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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756 - December 5, 1791) was one of the most significant and influential of all composers of Western classical music. His works are loved by many and are frequently performed.

Table of contents
1 Life
2 Works, musical style and innovations
3 Estimation
4 The Köchel catalog
5 Mozart as a fictional character
6 Mozart and child development
7 Media Files
8 See also
9 Operas
10 Further reading
11 External links


Mozart was born in Salzburg, now in Austria but at the time the capital of a small independent Archbishopric within the Holy Roman Empire. He was christened Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, after his grandfather on his mother's side and after the saint on his date of birth, John Chrysostom. Later, his father shortened 'Wolfgangus' to 'Wolfgang'; translated 'Theophilus' to 'Amadeus' ("God's beloved"); and dropped 'Johannes Chrysostomus.' Mozart himself often enjoyed making small changes to his name, in particular his middle name. Only on very rare occasions did he use the now-familiar Amadeus, much preferring the French version "Amadé". He was also known to occasionally use the Italian "Amadeo" and the German "Gottlieb," in addition to sometimes spelling his name backwards.

The years of travel

Mozart's musical ability started to become apparent when he was a toddler. He was the son of Leopold Mozart, who was one of Europe's leading musical pedagogues, whose textbook Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (roughly, "Essay on the fundamentals of violin playing") was published the year of Mozart's birth and became influential. Mozart received intensive musical training from his father, including instruction in playing both the piano and the violin. He developed very rapidly and began to compose his own works at the age of five.

Leopold soon realized that he could make a substantial income by showcasing his son as a Wunderkind in the courts of Europe. Mozart's older sister, Maria Anna, nicknamed "Nannerl", was a talented pianist, and often accompanied her brother on Leopold's tours. Mozart wrote a number of piano pieces, in particular duets and pieces for two pianos, to play with her. Once Mozart became ill, and Leopold expressed more concern over the loss of income than over Mozart himself. The cold weather and constant travel may have contributed to his later illness.

During his young years, Mozart completed several journeys in Europe, beginning with an exhibition in 1762 at the Court of the Prince of Bavaria in Munich, then in the same year at the imperial Court in Vienna. Then a long concert tour (three and a half years) took him with his father to the courts of Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London, The Hague, again to Paris and back home via Zurich, Donaueschingen, and Munich. They went to Vienna again in late 1767 and remained there until December 1768. After one year spent in Salzburg, three trips to Italy followed (December 1769-March 1771, August-December 1771, October 1772-March 1773). During the first of these trips he met in Bologna G.B. Martini, and was accepted as a member of the famous Accademia Filarmonica. In September 1777 Mozart began a tour of Europe, accompanied only by his mother, that took them to Munich, Mannheim and Paris (where she died).

During his trips, Mozart met a great number of musicians, and knew the works of other great composers (among them J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, Joseph Haydn). Even non-musicians caught his attention: he was so taken by the sound created by Benjamin Franklin's Glass harmonica, he composed several pieces of music for it.

Mozart in Vienna

In 1781, Mozart visited Vienna in the company of his employer, the harsh Prince-Archbishop Colloredo, and had a falling out with the Archbishop. According to Mozart's own testimony, he was dismissed with a literal kick in the seat of the pants. Mozart, who had found that the aristocracy of Vienna took some interest in him, chose to settle in the city and attempt to make his career there.

On August 4, 1782, he married Constanze Weber, against his father's wishes. He and Constanze had 6 children, only 2 of whom survived infancy (neither child, Karl Thomas [1784 - 1858] or Franz Xaver Wolfgang [1791 - 1844], married or had children).

1782 was also an auspicious year for Mozart's career; his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio was a great success, and he also began the series of concerts at which he would premiere his greatest piano concertos, performing as soloist.

As an adult, Mozart became a Freemason and worked fervently and successfully to convert his father before his death, in 1787. His late opera The Magic Flute includes Masonic themes and meanings. He was in the same masonic lodge as Joseph Haydn.

Mozart had a difficult life. Often he received no payment for his work, and what sums he did receive were consumed by an extravagant lifestyle. Gradually, his health declined, until he finally died of what is presumed to have been mercury poisoning while being treated for syphilis. He did not complete his last work, a requiem.

