that he was poisoned by a very jealous Salieri, that his widow was not extraneous to the event and the drama written by the Russian writer Puškin, “Mozart and Salieri”, further alimented rumors to the point of creating a legend which lives on today in the 1984 film, “Amadeus” by Miloš Forman. Mozart was buried in a common grave, which was the custom at that time in Vienna for people of his condition. He left two sons, one of whom Franz Xaver Wolfgang inherited his musical talent becoming an interesting composer in his own right, even though he was overshadowed by the figure of his father. Mozart’s work was catalogued by von Köchel in the mid 1800’s, hencwhich explains the ‘K’ in the numbering scheme.
According to some musicologists, Mozart was essentially a composer of operas. Among the works of his youth, are the “Milanese” operas like Mitridate, re di Ponto, K 87 (K.74a), Ascanio in Alba, K 111, Lucio Silla, K 135, all of which were staged for the first time between 1770 and 1772 at the Teatro Regio Ducale in the Lombardy capital. Il sogno di Scipione, K 126 premiered in 1772 at the Bishop’s residence in Salzburg and Idomeneo (Munich 1771). But it was during his period in Vienna that he wrote his most famous and successful operas: Die Entführung aus dem Serail performed at the Burgtheater in 1972. It was written in German – at that time the language commonly used in opera was Italian which Mozart, along with numerous other authors, knew – because it was part of a project promoted by the Emperor Giuseppe II to create a national theater (and therefore in German); Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni (for both of them Lorenzo da Ponte wrote the libretto); Così fan tutte, La clemenza di Tito, and another “Singspiel” (that is an opera with a German libretto and – another difference with Italian opera – one in which the recited parts are not sung but spoken): Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) in which Freemasonry symbols emerge (as is well known Mozart was initiated into the Freemasons in Vienna in 1784). These later works are universally famous.
Music for orchestra
Mozart wrote 41 Symphonies and a large number of Concertos for various instruments. Here are mentioned a few of his Symphonies. The last three, the short cycle known as the ‘swan’s song’ were all written in the summer of 1778 (n. 39 in E flat major, K 543, n. 40 in G minor, K 550 and the n. 41 in C major, K 551 later called the “Jupiter”). The Symphonies n.35 in D major, K385, called “Haffner” (after the person it was dedicated to Sigmund Haffner Jr.), n. 36 in C major, K 425 called “Linz” (because it was composed in that city) and n. 38 in D major, K 504 called “Prague” are particularly famous. Among his Serenades is the very famous Serenade n.13 in G major, K 525 universally known as Eine kleine Nachtmusik, written in the summer of 1787 for strings only. Among his Concertos for piano are: n. 24 in C minor, K 491, n. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595, n. 17 in G major, K 453, and n. 20 in D minor, K 466. Others are: the Flute Concerto n.2 in D major, K. 314, Concerto for Flute, Harp, K 299 in C major, Violin Concerto n. 4 in D major, K 218, and the Concerto for clarinet and orchestra in A major, K 622.
Mozart’s corpus of Chamber Music is particularly numerous and important and includes works for piano, for violin and fortepiano, duets, trios, quartets and quintets. The Sonatas for fortepiano were composed throughout his creative life from 1766 to 1791. Here named are the splendid Sonata n.17 in B-flat major, K 570, and the famous Sonata n. 16 in C major, K. 545 which Mozart himself called the ‘Facile Sonata” or the “Simplice Sonata”, for beginners. Even the 30 sonatas for violin and piano were composed over the course of his life: the first was written when Amadeus was six years old and the last one dates to three years prior to his death. His Quartets include: String Quartet n.17 in B-flat major, K458 called “The Hunt”, the String Quartet n.19 in C major, K 465 “Dissonance”, the Clarinet Quintet in A major, K 581 and the Quintet for piano and winds, K 452.
Certainly one of Mozart’s most famous works is the Requiem Mass in D minor K 626, his last composition, and one surrounded in mystery: Stendhal wrote in Vite di Haydn, Mozart e Metastasio, that an anonymous committee commissioned Mozart to compose the Requiem Mass in four weeks for the sum of fifty ducats at a time when he was sick and in misery. Unable to identify the identity of the commissioner Mozart was convinced that he was writing it for himself. In his position under the Archbishop of Salzburg Mozart was naturally led to compose much sacred choral music: several masses, among them: the Krönungsmesse “Coronation” Missa solemnis K 317 and other sacred music including Litanies, Vespers, Church Sonatas and the famous Exsultate, jubilate and the Ave Verum. He also wrote secular music including a corpus of Freemason music among them, Masonic Funeral Music in C minor K 477 (K6 479a) (Maurerische Trauermusik).