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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 but died at the early age of 35 in 1791 having already composed more than than 600 works, many of which are considered the very best there is covering the music genres of Symphony, Concert, Chamber, Operatic and Choral Music.

Unlike many composers he had the ability to compose with great variety, reflecting the musical tastes of the moment and of his audience, and showing great range of expression as a result. This adaptability may have been due to the wide range of musical influences he had a very young age as he travelled around Western Europe.

Mozart was a true child prodigy who could play short pieces of the harpsichord at the age of 4, and was composing by the age of 5. His father Leopold was a minor composer and experienced teacher recognized his talent and took him to Munich to play for the Bavarian Court and to the Vienna Imperial Court at this tender age of 5.

The success of this trip encouraged his father to seek a leave of absence from his job as deputy Kappelmeister in Salzburg in 1763 so he could take Mozart on a world tour of the main musical centres of Europe for Mozart to perform in. Munich, Augsburg, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Mainz, Frankfurt, Brussels, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Lyon, and Switzerland were all visited over a 3 year period. Mozart’s concerts were received extremely well and his composing developed as he met composers such as Bach along his journey. When he was 8 he wrote his first symphony, though it is believed his father actually transcribed it.

By 1769 at the age of 13 Mozart and his father took a 15 month tour to Italy stopping to perform anywhere where a concert could be given. His father’s objective was to showpiece both Mozart’s performing and composing ability, and in Milan he received his first commission to write an Opera for the Carnival called “Mithradates, King of Pontus”. This was well received in 1770 before they returned to Salzburg, and led to further Opera commissions.

His second visit to Italy lasted just 5 months in 1771 and included the premiere of the Opera “Ascanio in Alba”. His third Italian journey was 6 months long and included his new Opera “Lucio Silla” premiering in 1772. Despite starting 3 hours late and lasting 6 hours it was considered a success lasting for 26 performances. Leopold was hoping these 3 operas would result in his son receiving a professional engagement in Milan but despite initial interest nothing was forthcoming.

In 1773 Wolfgang Mozart was employed as a court musician in Salzburg and produced a range of music during this time including violin concertos. However Wolfgang was not satisfied during this time due to his low salary of 150 florins and the restricted opportunity to produce Operas which was his interest at the time. Things came to a head when the court theatre closed in 1775 and as a result he resigned in 1777, and set off to look again for a more suitable position.

However he was unsuccessful and a shortage of money forced him to return to Salzburg in 1779 as the court organist and concertmaster at 450 florins a year. His “Idomeneo” Opera was well received in 1781 in Munich, but after a protracted falling out period

with his employer Archbishop Colleredo Mozart was fired and decided to settle in Vienna on a freelance basis.

His time in Vienna started well with Mozart establishing himself as the “finest keyboard player in Vienna”, playing the piano in a competition before the Emperor. In 1782 his Opera “Abduction from the Seraglio” achieved considerable success and was played throughout German speaking Europe and was the piece that really established Mozart composer credentials.

In August 1782 Mozart was married to Constanze Weber a trained singer. They had 6 children during their marriage though sadly only 2 survived into adulthood.

During the next 3 years Mozart focused on giving solo piano concerts. With performance space being limited he booked unusual venues such as ballrooms, and large apartment rooms with the concerts being a great success and he reaped significant financial success as a result. The Mozart’s lifestyle was lavish, living in an expensive apartment with an annual rent of 460 florins, sending their boy to a boarding school, purchasing expensive musical instruments and having various servants.

During this time Mozart became exposed to both Bach’s and Haydn music, and it is thought their Baroque style music influenced Mozart with parts of the Magic Flute Opera and the finale of Symphony 41.

Haydn and Mozart became firm friends and played in strong quartet concerts together. Mozart dedicated 6 quartets to Haydn between 1782 – 1785 which are thought to be a response to Haydn’s Opus 33 set from 1781. Haydn had a huge respect for Wolfgang’s composing ability telling Leopold “I tell you before God, and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer known to me by person and repute, he has taste and what is more the greatest skill in composition.”

In 1784 he became a Freemason and during the remainder of his life composed various Masonic music, and at times had to rely on this Masonic friends for financial stability.

His most enduring Operas; “Marriage of Figaro”, “Don Giovanni”, “Cosi Van Tutte” were from his later life and were developed in collaboration with the Librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte.

“Marriage of Figaro” was premiered in Vienna in 1786 and then taken to Prague where it was received with great acclaim. This led to the premiere of “Don Giovanni” in 1787 in Prague which was again welcomed warmly in Prague.

In 1787 Mozart finally received his long sought after post under aristocratic patronage through the Emperor Joseph II as Chamber Composer at 800 florins a year. However Mozart situation started to become less financially successful which was at odds with their lavish lifestyle.

The Austro-Turkish wars were taking their toll and the nobility as a result were less able to support music and the arts. Mozart’s’ concerts had shrunk in number and his finances were significantly strained and he entered a period of debt to his friend and fellow mason Puchberg.

It is believed that during this time his output declined and he was affected by depression, which makes the composition of the comic Opera “Cosi Van Tutte” in 1790 all the more unusual. Whilst his fellow composers Beethoven and Wagner felt the frivolity of the theme was beneath Mozart it is now firmly established as one of the Opera audiences most favourite Operas. “Cosi Van Tutte” was the last of the 3 collaborations with Da Ponte.

By 1791 Mozart had regained his productivity writing the opera “The Magic Flute”, his final piano concerto , clarinet concerto and the last in his series of string quintets, the motet  “Ave verum Corpus” and of course his unfinished Requiem. Financially things were on a more even keel with funds coming in from wealthy patrons in Hungary and

Amsterdam who paid him an annual retainer in exchange for writing occasional music, as well as sales from dance music written whilst he was the Imperial Chamber Composer and he started to pay his debts back.

However during the premiere of the “Clemency of Titus” in September 1791 in Prague Mozart fell ill, although he still conducted the premiere of the “Magic Flute” on the 30th September. By Nov he was bedridden with vomiting, severe swelling and pain and never recovered dying on the 5th Dec. During this period he was writing his famous Requiem which sadly he never finished.

Whilst his cause of death was recorded as severe military fever this is more of a description than a cause and over 100 causes of death have subsequently been suggested which vary from flu to kidney failure, to mercury poisoning or rheumatic fever.

It feels that Mozart died at his composing best and following his death his reputation bounded in popularity.

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