Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

One of the greatest music composers of all time, W.A. Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria on 27 January 1756.

His Father, Leopold Georg Leopold Mozart (1719-1787) was a gifted Composer, conductor, teacher, and violinist. He wrote a Master violin tutor treatise entitled 'Versucheiner grundlichen Violinschule' that is still revered today by many Violin teachers studying 18th Century practise methods.

Leopold already had a daughter named Maria Anna Wallburga Ignatia –thankfully for all, nicknamed 'Nannerl' – and she was an accomplished pianist and singer.

But the apple in Leopold's eye was the birth of his son (are you ready for this?) Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophillus Mozart' (Imagine your Mom and Dad landing you with a handle like that!)

Lucky for us Wolfgang was more than a bit of a joker and used to write long letters to his family (many containing quite a few rude words) and jokingly signed them 'Amadeus' which he thought was 'uproariously funny' as he once wrote in a letter to his sister Nannerl.

Young Mozart was just brilliant at everything. The sort of kid you just can't avoid admiring, for there was (seemingly) nothing he could not turn his hand to learning –and quickly at that.

Let's look at a few of the things he was more than just a little good at –besides music that is;

  • He could read and write fluently in German, Italian, English, French, and had more than a smattering of the Polish and Turkish languages
  • He was a dab hand at billiards and most other table games. (so maybe he was the first recorded billiards hall 'hustler'?)
  • He had a photographic memory
  • He was so ambidextrous he could write two letters – that is with a quill pen in each hand at the same time – in beautiful

hand writing. (Talk about multi - tasking!)

  • All his wonderful music was already composed in his mind and such was his exceptional musical gift, that he was able to write full orchestral scores straight onto paper without alterations.

His memory was so good that combined with his perfect pitch of music, he amazed even his own Father on a trip to the Sistine Chapel (in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City) when they were both given a private hearing of a brand new piece of music composed by the Choir Master. On returning to their lodgings that evening, Wolfgang sat down and wrote the whole melody from just one hearing onto paper and harmonized it.The following day they went back to see the Choir Master and had the choir sing the parts young Wolfgang had written, and everyone was astounded at the beauty of rich sounds that perfected his work.

When Amadeus was about 17 years of age he met Josef Haydn, or 'Papa Haydn' as he affectionately called the great master composer. By this time Mozart was in Vienna, and it is hinted in some of the many biographies that Haydn loaned him his personal copy of the famous counterpoint textbook 'Gradus ad Parnassum' written by Johann Joseph Fux, heavily covered with Haydn's annotations.

It was not as if Mozart needed help, for his musical genius exceeded most of the knowledge of scoring known to music teachers and other composers of his day. His Father had taught him well, and with his own inventive ideas he became the master of orchestral scoring –moving away from the traditional methods whenever he dare. Remember that he had to play for landed gentry, and they paid to hear him play 'simple melodies' and popular songs during the period he was in Vienna.

Josef Haydn was good friends with Leopold Mozart and is reputed to have said 'Your Son is the greatest composer known to me' which says volumes about his love for young Wolfgang's music.

Although Mozart died (Just before his 34th birthday) in near poverty in Vienna in 1791, he had made a small fortune in the years he was extremely popular, and it was because he liked to live a lavish life and not save money that he ended up broke and in debt. The ironic fact is that he was very free with his money and loaned large amounts to other musicians and friends –never to see much of it again.

Mystery surrounds the exact cause of his death, but it is worth noting that there was an outbreak of cholera in the City (Vienna) at about the same time as he passed away.

At the time of his death he was working on his masterpiece The Requiem Mass in D minor, and had started on other projects for the People's National Theatre that would have paid him handsomely and lifted some of the burden of debt from his shoulders.

The rumour that he had 'written the Mass for his own death' is not certain, for it is recorded by his Wife Constanze she relates that 'A masked messenger appeared at their door and paid Wolfgang an advance of money in cash to compose a Mass.' This story is more believable as it was quite common in those days for rich people that were amateur musicians, to commission works from good composers and pass them off as their own. Very naughty!

Wolfgang travelled extensively through Europe together with his Father, then his Mother, and finally by himself; but he was not always received with the adulation he yearned for. If he had been living in our time he would most probably have been a mega star; but back in his day he was looked down upon by the rich families as another servant, to provide musical entertainment for the amusement of their esteemed guests.

Here is an example; On his arrival in France in winter time he had to play at a rich dowager's mansion, and having no transport, he walked four miles through mud and rain, and arriving at the venue he was shown into a very large room by a footman and told to play the harpsichord. There was no heating and his only 'best suit' was soaked and his legs covered in mud, and he had not eaten for several hours and no refreshments had been offered to him.

There was a room divider separating him from another room in which he could hear cultured female voices and some subdued laughter. Despite the cold, Mozart sat down and played exquisite original compositions of his own to the empty room. After he could stand the cold no longer –or the fact that he was being ignored – he stopped playing, and standing up he went over and opened the partition. A look of disdain was on the Dowager's face as she sharply demanded to know the reason for his intrusion.

Mozart told them (later relating the whole affair in a letter to Nannerl) in no uncertain words what a bunch of morons they were –then jumping on the harpsichord, he lowered his trousers and exposed his bottom! Needless to say he was not paid and kicked out, but in his mind he had rented his frustration at the old hags.

During his lifetime he wrote hundreds of songs, several great Piano Concertos, at least 40 Symphonies (there may have been more we do not know about as some of his music was lost after his death) and beautiful string quartets and grand Operas and Ballet music.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was truly a giant of music, and his genius compositions with heavenly melodies will be forever loved by millions of people around the World for eternity.