Birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

27/01/1756View on timeline

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791), baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the classical era.

Born in Salzburg, Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. At 17, Mozart was engaged as a musician at the Salzburg court but grew restless and traveled in search of a better position. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of his early death at the age of 35. The circumstances of his death have been much mythologized.

He composed more than 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers, and his influence is profound on subsequent Western art music. Ludwig van Beethoven composed his own early works in the shadow of Mozart, and Joseph Haydn wrote: "posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years".

Mozart c. 1780, detail from portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce
Anonymous portrait of the child Mozart, possibly by Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni; painted in 1763 on com...

Appearance and character

Mozart's physical appearance was described by tenor Michael Kelly, in his Reminiscences: "a remarkably small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine, fair hair of which he was rather vain". His early biographer Niemetschek wrote, "there was nothing special about [his] physique. [...] He was small and his countenance, except for his large intense eyes, gave no signs of his genius." His facial complexion was pitted, a reminder of his childhood case of smallpox. He loved elegant clothing. Kelly remembered him at a rehearsal: "[He] was on the stage with his crimson pelisse and gold-laced cocked hat, giving the time of the music to the orchestra." Based on pictures that researchers were able to find of Mozart, he seemed to wear a white wig for most of his formal occasions - researchers of the Salzburg Mozarteum declared that only 1 of his 14 portraits they had found showed him without his wig. Of his voice his wife later wrote that it "was a tenor, rather soft in speaking and delicate in singing, but when anything excited him, or it became necessary to exert it, it was both powerful and energetic".

Mozart usually worked long and hard, finishing compositions at a tremendous pace as deadlines approached. He often made sketches and drafts; unlike Beethoven's these are mostly not preserved, as his wife sought to destroy them after his death.

Mozart lived at the center of the Viennese musical world, and knew a great number and variety of people: fellow musicians, theatrical performers, fellow Salzburgers, and aristocrats, including some acquaintance with the Emperor Joseph II. Solomon considers his three closest friends to have been Gottfried von Jacquin, Count August Hatzfeld, and Sigmund Barisani; others included his older colleague Joseph Haydn, singers Franz Xaver Gerl and Benedikt Schack, and the horn player Joseph Leutgeb. Leutgeb and Mozart carried on a curious kind of friendly mockery, often with Leutgeb as the butt of Mozart's practical jokes.

He enjoyed billiards and dancing, and kept pets: a canary, a starling, a dog, and a horse for recreational riding. He had a startling fondness for scatological humor, which is preserved in his surviving letters, notably those written to his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart around 1777–1778, and in his correspondence with his sister and parents. Mozart also wrote scatological music, a series of canons that he sang with his friends.

Detail of portrait of Mozart by his brother-in-law Joseph Lange; for discussion of the portrait see...
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Pianist & Composer | Mini Bio | BIO

Style

Mozart's music, like Haydn's, stands as an archetype of the Classical style. At the time he began composing, European music was dominated by the style galant, a reaction against the highly evolved intricacy of the Baroque. Progressively, and in large part at the hands of Mozart himself, the contrapuntal complexities of the late Baroque emerged once more, moderated and disciplined by new forms, and adapted to a new aesthetic and social milieu. Mozart was a versatile composer, and wrote in every major genre, including symphony, opera, the solo concerto, chamber music including string quartet and string quintet, and the piano sonata. These forms were not new, but Mozart advanced their technical sophistication and emotional reach. He almost single-handedly developed and popularized the Classical piano concerto. He wrote a great deal of religious music, including large-scale masses, as well as dances, divertimenti, serenades, and other forms of light entertainment.

The central traits of the Classical style are all present in Mozart's music. Clarity, balance, and transparency are the hallmarks of his work, but simplistic notions of its delicacy mask the exceptional power of his finest masterpieces, such as the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491; the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550; and the opera Don Giovanni. Charles Rosen makes the point forcefully:

It is only through recognizing the violence and sensuality at the center of Mozart's work that we can make a start towards a comprehension of his structures and an insight into his magnificence. In a paradoxical way, Schumann's superficial characterization of the G minor Symphony can help us to see Mozart's daemon more steadily. In all of Mozart's supreme expressions of suffering and terror, there is something shockingly voluptuous.

During his last decade, Mozart frequently exploited chromatic harmony. A notable instance is his String Quartet in C major, K. 465 (1785), whose introduction abounds in chromatic suspensions, giving rise to the work's nickname, the "Dissonance" quartet.

Mozart always had a gift for absorbing and adapting valuable features of others' music. His travels helped in the forging of a unique compositional language. In London as a child, he met J. C. Bach and heard his music. In Paris, Mannheim, and Vienna he met with other compositional influences, as well as the avant-garde capabilities of the Mannheim orchestra. In Italy he encountered the Italian overture and opera buffa, both of which deeply affected the evolution of his own practice. In London and Italy, the galant style was in the ascendent: simple, light music with a mania for cadencing; an emphasis on tonic, dominant, and subdominant to the exclusion of other harmonies; symmetrical phrases; and clearly articulated partitions in the overall form of movements. Some of Mozart's early symphonies are Italian overtures, with three movements running into each other; many are homotonal (all three movements having the same key signature, with the slow middle movement being in the relative minor). Others mimic the works of J. C. Bach, and others show the simple rounded binary forms turned out by Viennese composers.

As Mozart matured, he progressively incorporated more features adapted from the Baroque. For example, the Symphony No. 29 in A major K. 201 has a contrapuntal main theme in its first movement, and experimentation with irregular phrase lengths. Some of his quartets from 1773 have fugal finales, probably influenced by Haydn, who had included three such finales in his recently published Opus 20 set. The influence of the Sturm und Drang ("Storm and Stress") period in music, with its brief foreshadowing of the Romantic era, is evident in the music of both composers at that time. Mozart's Symphony No. 25 in G minor K. 183 is another excellent example.

Mozart would sometimes switch his focus between operas and instrumental music. He produced operas in each of the prevailing styles: opera buffa, such as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte; opera seria, such as Idomeneo; and Singspiel, of which Die Zauberflöte is the most famous example by any composer. In his later operas he employed subtle changes in instrumentation, orchestral texture, and tone color, for emotional depth and to mark dramatic shifts. Here his advances in opera and instrumental composing interacted: his increasingly sophisticated use of the orchestra in the symphonies and concertos influenced his operatic orchestration, and his developing subtlety in using the orchestra to psychological effect in his operas was in turn reflected in his later non-operatic compositions.

A facsimile sheet of music from the Dies Irae movement of the Requiem Mass in D minor (K. 626) in Mo...
Top 10 obras de Mozart

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Published in 5/10/2018

Updated in 19/02/2021

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