In popular legend, Mozart died penniless and forgotten, buried in a pauper's grave. In fact, although he was no longer as fashionable in Vienna as he had once been, he continued to receive substantial commissions from more distant parts of Europe, Prague in particular. Many of his begging letters survive, but they are evidence not of poverty but of his ability to always spend more than he earned. He was buried in a mass grave, not due to his family's inability to pay for a proper burial, but under orders of the Emperor to combat an outbreak of the bubonic plague.

Mozart spent his final years in Vienna, where one of the apartments he lived in is still to be visited at Domgasse 5 behind St. Stephen's Cathedral. In this house Mozart composed Le nozze di Figaro in 1786. Mozart lived just a little over half of Beethoven's life span, yet was amazingly prolific musically from early childhood until his death in 1791.

In 1809, Constanze married Danish diplomat Georg Nikolaus von Nissen (1761 - 1826). A Mozart fanatic, he edited vulgar passages out of many of the composer's letters, and wrote a Mozart biography.

, Austria.]]

Works, musical style and innovations

He left a rich body of chamber and orchestral music, and a series of operas that are generally regarded as some of the finest ever written, especially The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute. Although he made smaller contributions to the development of new musical forms than Bach and Beethoven, the perfection of his execution is such that he is usually ranked alongside them as one of the greatest composers of all time.

Piano music

Mozart's earliest composition attempts begin with piano sonatas and other piano pieces, as this is the instrument on which his musical education took place. Almost everything that he wrote for piano was intended to be played by himself (or by his sister, also a good piano player) Among the Concertos for piano and orchestra, in 1773 he composed the Concerto in D, K 175, that several years later he considered his preferred one. The Concerto for three Pianos in F, K 242 (Lodron) was composed in 1776, with three piano parts of different difficulty. Mozart's production for piano during Vienna years found its peaks with the 17 piano concertos, the most significant works of the great collection of 27 concertos, where he revolutioned the concerto style, giving it a free symphonic dimension, with the solo instrument exploiting all of its technical possibilities playing never heard before effects with the orchestra. Among them, 15 were written in the years from 1782 to 1786, while in the last five years Mozart wrote just two more piano concertos. Between 1782 and 1786 he wrote 20 works for piano solo (including sonatas, variations, fantasias, suites, fugues, rondeaux) and works for piano four hands and two pianos. He also wrote for piano and violin (16 complete sonatas, plus several fragments and two variation sets) , where - mainly in the more mature years - the piano does not play just a support to the other solo instrument, but builds a dialogue with it.

Chamber music

The kernel of Mozart's chamber music consists of the 26 string quartets (among them the Divertimenti K 136-138 are rather Ouvertures in the Italian style) and 6 string quintets. The cycle of the Quartetti Milanesi (K 80 and K 155-160) in three movements, is interesting as far as these works can be considered precursors of the later - more complete - string quartets. Much more stylistically developed are the so called Vienna Quartets (K 168-173), composed in 1773. In Vienna Mozart is believed to have heard the op. 17 and op. 20 quartets of Joseph Haydn, and had received from them a deep impression. Even if Mozart tries in these works to emulate the older musician, he still cannot reach Haydn's heights in the most difficult of all the musical genres.

Mozart returned to the quartet in the early 1780's after he had moved to Vienna, met Haydn in person, and developed a friendship with the older composer. Haydn had just published his set of six quartets Opus 33, which are thought to have been a stimulus to Mozart in returning to the genre. Over time (1782-1785) Mozart completed the six quartets K 387-421-428-458-464-465. These quartets are often regarded as among the pinnacles of the genre. They are often called the "Haydn" quartets, after the dedicatee.

Mozart's last four quartets, the Prussian Quartets K 499-575-589-590, dedicated to the King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm II, are noted for the cantabile character of the parts for cello (the instrument played by the king himself), the sweetness of sounds and the equilibrium among the different instruments.

The smaller corpus of string quintets (K 46-174-515-516-593-614), for two violins, two violas and cello, includes works often felt to be on an even higher level than the quartets. Among them are the Quintet in G minor K. 516, widely considered to be his greatest one. The sense of passion and tragedy in this work recall the 40th Symphony in the same key.

