Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Austrian composer of the Classical period (1756-1791)
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756 – December 5, 1791; pronounced MOHT-sart) was a composer (music writer), instrumentalist, and music teacher. His full baptised name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. He was born in Salzburg (then a free archbishopric city within the Bavarian Imperial Circle / German Empire, now Austria). He was the youngest child of Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart. From a very early age, the young Mozart showed great musical talent. He toured Europe with his parents and older sister "Nannerl" for several years. In these tours, he performed for royalty and the aristocratic elite.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Silverpoint drawing by Doris Stock, 1789
Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart

(1756-01-27)27 January 1756
Died5 December 1791(1791-12-05) (aged 35)
Cause of deathUncertain
Resting placeVienna
Occupation(s)Composer, instrumentalist, music teacher
Years active1761 – 1791
Notable workThe Marriage of Figaro
Don Giovanni
Cosi fan tutte
The Magic Flute
Symphony in C major ("Jupiter")
Piano Concerto in D minor
Clarinet Concerto in A major
Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments
SpouseConstanze Mozart
Children6 children; 4 sons and 2 daughters
Parent(s)Leopold Mozart and Anna Maria Mozart
RelativesMaria Anna Mozart (sister)

As a young man, Mozart worked in Paris, Mannheim and Munich. He returned to Salzburg. In Salzburg, he worked for the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. He was restless, aware of his genius, and thought Salzburg too small for his talent. He moved to Vienna where he had some success. In Vienna, he married Constanze Weber. They had two sons. He died in Vienna after a brief but unknown illness.

Mozart wrote more than 800 musical works. Many have the highest musical quality. His works include the operas The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte and The Magic Flute; the symphonies in E-flat major, G minor, and C major ("Jupiter"). He wrote concertos for piano, violin, and different wind instruments. He also wrote many chamber pieces, church music, minuets, dances, songs, and a Requiem. Along with Bach and Beethoven, Mozart is viewed as one of the greatest composers who ever lived.

Family and early years


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ("Wolfi" or Wolferl") was born in Salzburg to Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart. Leopold was a violinist in the orchestra of the archbishop of Salzburg. He was the author of a best-selling introduction to playing the violin.

Young Mozart had great musical talent at a very early age. He was playing the harpsichord and the violin at the age of five. He was also writing little pieces of music.

Mozart's sister Maria Anna ("Nannerl") was a talented girl. The two children received their musical and academic education from their father. The family toured Europe for a few years. They performed for royals and aristocrats.

Leopold, Wolfgang, and Nannerl, about 1763

Mozart performed in Munich, Prague, Paris, The Hague and London. In London, he performed for King George III. He met the composer Johann Christian Bach, one of the sons of Johann Sebastian Bach. He sat on the knee of Johann Christian Bach (1735–1782) and improvised a fugue. And here, at the age of eight, he heard his first two symphonies performed.

Eventually, the Mozarts made their way back to Salzburg. But in 1768, they were off again to Vienna. In Vienna, the now twelve-year-old Wolfgang staged a production of his first opera, Bastien und Bastienne. And he got sick and had smallpox. He recovered but his face was pock-marked for life. He went to Italy. In Italy, he heard music by many famous Italian composers. Mozart heard a piece called Miserere by Gregorio Allegri. This piece had been written for the Pope for the choir of the Vatican to sing. No one was allowed to see the written music. The reason was so that no one else could copy and sing it. But, Mozart heard the piece once and then wrote it all down from memory. He met the Pope and was given a knighthood (Order of the Golden Spur).

In 1777, he went on a journey with his mother. In Mannheim, he fell in love with Aloysia Weber. She was 16 years old and studying singing. Mozart wanted to take her to Italy to make her famous, but his father stopped these plans. By 1778, Mozart and his mother were in Paris. His mother died there.

Mozart wrote some small operas when he was young, but his first really important opera was Idomeneo. It was first performed in Munich in 1780. The next year he went to Vienna. By this time he was working, like his father, for the Archbishop of Salzburg. When he went back to Salzburg he argued with the Archbishop. The Archbishop kicked him out for this. Mozart went off to Vienna. He would spend the rest of his life there.

In 1782, he married Constanze Weber. She was one of the three younger sisters of Aloysia (who by now was married to someone else). They had seven children, but five of them died in childhood. Mozart’s father did not approve of the marriage. Constanze was a loving wife, but, like Mozart, she was not good at looking after money so they were often very poor.

In that same year, 1782, Mozart wrote another very successful opera: Die Entführung aus dem Serail ("The Abduction from the Seraglio"). There is a famous story about the first performance of the opera. The story is about a short conversation between emperor Joseph II and Mozart. After the emperor heard the opera, he said to Mozart: “too many notes, dear Mozart, too many notes.” Mozart answered: “Just as many as are necessary, Your Majesty.”

