Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Born: 27 January 1756 (Salzburg, Austria)
Died: 5 December 1791 (Vienna, Austria)
Mozart was a child prodigy, and is one of the greatest musicians in history. Because he was born into a family of musicians, Mozart and his sister Nannerl showed incredible talent early on. Their father, who was a violinist and composer for the archbishop of Salzburg, took young Amadeus and Nannerl on tours throughout Europe to display their talent in concerts. The frequent performances were exhausting, but they allowed Mozart’s talent to develop at a rapid pace.
By age 3, Mozart developed perfect pitch, which means that he could sing any note you asked him to without having to use a piano for help (some musicians spend a lifetime trying to develop perfect pitch!). Due to Wolfgang’s talent his father signed him up for Harpsichord lessons. Mozart began composing music at age 6, and could improvise (make up music on the fly) on any tune by age 7. He later combined these skills by improvising many of the cadenzas in his piano concertos when he performed them. Mozart also wrote 34 symphonies, 16 quartets, 5 operas, and 100 other pieces by the time he was 18. He was truly a musical genius!
Through his family’s travels, Mozart learned about many different styles of music, and met important composers, such as J.C. Bach (one of J.S. Bach’s sons) and Joseph Haydn, who he became good friends with. Haydn even called Mozart the greatest composer he had known! Mozart became concertmaster for an archbishop in Salzburg when he was 16, but did not get paid, and was more interested in writing operas and instrumental music anyway, so he eventually moved back to Vienna, where he took on piano and composition students.
Mozart and his sister travelled and played for audiences in Germany, Paris, Versailles, and London. London was where Mozart created his first symphony and also is where he became friends with Johann Christian Bach, which had a huge impact on the influence of music on Mozart. Bach helped Mozart in many ways, he took him in and taught him songs and Mozart was able to replay the songs or tunes right after he heard them without having to look at the music and then continues the song and makes it his own.
Mozart’s Composition Style
Mozart’s style unlike anyone else, he was a master of counterpoint and fugue. He is also considered as the best melody writer the world has ever known. Wolfgang perfected the grand forms of symphony, opera, string quartet, and concertos. His music is characterised by lucid ease and distinction of style. He wrote over 600 works which consisted of 21 stage and opera works, 15 masses, over 50 symphonies, 27 piano concertos, 12 violin concertos, 27 concert arias, 17 piano sonatas, 26 string quartets and many more. In his requiem it illustrates the supreme vocal sound in any of his work.
No matter how hard something was Mozart was able to overcome, he was able to think up rhythms and chords that none have ever thought of, he was able to make such grand music that people would think of him as a god. As I have already mentioned Bach was his friend in fact he was probably the only true friend Amadeus ever had. Of course he had admirers and people he would attend parties with but none of them were his true friends.
On August 4, 1782, Mozart and Constanze married at St. Stefan Church (“The Marriage of Figaro” was performed and successful too). Mozart and Constanze were invited to Prague.
On April 1, 1787, a young boy came and wanted to be a student of Mozart. That young boy was Ludwig Van Beethoven! In the same year Mozart’s father died. In October 1787, Mozart performed “Don Giovanni” and was successful again. And in the same year Mozart and his wife came back to Vienna.
In June 1791, a stranger came and requested a requiem. Actually that man was a messenger of Franz Von Walsegg, who wanted the requiem for his wife. In the same year, “Magic Flute” was performed and was successful. On December 4, 1791, Mozart wanted to hear the requiem that he made. After his student played it, Mozart said to his wife, “Have I told you that the requiem is for myself?” He seemed to know that his days were already numbered and that he would die soon.
He earned a great deal of money and a big reputation through writing, teaching, and performing with his students, but died suddenly in 1791, at age 35, probably because he didn’t manage his money well, and could not pay for medical treatment when he fell ill.
Even though Mozart sadly died at a young age, the amount of incredible music he produced in his lifetime established him as one of the most important and talented composers in the classical period, and in the history of music.
Characteristics of Classical Period
Rhythm: Flexibility of Rhythm (including unexpected pauses, syncopations and frequent changes from long notes to shorter notes). A Baroque piece would create a sense of continuity and perpetual motion (already after the first bars).
Texture: Basically homophonic, but flexible. (Baroque texture is mostly polyphonic). Yet polyphonic passages are possible (e.g. at the end of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony or in the Minuet of his woodwind octet KV. 388 in C Minor) with imitation of even two melodies or melodic fragments among different instruments.
Dynamics and the Piano: Not any longer restricted to terrace style dynamic like during the Baroque period. During the Classical era composers also use gradual dynamic changes (crescendo and decrescendo). This stylistic change influenced the making of musical instruments. (Video of Rob Brown, Oberndorf)
The “Piano” (called the “Fortepiano” and invented around 1700) starts to replace the harpsichord around 1775. The old type had a wooden frame and iron strings. It was lighter in weight compared to modern instruments.
Melody: Among the most tuneful and easiest to remember. Often with popular or folk flavour. Sometimes composers borrowed melodies (e.g. Mozart: “Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann”, “Twinkle, twinkle little star” from the French song “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman”). They are often balanced an symmetrical.
End of the Basso Continuo: The Basso Continuo is gradually abandoned during the Classical Period. Harpsichordists didn’t have to improvise an accompaniment.
Classical composers wanted to have more control over their compositions. They wrote the accompaniment out. Besides that their music was partly for amateurs who couldn’t improvise over a figured bass.
Einstein, Alfred. Mozart: His Character, His Work. Oxford University, 1945.
Sadie, Stanley, editor. The New Grove Mozart. Norton, 1983.
Mozart. New Standard Encyclopedia. Page 593-594. Volume 11.