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The Austrian Composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Works and Life

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overview

  • Born: January 27, 1756 - Salzburg, Austria 
  • Died: December 5, 1791 - Vienna 
  • Historical Period: Classical era
  • Musical Media: Orchestra, chamber music, keyboard, choral, ballet, songs. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Giant Among the Classical Music

Born in 1756, in Salzburg, Austria, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the son of Leopold Mozart, a respectable composer himself. Leopold worked at the office of the archbishop and along with his wife, Anna Maria, introduced their only surviving son to music from a very early age. Anna Maria came from a modest family of community leaders. Along with Maria Anna and his sister (Nannerl as she was nicknamed),  the future master underwent disciplined training in musical education under his father. By six, he was already being noticed by those in the musical scene. From his works in opera, the piano concerto and sonata to the symphony, and the string quartet/quintet, Mozart established himself as the greatest composer of all time. 

In 1762 Leopold introduced his son at the imperial court in Vienna. Subsequently, between 1763 and 1766, the Mozart’s went on a tour across Europe in places like Paris, France, and England, performing in front of a number of royal families. During this time, Wolfgang displayed a prodigious understanding of music. During these travels, Mozart met Johann Christian Bach, son of the legendary composer Johann Sebastian Bach in London. 

As mentioned Mozart was remarkably talented from a very young age. Since he was already composing pieces at 5, meeting Johann Christian Bach, a leading musical figure, influenced the young man to write his first symphonies. Three of these survive today K. 16, K. 19, and K. 19a. He also wrote two more on the journey back from the tours, K. 22 and K. 45a

Wolfgang Mozart composed the one-act Bastien und Bastienne, which was a German singspiel. Mozart also composed an Italian opera buffa (a genre of opera), La finta semplice or The Feigned Simpleton, during this period. These pieces were hardly successful, causing an amount of frustration to Mozart. La finta semplice was eventually performed with some success at the archbishop’s palace in Salzburg in 1769. That same year, at the Salzburg court, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was given the position of Konzertmeister. 

His earliest sonatas, bear the obvious influence of his father, Leopold. However, the particular symphonies created while in London and The Hague project a rather innovative style which was both richer and better developed, compared to those he composed in Vienna. While in Verona, Wolfgang underwent strict evaluations at the “Accademia Filarmonica”. In Milan, after his capabilities were tested, he received a commission for writing the very first operatic piece for the carnival.  

In Bologna, Mozart met the respected theorist, Giovanni Battista Martini, before traveling to Rome through Florence for Holy Week. Ultimately spending additional six weeks in Naples, the Mozart’s returned via Rome and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was made a knight of the order of the Golden Spur. In the year 1770, in Milan, Mozart worked on and finished composing his opera, Mitridate, rè di Ponto or Mithradates, King of Pontus

After being commissioned to write an oratorio, Mozart wrote La Betulia liberate in 1771. The same year also saw the premiere of Mozart’s Ascanio in Alba. Subsequently, in his hometown, Salzburg, the master composer created 8 symphonies, 4 divertimentos, and the serenata, Il sogno di Scipione. His final Italian journey during 1772 - 1773 produced the opera Lucio Silla, and despite a troublesome premiere, it was more successful than Mitridate, rè di Ponto or Mithradates

Mozart’s next work was the solo motet, Exsultate, jubilate (K. 165), written for castrato Venanzio Rauzzini; a beautiful piece culminating in a brilliant Alleluia (hallelujah). Mozart’s music from this time comprises of a number of symphonies such as K. 95 and K. 97, among notable ones like K. 130, K. 132 and K. 134. Additionally, he composed the six string quartets K. 155 to K. 160 along with the divertimentos K. 136 to K. 138. 

Contemporary Viennese music of the time had a profound effect on Wolfgang Mozart. The six string quartets he wrote in Vienna, made his deep understanding of Joseph Haydn’s ‘Opus 20’ of 1772 clear. Next, Mozart composed symphonies, including the masterful Symphony No. 25 in G minor, or as it’s better known, Little G Minor Symphony (K. 183). Also, of special mention is the A Major (K. 201). Mozart’s first true piano concerto the Piano Concerto No. 5 in D major (K. 175), in 1773, signified his first original effort rather than based on another artist’s work. 

The end of 1774, brought a commission for an opera buffa for the Munich carnival season, La finta giardiniera or The Feigned Gardener Girl and it was very well received. For a period of 2 and a half years from 1775, he wrote only one dramatic work Il rè pastore or The Shepherd King (K. 208). Mozart broke new ground for church music with the Litaniae de venerabili altaris sacramento (K. 243) as this incorporates a huge range of musical elements such as fugues, choruses, florid arias, etc. His instrumental works of the period notably included the serenade for orchestra in D major or Haffner Serenade (K. 250), which struck a perfect balance between instruments and working. 

In Mannheim, Mozart enjoyed friendly terms with the local musicians and simultaneously taught and performed. It was here, in 1777, that he met the musical family, the Webber’s. The Webber’s 4 daughters were all soprano singers. Among his several sonatas, the most remarkable achievement was the Symphony No. 31 in D major or K 297 composed for the “Concert Spirituel” in 1778, in Paris. 

