Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,
born January 27, 1756; died 1:00 am, December 5, 1791
Wolfgang Mozart - The Early Years
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, Jan. 27, 1756, the son of Leopold and his wife Anna Maria. Leopold was a successful
composer, violinist and assistant concertmaster at the Salzburg court.
Wolfgang began composing minuets at the age of five and composed his first symphony at age nine. When he was six, he and his older sister,
Maria Anna, performed a series of concerts to Europe's courts and major cities. Both children played the keyboard, Wolfgang also played the violin.
In 1762 the Mozart children played at court in Vienna. The Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Emperor Francis I, received them.
From 1763-1766, the Mozart children displayed their talents to audiences in Germany, Paris, at court in Versailles, and London where
Wolfgang began a friendship with Johann Christian Bach (son of J.S. Bach) who became an important musical influence on young Wolfgang.
Mozart became the most famous child musical prodigy in history.
Mozart published his first works in Paris: four sonatas for clavier with accompanying violin (1764). In 1768 he composed his first opera,
La Finta Semplice, which had its premiere in Salzburg.
In 1769-1770, Leopold and Wolfgang undertook a tour through Italy. This first Italian
trip culminated in a new opera, Mitridate, re di Ponto, composed for Milan. In two further Italian journeys he wrote two more operas for Milan,
Ascanio in Alba (1771) and Lucio Silla (1772).
Life in Salzburg
In 1772, Hieronymus von Colloredo became the new Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Initially sympathetic to Wolfgang, he soon became irritated
by the young musician's prolonged absences and stubborn ways.
Mozart was irritated by the relatively low level of support for musical programs at court such as the failure to replace musicians who had died.
Mozart became discouraged. In 1772, Archbishop von Colloredo demoted Wolfgang to concertmaster at a low token salary.
During his tenure at Salzburg, Mozart composed a large number of sacred and secular works.
Travel to Paris
Wishing to secure a better paying position, Mozart obtained permission to undertake a journey in 1777. He traveled with his mother to
France where he composed the Paris Symphony (1778), but he was unable to find a permanent position. Adding tragedy to his professional
disappointment, his mother died while they were in Paris.
Mozart returned to Salzburg where he was given the position of court organist (1779). He produced a series of church works, including the
famous Coronation Mass. He was commissioned to compose a new opera for Munich, Idomeneo (1781).
In Munich, Mozart was well-received, which made him resent even more his perceived lack of recognition in Salzburg.
"Kicked" out of the Salzburg Court
The following March the composer was summoned to Vienna, where his employer, the Archbishop von Colloredo, was attending the celebrations
for the accession of Joseph II to the Austrian throne. Mozart was offended when Colloredo treated him as a servant, and particularly when
the Archbishop forbade him to perform before the Emperor at Countess Thun's for a fee equal to half of his yearly Salzburg salary!
Mozart attempted to resign and was refused. The following month permission was granted, but in a grossly insulting way: The composer was
dismissed literally "with a kick in the buttocks", administered by the Archbishop's steward, Count Arco.
The quarrel with the Archbishop was even harder for Mozart because his father sided against him. Leopold urged him to reconcile with
their mutual employer; but Wolfgang vowed to pursue an independent career in Vienna. Mozart's resignation greatly altered the course
of his life, not necessarily for the better.
Mozart in Vienna
In his new life as an independent musician and composer in Vienna, Mozart at first achieved success. In 1781, he was commissioned to
write The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782).
His concerts were great successes and attracted the attention of the Emperor Joseph II,
who engaged Wolfgang as court composer.
Contrary to misguided popular tales, the Austrian imperial Kapellmeister, Antonio Salieri, did much to help the younger Mozart.
It was Salieri who convinced the reluctant Emperor to let Mozart's unconventional operas be performed. In Mozart's operas, the performers also
danced, something the Emperor had forbade in opera. Salieri intervened and thus was instrumental in launching Mozart's operatic career in Austria.
Nonetheless, Wolfgang and his father, Leopold, were suspicious of the influence of the Italians in the court and developed a special
enmity and jealousy towards Salieri because of his operatic successes.
As a result, Mozart alienated yet another admirer -- a trend that was to continue all his life.
Marriage and Fading Fame
In 1782, Mozart married Constanze Weber from Germany, against his father's advice. His wife had extravagant tastes and spent more
money than Wolfgang could earn as a musician in that era of strict class structure. Mozart was not an aristocrat and he resented that
he was treated (and paid) like the commoner he was.
Mozart's greatest operatic success was Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (1786), composed for the Vienna Opera. His piano
concertos and the string quartets dedicated to his "dear friend" Josef Haydn were also composed during this period.
Mozart's fame began to fade after Figaro. The nobility and court grew increasingly nervous about his revolutionary ideas as seen in
Figaro. He sank deeply into debt. Mozart's own quarrelsome personality estranged those who once supported him. He was unable to find
work in Vienna. The aristocrats were no longed amused by him and they were done tolerating his disregard for their customs and their
superior rank in society.
Mozart's greatest operatic success after Figaro was Don Giovanni (1787), composed for Prague, where Mozart's art was still highly-appreciated.
