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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 Walburga nee Perti introduced their only surviving son to music from a very early age. Anna Maria came from a modest family of community leaders. Along with her and Amadeus' sister, Nannerl, 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, piano concertos, sonatas, symphonies, and string quartets/quintets, he 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, Amadeus and his family went on a tour across Europe like Paris, France, and England, performing in front of a number of royal families. During this time, he displayed a prodigious understanding of music. During these travels, he met Johann Christian Bach, son of the legendary composer Johann Sebastian Bach in London. 

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

Amadeus composed the one-act Bastien und Bastienne, which was a German singspiel. He 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 him. 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, he was given the position of Konzertmeister. 

Amadeus' earliest sonatas bear the obvious influence of his father, Leopold. The particular symphonies created while in London and The Hague Project, a rather innovative style were even richer and better developed, compared to those he composed in Vienna. While in Verona, he 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, Amadeus met the respected theorist, Giovanni Battista Martini, before traveling to Rome through Florence for Holy Week. Ultimately spending additional six weeks in Naples, He and his family returned via Rome and he was made a knight of the order of the Golden Spur. In the year 1770, in Milan, he worked on and finished composing his opera, Mitridate, rè di Ponto or Mithradates, King of Pontus

After being commissioned to write an oratorio, Amadeus wrote La Betulia liberate in 1771. The same year also saw the premiere of his Ascanio in Alba. Subsequently, in his hometown, Salzburg, the master composer created eight symphonies, four 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

Amadeus' next work was the solo motet, Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165, written for Castrato Venanzio Rauzzini; a beautiful piece culminating in a brilliant Alleluia (hallelujah). His 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 Amadeus. The six string quartets he wrote in Vienna made his deep understanding of Joseph Haydn’s ‘Opus 20’ of 1772 clear. Next, he 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 Symphony in A Major, K. 201. His 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 two and a half years from 1775, Amadeus wrote only one dramatic work Il rè pastore or The Shepherd King, K. 208. He 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 work. 

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

Amadeus, 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 his orchestral works during this period, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra in E-flat major, K. 364 was born. 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 Webers, Amadeus 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 he 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 Amadeus 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. He also wrote the Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331 in three movements which were published in 1784. One of its movements is the famous Turkish March.

In 1784, Amadeus wrote the wonderful piano sonata, K 457 along with the piano and violin sonata, K. 454. This was followed by a quintet for piano/wind instruments K. 452. He considered this to be the best among all of his works. The performance of his Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minorK. 466, shows a stark musical difference from his other works. His fantasias like the Fantasia in C minorK. 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 youK. 265, is a collection of solo piano variations composed by Amadeus 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 Amadeus was an opera buffa of four acts, written in 1786. He suggested that Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote 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 a warm reception with subsequent performances being successful too.  

Amadeus composed the Symphony No. 38 in D major or Prague Symphony, K. 504 in 1786 which required top-notch performance from musicians on stage. After his father, 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 minorK. 516 was popular for its deep and touching melody. 

In 1787, Amadeus 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. In the same year, he composed Don Giovanni which was commissioned to him while he was in Prague, which was warmly received. As in Figaro, the two-act finales are again remarkable in their composition and melody.

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

Emanuel Schikaneder, a German libretto, in the year 1791, commissioned Amadeus to compose music for the opera, Die Zauberflöte or The Magic Flute, K. 620. 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. His 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 Amadeus' pieces. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart passed away in 1791 due to rheumatic inflammatory fever. In his 35 years of life, he wrote prolifically, ensuring both quality and quantity in his work. Even the great German composer, Ludwig van Beethoven looked up to him and his pieces. Revered as the greatest master of classical music, he set standards for contemporaries and future prodigies to follow.


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