Name: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Born: 27 January 1756
Died: 5 December 1791
City of birth: Salzberg, Austria
Known for: Child genius, he composed his first opera in 1768 when he was 12 years old
Mozart had a short but distinguished career as a composer. His musical training started young, with his father Leopold – also a musician and composer – recording that the child prodigy learnt his first piece at just 4 years old. He wrote his first violin sonata in 1764 when he was still just 8 years old. Later that same year he composed his first symphony; he went on to compose more than 600 pieces. His first opera Lafinta semplice (The Make-believe Idiot) was written in 1768 while he was in Vienna.
The young Mozart and his almost equally musically talented sister, Maria Anna, travelled with their parents around most of Europe on several long tours. They played for the nobility and royalty of Britain, France, Germany and more. These two child prodigies amazed and delighted the great and the good wherever they went – much to their father’s pleasure. It was during these years that Mozart’s career as a composer started.
On 27 November 1769, Mozart was appointed Konzertmeister to the Salzberg court by the ruler of the principality, Prince Archbishop Schrattenbach. This was a huge honour for the 13-year-old. Mozart continued to travel and to write, composing operas, symphonies, concertos, divertimenti and more. After disagreements with Schrattenbach’s replacement, Collerado, Mozart resigned as Konzertmeister.
In 1781 he moved to Vienna. He remained in the city until his death. It was here that he wrote many of his most famous pieces, including Don Giovanni (1787), Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791) and the Requiem, which was unfinished on his death in 1791.
Mozart achieved great fame in Vienna. He played for the aristocracy, as well as in the homes of the rich. He took on pupils and was constantly writing. His work funded – at least at first – a lavish lifestyle. But the money dried up and the composer died in poverty.
Mozart’s work is typical of the Classical style (1730-1820). He is considered one of the greatest composers of all time in Western music.
Wolfgang Amadeus was born to Leopold Mozart, a violinist and composer, and Maria Anna, nee Pertl, on 27 January 1756. He was the couple’s seventh child; five of his older siblings died in infancy, with only Mozart and his older sister surviving into adulthood. Anna Maria Mozart, nicknamed Nannerl, was four years older than her brother. She too was a talented musician, but as she approached marriageable age, her career was cut short and after 1769 she never performed professionally again.
The family lived in Salzberg, the capital of the Archbishopric of Salzburg, a principality in what is now Austria, then part of the Holy Roman Empire.
Maria Anna died on 3 July 1778, while in Paris with her son. Mozart had the unenviable task of informing his father. Leopold himself died not 10 years later, in 28 May 1787. The father didn’t live to hear his son’s most famous and beautiful operas performed.
Mozart married Constanze Weber on 7 August 1782. The composer’s father was against the match, but did grudgingly grant his consent. The couple’s first son was born a year later. Sadly, Raimond Leopold Mozart died just two months later, while his parents were in Salzberg. Of Mozart and Constanze’s five children, only two sons, Karl Thomas and Franz Xaver Wolfgang, lived into adulthood and neither had children of their own.
Mozart had been plagued with illness for most of his life. He died on 5 December 1791, when he was just 35. Although the cause is unknown, the symptoms were consistent with a streptococcal throat infection; poison has largely been discredited.
Did you know?
Mozart could be decidedly childish and his letters reveal something of an obsession with scatological humour.
Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro, 1786)
Don Giovanni (1787)
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music, 1787)
Cosi fan tutte (Women Are Like That, 1790)
Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute, 1791)
Requiem (finished in 1792 after Mozart’s death)
A Mozart family portrait: Maria Anna, Wolfgang Amadeus, their mother Anna Maria (medallion) and father, Leopold Mozart, by Johann Nepomuk della Croce (via Wikimedia Commons).