Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791) was one of the most influential, popular and prolific composers of the classical period. A child prodigy, from an early age he began composing over 600 works, including some of the most famous pieces of symphonic, chamber, operatic, and choral music.
“Music is my life and my life is music. Anyone who does not understand this is not worthy of God.”
– Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Short Biography of Mozart
Mozart was born in Salzburg to a musical family. From an early age, the young Mozart showed all the signs of a prodigious musical talent. By the age of five, he could read and write music, and he would entertain people with his talents on the keyboard. By the age of six, he was writing his first compositions, and by the age of eight had composed his first symphony. Mozart was generally considered to be a rare musical genius, although he was also diligent in studying other great composers such as Haydn and Bach.
His father Leopold, who was also a musician, was quick to see the talent of his young son and became a formidable publicist in showing off his son’s capacities. During his childhood, Mozart was a frequent guest at various palaces around Europe, playing for distinguished guests. In addition to being feted by aristocrats across, Europe, Leopold raised his children as strict Catholics. This included attendance at mass, frequent confession and the veneration of saints. Mozart remained a committed Catholic throughout his life.
Dressed in the finest clothes, the child-genius Mozart left an indelible impression on everyone he met. One of the pre-eminent composers of the day Johann Hasse remarked: “He has done things which for such as age are really incomprehensible; they would be astonishing in an adult.”
Aged 17, he accepted a post as a court musician in Salzburg; although this did not suit him very well. He chaffed at the lack of independence from his patron Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo (the ruler of Salzburg). Mozart was also indignant at his meagre salary (150 florins a year) which left Mozart feeling unappreciated. Yet, despite dissatisfaction and getting involved in rows, the next few years were a time of prolific composition. In 1777, he grew tired of the demands placed on him by his patron and negotiated the release from his contract. He left Salzburg and after travelling to Paris and Germany, he moved permanently to Vienna, Austria where he lived for the remainder of his life.
Initially, Mozart worked for Archbishop Colloredo, but again Mozart felt constrained by the unreasonable demands and limitations placed on him by the Archbishop. For example, the Archbishop sought to prevent Mozart from playing in public concerts. Mozart became angry at these restrictions and confronted the archbishop. Eventually, he was released from his contact with a ‘literal kick up the backside.’ It was a difficult decision because his father sided with the archbishop and felt his son should seek to reconcile with the archbishop. Some biographers see this as an important moment in Mozart’s life as – in a very clear way – Mozart asserted his musical independence even at the cost of his relationship with his father and his financial security.
In Vienna, he became well known and was often in demand as a composer and performer. His dazzling and innovative new compositions were generally admired, although, like many genii, he was ahead of his time. Some criticised his symphonies for being too complicated, however, he received the very sincere praise of all the great composers of the era. Schubert said of Mozart:
“O Mozart! immortal Mozart! What countless impressions of a brighter, better life hast thou stamped upon our souls!”
On a personal level, his strained relationship with his domineering father left Mozart often seeking outer recognition. However, in the realm of music, Mozart was in his own world, he was not constrained by the petty misunderstandings and expectations of society.
“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.”
However, despite his relative fame, he struggled to manage his finances and moved between periods of poverty and prosperity. A trait of Mozart’s character was that he could be frivolous with money; he enjoyed spending on fancy clothes – as soon as he received money he could spend it and he was frequently in debt. Another aspect of Mozart’s character was a playfulness and high-spirits, which could also appear like childishness. He enjoyed pranks and a rough sense of humour, and his care-free attitude could get him into difficulties with the more serious-minded court officials. Yet, Mozart was a man of great contrast and counterpoint. The one moment he could be making a crude joke, the next he could be composing the most sublime and divine music.
In 1782, he married Constanze – against the wishes of his father. He remained very close to her for the rest of his life and was very much in love. They had six children but only two survived infancy. Whilst he got closer to Constanze, his relationship with his father deteriorated. His father had been domineering since his childhood, and Mozart increasingly resented his presence.
His financial difficulties were enhanced in 1786 when Austria was involved in a war which led to lower demand for musicians. Mozart wrote many letters begging for support from patrons, friends and fellow freemasons. He received only scattered support and supplemented his income by teaching and performing his works.
Death and requiem
In the last year of his life, he began composing one of his greatest works – The Requiem. Mozart died before he could finish. Reasons for his death are not clear. The most likely is a sudden illness – possibly the plague or possibly a combination of rheumatoid arthritis and pneumonia. One legend is that he was poisoned by a jealous rival composer Salieri, but this theory is discredited..
His last major work the Requiem was commissioned by Count Franz von Walsegg for his wife who past away. Walsegg may have tried to pass it off as his own work, but a public benefit concert for Constanze frustrated his aim. Many took the Requiem to be autobiographical and written by Mozart for his own life.
Mozart was near bankrupt when he died and he was given a modest burial of a citizen. It was not a pauper’s grave as sometimes claimed. But, in those days, 10 years after burial a citizens grave could be dug up and re-used.
The music of Mozart
The work of Mozart is epic in scope and proportion. There were few branches of music Mozart did not touch. He composed operas, symphonies, concertos, and solo pieces for the piano. His work spanned from joyful light-hearted pieces to powerful, challenging compositions which touched the emotions. At the beginning of his career, Mozart had a powerful ability to learn and remember from the music he heard from others. He was able to incorporate the style and music of people such as Haydn and J.S. Bach. As he matured, he developed his very own style and interpretations. In turn, the music of Mozart very much influenced the early Beethoven.
Mozart was brought up a Roman Catholic and remained a member of the church throughout his life.
“I know myself, and I have such a sense of religion that I shall never do anything which I would not do before the whole world.”
Some of his greatest works are religious in nature such as Ave Verum Corpus and the final Requiem.
Mozart was very productive until his untimely death in 1791, aged 35.
“I never lie down at night without reflecting that young as I am I may not live to see another day.”
In the last year of his life, he composed the opera The Magic Flute, the final piano concerto (K. 595 in B-flat), the Clarinet Concerto K. 622, a string quintet (K. 614 in E-flat), the famous motet Ave Verum Corpus K. 618, and the unfinished Requiem K. 626.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Mozart”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net, Last updated 3 March 2020. Originally published 28th May 2008.
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