Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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About this artist

Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been celebrated as the quintessential Western musical genius, the embodiment of divine creativity whose life story took on the air of romantic tragedy almost immediately upon his death in 1791. Mozart's numerous works span many genres, but he is best known for his operas. Among the seven children born to the Mozart family, only Wolfgang and his older sister Maria Anna (called Nannerl) survived. Their father, Leopold, a deputy Kapellmeister and violinist, encouraged both children to play and compose, and encouraged Wolfgang's unnatural talent, which saw him composing short pieces by age five and unremarkable but complete symphonies at age nine. Leopold's entrepreneurial exploits of the Mozart children gained them fame -- but at a price. Their many tours to European cities introduced the young Mozart to new composers and patrons, but caused him the reputation as the eternal child who went around Europe performing like a beggar. Three trips to Italy, from 1770 to 1773, were meant to familiarize Mozart with the country's composition style, and resulted in the operas Mitridate and Lucio Silla. Mozart stayed in Salzburg, Austria, from 1774 to 1777, working productively but unhappily as a Konzertmeister for Archbishop Colloredo. When Mozart asked for a dismissal from service, Colloredo responded by firing both father and son. While Leopold eventually returned to service, Mozart traveled to various cities in search of a job. In Augsburg, Germany, Mozart met his cousin Maria Anna Thekla, with whom he began a notoriously salacious correspondence. Shortly after, he met Aloysia Weber in Mannheim, Germany. Unlike previous trips, Mozart journeyed to Paris only with his mother, and there with him she died. This caused Leopold to further turn against his increasingly independently-minded son. Still, Mozart returned home and again secured a position with Colloredo. In 1780, he traveled to Munich to compose his first great opera, Idomeneo, and was again flushed with success. When Colloredo called Mozart from Munich to Vienna, to celebrate the coronation of Joseph II, Mozart found himself placed among butlers and cooks, and asked to again be let from service. Mozart was fired, with, literally, a kick in the behind. In Vienna, he taught pupils, performed and composed for patrons, and staged concerts. It was not until 1787 that he secured a permanent salary writing music for balls. In 1782, Mozart married Constanze, the younger sister of Aloysia. The couple would have six children together, although only two survived through childhood. It was also at this time that Mozart wrote most fruitfully, beginning with the successful 1782 singspiel (a form in which all dialog is spoken instead of sung) The Abduction from the Seraglio. Between 1782 and 1786, he wrote 15 piano concerti, exhibiting his full range of orchestral writing and a passion for the piano-forte, an instrument still being perfected in the late 18th century. Mozart's work in comic opera began with the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote the controversial The Marriage of Figaro (1786), which was based on a banned play, in addition to Don Giovanni (1787) and Cosi Fan Tutte (1790). In the final year of his life, Mozart premiered The Magic Flute and La Clemenza di Tito and was in the process of working on his Requiem, which was composed in secret for Count Walsegg-Stuppach to honor the count's recently deceased wife. Some historians suggest that the count had intended to claim authorship of the work, while myth suggests that the "anonymous" commission was a harbinger of death. After taking to bed in November 1791, Mozart died on December 5 of that year. His body was buried in a mass grave as part of the spirit of the times, not, as is popularly suggested, because of his financial or social status.