History Of Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

While Haydn’s genius was shining steadily as a fixed star, Mozart flashed across the musical heaven, meteor like, throwing a flood of light over the music world. The knowledge which others spent years in acquiring seemed his by birthright; and thus, although the years of his life were few, the period of his artistic activity was proportionately long.

Mozart’s Early Musical Training.—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born at Salzburg, January 27, 1756. His father, himself of some reputation as a composer and as the author of the first German violin method, was quick to perceive the child’s sensitiveness toward music; and began instruction in clavier playing when Wolfgang was but four years old, teaching also his daughter, Maria Anna, five years older. Wolfgang was an exceedingly delicate and receptive child ; and at the age of six he had not only acquired remarkable proficiency on the instrument, but had composed a number of little pieces, and a clavier sonata.

First Concert Tours.—Realizing the remarkable talent of his children, Mozart, the father, in 1762, ventured on a concert trip with them to Munich, and later to Vienna, where their playing became the sensation of the hour, and where they were received by the Emperor, Franz Josef I, at his palace. Having been presented with a small violin, Mozart acquired facility in its technic with extraordinary quickness, as also was the case when he attempted the use of organ pedals. The brilliant French court was then the Mecca of artists ; and in 1763, the children were taken to Paris, where their successes were redoubled, and where they gave two brilliant concerts, after having played before the royal family at Versailles. At Paris, moreover, the opus 1 and opus 2 of the little Mozart were published, each comprising two sonatas for harpsichord, with accompaniment of violin or flute.

England. — Proceeding now to England, the children won fresh laurels, remaining there fifteen months; during which time Wolfgang excited the admiration of the king, George III, by his sight-reading of works by Handel, Bach and others. He also wrote other sonatas, and his first symphonies. Returning to Salzburg, after a three years’ absence, Mozart applied himself to serious study, composing his first oratorio and opera, which latter was not performed in public, and also appearing as conductor at a concert in which his “Solemn Mass” was performed.

Honors in Italy. — Renewed triumphs awaited him in Italy, where his father took him in 1769, and where his genius was immediately recognized in the leading cities. At Rome he was honored by the Order of the Golden Spur, conferred by the Pope; and in Bologna was admitted to membership in the exclusive Philharmonic Academy, passing with ease an examination which would have appalled many mature musicians ; in Milan his opera “Mitridate” was received enthusiastically, and given twenty consecutive performances, under his own direction.

Journey to Paris.—Returning to Salzburg, Mozart took up the post previously given him of music director to the Archbishop ; but his emolument, at first wholly wanting, was insignificant, and the Archbishop, having little appreciation of his abilities, proved a thankless taskmaster. During this time he made several journeys to Milan, producing new dramatic works there ; and in 1777, as his Salzburg position had become intolerable, he resolved to give it up, and to repair to Paris. Starting on this journey with his mother, he stopped at Munich, and then at Augsburg, where he became interested in the Stein pianofortes, henceforth adopting them for his concert work. At Mannheim he heard the famous orchestra, of which Stamitz was the founder, whose command of instrumental brilliancy and color made so powerful an impression upon him that he transmitted it to his succeeding orchestral compositions.

“Idomeneo” and “II Seraglio.”-At Paris, he found society divided into two warring operatic factions, led by Gluck and Piccini, and averse to anything else in music. Saddened also by the death of his mother, he returned to Salzburg, and resumed his former post with the Arch-bishop. Receiving an order to write an opera for the Carnival at Munich, he produced his “Idomeneo” there in 1781. Shortly after, he was compelled, through ill-treatment, to break finally with the Archbishop, and he resolved to settle in Vienna. In the same year, 1782, in which he produced there his opera, “Entfuhrung aus dem Serail,” composed by command of the Emperor, he married Constance Weber.

Financial Troubles.—His life from this time was a constant struggle against poverty; for notwithstanding his wonderful genius, he received only scant recognition from his patron, the Emperor, although loyal to him to the end. His existence was eked out chiefly by the sale of his compositions, which publishers purchased at a low price, by giving lessons and by playing at concerts ; while the jealousy of rivals furnished a constant source of annoyance.

“Figaro,” “Don Giovanni” and Symphonies.-His comic opera, “The Marriage of Figaro,” produced in Vienna in 1786, came near failing through these enemies, but was an unqualified success in Prague, where, in the following year, his masterpiece, “Don Giovanni,” was produced. On a concert tour in 1786 he was offered an excellent post in the service of King Frederic Wilhelm II, of Prussia, which he refused, through loyalty to his Emperor—a devotion which received no reward save an order to write another opera. In the same year, 1789, his three most important symphonies were completed—the “Jupiter,” in C, and those in G minor and E-flat major.

