Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus


Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
(1756–1791)
   Christened Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus, the composer had an excellent musical lineage. His father Leopold (1719–1787) was a violinist, composer, and eventually assistant director of the choir at the court of the prince-bishop of Salzburg. He was also the first teacher of his prodigiously gifted son.
   At the age of six the younger Mozart, his sister Maria Anna (“Nannerl,” 1751–1829), and their father began a series of concert tours that took them to the major capitals of Europe. W. A. Mozart’s first symphonies date from this time as well. In 1769, he became the concertmaster at the court in Salzburg, a position he continued to hold until 1777. During this period, however, he also paid several visits to Italy, where he won considerable musical acclaim. Mozart’s work was not as well received during trips to Paris and Germany, so he found himself back in Salzburg and at the archbishop’s court, until he finally left it for good in 1781. He settled in Vienna, where he married Constanze Weber (1762–1842), whom he had met in Germany. Composing independently for the next 10 years, he had great success in the imperial capital (The Abduction from the Seraglio, 1782) and deep disappointment as well. The comic opera The Marriage of Figaro (1786) was tepidly received in Vienna, though audiences in Prague were wildly enthusiastic.
   At first Mozart had tried to work both as a composer and an impresario for his own music; a circle of nobles provided him with auditoriums for his concerts in their residences. He gave private lessons as well. However, the appeal of his music did not last, and from 1788 until his death, Mozart was in constant financial need, in part because of his profligate ways. He was buried in a common grave, which to this day remains unidentified.
   If Mozart was not the greatest composer in the Western tradition, he is among the very few who have an arguable claim to that distinction. Though his 41 symphonies, especially the last three, and his five major operas are perhaps the high moments of his total oeuvre, he wrote brilliantly in all the musical genres of his day. These included concert arias; works for single instruments, among them 23 piano sonatas and fantasies; 41 sonatas and variations for violin and piano; a vast number of occasional pieces for small ensembles; and an impressive body of church music, particularly 18 masses. Gifted with an unsurpassed instinct for the psychology of musical sound, he could evoke a vast range of emotions, yet write economically. Mozart’s music is a celebration of harmony and balance, in which close relationships are established among normally conflicting styles and feelings. Courtly grace is not far removed from the homely dignity of Austrian folk music; aching melancholy and longing are almost always resolved into joy.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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