Full name Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791), was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over six hundred works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music; and he is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers.
Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood in Salzburg. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty; at seventeen he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and traveled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. Visiting Vienna in 1781 he was dismissed from his Salzburg position and chose to stay in the capital, where over the rest of life he achieved fame but little financial security. The final years in Vienna yielded many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and the Requiem. The circumstances of his early death have been much mythologized. He was survived by his wife Constanze and two sons.
Mozart always learned voraciously from others, and developed a brilliance and maturity of style that encompassed the light and graceful along with the dark and passionate—the whole informed by a vision of humanity "redeemed through art, forgiven, and reconciled with nature and the absolute". His influence on all subsequent Western art music is profound. Beethoven wrote his own early compositions in the shadow of Mozart, of whom Joseph Haydn wrote that "posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years".
Family and early years
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born to Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart at 9 Getreidegasse in Salzburg, capital of the sovereign Archbishopric of Salzburg, in what is now Austria, but then part of the Holy Roman Empire. His only sibling to survive past birth was Maria Anna (1751–1829), called "Nannerl". Wolfgang was baptized the day after his birth at St. Rupert's Cathedral. The baptismal record gives his name in Latinized form as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. He generally called himself "Wolfgang Amadè Mozart" as an adult, but there were many variants. His father Leopold (1719–1787) was deputy Kapellmeister to the court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg, and a minor composer. He was also an experienced teacher, and in the year of Mozart's birth published a successful violin textbook, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule.
Anonymous portrait of the child Mozart, possibly by Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni; painted in 1763 on commission from Leopold
When Nannerl was seven she began keyboard lessons with her father, and her three-year-old brother would look on, evidently fascinated. Years later, after his death, she reminisced:
He often spent much time at the clavier, picking out thirds, which he was always striking, and his pleasure showed that it sounded good. [...] In the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier. [...] He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time. [...] At the age of five he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down.
Among these pieces were the Andante (K. 1a) and Allegro in C (K. 1b).
Biographer Maynard Solomon notes that while Leopold was a devoted teacher to his children, there is evidence that Wolfgang was keen to make progress beyond what he was being taught. His first ink-spattered composition and his precocious efforts with the violin were on his own initiative, and came as a great surprise to Leopold. Father and son were close, and these childhood accomplishments brought tears to Leopold's eyes.
Leopold eventually gave up composing when his son's outstanding musical talents became evident. He was Wolfgang's only teacher in his earliest years, and taught his children languages and academic subjects as well as music.