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1756 1791

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
  • Mozart was a supreme melodist and is one of the most popular classical composers of all time. “Mozartean” is practically synonymous with elegance and grace.

Vital Statistics

Born: January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria
Died: December 5, 1791, in Vienna, Austria, of rheumatic fever
Nationality: Austrian
Genre: Classical
Performed as: Pianist (soloist); also organist, violinist, violist
During the composer's lifetime: The United States became an independent country, and the French Revolution began.

Biographical Outline

  • Great expectations: According to his father, Leopold, Wolfgang is playing piano well by age 4, and writes his first compositions when he is only 5.
  • Before royalty: Wolfgang and his sister "Nannerl" (Anna) perform in front of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in 1762. Over the next decade, the family makes five tours of Europe, and Mozart plays at many royal courts, earning a good deal of money in gifts.
  • First gig: Honorary concertmaster (leader) of the Archbishop of Salzburg’s court orchestra, in 1769.
  • Boss trouble: Mozart grows to dislike the new Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymous Colloredo, who was elected in 1772. Five years later, however, Mozart has not found a new employer.
  • Going freelance: After the success of his opera Idomeneo in Munich in March 1781, Mozart leaves the Archbishop’s service. He sets up shop as a pianist/teacher/composer in Vienna.
  • Moving up: Mozart quickly establishes himself as a top pianist, but his comic opera The Abduction from the Seraglio (July 16, 1782) really makes his name.
  • Marriage: Mozart marries Constanze Weber on August 4, 1782. The marriage is a happy one. They have six children; four die in infancy.
  • Big shot, 1783-91: Mozart is one of the more popular musicians in Vienna. He composes his last 15 piano concertos for his concerts, and is always busy. The opera The Marriage of Figaro (1786) is his greatest triumph.
  • Final year: By 1791, Mozart is reviving from a dip in his fortunes. Many of his new works are published, giving him a good income. At the time of his death, he is working on a Requiem Mass, which is left mostly incomplete. He is buried in a common grave in the St. Marx cemetery, outside the city.

Fun Facts

  • Personal: Mozart was short (no more than 5’4”), thin, and pale. His face was pockmarked from a childhood illness. He loved fine clothes and good food, and was generous and good-humored, according to contemporary accounts.
  • The Salieri myth: There is no evidence that Antonio Salieri, the Viennese court chapel master, poisoned Mozart.
  • Dramatic license: Amadeus is a great movie about jealousy and professional rivalry. It is completely unhistorical, but who cares?
  • Pedal to the metal: Mozart composed more than 625 works. The “Haffner” Symphony, No. 35, was completed in about two weeks. The “Linz” Symphony, No. 36, was finished in less than five days. Mozart wrote three numbers of The Abduction from the Seraglio in a single day. The entire violin part of the Sonata in G (K. 379) took all of one hour.
  • Mason: Mozart belonged to a Masonic lodge, and wrote some great music for it. His opera The Magic Flute was publicly performed, but it has Masonic philosophy woven into it.

Recommended Biography

  • Maynard Solomon, Mozart: A Life. Harper Perennial, 1996.
  • Piero Melograni, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography, trans. by Lydia Cochrane, University of Chicago Press, 2008.
  • Otto Erich Deutsch, Mozart, a Documentary Biography (e-book; Stanford University Press). This unusual volume collects and presents all the official documents in Mozart’s life, from birth certificate through estate documents. The eyewitness perspectives are fascinating. 

Explore the Music

  • Mozart wrote in all the genres of his day, and was great at all of them. His music is pretty hard to dislike, even the minor works.  [Ed. Note: The “K” notation of his scores is for Ludwig Köchel, who catalogued Mozart’s music chronologically. Mozart himself kept a thematic catalogue from 1783 on. Modern scholarship has clarified the dating of Mozart’s works, so the catalog order has been changed.]

Recommended Websites

  • Wikipedia’s easily digested and well organized site. Audio files are located at commons.wikimedia, which is listed below
  • The website of the International Mozarteum Foundation in Salzburg. With lots of info about concerts, exhibitions and events in Salzburg
  • This is actually a long advertisement for the Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia. But anyone who is a Mozart freak is going to want to know about this book, which is clearly the sine qua non of all objects bearing Mozart facts. (e-book version available)
  • The British Library’s mind-blowing Turning the Pages feature, in which you can turn the pages, literally, of Mozart’s music diary. In the real-live real-time library in London, you can turn the pages using your hand, but online you use your cursor. It’s one of those techno miracles that is worth experiencing. Plus, Mozart’s diary is simply exquisite. Definitely worth spending a few hours on. Includes audio files
The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote) look inside The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflote) (Vocal Score). By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Arranged by Ruth & Thomas Martin. For voices (solo and ensemble) and piano accompaniment (Score). Classical Period. Difficulty: medium-difficult. Vocal score. Choral notation and piano reduction. 167 pages. G. Schirmer #ED1728. Published by G. Schirmer (HL.50337620)

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Requiem, K. 626 look inside Requiem, K. 626 (Mozarts Fragment mit den Erganzungen von Joseph Eybler und Franz Xaver Sussmayr). By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Edited by Leopold Nowak and Heinz Moehn. For soprano solo voice, alto solo voice, tenor solo voice, bass solo voice, SATB choir and piano accompaniment. This edition: Urtext edition. Classical Period and Sacred. Difficulty: medium-difficult. Vocal score. Choral notation and piano reduction. K. 626. 80 pages. Duration 55m. Published by Baerenreiter Verlag (BA.BA4538-90)

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