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Classical Composers A-Z: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Today Peter Wintersgill outlines the life of the man that many consider the greatest of all composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

27th January, 1756, in Salzburg, son of Leopold and Anna Maria. Father was violinist and composer to the court of Archbishop Sigismund Schrattenbach of Salzburg. His sister, Maria Anna, five years older than he, was the only other child to survive to maturity and was an accomplished harpsichordist.

Took a great interest in his sister's harpsichord lessons, used to note pitches and pick out chords when the lessons were over. Father started his education at age of four, and he was composing minuets by the age of five. Once told his father he was writing a concerto and showed him a mass of blobs. Father was scornful at first, studied the score again and realised it really was a concerto.

Tours with Sister
Father realised the boy was a genius and decided quite reasonably to give up his own job and devote his time and energies to taking him, together with his sister, also very talented, on tour.

Their first tour, in 1762, was to Munich and Vienna, the capital of the Hapsburg Empire; they were well received by the Emperor and Empress and shown round the palace by Princess Marie Antoinette. Young Wolfgang made himself at home and even kissed the Empress on the cheek.

Later they made a more extensive tour, taking in Brussels, Paris, Switzerland, Holland and London. They played for Louis XV at Versailles and George III and Queen Charlotte in London. While in London he met J.S. Bach's youngest son, Johann Christian, who gave him lessons and undoubtedly influenced his music. This whole tour lasted from 1763 - 1766.

He wrote his first three symphonies in London in 1765, including the first, K16, and the second, K19.

They returned home in November 1766. While in Paris, Wolfgang had tonsillitis and later typhoid, which his sister and parents caught in turn.

Tours to Vienna and Italy
He set out with the family in September 1767 for Vienna where he had singing lessons with the castrato Manzuoli, also wrote two small one-act operas, La Finta Semplice and Bastien and Bastienne. The latter was given privately at the home of Dr. Mesmer, inventor of hypnotism; the former had its premiere in 1769 in Salzburg.

In December 1769 he left for Italy with just his father, visiting Verona, Mantua, Milan, Bologna, Rome, Florence, Naples and Venice. In the Sistine Chapel in Rome he heard Allegri's Miserere, which he later wrote down from memory, for which he was decorated by the Pope. While in Bologna he had lessons from Padre Martini, and wrote some symphonies and an opera, Mitridate.

He was elected a member of the Philharmonic Society of Bologna after composing several items in a locked room. He was finished in half an hour, whereas many senior composers took longer.

About this time he met Haydn, some 20 years his senior, who nevertheless became a great friend. As well as being friends the two were great admirers of each other's music.
Return to Salzburg and Second Italian Tour Mozart came back to Salzburg in March 1771, having been awarded the Order of the Golden Spur by the Pope. Only stayed five months at home, then went back to Milan in August.

He composed and conducted Ascanio in Alba for the wedding of the Archduke Ferdinand of Milan in October. Applied for a post with the Archduke, but none was vacant. Returned to Salzburg in December, where he stayed for 10 months.

The Prince Archbishop died and his successor, Count von Colloredo, was to prove unsympathetic to Mozart, as he was to many other people. However he granted the boy a salary on his appointment as Konzertmeister, as well as a year's leave to return to Italy, which he did in October 1772, returning home in March 1773.

During this time he wrote and produced an opera, Lucio Scilla, in Milan, in December 1772. In January he wrote the solo motet "Exultate Jubilate", also string quartets. On his return home he wrote five symphonies and more string quartets, which show the influence of Haydn, also the opera "La Finta Giardiniera", which was a great success. During the next two years he wrote more symphonies, five violin concertos, three piano concertos, in which he was often the soloist.

The early pianos, known as forte-pianos, were just coming into fashion, and Mozart helped to popularise them.

In 1774 he wrote the bassoon concerto; in 1776 the Haffner Serenade for the wedding of the burgomaster's daughter. He helped to bring German (serious and instrumental) and Italian (gay and vocal) styles together.

