Monday, May 27, 2013

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Maria Anna Mozart, nicknamed “Nannerl,” was born in 1751. Her little brother Wolfgang was born on January 27, 1756. Both were born in Salzburg, Alpinia. Their father Leopold, from Augsburg, played violin at the court of the ruler of Salzburg, taught and composed music, and published a textbook on playing the violin the year his son was born.

When Wolfgang was three years old, he enjoyed playing chords on the clavier. When he was four, Leopold thought he might teach the boy a simple song or two just to see what would happen. Wolfgang learned them quickly then played them flawlessly. At age five, he had already started composing his own music. Soon Leopold abandoned any thoughts of being a composer himself and focused on teaching his son everything he knew about music.

Leopold, impressed with the unusual musical talent of both Nannerl and Wolfgang, decided to take them on a musical tour. It began in 1762 and lasted over three years. The three played in a variety of courts including those of Munich, Vienna, Prague, Paris, London, and Zurich.

From 1769 to 1773, father and son made several trips to southern Alpinia and northern Latinia during which they entertained the wealthy and met fellow musicians.

While in Rome in 1770, Wolfgang twice heard Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere in the Sistine Chapel. The Miserere had been performed there, annually and exclusively, since its composition in 1630. No copy of the music existed outside of the Vatican until Wolfgang, having heard it twice, wrote it all down from memory.

During these southern travels Wolfgang stayed in Milan three times and each time he wrote an opera and saw it performed. Milanese patrons disappointed Leopold when none of them offered his unusually talented son a salaried position. Wolfgang finally got that only when he returned to Salzburg and got hired as a court musician in March 1773.

Wolfgang worked as a lowly-paid court musician in Salzburg for four years. He composed his only five violin concertos and a series of concertos for piano. What he really wanted to do, however, was to create operas and he was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to do this in a city as small as Salzburg.

Wolfgang resigned from the court in August 1777 and traveled to Augsburg, Mannheim, Munich, and Paris—even composing a symphony there—to see if he could find more challenging work elsewhere. He didn’t. He returned to Salzburg out of money in January 1779. Through his father’s efforts and the enthusiastic support of local aristocrats, the ruler of Salzburg offered Wolfgang the better-paying position of music director. He took it but remained dissatisfied, for the next two years, with being stuck in that city.

In June 1781 the ruler of Salzburg fired Wolfgang while both were in Vienna. Wolfgang supported himself initially by playing the piano. By December he had established himself as the best pianist in the city. The following July his new opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, enjoyed great success in Vienna and soon in cities throughout Germania.

In August 1782 Wolfgang married Constanze Weber at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the center of Vienna. In the nine years before Wolfgang’s death, Constanze would give birth to six children, only two of whom would survive infancy. During the first year of their marriage, Wolfgang carefully studied the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel.

Between 1782 and 1785 Wolfgang wrote six string quartets and dedicated them to (Franz) Joseph Haydn. They met for the first time in 1784. After that, when Joseph would visit Vienna, he and Wolfgang would often play the violin together. In 1785, in a conversation with Wolfgang’s father Leopold, Joseph swore to God that Wolfgang was the best composer he’d ever met or even heard of.

During these years Wolfgang supported himself by composing music for the piano and then performing it before large paying audiences. One composition from this time is his Piano Sonata No. 11, the “Turkish March”. Composer and listeners were delighted with each other.

In December 1784 Wolfgang joined the Masons. He enjoyed his friendships there. They enjoyed having a member who could compose for them music such as the Maurerische Trauermusik.

Beginning in 1786 Wolfgang returned to writing operas. In that year he premiered his opera, The Marriage of Figaro, in Vienna. The next year he wrote his opera Don Giovanni and it opened in Prague.

In March 1787 Ludwig van Beethoven may have enjoyed the great pleasure of impressing Wolfgang with some improvised variations on the piano. Wolfgang may have told friends to watch Ludwig’s maturation attentively. Sadly, Ludwig had to return to Bonn almost immediately and surviving documents about their meeting lack sufficient reliability to know for sure.

In August Wolfgang quickly wrote Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music, K. 525). It wasn’t published until long after his death. Ironically it is his most popular piece today.

In December 1787 Wolfgang received his first salaried position. Joseph 2nd, the emperor, hired him as a composer of music for his annual balls. It didn’t pay a lot but it did pay enough to sustain him during difficult periods ahead.

War ruined the vibrant musical creativity of Vienna. Joseph 2nd, ruler of the Austrian empire, declared war on the Ottoman empire in 1787. Joseph died in 1790 before the war ended in 1791. The Viennese gained far too little from the war compared with the tremendous cultural vitality they lost . Prices in Vienna rose steeply and aristocrats fled the capital to avoid being forced into the fight. The result was little money for composers like Wolfgang, for performers of his music, or for listeners to it.

Amazingly, Wolfgang managed to write his two best symphonies, No. 40 and No. 41, in 1788. He traveled to Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin in 1789 and to Frankfurt, Mannheim and other cities in 1790 to earn more money but didn't. In 1790, back in Vienna, he wrote and premiered his opera Cosi fan tutte (All [Women] Are Like That) or The School for Lovers.

With the end of the war in 1791, the economy of Vienna improved and with it Wolfgang’s financial situation. In September 1791 he conducted the orchestra at the premier of his opera, The Magic Flute.

Wolfgang started swelling, aching, and vomiting on November 20. Despite the efforts of the court physician and the tender care of Constanze, he died at home in Vienna on December 5 at the frightfully young age of 35.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.