January 27, 2006 was the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart. Recordings of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's music have sold more copies than any other composer in history. As Einstein once said “Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it - that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.”
Mozart was born in 1756 in Salzburg. He was baptised Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Gotlieb Mozart. Mozart dropped the St. John Chrysostom (the saint name day for January 27) from his name. Gotlieb is German "beloved of God"; in Latin, Amadeus and so in later life he restyled his name as Wolfgang Amadeus.
Salzburg was then the capital of the Archbishopric of Salzburg, an ecclesiastical state in the Holy Roman Empire (a loose confederation that was neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire.) Salzburg was secularised in 1803 and was annexed to Austria three years later. After a brief period of Napoleonic and Bavarian rule it became Austria’s newest Länder (province). The last bishop of Salzburg with princely authority was Hieronymus Von Colloredo, a contemporary and patron of Mozart.
Salzburg is located on the banks of the Salzach river under the shadow of the Alps. The town was founded by the Romans who prized it for the salt deposits which gave the city its name. The four extant salt mines are now major tourist attractions. Tourists also visit for its graceful baroque architecture, especially the great cathedral, the Hohensalzburg and other buildings in the altstadt, or "old town". But the main attraction is Mozart. “Mozart’s Geburtstaghaus” at 9 Getreidegasse is now the epicentre of the attraction with cafes lining the streets and nearby squares. He was one of only two children to survive infancy born of Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart. The other surviving sibling was his elder sister Maria Anna known as “Nannerl”. Five years older than Wolfgang, she was also a musician not quite as gifted as her brother.
Their father Leopold was a leading music teacher whose well-received textbook “Essay on the fundamentals of violin playing" was published in the year of Mozart's birth. He was also a leading member in Salzburg’s court orchestra but gave it all up for his son. Wolfgang first showed musical talent, aged 3. His father encouraged this and gave him intensive musical training. He learned to play the clavier, violin and organ. At aged 5, he published his first work, the Andante in C for keyboard (K. 1a) a work of six measures clocking in at 20 seconds.
In 1762 Leopold decided to take his two musical prodigies on tour to the courts of Europe. Their first trip was to Munich court of Maximilian III Joseph where they played before the Elector. Mozart gave his first public concert in Linz, Austria. And by the time they arrived in Vienna, the children’s reputation had preceded them. They wooed the Hapsburg emperor and then performed numerous private concerts. That was to be repeated across the courts of Europe for the next four years for the “miracle children of Salzburg”.
Mozart spent most of his formative years travelling. It was a gruelling schedule but Mozart did have the fortune of meeting some of Europe’s greatest composers. J.C. Bach befriended Mozart in London and his work proved to be a lifelong inspiration. During three trips to Italy, he was introduced to the Italian overture and opera buffa.
In 1772 Count Colloredo, was elected Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg and Mozart followed in his father’s footsteps when he was granted an annual salary of 150 florins as Konzertmeister in the court orchestra. Throughout the 1770s Mozart pumped out work after work. In 1777 he petitioned Colloredo to allow him and his father to seek their fortunes elsewhere. In response, the archbishop dismissed them both from his service but later relents. Accompanied by his mother, Mozart went to Mannheim in Germany, home of Europe’s best orchestra. There he met the Weber family and falls in love with the second-eldest daughter, Aloysia. His love is unrequited. The following year Mozart moved on to Paris where his mother died. Mozart moved back to Munich where he stayed with the Webers.
In 1780 Mozart premiered his first great opera Idomeneo. He moved to Vienna in 1781 after another row with the archbishop. Colloredo sacked him again this time for good. Mozart developed his own freelance career in Vienna after its aristocracy began to take an interest in him. A year later he married Constanze Weber at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Constanze was the sister of Aloysia who turned him down five years previously. The newlyweds settled in Vienna. Their firstborn son was born a year later but died after just two months. Around this time, Mozart develops his baroque In 1785 their second son was born and Mozart was inducted into the Masons. He befriended the composer Haydn who was a member of the same Masonic lodge. Mozart dedicated six quartets to Haydn who was in awe of him. He told Mozarts’s father “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.”
Though he continued to live in Vienna, Mozart also spent a lot of time in Prague where he was greatly revered. In 1786 Le nozze di Figaro played Prague. Unlike in Vienna, where the opera had not received much attention and soon disappeared from repertoire, here its success was immense. As a result he premiered Don Giovanni there in 1787. His father Leopold died the same year.
Mozart died suddenly in 1791. The cause of death is also a matter of conjecture. His death record listed severe miliary fever (a rash that looks like millet-seeds), which although unfortunate is hardly likely to cause death. Many other theories have been proposed, including trichinosis, mercury poisoning, and rheumatic fever.
In his short life he was extraordinarily active. He wrote 41 symphonies. The Köchel catalogue by 19th century musicologist Ludwig Alois Ferdinand Ritter von Köchel lists 626 works. K626, Mozart’s last work is his unfinished Requiem Mass in D Minor, fittingly one of his greatest works.
Mozart died at 35. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, when Mozart was my age he had been dead seven years. Woolly Days had better get on with it.