Tour to Paris
Went to Paris in 1777 with mother; father unable to get leave from Archbishop. Went via Mannheim, where he fell in love with 16-year-old Aloysia Weber, a fine soprano. Father furious, ordered him straight to Paris. Arrived there in 1778, wrote Paris Symphony, a ballet (Les Petits Riens), several chamber works. Mother taken suddenly ill, died two weeks later in July 1778.

Return to Salzburg
Wrote Coronation Mass in 1779, Sinfonia Concertante and an opera, Idomeneo, in 1781, which was a great success. The Archbishop was jealous of his success, quarrelled violently with him and had him literally kicked out of the court. Took lodgings in Vienna with Mrs. Weber; Aloysia had married an actor, so he fell in love with her sister Constance, married her in 1782, having been manoeuvred by her mother into a position where he could hardly refuse.

Married Life
He loved his wife very dearly, writing her many affectionate letters, but it was hardly a successful marriage. He needed a good organiser, which she was certainly not; she needed a solid reliable husband, which he was certainly not. They had six children, but only two survived infancy, both boys. His first son was born in 1783, as he composed a string quartet in the next room, one of 6 he dedicated to Haydn. On being introduced to Leopold Mozart, Haydn told him his son was the greatest living composer.

Later Adult Life
Mozart lived the last 10 years of his life in Vienna, always in debt, being without salary or regular patronage. During this time he wrote more piano concertos, The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, which was a great success (the greatest comic opera ever written), and Don Giovanni in 1787, the year his father died. He succeed Gluck as Court Composer on the latter's death.

In 1784 he became a mason, later writing several masonic works. In those days there was no bar to Roman Catholics being masons. He wrote more chamber music, including the Clarinet Quintet, also the opera Cosi Fan Tutti in 1790. He gave some tuition to young Beethoven, who impressed him very much.

About this time he had several episodes of illness, probably precursors of his final illness. In 1788 he wrote his last 3 symphonies in 6 weeks, Numbers 39,40 and 41 (Jupiter). The 3rd movement of 41 was used in Minuetto Alegretto of Wombles.

Next year he visited Berlin, where he met King Frederick William III of Prussia, a great cellist, for whom he wrote String Quartet No. 1. He was friendly with Baron van Swieten, a rich and very musical diplomat, who interested him in the works of the older composers, especially Bach and Handel. He edited Messiah and other Handelian works. He stayed in Prague a while in 1787 and wrote the Prague Symphony.

In 1790 he was visited by a mysterious stranger with an anonymous letter, asking him to write a Requiem. Mozart was very moved by this and felt it was a portent of his own death, and that he would never finish it. In this he was quite right; it was finished after his death by Sussmeyer, a pupil of his. The writer of the letter turned out to be Count von Walsegg, who wished to pass the work off as his own.

In 1791 he wrote his last opera, The Magic Flute, also the Clarinet Concerto, Ave Verum Corpus and the last piano concerto.

Last Days
His health gradually deteriorated during his last two to three months and his debts increased, even more than before. He was invited to England during his last year, but of course never went. His hands and feet swelled and he had several fits, which made him fear he was being poisoned; in fact these fears were quite unfounded.

His friends sang parts of the Requiem with him during his last few days. He died on the 4th December, 1791, aged 35, from kidney failure. He was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave; there was no music at the funeral, owing to the lack of funds. Haydn was one of the few mourners, also van Swieten, Salieri and Sussmeyer. Constance did not attend, women seldom did in those days.

As a matter of interest she later married again, this time to a solid reliable man, and was very happy.

Medical History
Mozart had rheumatic fever as a child of six, followed by erythema nodosum. Later in life he had periodic attacks of fever accompanied by joint pains, presumably more rheumatic fever. This is caused by streptococcal infection, often followed by nephritis (kidney damage). He also had an ear deformity. He suffered from smallpox aged 11, during the epidemic in Vienna. Towards the end he developed oedema (swelling) of the hands and feet from chronic nephritis, which caused uraemia. There was no evidence of poisoning and no post mortem.


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