Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In December, 1769, Wolfgang, then age 13, and his father departed from Salzburg for Italy, leaving his mother and sister at home. It seems that by this time Nannerl’s professional music career was over. She was nearing marriageable age and according to the custom of the time, she was no longer permitted to show her artistic talent in public. The Italian outing was longer than the others (1769-1771) as Leopold wanted to display his son’s abilities as a performer and composer to as many new audiences as possible. While in Rome, Wolfgang heard Gregorio Allegri’s Miserereperformed once in the Sistine Chapel. He wrote out the entire score from memory, returning only to correct a few minor errors. During this time Wolfgang also wrote a new opera, Mitridate, re di Ponto for the court of Milan. Other commissions followed and in subsequent trips to Italy, Wolfgang wrote two other operas, Ascanio in Alba (1771) and Lucio Silla(1772).

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father returned from their last stay in Italy in March, 1773. His father’s benefactor, Archbishop von Schrattenbach had died and was succeeded by Hieronymus von Colleredo. Upon their return, the new archbishop appointed young Mozart as assistant concertmaster with a small salary. During this time, young Mozart had the opportunity to work in several different musical genres composing symphonies, string quartets, sonatas and serenades and a few operas. He developed a passion for violin concertos producing what came to be the only five he wrote. In 1776, he turned his efforts toward piano concertos, culminating in the Piano Concerto Number 9 in E flat major in early 1777. Wolfgang had just turned 21.

Despite his success with the compositions, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was growing discontent with his position as assistant concert master and the confining environment of Salzburg. He was ambitious and believed he could do more somewhere else. Archbishop von Colloredo was becoming inpatient with the young genius’s complaining and immature attitude. In August 1777, Mozart set out on a trip to find more prosperous employment. The archbishop wouldn’t give Leopold permission to travel, so Anna Maria accompanied Wolfgang on his quest to the cities of Mannheim, Paris and Munich. There were several employment positions that initially proved promising, but all eventually fell through. He began to run out of funds and had to pawn several valuable personal items to pay traveling and living expenses. The lowest point of the trip was when his mother fell ill and died on July 3, 1778. After hearing the news of his wife’s death, Leopold negotiated a better post for his son as court organist in Salzburg and Wolfgang returned soon after.

Making it in Vienna

Back in Salzburg in 1779, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart produced a series of church works, including the Coronation Mass. He also composed another opera for Munich, Ideomeneo in 1781. In March of that year, Mozart was summoned to Vienna by Archbishop von Colloredo, who was attending the accession of Joseph II to the Austrian throne. The Archbishop’s cool reception toward Mozart offended him. He was treated as a mere servant, quartered with the help, and forbidden from performing before the Emperor for a fee equal to half his yearly salary in Salzburg. A quarrel ensued and Mozart offered to resign his post. The Archbishop refused at first, but then relented with an abrupt dismissal and physical removal from the Archbishop’s presence. Mozart decided to settle in Vienna as a freelance performer and composer and for a time lived with friends at the home of Fridolin Weber.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart quickly found work in Vienna, taking on pupils, writing music for publication, and playing in several concerts. He also began writing an opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). In the summer of 1781, it was rumored that Mozart was contemplating marriage to Fridolin Weber’s daughter, Constanze. Knowing his father would disapprove of the marriage and the interruption in his career, young Mozart quickly wrote his father denying any idea of marriage. But by December, he was asking for his father’s blessings. While it’s known that Leopold disapproved, what is not known is the discussion between father and son as Leopold’s letters were said to be destroyed by Constanze. However, later correspondence from Wolfgang indicated that he and his father disagreed considerably on this matter. He was in love with Constanze and the marriage was being strongly encouraged by her mother, so in some sense, he felt committed. The couple was finally married on August 4, 1782. In the meantime, Leopold did finally consent to the marriage. Constanze and Wolfgang had six children, though only two survived infancy, Karl Thomas and Franz Xaver.

