Portrait: Musician and composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wednesday, 27 May 2020 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Portrait
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, baptised as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical period. Born in Salzburg, Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. At 17, Mozart was engaged as a musician at the Salzburg court but grew restless and travelled in search of a better position. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of his early death at the age of 35. The circumstances of his death have been much mythologized.

He composed more than 600 works, many of which are acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. He is among the greatest and most enduringly popular of classical composers, and his influence is profound on subsequent Western art music. Ludwig van Beethoven composed his early works in the shadow of Mozart, and Joseph Haydn wrote: “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years”.

Mozartkugel shop in Getreidegasse © flickr.com - Ray Swi-hymn/cc-by-sa-2.0 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Barbara Krafft Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Johann Nepomuk della Croce Mozart monument at Vienna Central Cemetery © Dr Bernd Gross/cc-by-sa-3.0-de Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg © Elisa.rolle/cc-by-sa-4.0
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Mozart monument at Vienna Central Cemetery © Dr Bernd Gross/cc-by-sa-3.0-de
Mozart’s physical appearance was described by tenor Michael Kelly in his Reminiscences: “a remarkably small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine, fair hair of which he was rather vain”. His early biographer Niemetschek wrote, “there was nothing special about [his] physique. … He was small and his countenance, except for his large intense eyes, gave no signs of his genius.” His facial complexion was pitted, a reminder of his childhood case of smallpox. He loved elegant clothing. Kelly remembered him at a rehearsal: “[He] was on the stage with his crimson pelisse and gold-laced cocked hat, giving the time of the music to the orchestra.” Based on pictures that researchers were able to find of Mozart, he seemed to wear a white wig for most of his formal occasions – researchers of the Salzburg Mozarteum declared that only 1 of his 14 portraits they had found showed him without his wig. Of his voice, his wife later wrote that it “was a tenor, rather soft in speaking and delicate in singing, but when anything excited him, or it became necessary to exert it, it was both powerful and energetic”. Mozart usually worked long and hard, finishing compositions at a tremendous pace as deadlines approached. He often made sketches and drafts; unlike Beethoven’s, these are mostly not preserved, as his wife sought to destroy them after his death. Mozart lived at the center of the Viennese musical world, and knew a significant number and variety of people: fellow musicians, theatrical performers, fellow Salzburgers, and aristocrats, including some acquaintance with Emperor Joseph II. Solomon considers his three closest friends to have been Gottfried von Jacquin, Count August Hatzfeld, and Sigmund Barisani; others included his older colleague Joseph Haydn, singers Franz Xaver Gerl and Benedikt Schack, and the horn player Joseph Leutgeb. Leutgeb and Mozart carried on a curious kind of friendly mockery, often with Leutgeb as the butt of Mozart’s practical jokes. He enjoyed billiards and dancing and kept pets: a canary, a starling, a dog, and a horse for recreational riding. He had a startling fondness for scatological humour, which is preserved in his surviving letters, notably those written to his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart around 1777–1778, and in his correspondence with his sister and parents. Mozart also wrote scatological music, a series of canons that he sang with his friends.

Mozart’s most famous pupil, whom the Mozarts took into their Vienna home for two years as a child, was probably Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a transitional figure between the Classical and Romantic eras. More important is the influence Mozart had on composers of later generations. Ever since the surge in his reputation after his death, studying his scores has been a standard part of classical musicians’ training. Ludwig van Beethoven, Mozart’s junior by fifteen years, was deeply influenced by his work, with which he was acquainted as a teenager. He is thought to have performed Mozart’s operas while playing in the court orchestra at Bonn and travelled to Vienna in 1787 hoping to study with the older composer. Some of Beethoven’s works have direct models in comparable works by Mozart, and he wrote cadenzas (WoO 58) to Mozart’s D minor piano concerto K. 466. For further details, see Mozart and Beethoven. Composers have paid homage to Mozart by writing sets of variations on his themes. Beethoven wrote four such sets (Op. 66, WoO 28, WoO 40, WoO 46). Others include Fernando Sor‘s Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart (1821), Mikhail Glinka‘s Variations on a Theme from Mozart’s Opera “Die Zauberflöte” (1822), Frédéric Chopin‘s Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni (1827), and Max Reger‘s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart (1914), based on the variation theme in the piano sonata K.331. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote his Orchestral Suite No. 4 in G, Mozartiana (1887), as a tribute to Mozart.

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