Unfinished portrait of Mozart, 1782

Mozart started many concerts in which he played his own piano concertos. He composed these concertos himself and conducted from the keyboard. Mozart's piano concertos are still very popular today. He wrote 27 piano concertos. All the concertos have a number to know which is which. Popular piano concertos are numbers (Nos.) 20, 21, 23, 24 and 27. Many of the concertos are some of Mozart's best works.

He met the composer Joseph Haydn and the two men became great friends. They often played together in a string quartet. Haydn said to Leopold Mozart one day: "Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste, and what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition." Mozart was in the same Masonic Lodge as Haydn. This meant the two were part of a group with similar interests. Mozart dedicated six string quartets to Haydn. They are called the "Haydn" Quartets. There are two famous "Haydn" Quartets. One of them is called the "Hunt" and the other is called "Dissonance."

In his later years, Mozart was earning less money than before. Aristocrats could not support him with money. The reason was because there was a war. The audiences in Vienna did not give Mozart much support after a few years. That is why he often went to Prague where the audiences loved him. His opera The Marriage of Figaro was very popular. In 1787, he gave the first performance there of his opera Don Giovanni.

Illness and death


There are several stories about Mozart’s last illness and death, and it is not easy to be sure what happened. He was working on an opera The Magic Flute. It is one of his best works and a very popular opera today. It is written in German, not Italian, like most of his other operas. In some ways, it is like an English pantomime. At the same time that he was working on this, a stranger asked him to compose a requiem. The stranger told him to write it in secret. Mozart also had to write an Italian opera La Clemenza di Tito. The opera was first performed in Prague during September 1791. At the end of September, The Magic Flute was first performed. Mozart then worked very hard at the Requiem. He must have realized that he was already very ill, and that in a way the requiem (a mass for the dead) was for himself. He died in Vienna before he could finish it. Constanze asked another composer, a man called Franz Xaver Süssmayr, to finish the work. Mozart was buried in the St. Marx Cemetery. Mozart had a very simple funeral, even though he was popular. We do not really know exactly why he died, but that it was some disease or illness.

Mozart’s music


Mozart's music, like that of Haydn, is the very best of what we call the Classical style. At the time Mozart started to compose, the Baroque period was just coming to an end. Tastes were changing in music. Form, balance and elegance were thought of as more important than counterpoint. Form is about rhythm, melody, harmony (how the notes fit together), repetition and variation. Mozart was the first great composer to write music for the piano, an instrument which had only just become popular. He wrote almost every kind of music: symphonies, operas, solo concertos, chamber music, especially string quartets and string quintets, and the piano sonata. He also wrote a lot of religious music, including masses. He composed popular music like dances, divertimenti and serenades.

When Mozart was young, a symphony was usually a short, simple piece for entertainment. Mozart made the symphony into a carefully worked-out piece lasting up to half an hour. His last three symphonies are especially fine masterpieces. They are Symphonies number (shortened as Nos.) 39, 40 and 41. Other popular concertos are numbers 25, 29, 35, 36 and 38. His concertos, especially his piano concertos, are far more advanced than anything that had been written before. There are many recordings of these concertos, because they are so popular.

Although Mozart behaved in truly childish ways at times, he was good at understanding human character. This is clear in his operas, where he introduced many subtle effects to describe the characters in the story. Several of his operas were very complex for the time. Many people did not understand them. Mozart's operas are among his greatest works. He understood people's characters very well. He was able to write music which tells us everything about the personalities in the operas. All the operas have a text called a libretto. Usually, the composer writes the music and someone else writes the text. Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote the words and text for three famous operas in Italian. These three Italian operas are: Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) and Cosi fan tutte. Mozart was very good at combining voices. In these operas, there are clever ensembles and several characters sing at the same time. Mozart creates beautiful symmetry and harmony with these combined voices.

As well as many great masterpieces, Mozart wrote many pieces in a more popular style, including some tunes that everybody knows today. Famous pieces include his serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik K525, the Turkish Rondo from his Piano Sonata in A K331, the opening of the Symphony No. 40 in G minor K550, and the birdcatcher’s song from The Magic Flute K620.

Mozart used many instruments for composing and performing. In his early years, he got to know pianos made by Franz Jakob Späth from Regensburg. Later in Augsburg Mozart got impressed by pianos from Stein. After moving to Vienna the composer purchased an instrument by Walter. Mozart also had his own special violin. It is called the "Klotz" violin. The violin still exists today and is in a museum called the Salzburg Mozarteum.

Catalogue of works


Some time after Mozart’s death a man called Köchel studied all Mozart’s music. Köchel tried to put them in chronological order, and gave them a number. The lower numbers are music pieces that Mozart composed when he was young. The higher numbers are for later works. The number helps us to know exactly which work is meant, for example Symphony in G minor K183 is not the same piece as Symphony in G minor K550 (K stands for Köchel. Sometimes it is written "KV550" standing for "Köchel Verzeichnis" i.e. "Köchel Catalogue"). The highest Köchel number is 626, his requiem mass.



  • Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie; 1980; ISBN 1-56159-174-2
  • Listening To Western Music, written by Craig Wright; ISBN 978-0-495-11627-1

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