Other Operas—Death.—His succeeding operas were “Cosi fan Tutte,” performed at Vienna in 1790; “The Clemency of Titus,” given at Prague in 1791, for the coronation festivities ,of King Leopold II of Bohemia, and “The Magic Flute,” produced at Vienna in 1791, which, through its German subject and style, was a signal success, especially in his own country. Discouragements and hard work now told upon him ; and in the midst of his labors upon a grand Requiem, he was stricken down, and died December 5, 1791.

Relations with Haydn.—No one admired Mozart’s genius more than Haydn; and a proof of the latter’s freedom from the petty jealousies of lesser men is found in the fact ,that, while he was at first Mozart’s teacher, he was after-ward glad to adopt many of the innovations which were the result of Mozart’s genius. The labors of the two men admirably supplemented each other; for Mozart assimilated and blended what Haydn had definitely stated, adorning the rugged outlines with the graceful draperies which his skill as a performer and his artistic nature dictated.

Italian Influences.—Thus, while Mozart adopted the form of the Sonata practically as enunciated by Haydn, he was able to impart new elements to it, drawn from his own experience and individuality. His Italian journeys, for in-stance, had brought him into close touch with the highly-adorned Italian opera style, then everywhere popular; and this he introduced into his instrumental themes, making them at once singing and graceful in tone. In the Sonata Form, he made the second theme more definite, contrasting it with the first, and frequently casting it in the form of an Italian style of melody, in distinction from a more terse and thematic principal subject.

Mozart as Piano Virtuoso.—As a virtuoso, Mozart immensely developed the resources of the piano. After the Bachs, J. S. and his son C. P. E., had established a rational scale fingering, and it was found possible to introduce pas-sages at once quickly running and smooth upon the clavier, such scale passages became very frequent in the compositions of the time, and they were, moreover, well adapted to the light Viennese action found in the Stein pianos, which Mozart used. Hence we find scale-runs as the cornerstone of his virtuosity, constantly employed in florid and transitional passages.

Classic Finish.—But Mozart’s compositions were not simply an advance in brilliancy, since his slow movements and themes are full of much genuine sentiment, and give opportunity for that expressive song-style which he emphasized so strongly. Moreover, his feeling for artistic finish caused him, by rounding off every detail, to avoid abruptness, replacing them by little delicate turns of musical expression and graceful embellishments, which give an atmosphere of classic repose and finish to the whole.

Variations.—Embellishments of this kind are introduced invariably with such naturalness and fitness as to make them seem perfectly adapted to the subject in hand, and growing unconsciously out of it. So Mozart throws a network of embroidery about his themes at their recurrence which shows their beauties to ever greater advantage. The ability to do this makes him a specially felicitous composer in the Variation form, in which some of his most attractive movements and salon pieces are written.

Piano with Other Instruments.—His sense of fitness is shown also in the vivid contrasts which occur, especially in his Fantasias, in which brilliant passages are relieved by bits of exquisite melody, in artistic proportion. All these qualities are manifested in his pianoforte concertos, which, while replete with flights of virtuosity, yet always sub-ordinate, cause him to bring this into equal prominence with the piano, so that the one ably seconds the other in the attempt to produce a well-rounded and thoroughly genuine musical effect. The same qualities are exhibited in his sonatas for violin and piano, and in his piano trios.

Especial Characteristics.—Mozart considered three elements necessary for the true interpretation of piano music; namely, an expressive legato touch, moderation in the rate of speed of performance, and strictness in adhering to the time adopted. With an unfeeling touch or a breakneck velocity he had no patience, and so had no sympathy with many noted pianists of his day, and notably Clementi. It has been said that Mozart, almost from his infancy, thought in music as others do in words ; and this thought in music was regulated by a sense of artistic combination and pro-portion which permeated all his works. As samples of virtuosity his piano works have long been surpassed by the astonishing developments since his time, and particularly by the added resources of the instrument itself ; but as samples of pure and unaffected music their worth can never be diminished.


Shedlock.—The Pianoforte Sonata.

Parry.—Evolution of the Art of Music, Chapter XI.

Naumann.—History of Music, Vol. II, Chapter XXX.

Weitzmann.—History of Pianoforte Playing.

Jahn.—Life of Mozart.

Articles in Grove’s Dictionary on subjects treated.