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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the three or four most significant classical composers.


Mozart was born in the city of Salzburg, part of the independent clerical state Erzfürstbistum Salzburg, Holy Roman Empire (in that time not part of Austria) and christened Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, after his grandfather on his mother's side and after the Saint on his date of birth, Johannes Chrysostomus. Later, his father shortened 'Wolfgangus' to 'Wolfgang'; translated 'Theophilus' to 'Amadeus' (love of God); and dropped off 'Johannes Chrysostomus.'

A child prodigy from a musical family, he began composing at the age of five and was showcased as a wonder-boy in the courts of Europe. His father Leopold Mozart was also a composer, and some of the piano pieces of W.A. Mozart, especially the duets and pieces for two pianos, he wrote to play together with his sister Nannerl. Mozart lived much of his life in Salzburg but traveled Europe extensively. Leopold was a harsh father, and he took advantage of his children's musical talents by exhibiting them. Mozart took ill during his childhood, and Leopold expressed more concern over the loss of income than over Mozart himself. The cold weather and constant travel may have contributed to Mozart's later illness.

As a man, he became a Freemason, and worked fervently and successfully to convert his father before his death. The Magic Flute is widely believed to contain Masonic themes or meanings. He was in the same masonic lodge as Joseph Haydn.

Despite his brilliance, Mozart had a difficult life. Often he received no payment for his work, and the substantial sums he received on other occasions were soon consumed by his extravagant lifestyle. Gradually, his health declined, until he finally died of an illness before he could complete his last work, a requiem. In popular legend, Mozart died penniless and forgotten, to be buried in a pauper's grave. In fact, although he was no longer as fashionable in Vienna as he had once been, he continued to receive rich commissions from more distant parts of Europe, Prague in particular. Many of his begging letters survive, but they are evidence not of poverty but of his ability to always spend more than he earned.

Mozart spent his final years in Vienna, where one of the apartments he lived in is still to be visited at Domgasse 5 behind St. Stephen's Cathedral. In this house Mozart composed Le nozze di Figaro in 1786.

Mozart lived just a little over half of Beethoven's life span, yet was amazingly prolific from early childhood until his death in 1791.

Musical Style and Innovations

He left a rich body of chamber and orchestral music, and a series of operas that are generally regarded as some of the finest ever written, especially The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute. Although he made smaller contributions to the development of new musical forms than Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn, the perfection of his execution is such that he is usually ranked alongside them as one of the greatest composers of all time.


Mozart's distinction as a genius and prodigy has sometimes operated as a cause of confusion and distraction in the estimation of his music, since Mozart's greatness as a composer derives from what many regard as the beauty, profundity, expressive and emotional subtlety, unique imagination, and grandeur of his music. None of these characteristics seem obviously connected with or dependent on the fact that he composed at an early age, had a prodigious musical memory, was a performing virtuoso as a child, could compose entire compositions in his head, could write an entire work on the day of its first performance, could write out the entirety of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere after hearing it one time, and so on.

Major composers since Mozart's time have worshipped or been in awe of him. Beethoven told his pupil Ries that he (Beethoven) would never be able to think of a melody as great as that of the first movement of Mozart's 24th piano concerto, and did Mozart homage by writing variations on his themes (such as the two sets of Variations for Cello and Piano on themes from Mozart's Magic Flute) and cadenzas to several of the piano concerti, most notably the Concerto No. 20 (K. 466). (After their only meeting, Mozart noted that Beethoven would give the world something to talk about.) Tchaikovsky wrote his Mozartiana in praise of him; and Mahler died with Mozart the last word on his lips. The music critic James Swejda, asked for his religion, replied Mozart. Yet the focus on Mozart's genius rather than on the greatness of his music is aided and abetted by his music itself, which is perhaps the most mysterious of all classical music. For it lends itself even less than that of the other major classical composers to being described in words or having its essence reduced to particular aesthetic or technical concepts or principles, in the way that Bach is described as the master of counterpoint and Beethoven as the master of symphonic form and development.

In the decades following Mozart's death there were several attempts to inventory his compositions, but it was only in 1862 that Ludwig von Köchel, a Viennese botanist, mineralogist, and educator, succeeded in this enterprise. Köchel's stout book of 551 pages was entitled "Chronological-Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Musical Works of WOLFGANG AMADE MOZART. Köchel is the source of the ubiquitous K" (or KV) prefix on the numbers given to Mozart's works instead of the more usual Opus.

The rivalry between Mozart and Antonio Salieri is the subject of Aleksandr Pushkin's play Mozart and Salieri, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Mozart et Salieri and Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus, later made into a film. In fact, Salieri admired Mozart. Most of the dramas based on Mozart's life are largely fictionalized.

In the late 20th Century, Mozart's music found an unusual application in the emerging field of accelerated learning, also known as SALT (Suggestive-accelerative learning and teaching) techniques or Superlearning. Researchers in this work, led by Bulgarian psychologist Georgi Lozanov, discovered that listening to such music promoted enhanced learning.

Popular Works

  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Serenade for String Quartet & Bass K.525)
  • Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A major (K.622)
  • Piano Sonata in A Major (K.331), the last movement of which is the famous Rondo alla Turca
  • Piano Sonata in C Major (K.545)
  • Piano Concerto No. 21 (K. 467), which featured in the film Elvira Madigan
  • Symphony No. 40 (K.550)
  • Symphony No. 41, the Jupiter symphony (K. 551)
  • The opera Don Giovanni (K.527)
  • The opera Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (K.492)
  • The opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) (K.620)
  • The opera Cosi fan tutte (K.588)
  • The Requiem (K. 626)

Note: This profile was written in or before 2004.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Facts

Birth NameJohannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart
BirthdayJanuary 27, 1756
BirthplaceSalzburg, Austria
Date of deathDecember 5, 1791 (age 35)

Selected Filmography

Not available.