Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is regarded by many as one of the most prominent composers in the history of western music. He was born in Salzburg in 1756 but spent a large number of years in Vienna, during which his style evolved into what can be classed as the peak of Viennese Classicism. In his maturity, Mozart’s music became characterised by its elegance, rich harmony and texture, melodic beauty and he excelled in each and every genre that existed at the time. Although his musical style is firmly grounded in Austrian and German tradition, it is richly influenced by Italian opera.
Mozart’s father Leopold was himself a composer and musician and he greatly influenced his two children. His father’s teachings were not limited to music: Leopold also taught his children mathematics, literature, languages, dancing and moral and religious philosophy. Mozart’s older sister Nannerl was a prodigious performer in her own right, giving frequent public performances in her youth.
The Mozart family travelled around Europe in order for Leopold to show to the world the great gift he believed God had sent him in his talented children. A concert tour of numerous courts across Europe lasted for three and a half years: the family left Salzburg by way of Munich and on to Belgium and France. On New Years’ Day 1764, eight year old Mozart and his sister performed before Louis XV, before moving on to tour London, The Hague, Amsterdam, Zurich, Munich and finally back to Salzburg.
Mozart was employed at the Salzburg court from 1773 to 1777 where he worked in numerous genres, such as symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, masses and some operas. It was during his time at the Salzburg court that he grew fond of the violin and wrote his violin concertos. Towards the end of his time there, he turned his attention towards piano concertos, where he made major breakthroughs in musicality, form and harmony. In late summer 1777, Mozart resigned from his post due to the low pay and lack of opportunity to compose any substantial operas.
In the 1780s Mozart began a career in Vienna, after searching in Paris and Mannheim without much success of a stable position. Here in Vienna he spent some of the most successful years of his life. He performed very often before the emperor and also prospered as a composer. It was in these years that Mozart studied the works of Handel and Bach, which influenced his personal musical language such as in certain passages inDie Zauberflote (‘The Magic Flute’) and in the finale of his Symphony no. 41.
Mozart befriended Haydn in 1784 and dedicated six of his string quartets to him. Haydn is quoted as saying, in a letter to Leopold ‘Your son is the greatest composer known to me by person and repute, he has taste and what is more the greatest skill in composition’.
In the mid-1780s, Mozart moved away from keyboard composition towards opera. He began a famous collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, resulting in The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, Mozart’s two most celebrated operas. His third collaboration with Da Ponte wasCosi Fan Tutte, which premiered in 1790 a time of great financial hardship. Although the three operas were very successful, they were heavily criticised for their apparent moral shortcomings.
Mozart’s last year was one of great productivity until his health failed. Masterpieces from this final year included his Clarinet Concerto, The Magic Flute, the motet Ave Verum Corpus, his string quartet in E flat and his Piano concerto in B flat. The unfinished Requiem is an extraordinarily beautiful work, containing interesting orchestration of basset horns, bassoons, trumpets and strings with obbligato trombones, giving it an especially rich, dark character.