Mozart - the absolute wonder of the world
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born into a world filled with music on January 27, 1756 in the town of Salzburg, Austria. His father, Leopold Mozart, was a professional musician and scholar who not only taught his children music, but assumed responsibility for all of their education.
Leopold Mozart began giving music lessons to Mozart's sister, Nannerl, when she was seven. Wolfgang, who was barely three years old at the time, became very interested in the lessons. He would entertain himself for hours pressing the clavier (precursor of the piano) keys and delighting in the sounds they produced. Leopold was soon also giving Wolfgang music lessons.
By the age of four, he could memorize little pieces and play them perfectly. At five years of age, he could compose short pieces. His ear was already so keen that he was able to tell his elders if their violins were a quarter tone out of tune.
Leopold Mozart saw the talents of his children as a way to gain fame and fortune for the family. At the age of six, Wolfgang set out with his family on a musical tour of Europe. Wolfgang and Nannerl became known as the "Wonder Children" and were in great demand, amazing and entertaining all the courts of Europe.
Wolfgang was very charming as a youngster. While in Vienna at the home of Empress Maria Theresa, he slipped and fell upon a polished floor. Maria Antoinette, who would later become the Queen of France, came to his rescue. Wolfgang was so delighted that he pronounced, "Oh, how pretty you are! When I grow up, I will marry you."
As the novelty of the children declined, Leopold Mozart was forced to discontinue the tours. The many years of travel over unpaved roads in horse-drawn carriages had taken their toll on Wolfgang's health. A severe case of smallpox nearly killed him and forever affected his health. In later years, Mozart only traveled out of financial need. This, unfortunately, proved to be more often than he had hoped.
Mozart began composing in earnest. At the age of twelve, his first opera was produced, Bastien und Bastienne. Another opera followed a year later, La Finta Semplice. He was soon considered to be a successful composer by the public, but had not yet secured a job providing financial security.
In 1770, he received employment in the court of Archbishop Hieronymous of Salzburg. The ten years in this position proved to be very unhappy for Mozart. He was subject to the whims of the Archbishop who treated him harshly, but for whom he was expected to perform radiantly at private concerts.
The social position of the musician was at its lowest. He was forced to live in the royal household and dine with the servants. Finally unable to withstand the mistreatment, Mozart asked to be released from the position. A large quarrel resulted and, although Mozart gained his freedom, the powerful Archbishop was now his enemy. Mozart again found himself without a job and money.
He always felt frustrated by the lack of appreciation for his talents as well as always being underpaid. When he did have money, however, he lived recklessly, and never saved for times of need. He longed not to have to beg for favors from nobility or to give lessons to untalented students, but for a position which would free him from his financial worries and allow him to compose as he wished.
Composing music was the only thing that set him free from his worries. Composing was as natural and as much of a necessity to him as eating and sleeping. He could work and rehearse all day and night. His barber later related a story of the difficulty he would have trying to dress Mozart's hair, because he could never sit still. The moment an idea would occur to him, he would dash to the clavier, with the barber, hair ribbon in hand, running behind him. During Mozart's brief life, he produced an astonishing legacy of beautiful music: over 600 different compositions in a wide range of musical forms.
After his departure from the service of the Archbishop, Mozart was able to have some of his music published. He also began teaching students privately. This allowed him the financial security he felt he needed to marry Constanze Weber in 1782. They had six children, but only two boys survived.
Leopold Mozart, who felt Constanze to be "beneath his son," had not consented to the union and was horrified by his son's decision. Mozart dearly loved his father, but he was determined to marry Constanze. Much against his nature, he disobeyed his father. It has been said that although Leopold encouraged his son in his musical endeavors, he rarely let him make his own decisions. Mozart was, however, very dependent upon him and constantly sought his advice.
In the years following their marriage, Mozart was happy and experienced some professional success. He met and developed a relationship with the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) whose music had inspired Mozart as a young boy. The friendship they shared was based on admiration and mutual respect and led to the enrichment of each man's music. The success of his operas, The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni (1787) gave Mozart great satisfaction.
The year 1787, however, also marked the death of Mozart's beloved father. Fate was again filling his world with despair. He was once more very deep in debt and frequently ill, yet drove himself to fulfill his obligations. He began another series of tours in 1789 to try to earn a living.