Mozart wrote a huge number of other chamber music works, for several ensembles of string, wind and brass instruments. Notable are the string Duos, for two violins or violin and viola, the quartets with flute (flute, violin, viola, cello) K 285-285a-285b-298, the Clarinet Quintet K. 581, a true string quartet with clarinet, that exhibits a sensual and spiritual synthesis among the sounds of the different instruments.

Instrumental music

The production for instrumental ensembles includes several Divertimenti, Notturni, Serenate, Cassazioni, Marches, and Dances, besides, of course, the Symphonies. Mozart's production for orchestra is written for string ensembles (like the early Divertimenti K136-138), as well as for wind instruments ensembles and the varied combinations of string and wind. The so called Gran Partita (Serenata) K361 is the most notable work written by Mozart for wind instruments. The ensemble includes 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassett horns, 4 hunting horns, 2 bassoons and double bass. Mozart left a huge production of dances for orchestra, including the genres of Minuetto (more than 100), Contredanse and Allemande (or Teitsch, or Laendler). In his production of minuets, Mozart generally followed Haydn's example, preferring the slow character of the dance. Allemandes (56 between 1787 and 1791) were written mainly for public balls in Vienna. In the Contredanse production, also written mainly in Vienna, some examples of program music are found, like Il Temporale K535, La Bataille K600, Canarino K602, etc.

The symphonies

According to most recent investigations, Mozart wrote 68 complete symphonies (therefore a number much higher than the 41 symphonies reported in traditional editions); the Symphony No.37 K 444 was actually composed by Michael Haydn, and Mozart wrote only the introductory movement for it. Some of the symphonies (K 297, K 385, K 550) were revised by the author after their first versions. Mozart's symphonic production covers a 24 year interval, from 1764 to 1788.

The Early symphonies (1764-1771) are written mainly in the style of the Italian overture, in three movements (Allegro-Andante-Allegro); only in a few cases was a minuet included. See Symphony No. 1 (Mozart), Symphony No. 2 (Mozart)

Three cycles of Salzburg Symphonies may be identified.

The post-Salzburg symphonies

Mozart arrived in Paris in 1778, in search for a position worth of his talent, that he actually did not find. Nevertheless, it was during his visit in Paris that he wrote the so called Paris Symphony (K297), that is particularly interesting for the rich and modern composition of the instrumental ensemble.

The Haffner Symphony (K385) was composed in 1782, after Mozart had finally moved to Vienna. Originally it included an introductory march, that was later removed, and two minuets, of which only one remains in the final version.

The Linz Symphony (K425) was written in 1783 during a journey of Mozart to that town. The Prague Symphony (K504) was composed in Vienna in 1786, after a happy time spent in Prague. It is much more difficult to perform and more advanced conceptually than any of Mozart's previous symphonies.

The final trilogy

Mozart's final trilogy of symphonies (K543, K550, K551 (Jupiter)) was completed in about three months in 1788. It is quite likely that he hoped to publish these three works together as a single opus, although actually they remained unpublished until after his death. One or two of them might have been played in public in Leipzig in 1789.

The less known and executed among these three symphonies is the K543 in E flat major, perhaps because the ideas that Mozart chose to explore in this work survive with difficulty to the translation to modern, more powerful, instruments.

The Symphony K550 in G minor is one of only three minor-mode symphonies by Mozart (the others are the Odense K16a in A minor, composed when Mozart was about 10 years old and possibly spurious, and the Little G minor K183, composed in 1773). It is by far the most frequently performed of Mozart's earlier symphonies. Its ensemble includes a particularly delicate wind instrumentation, with clarinets were added in a second revision.

The "Jupiter" Symphony K 551 (the nickname was not Mozart's, it seems to have originated in England, possibly with Johann Peter Salomon) is characterized by prominent use of trumpets and timpani in the first movement. The Andante cantabile is profoundly moving, and even in the Minuet one can hear contrapunctal complexities. The four note motif of the Finale had been used by Mozart himself many times; it is followed by a profusion of ideas woven into a sonata form movement, leading to a coda where the five principal ideas of the movement are presented contrapunctally.

The concertos

Though the apex of Mozart's production in the Concerto genre was reached with the Piano Concertos, already discussed above, he composed several important works for other solo instruments and orchestra. Among them, and probably unexcelled, stands the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra K622 (1778), one of Mozart's last compositions (it was written in 1791, the year of his death). It is the first example of its kind and, in it, all the expressive and technical possibilities of the instrument are explored.

