Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Mozart was born on January 27, 1756 in the Austrian city of Salzburg, where his father Leopold was a moderately successful musician. It was obvious very early on that the boy was a musical genius: he began composing at age six and wrote his first opera at twelve. Young Wolfgang was a keyboard and violin virtuoso, and had an uncanny knack for improvisation. After several years touring Europe, Mozart settled into an unrewarding position at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. The death of his mother in 1779 kept him from pursuing commissions elsewhere. In 1781, his early opera seria triumph Idomeneo was well-received in Munich, and Mozart finally left Salzburg for Vienna, where he would spend the rest of his life. In 1782 he married Constanze Weber, and the couple lived modestly on an income from teaching and concerts. Mozart’s operas enjoyed a moderate success, and he found a strong supporter in Emperor Franz Joseph II, who awarded him a small court appointment in 1787. Even so, Mozart’s financial concerns deepened. He began to overwork himself, which no doubt affected his already failing health. He died in Vienna on December 5, 1791, at the age of 35.

Over four hundred of Mozart’s compositions survive, in almost every form and style. His catalogue includes 41 symphonies, 27 piano concerti, 25 string quartets, 17 operas, countless other instrumental and vocal music, and the great, unfinished Requiem Mass (it was completed by his pupil Süssmayr). The most famous of his operas are Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio, 1782), Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro, 1786), Don Giovanni (1787), Così fan tutte (1790) and Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791).

Mozart’s often irreverent behavior and frequent financial troubles have led to many rather melodramatic depictions of his life, most notably Peter Shaffer’s hit play and move Amadeus. However, many of these accounts, including Mozart’s supposed death at the hands of his rival Salieri, are greatly exaggerated. Above all, Mozart was a musical genius, whose works illuminate mankind’s weaknesses and nobility with unparalleled grace and sympathy.