Historical Figures

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

"He was a superstar, he was popular... he was a virtuoso, was a rock idol" - not only Falco came to the conclusion in his 80s hit "Amadeus":Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was and is the superstar of classical music.

More than 250 years after his birth, Mozart's work is still relevant and is performed every day all over the world. And because there is a lot of information from Mozart and his family through numerous letters left behind, he became more tangible for posterity than other musicians of that time.

The Child Star

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, the son of a court violinist. He had an older sister, Maria Anna, called "Nannerl", who played music regularly with their father. Mozart came into contact with music from birth.

He showed an extraordinary talent:he started playing the piano at the age of four. At the age of five he wrote his first plays and had his first public appearance. Leopold Mozart's father quickly recognized his son's talent and tried to encourage it and earn money with it.

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Mozart was just six years old when he embarked on his first concert tour with his family. These journeys in horse-drawn carriages sometimes lasted years and led to cities such as Munich, Cologne, Paris and London.

Father Mozart initially presented son and daughter together as musical prodigies. Very quickly, however, Wolfgang developed into a "star". The little boy not only played the violin and piano extremely well. He also had a very friendly manner that won the hearts of the many aristocratic viewers.

The prodigy of the classics

The composer

With increasing age, Mozart developed from an interpreter to a serious composer. At the age of twelve he received his first commission for an opera in Vienna. Although the work was not performed, it received a lot of recognition in professional circles.

However, the transition from child star to professional musician was not as easy as hoped. Because with the shedding of childhood, Mozart lost the "cute factor" and his exceptional talent was perceived as a threat to other composers.

During his lifetime he had to put up with a lot of unjustified criticism, which was often based on envy. It is even reported that musicians sabotaged his pieces by deliberately playing badly.

Mozart had his great breakthrough as a composer with the opera "Idomeneo", which premiered in Munich in 1781.

What characterized Mozart as a musician was his versatility. He could write extremely complex pieces and then recapture his audience with very catchy melodies. He mastered drama and lightness like no other composer after him, which is why he is still an exception today.

Many original manuscripts survive to this day

The human

It is questionable whether Mozart was really the heartthrob that he is often portrayed as today. Eyewitnesses such as the author Franz Xaver Niemetschek, who knew Mozart personally, described him as very "unattractive in appearance".

At 1.58 meters, he is said to have been very small. And since he spent most of his time sitting at the piano, he was anything but athletic. As a child, he was more conspicuous for his very friendly and considerate manner.

He was good-natured and - to his father's displeasure - very gullible, which various fellow human beings are said to have exploited throughout his life.

In his letters, Mozart showed a penchant for wordplay and a very individual sense of humor, which today often seems disconcerting when he wrote sentences like "I will then in my own high person compliment you, petschur your ass" to a lover. His often coarse language, which also contained many scat words, is said to have been typical of that time.

The extent to which Mozart really had many affairs with women, as is often claimed, is disputed. We know of a relationship with his younger cousin Maria Anna Thekla, whom he called "Bäsle". His unrequited love for the Mannheim singer Aloisia Weber, whose sister Constanze he later married, is documented.

Beyond that, little is documented. There are hints in his correspondence about possible relationships with other women, but the exact details can no longer be ascertained.

It is generally said that Mozart showed little respect for authorities - perhaps one reason why, despite his extraordinary talent, he always had difficulty in getting permanent positions as a court musician.

In addition to music, Mozart is said to have enjoyed playing billiards, and he also loved "Bölzlshooting", an early form of target shooting with a type of air gun.

As far as his art was concerned, Mozart is said to have been less "exalted" than many of his musical contemporaries. He rarely talked about his work or boasted about his achievements.

However, it was important to him who he was playing for, whether the audience knew anything about music or not. When he had music lovers in the audience, he played more passionately and, above all, longer.

Mozart was married to Constanze until his death

The career

The career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart shows many parallels to careers in today's music business. It begins with the lengthy tours that Mozart already completed in his time as a "music-making prodigy". Mozart spent a good third of his 35 years traveling to get his music heard internationally.

He visited many places that are still must-sees for musicians today. In Germany he was a guest in Munich, Mannheim, Cologne and Berlin. Other destinations of his 17 journeys were London, Paris and Prague as well as Italy, at that time the music country at all.

The young Mozart in France

Of course, during Mozart's lifetime there were no recordings on which he could distribute his pieces. After all, Mozart had the sheet music printed for many of his works so that he could then sell them. That - and here too there is a parallel to today's music business - led to "pirated copies" even then, with others copying his sheet music and making money from it.

What a record deal is for today's artists was a permanent position at a court for musicians of the time. It guaranteed a secure income, but also had the disadvantage that artistic freedom was severely restricted. Because the compositions mostly had to fulfill a function:as background music for trade fairs or special occasions.

In Salzburg, Mozart had two permanent positions through his father, but felt artistically restricted there. He tried in vain to find permanent positions in Munich, Mannheim and Paris. In 1781 he gave up his permanent position in Salzburg and went to Vienna.

Only four years before his death did he get a new permanent position as Kapellmeister. In between, he made a living from performances, composition commissions and piano lessons.

As far as his popularity is concerned, Mozart is said to have been particularly successful during his lifetime in Prague. His works were loved there, which was expressed in the long running times of his operas. In Vienna, on the other hand, where he was surrounded by a lot of competition and envious people, his popularity fluctuated greatly.

He also spent the last weeks of his life in Vienna. Shortly after the premiere of "Magic Flute" he died in December 1791 at the age of only 35. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery to this day.

The work

According to current knowledge, Mozart's complete works comprise around 1060 titles. However, some of them are missing. All of Mozart's works were recorded in an index drawn up by the botanist Ludwig Ritter von Köchel in the 19th century and since then new finds have been added to again and again.

Because Mozart himself did not give his works any proper titles, even pieces whose melodies are known to everyone bear designations such as "Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, KV 331". Which is often confusing, if not daunting, for those new to classical music.

His complete works also include 15 stage works, i.e. operas such as "The Abduction from the Seraglio" and "Don Giovanni".

His most famous opera is probably "The Magic Flute":The story of Prince Tamino, who is supposed to free the king's daughter Pamina, with many characters constantly changing from good to evil, still inspires a large audience today.

Mozart did not write the texts for his operas himself; so-called "librettists" were responsible for that. Or he wrote music for existing dramas, which sometimes resulted in Gioacchino Rossini's story being set to music a second time, as in the case of "Figaro".

Even with his individual pieces, Mozart wrote almost no texts of his own, but used works by contemporary poets, including Goethe. Due to countless commissioned compositions, Mozart left behind a versatile work. He saw himself primarily as an opera composer.

One of the most famous operas in the world to this day:the "Magic Flute"

The estate

The fact that relatively much is known about Mozart today is largely based on the surviving correspondence within the Mozart family during their travels. Researchers draw conclusions about his work and life primarily from his father's letters and, of course, from Mozart's own correspondence.

His correspondence is still being reinterpreted to this day. The Mozarteum in Salzburg has made an important contribution to Mozart research since 1841 - originally a civic association that once inherited Mozart from his childless sons.

Over the years, the Mozarteum has collected documents and works by Mozart and opened several museums. Later, a music school was also founded, which is now a renowned music university.

Worldwide interest in Mozart is unbroken. Notes still appear in archives that are attributed to Mozart and are then hotly debated by experts. And every year new books are published all over the world that illuminate Mozart's work from ever new perspectives - in the hope of finding out more about this musical genius.

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