Among the other works, there are the Concerto for Harp, Flute and Orchestra K299, highly original for the connection between two so different instruments, the Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra K191 (1774) and five Concertos for Violin and Orchestra (K207-211-216-218-219), among which the last one is notable for the beauty of the melodies and the skillful use of the expressive and technical characteristics of the instrument, though probably Mozart never went through all the violin possibilities like others (e.g. Beethoven and Brahms) did after him.

Four Concertos for Horn and Orchestra (K412-417-447-495), were written in different years between 1782 and 1786, characterized by an elegant and humorous dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra.

Finally, two important works belong to the Concerto genre: the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra K364 (1779), with an extraordinary viola part, of which only one previous example is known by Carl Stamitz (but Mozart probably didn't know of it), and the Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Orchestra K279b (Anh.9 and later Anh. C 14.01), a beautiful composition whose authenticity is still questioned (there is no Mozart autograph).

Sacred music

Mozart's sacred music is mainly vocal, though also instrumental examples exist, like the Sonate da Chiesa for 2 violins, double bass and organ, composed between 1767 and 1780.

The sacred compositions corpus includes 19 masses, among them the Weisenhaus Messe in C min. K139, a number of works belonging to the Missa Brevis genre, written mainly in Salzburg (K167-192-194-195-220 (Spatzenmesse)), the Kronungsmesse K317, the Great Mass in C min. K427 (where the Credo is not completed and the Agnus Dei is missing) and Mozart's last, unfinished work, the Requiem in D min. K626, written in 1791, after an interval of eight years during which he did not compose masses at all, and completed by Franz Xavier Süssmayr; after Mozart's death.

Several compositions of different kind belong to Mozart's sacred music production: among them Kyrie, Offertorii, Antiphonae, Mottetti (Exultate, Jubilate K165).

Mozart's sacred music presents a rich stylistic mosaic: gregorian choral elements meet rigorous counterpoint, and even operatic elements can sometimes emerge. Stylistic unity and consistency is present over all the sacred music works.

We include in this genre, for their liturgical character, also the compositions written for the Masonic Lodge, like The Cantata Laut Verkunde unsre Freude K623 and the Maurerische Trauermusik K477.


In 1767 Mozart composed his first opera, if one may thus call the scholastic musical drama Apollo et Hyacinthus (K 38). With respect to that first attempt, Bastien un Bastienne (1768, K 50=46b) generates a definitely different result. The young musician is already able to dominate texts and his music emanates pastoral joy and spontaneous fascination. La finta semplice (1768, K 51) can be considered Mozart's first - only partially achieved - approach to the Opera buffa genre.

Then, the first Italian operas were composed, upon assignments received in Milan and Salzburg: Mitridate re del Ponto (1770, K 87), Ascanio in Alba (1771, K 111), Il sogno di Scipione (1772, K 126), Lucio Silla (1772, K 135). In all of this works, Mozart still shows some awkwardness while moving in the traditional Opera seria frame. The librettos are often dramatically weak and improbable. Nevertheless, one can find in these works some unambiguously Mozartian distinguishing marks, though the weight, substance and formal perfection of the older Mozart are still lacking.

With La finta giardiniera (1774-75, K 196), Mozart comes back to the opera buffa, outranging all previous models of that genre. The libretto is still weak, but characters are not schematic anymore and become real individuals, with music definitely contributing to their definition.

Le nozze di Figaro, the first of the three great operatic works, all belonging to the opera buffa genre (though the Don Giovanni obviously involves tragic elements), that Mozart composed with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, was preceded by some unfinished fragments (Zaide (1779, K344), L'oca del Cairo (1783, K422)), and by the music drama Il re pastore (1775, K208) and the comedy Der Schauspieldirektor (1786, K486).

Le nozze di Figaro (1786, K492), was taken from the comedy Le marriage de Figaro by Pierre Beaumarchais, a work that was hardly accepted - and performed - in France, due to its denunciation contents against the flaws of the higher dominating classes (Clergy and Aristocracy), opposed to the healthy activism of the Third Estate. In Austria, too, Mozart's opera met the opposition of the imperial court, though it should be said that Da Ponte had purged the most shocking aspects from the original text. Actually, the opera was executed during the Spring of 1786 at the Vienna Burgtheater, with enormous success.

