I decided to research Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for my VIP this week because I am learning to play my first piece of his music and wanted to know more about the composer. Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, “the capital of the Archbishopric of Salzburg, an ecclesiastic principality in what is now Austria, then part of the Holy Roman Empire.”
Mozart’s parents were Leopold Mozart (1719-1787) and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart (1720-1778), and he was the youngest of seven children, five of whom died as infants. He was baptized the day after his birth at St. Rupert’s Cathedral with his name on the baptismal record as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. He generally referred to himself as “Wolfgang Amade Mozart,” but his name varied greatly as an adult. His older sister was Maria Anna (1751-1829), nicknamed “Nannerl”.
Leopold Mozart was a native of Augsburg and “was a minor composer and an experienced teacher. In 1743, he was appointed as fourth violinist in the musical establishment of Count Leopold Anton von Firmian, the ruling Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg.” He married Anna Maria four years later in Salzburg. In 1756 he published a violin textbook that achieved success. In 1763, twenty years after his appointment, he became the deputy Kapellmeister for the orchestra.
Leopold begin teaching Nannerl keyboard lessons when she was seven years old, and three-year-old Wolfgang looked on. She reminisced years later after Mozart’s death, “He often spent much time at the clavier, picking out thirds, which he was ever striking, and his pleasure showed that it sounded good…. In the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier…. He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time…. At the age of five, he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down.”
Mozart composed his first three pieces of music within a period of weeks. Leopold was a devoted teacher, and his son was an eager student who desired to learn more than he was being taught. He wrote his first symphony at age eight years. He was competent on the keyboard and the violin. He was hired by the court in Salzburg as a musician when he was 17. He became restless for a better position and began traveling. In 1781 he was dismissed from his Salzburg position and chose to stay in Vienna; there he “achieved fame but little financial security.” He composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas in his later years in Vienna; he also composed portions of the Requiem but left it unfinished at his death.
Mozart “composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers, and his influence on subsequent Western art music is profound; Ludwig van Beethoven composed his own early works in the shadow of Mozart, and Joseph Haydn wrote that `posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.”
Being rejected by one young woman, Mozart became interested in a younger sister. He had a difficult time getting his father’s permission to marry, but he married Constanze Weber on August 4, 1782, in St Stephen’s Cathedral, the day before the permission arrived. The couple had six children, four of whom died in infancy: Raimund Leopold (June 17 – August 19, 1783), Karl Thomas Mozart (September 21 1784 – October 31, 1858), Johann Thomas Leopold (October 18 – November 15, 1786), Theresia Constanzia Adelheid Friedericke Maria Anna (December 27, 1787 – June 29, 1788), Anna Maria (died soon after birth on November 16, 1789), and Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart (July 26, 1791 – July 29, 1844).
Mozart was a lifelong and loyal member of the Catholic Church. He was described as “a remarkably small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine, fair hair of which he was rather vain.” Another description said he was “small and his countenance, except for his large intense eyes, gave no signs of his genius.” His face was pitted by a childhood case of smallpox. He wore elegant clothing. His wife described his voice as “a tenor, rather soft in speaking and delicate in singing, but when anything excited him, or it became necessary to exert it, it was both powerful and energetic.” He worked long and hard on his compositions; he “lived at the center of the Viennese musical world, and knew a great number and variety of people.” He enjoyed billiards and dancing and owned numerous pets including a canary, a dog, and a horse.
While in Prague for the September 6, 1791, premiere of his opera La clemenza di Tito, Mogart became ill. He continued his duties until November 20 when he became “bedridden, suffering from swelling, pain, and vomiting.” His wife and her younger sister cared for him during his final illness under the care of his doctor. He apparently tried to finish his Requiem but was not able to do so. He died at his home about 1:00 a.m. on December 5, 1791, at age 35. He was survived by his widow and two sons. The cause of his death is uncertain with a possible 118 causes suggested by researchers.
Mozart was buried in a “common grave” (individual grave for a member of the common people) at the St. Marx Cemetery outside the city on December 7 on a “calm and mild”. Consistent with burial customs at the time in Vienna, no mourners attended the burial.
“Mozart’s modest funeral did not reflect his standing with the public as a composer: memorial services and concerts in Vienna and Prague were well-attended. Indeed, in the period immediately after his death, his reputation rose substantially….”