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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Johann Chrysostomus Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

One of the greatest musical geniuses in history, born at Salzburg, Austria, 27 January, 1756; died at Vienna, 5 December, 1791.

His father, Leopold Mozart, assistant choir-master and court musician to the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, was one of the most distinguished musicians of his time. He was the author of the best method for violin-playing written up to that period, and was a man of thorough education and sterling character. Realizing his son's extraordinary endowments, and also the great musical gifts of his daughter Maria Anna, five years Wolfgang's senior, he devoted all his energy and knowledge to their education.

Wolfgang at the age of three was wont to spend whole hours at the piano, discovering, to his great joy, consonant intervals, and was not yet four when he began to receive from his father systematic training in piano-playing and in the theory of music, improvising even before he could write notes. Violin-playing came to him practically by intuition, a fact which he demonstrated to the astonishment of his father and a company of artists, by performing at first sight the second violin part in a trio for stringed instruments. He was not yet five when his father wrote for him a theme for the piano with variations, which he had himself composed. So correct was the child's ear that he would remember the tone pitch of a violin which he had heard even weeks before. His sensitiveness was such that harsh sounds were distressing to him, a blast of a trumpet almost causing him to faint away.

Wolfgang was not yet eight years old when his father undertook a concert tour with his two children, visiting Munich, Vienna, and Presburg. Everywhere their performances, especially the boy's, created great astonishment. In 1763 Leopold Mozart visited Paris with his prodigies, and the following April London, where they remained until July, 1764. Received and fêted by royalty and people of high station, the Mozart children, but particularly Wolfgang, were considered musical wonders of the world. On their way back to Salzburg they visited The Hague and the principal cities of France and Switzerland.

During all these travels, and the distraction and excitement incident thereto, Wolfgang made progress in all branches of musical and other knowledge. He composed constantly and in almost every known instrumental form. Returned home, he devoted himself to the mastery of counterpoint, and the perfecting of his technique in piano, violin, and organ-playing. His patron, Archbishop von Schlatterbach, sceptical regarding the boy's reported achievements as a composer, invited Wolfgang to his palace, forbidding communication of any kind with him, and giving him the text of the first part of an oratorio, prepared by the archbishop, to set to music. The second and third parts of this work were composed by Michael Haydn and Anton Cajetan Adlgasser respectively. It was published at Salzburg in 1767, and performed during Lent of the same year. A year later, at the age of twelve, Wolfgang visited Vienna anew, and was commissioned to write an opera buffa, "La Finta Semplice", for which Marco Coltellini furnished the libretto. Intrigues of all kinds, especially on the part of the members of the theatre orchestra, who objected to playing under the direction of a twelve-year-old boy, prevented its performance.

Returning to Salzburg, Wolfgang was appointed concert-master, at first without compensation, but later was allowed a monthly stipend of twelve florins. Leopold Mozart, chafing under Wolfgang's lack of recognition, made every effort to secure for him a suitable appointment in the larger field of Munich and Vienna, and also Florence, but not succeeding, he finally decided to visit Italy, with a view to gaining there the prestige which success in that country then carried with it. In Bologna, they became acquainted with Padre Giambattista Martini (1706-1784), the most learned musician of his time. This master put Wolfgang through tests in contrapuntal writing, which the latter withstood with ease and consummate skill. In Rome young Mozart performed his famous feat of scoring Allegri's "Miserere" for double chorus, after listening to its performance on Wednesday of Holy Week. Hearing the work repeated on the following Friday, he had but a few minor corrections to make in his manuscript. After being created Knight of the Golden Spur, fêted, and acclaimed throughout Italy by the artistic and aristocratic world as the greatest living musical genius, Wolfgang returned to his modest position in Salzburg. Again and again he tried to find a more congenial atmosphere in Munich, Mannheim, Paris, and elsewhere, but without success. He continued, except for occasional visits to other cities for the purpose of conducting new works, to reside in Salzburg until his twenty-first year, when he took up his permanent abode in Vienna.

An offer from Frederick William II of Prussia to become court conductor at Berlin at a salary of three thousand thalers he refused on patriotic grounds. Mozart was now in full maturity of his powers, creating with astonishing rapidity works which will remain classic for all time: operas, symphonies, quartets, concertos, etc., all of which increased his fame, but did not ameliorate his material condition. Not only was due recognition denied him, but his life was one continuous battle for existence. His application for the assistant conductorship of the imperial opera house failed. He applied for a similar position at the cathedral of St. Stephen, in the hope of ultimate promotion to the post of choir-master. Only on his deathbed did he receive the news of his appointment. The great master died at the age of thirty-four and was buried, in a pauper's grave, his exact resting place being now unknown. Only a few persons followed his remains to the cemetery.

Mozart's individuality was of an exquisitely delicate, tender, and noble character. His operas, "Don Juan", "The Magic Flute", "The Marriage of Figaro", "Cosi fan tutte", "La Clemenza di Tito", on account of their melodic beauty and truth of expression, have as strong a hold upon the affections of the musical public today as they did at the end of the eighteenth century. His instrumental works continue to delight musicians the world over. As a composer for the Church, however, he does not, even artistically, reach the high level he maintained in other fields. In his day the music of the Church, Gregorian chant, was practically ignored in Germany, and sadly neglected in other countries. Mozart had but little knowledge of the masters of the sixteenth century, and consequently his style of writing for the Church could not have been influenced by them. The proper of the Mass, which brings singers and congregation in intimate touch with the liturgy of the particular day, was rarely sung. The fifteen masses, litanies, offertories, his great "Requiem", as well as many smaller settings, most of them written for soli, chorus, and orchestra, in the identical style of his secular works, do not reflect the spirit of the universal Church, but rather the subjective conception and mood of the composer and the Josephinist spirit of the age. What Mozart, with his Raphaelesque imagination and temperament, would have been for church music had he lived at a different time and in different surroundings, or risen above his own, can easily be imagined.

JAHN, W.A. Mozart, tr. TOWNSEND (London, 1882); NOHL, Mozart's Leben, tr. LALOR (Chicago, 1893); NOTTEBOHM, Mozartiana (1880); KOCHEL, Chronologisch-thematisches Verzeichnis admmtlicher Tonwerke W. A. Mozart's (Leipzig, 1862-1889); MEINARDUS, Mozart ein Kunstlerleben (Leipzig, 1882).


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