The trilogy of Da Ponte librettos continued with Don Giovanni (1787, K527) and Cosi fan tutte (1789, K588), both dealing - but in highly different ways - with the subject of love between men and women.

In his mature years, Mozart composed two important works belonging to the opera seria genre: Idomeneo re di Creta (1780, K366), and La clemenza di Tito, (1791, K621).

After many years from his debut in the german music drama (Singspiel), Mozart came back to this genre with Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782, K384) and, finally, with Die Zauberflöte (1791, K620). Die Zauberflöte has been criticized for the absurdities of its libretto (by Emanuel Schikaneder), that was probably rehandled several times. It also achieved scarce success at its first performance. Nevertheless its music proposes elements of great brightness and spirituality, with the composition of sacred and profane love in unique delight.


Mozart's distinction as a genius and prodigy has sometimes operated as a cause of confusion and distraction in the estimation of his music, since Mozart's greatness as a composer derives from what many regard as the beauty, profundity, expressive and emotional subtlety, unique imagination, and grandeur of his music. None of these characteristics seem obviously connected with or dependent on the fact that he composed at an early age, had a prodigious musical memory, was a performing virtuoso as a child, could compose entire compositions in his head, could write an entire work on the day of its first performance, could write out the entirety of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere after hearing it one time (he returned a second time to correct minor errors), and so on.

Major composers since Mozart's time have worshipped or been in awe of him. Beethoven told his pupil Ries that he (Beethoven) would never be able to think of a melody as great as that of the first movement of Mozart's 24th piano concerto, and did Mozart homage by writing variations on his themes (such as the two sets of Variations for Cello and Piano on themes from Mozart's Magic Flute) and cadenzas to several of the piano concerti, most notably the Concerto No. 20 (K. 466). (After their only meeting, Mozart noted that Beethoven would "give the world something to talk about.") Tchaikovsky wrote his Mozartiana in praise of him; and Mahler died with "Mozart" the last word on his lips. The music critic James Svejda, when filling out a job application that asked for his religion, entered "Mozart".

Yet the focus on Mozart's "genius" rather than on the greatness of his music is aided and abetted by his music itself, which is perhaps the most "mysterious" of all classical music. For it lends itself even less than that of the other major classical composers to being described in words or having its essence reduced to particular aesthetic or technical concepts or principles, in the way that Bach is described as the master of counterpoint and Beethoven as the master of symphonic form and development.

The Köchel catalog

In the decades following Mozart's death there were several attempts to inventory his compositions, but it was only in 1862 that Ludwig von Köchel, a Viennese botanist, mineralogist, and educator, succeeded in this enterprise. Köchel's stout book of 551 pages was entitled "Chronological-Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Musical Works of WOLFGANG AMADE MOZART". Köchel is the source of the ubiquitous "K" (or KV) prefix on the numbers given to Mozart's works instead of the more usual "Opus".

Mozart as a fictional character

Mozart is unusual among composers for the number of stories of a legendary character that have sprung up around him, for example the tale that Mozart composed his Requiem believing it was for himself. Some of these stories are probably true, but sorting out the fabrications from the real events is a vexing (and continuing) task for Mozart scholars. Dramatists and screenwriters, free from responsibilities of scholarship, have found the Mozart legends to make excellent raw material.

For example, the claimed rivalry between Mozart and Antonio Salieri is the subject of Aleksandr Pushkin's play Mozart and Salieri, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Mozart et Salieri and Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus, later made into a film. In fact, Salieri admired Mozart. Most of the dramas based on Mozart's life are largely fictionalized.

Mozart and child development

In the late 20th Century, Mozart's music found an unusual application in the emerging field of accelerated learning, also known as SALT (Suggestive-Accelerative Learning and Teaching) techniques or Superlearning. Researchers in this work, led by Bulgarian psychologist Georgi Lozanov, have asserted that listening to such music promotes enhanced learning.

Media Files

See also

Many of Mozart's works are covered in separate Wikipedia articles.



Piano sonatas

Serenades and divertimenti

Masses and church music


Further reading

External links