As 1782 turned to 1783, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart became enthralled with the work of Johannes Sebastian Bach and George Frederic Handel and this, in turn, resulted in several compositions in the Baroque style and influenced much of his later compositions, such as passages in Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) and the finale of Symphony Number 41. During this time, Mozart met Joseph Haydn and the two composers became admiring friends. When Haydn visited Vienna, they sometimes performed impromptu concerts with string quartets. Between 1782 and 1785 Mozart wrote six quartets dedicated to Haydn.

European Fame

The opera Die Entführung enjoyed immediate and continuing success and bolstered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s name and talent throughout Europe. With the substantial returns from concerts and publishing, he and Constanze enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. They lived in one of the more exclusive apartment buildings of Vienna, sent their son, Karl Thomas, to an expensive boarding school, kept servants, and maintained a busy social life. In 1783, Mozart and Constanze traveled Salzburg, to visit his father and sister. The visit was somewhat cool, as Leopold was still a reluctant father-in-law and Nannerl was a dutiful daughter. But the stay promoted Mozart to begin writing a mass in C Minor, of which only the first two sections, "Kyrie" and "Gloria," were completed. In 1784, Mozart became a Freemason, a fraternal order focused on charitable work, moral uprightness, and the development of fraternal friendship. Mozart was well regarded in the Freemason community, attending meetings and being involved in various functions. Freemasonry also became a strong influence in Mozart’s music.

From 1782 to 1785, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart divided his time between self-produced concerts as soloist, presenting three to four new piano concertos in each season. Theater space for rent in Vienna was sometimes hard to come by, so Mozart booked himself in unconventional venues such as large rooms in apartment buildings and ballrooms of expensive restaurants. The year 1784, proved the most prolific in Mozart’s performance life. During one five-week period, he appeared in 22 concerts, including five he produced and performed as the soloist. In a typical concert, he would play a selection of existing and improvisational pieces and his various piano concertos. Other times he would conduct performances of his symphonies. The concerts were very well attended as Mozart enjoyed a unique connection with his audiences who were, in the words of Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon, “given the opportunity of witnessing the transformation and perfection of a major musical genre.” During this time, Mozart also began to keep a catalog of his own music, perhaps indicating an awareness of his place in musical history.

By the mid-1780s, Wolfgang and Constanze Mozart’s extravagant lifestyle was beginning to take its toll. Despite his success as a pianist and composer, Mozart was falling into serious financial difficulties. Mozart associated himself with aristocratic Europeans and felt he should live like one. He figured that the best way to attain a more stable and lucrative income would be through court appointment. However, this wouldn’t be easy with the court’s musical preference bent toward Italian composers and the influence of Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri. Mozart’s relationship with Salieri has been the subject of speculation and legend. Letters written between Mozart and his father, Leopold, indicate that the two felt a rivalry for and mistrust of the Italian musicians in general and Salieri in particular. Decades after Mozart’s death, rumors spread that Salieri had poisoned him. This rumor was made famous in 20th century playwright Peter Shaffer’sAmadeus and in the 1984 film of the same name by director Milos Foreman. But in truth there is no basis for this speculation. Though both composers were often in contention for the same job and public attention, there is little evidence that their relationship was anything beyond a typical professional rivalry. Both admired each other’s work and at one point even collaborated on a cantata for voice and piano called Per la recuperate salute di Ophelia.

Toward the end of 1785, Mozart met the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, a Venetian composer and poet and together they collaborated on the operaThe Marriage of Figaro. It received a successful premier in Vienna in 1786 and was even more warmly received in Prague later that year. This triumph led to a second collaboration with Da Ponte on the opera Don Giovanniwhich premiered in 1787 to high acclaim in Prague. Noted for their musical complexity, the two operas are among Mozart’s most important works and are mainstays in operatic repertoire today. Both compositions feature the wicked nobleman, though Figaro is presented more in comedy and portrays strong social tension. Perhaps the central achievement of both operas lies in their ensembles with their close link between music and dramatic meaning.

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