Mozart, in between 1779 to 1780, wrote three symphonies of which the Symphony No. 32 in G major (K. 318) had a Parisian styled coup d’archet and crescendos that people were accustomed to in Mannheim. Of Mozart’s orchestral works during this period, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra in E-flat major (K. 364). Among the masses that he composed, the most famous is the Krönungsmesse or Coronation Mass (K. 317). Idomeneo, rè di Creta was all about flamboyant and heroic emotional richness unseen in his other operatic works and consists of bravura singing toward a dramatic buildup. 

While residing in Vienna with his friends, the Weber’s, Mozart looked for an income. It was during this time that he started working on Die Entführung aus dem Serail, an opera, which premiered in 1782. There was a rumor that went around in 1781 that Mozart was engaged to Constanze, one of the Webber’s daughters, although he dismissed them at the time. He did, however, fall in love with her later and asked for his father’s consent to the marriage. Die Entführung aus dem Serail met with widespread and critical acclaim with it being taken up by traveling companies, similar to La finta giardiniera. 

The period 1782 to 1783 was when Mozart wrote the three piano concertos K. 413 to K. 415, which he published in 1785, with elements of string and wind parts. The year 1784 saw a relative lack of variation in K. 449, K. 450, K. 451, K. 453, K. 456, and K. 459. The composer then proceeded to the concertos K 466, K 467, and K 482 in 1785 and made the piano solo a reboot of the opening. Mozart also wrote the Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major (K. 331) in three movements which were published by in 1784. One of its movements is the famous Turkish March.

In 1784, Mozart wrote the wonderful piano sonata K 457 along with the piano & violin sonata K. 454. This was followed by a quintet for piano/wind instruments K. 452. Mozart considered this to be the best among all of his work. The performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor (K. 466), shows a stark musical difference from his other works. Mozart’s fantasias like the Fantasia in C minor (K. 475) composed in 1785, along with other pieces provide some idea of the kind of music the audience preferred in those times.

Twelve Variations on Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman or Ah, Mother, if I could tell you (K. 265), is a collection of solo piano variations composed by Mozart and published in 1785. Adapted from the French folk song of the same name, it bears the same tune as that of the English song, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The familiarity that the tune introduces to the piece helps in it achieving a large audience around the world. In spite of changes and melodic ornamentation, the tune is identifiable throughout the piece, thus lending a brilliant example of musical expertise. 

Le nozze di Figaro or The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an opera buffa of four acts, written in 1786. Mozart suggested that Lorenzo Da Ponte write the libretto, “Le nozze di Figaro”, which would be based on Beaumarchais’s popular comedy, “Le Mariage de Figaro”.  This opera, as well as Don Giovanni, projects the typically lustful nobleman, except the former, is more comical than the latter. Le nozze di Figaro premiered in 1786 to warm reception with subsequent performances being successful too.  

Mozart composed the symphony, Symphony No. 38 in D major or Prague Symphony (K. 504) in 1786 which required top-notch performance from musicians on stage. After Leopold's death in 1787, the quintet in C Major (K. 515) was the most well developed among his chamber works, while the String Quintet No. 4 in G minor (K. 516) was popular for deep and touching melody. 

In 1787, Mozart wrote the Musikalischer Spass or A Musical Joke and Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The latter is a very popular and finely written serenade, thought to be written for solo strings. These were followed by the Sonata in A for Violin and Keyboard (K. 526). Mozart, in the same year, composed Don Giovanni which was commissioned to him while he was in Prague, which was very warmly received. As in Figaro, the two-act finales are again remarkable in their composition and melody.

Going forward from 1788, Mozart wrote E-flat Major (K. 543), G Minor (K. 550), and C Major (the Jupiter, K. 551). Mozart’s last sonata, Piano Sonata No. 18 in D major is rumored to be written for the Prussian princess. Next, Mozart worked on Così fan tutte (1790), which was for a long period criticized for its subject of female fickleness. Later studies revealed that it was actually composed with a view on human feelings and maturity.

Emanuel Schikaneder, in the year 1791, commissioned Mozart to compose music for his “Die Zauberflöte”. He was also working steadily on the commissioned Requiem Lacrimosa or Requiem Mass in D minor (K. 626). However, he passed away before finishing Requiem Lacrimosa. Mozart’s wife, Constanze handed over the unfinished Requiem Lacrimosa to Joseph Eybler, and then to Süssmayr. The latter completed it but the resulting piece attracted enormous criticism for its weakness in style, tone and general difference from Mozart’s pieces. 

Mozart passed away in 1791 due to rheumatic inflammatory fever. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in his 35 years of life, wrote prolifically, ensuring both quality and quantity in his work. Revered as the greatest master of classical music, he set standards for contemporaries and future prodigies to follow. Beethoven himself looked up to him and his pieces. Despite spectacular musical compositions, Mozart never lost his flow and continued to churn out memorable pieces for music connoisseurs and amateurs alike. 


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