Listener’s History Of Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Born 1756  died 1791. Leopold Mozart, of Salzburg, Violinist, composer of Operas, Oratorios, and Instrumental Music, and author of the then standard `Violin School’, out of seven children had but two who survived their first year—Anna Maria, born 1751, and Wolfgang Amadeus, four and a half years younger. We know not what we have lost through the terrible mortality, and especially infantile mortality, of the centuries before ours. Of Purcell’s six children, but three survived him, and of Bach’s twenty, but nine.

Both of Leopold’s surviving children inherited his musical talent, with something added, and when Wolfgang was eight, father and children set off on a tour of Europe, which, with occasional intervening periods of rest and study at home, lasted several years. They were received with applause at the courts and at concerts at Munich, Vienna, Paris, London, and many other centres of musical culture. Their performances on the Harpsichord were famous ; Wolfgang also played the Violin and the Organ, extemporized and composed, and Anna Maria sang. The advertisement of the first London appearance stated of Wolfgang that ‘ his father had brought him to England not doubting but that he will meet with success in a kingdom where his countryman, Handel, the late famous virtuoso, received during his lifetime such particular protection’. The father falling ill, and no Harpsichord practice being therefore possible in their Chelsea lodging, the nine-year-old Wolfgang put in the time usefully by knocking off a few Symphonies : on the father’s recovery more concerts were given, at the last two of which ‘all the Overtures were of the boy’s own composition’.

The brilliant childhood was not without its severer side. The father, as a sensible and instructed man, gave both children a very careful training. Later tours, in Italy and elsewhere, were made by father and son, or by the son alone, or by the son and his mother. When Mozart was twenty-two his mother died whilst with him at Paris.

So fa1 Mozart’s life had been nearly all glory ; after this it had much vexation and sorrow. He settled at Vienna, as a member of the Archbishop’s household, and he who had in childhood played with Marie Antoinette and received gifts from Emperors now dined at the. servants’ table, and, as `the villain, the low fellow’, received’ hard words from the patron at whose private concerts he was expected to shine. In the end this ` vile wretch’ was discharged by the Arch-bishop, and kicked out of the room by the steward. He was, how-ever, morally supported by many members of the nobility and by the Emperor, and by the composition of several Operas he had achieved a wide public reputation.

The point to obsérve here is that practically no composer yet mentioned in this book lived upon public support; in almost every case it will be found that aristocratic patronage or some ecclesiastical position was a necessity. Public concerts were still a comparatively new thing, and the sale of printed compositions was still insufficient to provide a livelihood. Handel had achieved a high degree of independence not by ignoring the aristocracy but by using them, and, as will shortly be found, Beethoven did the same thing. But there was as yet nothing equivalent to a Queen’s Hall or Carnegie Hall public, and the musician was, thus, socially and financially in fetters.

Mozart’s acquaintance with Haydn dates from about this time. The musical results of the connexion are unusual in their way—Mozart’s compositions (especially instrumental) were necessarily based upon those of Haydn, who had had nearly a quarter of a century’ start’ of him, and had had a great influence in popularizing the principles and improving upon the style of C. P. E. Bach, in the Symphony, the String Quartet, and the Sonata. Coming fresh to the task, aided by a very delicate musical sense, and beginning with a leap from Haydn’s shoulders, Mozart was able to introduce refinements in harmony, structure, and orchestration from which Haydn himself, in turn, profited. This is, then, a game of leap-frog—a lending of one another’s back in turn for a jump in advance. There is a sense in which such games are always going on amongst composers everywhere, but this instance is a little more definite than most. Haydn said to Mozart’s father, ‘ I declare to you before God as a man of honour, that your son is the greatest composer that I know, either personally or by reputation ; he has taste, and beyond that the most consummate knowledge of the art of composition’, and Mozart dedicated six quartets to Haydn, ‘ for from Haydn I first learnt how to compose a quartet’.

Opera composition brought Mozart much applause and has contributed to his lasting fame. His works in this form will be referred to in the next volume. Symphonies, Concertos, Chamber Works, Harpsichord and Piano Music (not, on the whole, so great) have also contributed to an undying reputation. There is a simplicity, a clarity, a grace, and a melodic charm about Mozart’s writing that makes a very strong and wide appeal.

