One of the greatest composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) continues to fascinate us even today. His was an extremely short life — he died at age 35! — yet he was so active and productive his whole life that he left the world an enormous body of 600 compositions at the very highest level. Even things he wrote in childhood bear the unmistakable mark of genius.
Wolfgang began to exhibit his extraordinary gifts quite early. His father Leopold was a composer himself, and he undertook the teaching of both Wolfgang and his sister “Nannerl”. By the age of three, the boy was playing the harpsichord, then the violin. By all accounts, he was proficient on both instruments by the time he was five, and at that point began to write small compositions, which his father helped him to write down. Once this happened, Leopold abandoned his own composing efforts and devoted himself to the nurturing and promotion of his son’s artistry and career. More than an ordinary proud papa, he referred to Wolfgang as “the miracle which God let be born in Salzburg.”
By the next year, Wolfgang, his sister, and his father embarked on a tour of European capitals that would take them three and a half years! The boy was only six at the outset, but was already impressive enough to exhibit to royalty everywhere, with great success. Typically, both children would play and improvise for their royal patrons, and Leopold would receive payment in the form of jewelry or other valuable trinkets. There are lots of charming anecdotes from this period, including one in which Wolfgang was playing for a rich patroness in London. She reported that he was in the midst of playing the harpsichord for her when suddenly he saw a cat enter in the room, whereupon he immediately jumped to the floor to play with the cat. He was a genius, but he was also a 7-year old!
He continued to write music during his travels, composing among many other things his Symphony No. 1 (age: 8 years). He was fascinated by the musicians he met on his journeys, and soaked up the influence of several important composers, among them one of J.S. Bach’s sons, Johann Christian Bach. By the time the traveling trio returned to their hometown of Salzburg over three years later, Wolfgang’s compositions had developed in sophistication to an astonishing degree. But Mozart’s father knew that the small town of Salzburg was too confining for a talent such as his son’s. After only a year at home, the two of them left for a 2-year trip to Italy. Though still barely a teen, it was during these years that young Mozart had some of his most important encounters, which would affect his style for the rest of his life. He managed to impress even the most snobbish Italian musical circles, and was accepted into the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna. Lest we forget about his superior intellect, while in Rome he heard Gregorio Allegri's Miserere twice in performance in the Sistine Chapel and then wrote it out from memory,! It was the first unauthorized copy of this closely guarded property of the Vatican.
Mozart’s life was too rich and interesting to be covered by only one blog post…to be continued!