This was followed in 1790 by Cosi fan tutte, the third and final libretto provided by the Italian poet Lorenzo Da Ponte; and in 1791 by
Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), produced by a suburban theater in Vienna.
Brilliance Before the Darkness
During this period of financial strain, humiliation, and professional decline, Mozart composed his last three symphonies in less than seven
weeks in the summer of 1788. These had been preceded by a great series of string quintets (1787).
His final three symphonies (39th, 40th, 41th), were vastly different from anything he had written before. They were fresher, more innovative,
exciting and beautiful. Throughout much of his career, Mozart produced works quickly and not always of the highest artistic merit, relying
on his abundance of musical genius to get by with little effort and pay his bills.
But suddenly that all changed. In 1788 he became inspired. The inspiration and genesis of Mozart's final symphonies is shrouded in mystery.
Although he duly entered them in the thematic catalog in which he recorded the opening of each completed composition, Mozart never once
mentions any of them in his copious correspondence, which fosters our understanding of nearly all his other major compositions. Nor have
historians found any evidence of a commission (for which nearly all his other work was written to order), nor even an indication of a
concert for which they might have been intended.
Scholars still speculate why they were written. Three principal theories have emerged. Possibly, they were intended for a series of
subscription concerts in June and July 1788 that never materialized or were cancelled for insufficient interest as Mozart's career was then
in a slump from which it would only recover posthumously.
Or, Mozart may have planned to present them during a trip to England (as Haydn would do in 1791) where German composers, led by Handel, had
already met with great artistic and financial success. Or, he might have hoped to publish them as a single opus, which at the time
often consisted of three complementary works in the same genre.
But perhaps the most compelling explanation is that these final works were the result of Mozart's inner compulsion to create - a matter
of personal expression without regard to the demands of patrons or public. That motivation goes far to explain their extraordinary scope
and striking ingenuity, which would have been lost on audiences of the time especially during only a single hearing at a typical concert.
Abstract creativity also accounts for their internal unity and continuity, since symphonies at the time routinely were split in half to
open and close a concert, sandwiching two hours of intervening arias, concerti and even improvisations.
Mozart's final symphonies heralded a new era in his artistic life. It seemed that at long last, Mozart had found voice for his genius. The child
prodigy had out-grown his childishness and was now a mature artist of phenomenal import. Alas, it was not to last.
Mozart, saddled with debt, beset by tragedies which saw four of his six children die before their fifth year, his own discontent at being a
mere servant in a world ruled by incompetent aristocrats, a strained marriage and a strained relationship with his father, and his
professional and personal failures in Vienna all contributed to sap his vitality.
In 1791, Mozart was commissioned to write a requiem (unfinished). In November of that year, Mozart fell ill, suffered kindey failure and on
December 5th, 1791, he died.
After his death, Mozart was buried in an unmarked grave in Vienna as was customary for paupers of his low social standing.
Such was the ending of the great prodigy. Later generations errected monuments to this great and enigmatic artist. His is truly a
cautionary tale for all generations. We lost Mozart just as he had finally awakened as an artist. He took to his grave what would
have been many more decades of his greatest work. 'If Mozart had lived...' is the oft-heard plantive cry of those who can only
imagine what still laid ahead for him.
European researchers investigating records of deaths in Vienna around the time of Mozart's death at the age of 35 on 5 December 1791
conclude that the composer most likely died from a streptococcal throat infection that led to a fatal kidney syndrome.
The study is the work of Richard HC Zegers from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and colleagues Andreas Weigl from
the University of Vienna in Austria and Andrew Steptoe from University College London in the UK, and was published in the
18 August 2009 issue of the 'Annals of Internal Medicine'.
The early death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has fascinated people all over the world for over 200 years, with some believing he was poisoned
by a rival, while others have suggested he died from kidney failure, Henoch-Schönlein purpura (a condition where blood vessels become inflamed),
trichinosis (a parasite disease caused by eating raw or undercooked pork), and many other causes.
According to eyewitness accounts at the time, Mozart's body was very swollen before he died, suggesting he had severe edema
(swelling caused by excess fluid in bodily tissues). After analysing the records and comparing them to the eyewitness accounts, the
researchers found that deaths from edema were significantly higher among younger men the weeks surrounding Mozart's death compared with
the same period in preceding and following years. This minor epidemic may have started in the city's military hospital.
Zegers and colleagues concluded that their analysis was "Consistent with Mozart's last illness and death being due to a streptococcal infection leading
to an acute nephritic syndrome caused by poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis." Streptococcal infection is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria of
which there are many strains, including some that cause a scarlet fever rash. In the throat, the infection ranges from mild to very severe and can
lead to complications such as rheumatic fever and - as the authors suggest in Mozart's case - a rare kidney condition called poststreptococcal
Acute poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis is an inflammation of the glomeruli in the kidneys caused by an immune system
reaction to streptococcal infection. The kidney's glomeruli play an essential role in filtering the blood. Zegers and colleagues also said
it was possible that scarlet fever killed Mozart because it leads to the same kidney complication, but given the evidence from the records
they examined, they thought this was less likely than a streptococcal infection.
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