Mozart had celebrated his dismissal by the Archbishop by marriage to an affectionate and musical but undomesticated wife, whom he had great difficulty in supporting.

To the end pecuniary straitness embittered Mozart’s life. To some extent, perhaps, he was himself to blame for this. He was ever too unworldly. From the Emperor he received about £8o per annum as Court Composer; then the King of Prussia offered him a position as Musical Director at a salary of about £600, and Mozart replied ‘ How could I desert my kind Emperor?’

When but thirty-five years of age Mozart died of typhus fever. The severest economy marked his funeral ; the friends who accompanied the coffin turned back before a storm which arose; the burial took place in the common grave allotted to paupers and nobody marked the position. Mozart’s last work was his Requiem.

FURTHER READING. An admirable thirty-pages aiticle in Grove’s Dictionary, by C. F. Pohl and Sir Henry Hadow; Hadow, The Viennese Period (= vol. v of the Oxford History of Music); Colles’s The Age of the Sonata (= vol. ii of The Growth of Music); extensive passages in Parry’s Evolution of the Art of Music; a chapter in Parry’s Great Composers; Hadow’s Sonata Form (Novello,4s.) ; Parry’s lengthy and valuable articles, `Sonata’ and `Symphony’, in Grove’s Dictionary; jahn’s Life of Mozart (Novello, 3 vols., 26s. 6d. net) ; Holmes’s Life of Mozart (Everyman’s Library, No. 564) ; Breakspeare’s Mozart (Dent, 4s. 6d.) ; Prout’s Mozart (Bell, 2s. 6d.) ; Dent’s valuable Mozart’s Operas, a Critical Study (Chatto & Windus, 12s. 6d.).

PRINTED MUSIC. There is no difficulty in finding editions of the Piano Works, the works for Piano and Violin, the Orchestral Works arranged for Piano (2 hands or 4 hands), &c. Cheap Miniature Scores may be obtained of Chamber Works, Symphonies, Overtures, &c.

PIANOLA ROLLS. Piano Sonatas, numbered (in Peters’ edition) 3, 4, 6, 8, It, 12, 13, 15, 18 (Æolian, most of them both 65 and 88 note) ; the best three Symphonies, C, G minor, E flat (65 and 88 note); the Overtures to Don Giovanni, Figaro, and The Magic Flute (65 and 88). Some of the Concertos, extensive extracts from some of the Operas and from the Requiem, and some other things, are also obtainable.

GRAMOPHONE RECORDS. PLAYED BY THE LONDON STRING QUARTET. Quartet No. 14 (2 records, C.) ; No. 15 (2 records, C.); Quartet in D minor, Allegro and Andante only (C.); with A. Hobday, Quintet in G minor (3 records, C.) ; Quartet in D, No. 21, Peters (V., 2 records). PLAYED BY THE FLONZALEY QUARTET. Quartet in D, Andante only (H. M. V.) ; Quartet in D, Minuet only (H. M. V.) ; Quartet in D minor, Allegretto only (H.M.V.). PLAYED BY THE ELMAN QUARTET. Quartet in D minor, Minuet only (H. M. V.); Quartet in E flat, Minuet only. PLAYED BY THE CATTERALL QUARTET. Quartet in G, Allegro only (H. M. V.) ; Quartet in D minor, Minuet only. PLAYED BY SAMMONS, TERTIS, AND ST. LEGER. Trio in E flat, for Violin, Viola, and Piano, Minuet and Rondo only (V.); Overture to Magic Flute (Beecham Orchestra, C.) ; Overture to Figaro (Beecham Orchestra, with Smetana’s Bartered Bride Overture on back, C.) ; MOTET, Ave Verum (Westminster Cathedral Choir ; Elgar’s O Salutaris on back, H.M.V.). Many of the OPERA SONGS will be found in the Gramophone Co.’s, Columbia Graphophone Co.’s, and Æolian Vocalian Co.’s catalogues, as will various trifles for Violin, &c.