Mozart was born in the city of Salzburg, the capital of the independent archbishopric of Salzburg, which today is part of Austria. His parents were Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart. Mozart’s musical abilities soon became apparent, to the delight of his father who was also a composer and one of Europe’s leading musical pedagogues. When Mozart’s sister Nannerl was seven, she began to take harpsichord lessons from her father and although Mozart was only three years old, he soon began to play as well, often spending hours practicing. Throughout his childhood, he received intense musical training from his father, including instruction in clavier, violin and organ.
Recognizing his children’s special musical talent, Leopold began to concentrate solely on their education and instruction. He was known to be an exacting taskmaster, who pushed his children towards perfection. Leopold decided to take his two children on a tour of Europe to display their abilities and in January 1762, the family left for Munich. Next, the group left for Vienna, where Leopold reported in a letter “We are being talked of everywhere…everyone is amazed, especially at the boy, and everyone whom I have heard says that his genius is incomprehensible.”
Invitations from all over Europe poured in. Leopold tried to arrange as many concerts as possible. Leopold felt that it was God’s will that he exhibit his children. While the public and private concerts and recitals were greatly successful, the work was grueling. In October of 1762, Mozart came down with what was is now believed to be a rheumatic nodular eruption now associated with tuberculosis. Although he was treated, this episode was most likely a sign of future health problems.
The family continued to tour Europe, departing on June 9, 1763 for a three-year journey. Mozart spent the long hours on the road composing. While he could not record his work, since the jolting of the carriage made writing impossible, he would work out the music, carry it in his head, and wait until he had a chance to record it on paper. A typical tour included the following stops: Munich, Augsburg, Ulm, Ludwigsburg, Bruchsal, Schwetzingen, Heidelberg, Mannheim, Worms, Mainz, Frankfurt on Main, Coblenz, Bonn, Bruhl, Cologne, Aix-la-Chapelle, Liège, Tillemonde, Louvain, Brussels, Mons, and Paris.
On December 24, the family reached Versailles, where they would stay for two weeks, and were able to experience life in the most famous of European courts. Leopold wrote in his journal, “My Wolfgang was graciously privileged to stand beside the Queen, talking to her constantly, entertaining her and kissing her hands repeatedly, besides partaking of the dishes which she handed to him from the table.” That same month, two sonatas, dedicated to Madame la Comtesse de Tessé, were Mozart’s first published works.
Three trips to Italy followed, from December 1769 to March 1773. A popular anecdote relates that Mozart heard Gergorio Allegri’s Misere performed once in the Sistine Chapel and was so inspired that he returned home and wrote it out in its entirety from memory, thus producing the first illegal copy of this closely-guarded property of the Vatican!
During his trips, Mozart met a great number of important musicians and learned much about other composers. Johann Christian Bach, son of Johann Sebastian Bach, became a friend of Mozart. Even non-musicans caught Mozart’s attention. He was so inspired by the sound of Benjamin Franklin’s glass harmonica that he composed several pieces of music for the new instrument.
On August 4, 1782, Mozart married Constanze Weber. The two had six children, but only two sons survived infancy, neither of whom married or had children of their own. In the same year, his opera The Abduction from Seraglio opened and was a great success. He soon began a series of concerts at which he performed his own concertos and also served as conductor. Also during his early years in Vienna, Mozart met Joseph Haydn and the two became friends. Mozart would dedicate six quartets to Haydn throughout his career.
Mozart’s adult life was fraught with financial trouble and health problems. In 1786 he moved into an apartment in Vienna and composed The Marriage of Figaro; this was followed in 1787 by Don Giovanni. Although not always celebrated in Vienna, Mozart found a receptive audience in Prague, where Don Giovanni premiered. In the years that followed, Mozart produced more compositions, including The Magic Flute.
Mozart remained ill and scholars disagree about the cause of his death at 1:00 am on December 5, 1791. Possiblities include trichinosis, mercury poisoning and rheumatic fever. Scholars also blame the practice of bleeding for causing Mozart to become substantially weakened as his health worsened. When Mozart died, he was working to finish his renowned Requiem. Constanze hired Franz Xavier Sussmayr, Mozart’s only pupil, to finish the work, which premiered the following year.
The Mozart Project, http://www.mozartproject.org
Solomon, Maynard. Mozart: A Life