Upon returning home, Emanuel Schikaneder, a theatrical manager and actor, approached Mozart with a libretto he had written for a magical opera based on an oriental fairy tale. Although Mozart was very ill, he feverishly began writing an opera with musical selections that were framed with spoken dialogue known as a German Singspiel or sung play. Mozart wrote the last notes of THE MAGIC FLUTE on September 29, 1791 and it premiered in Vienna on September 30, 1791 and it premiered in Vienna the very next day.
He was unable to enjoy the success of his new opera. Mozart collapsed from exhaustion after the premiere and his illness grew more serious. Death was near. During his final days, he was visited by a stranger who commissioned him to compose a Requiem Mass. In his deteriorating state, Mozart began to believe that the stranger was a messenger from heaven who came to give notice of his approaching end and that the Requiem was for himself. The mysterious visitor was actually sent by Count Walsegg whose wife had just passed away. A musician of little skill and even less merit, he intended to claim the work as his own to impress his friends.
Mozart died on December 5, 1791, before he could complete the Requiem. This phenomenal genius, so rich in talent, died a poor man at only thirty-five years of age. En route to his final resting place, a storm arose and all of his friends retreated. Only his faithful dog watched his master disappear into a common unmarked pauper's grave.
History has been less than kind to Leopold Mozart. Nowadays, especially, biographers criticize him for being an overprotective and exploitative parent. Some, yielding to the temptation to use the techniques and language of modern-day psychoanalysis, detect a darker pattern of manipulation in Leopold's relationships with his children, especially his relationship with his son. On stage and screen, script writers present a picture of a narrow-minded, domineering old man.
Leopold himself hasn't helped matters much. His image and his words, as they come down to us, present an individual who, at best, would have been difficult to like. Apparently, he made the same impression on his Salzburg contemporaries.
"On Whit Monday the 28th, in the year 1787, early, died our Vice Kapellmeister Leopold Mozart," wrote family friend Dominicus Hagenauer in his diary. "He was born at Augsburg and spent most of the days of his life in the service of the Court here, but had the misfortune of being always persecuted here and was not as much favoured by a long way as in other, larger places in Europe."
Musicologists are less willing to criticize Leopold. In fact, if he had not been overshadowed by his much more famous son, he would still be remembered as a talented composer and a gifted teacher. His treatise on musical instruction, Violinschule, first published in 1756, eventually was translated into several languages and became a standard text throughout Europe. And he was Wolfgang's first and most influential mentor: Everything Leopold knew, he taught to his son.
Johann Georg Leopold Mozart was born on November 14, 1719, the son of Johann Georg Mozart, a bookbinder, and his wife, Anna Maria, in the city of Augsburg. There he received his early education from the Jesuits in the Gymnasium and Lyceum. He may have been destined for a career in the church; if so, he abandoned it upon the death of his father and in 1737 enrolled at the University of Salzburg. His studies there got off to a good start: He passed a difficult examination at the end of his first year and was commended for his work. But perhaps the change to a secular course of study, and the move from Augsburg, wasn't enough to satisfy Leopold's rebellious spirit. His academic performance slipped, and in 1739 he was expelled from the university.
Determined to make his own way, Leopold entered the service of Count Johann of Thurn-Valsassina und Taxis, a canon of the cathedral, and was given the title of Kammerdiener, or valet de chambre. But his duties were those of a musician. He must have acquitted himself well, for within a few years he was accepted as a chamber musician into the orchestra of the Prince-Archbishop. Thus assured of a steady income, he married Anna Maria Pertl in the cathedral on November 21, 1747. Leopold was 28 years old, his bride, 27.
It must have been a good match. Years later it would be recalled that "the two Mozart parents were in their day the handsomest couple in Salzburg." Leopold himself, a faithful husband and correspondent, would write from Italy on the occasion of their silver anniversary: "Today is the anniversary of our wedding day. It was twenty-five years ago, I think, that we had the sensible idea of getting married, one which we had cherished, it is true, for many years. All good things take time!"
The union produced seven offspring, five of which died in infancy. The two that survived, Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia and Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Gottlieb, proved to be musical prodigies. Leopold's own musical activity decreased as he became aware of his children's talents and assumed the multiple roles of parent, teacher, collaborator and manager. Finally, in order to devote himself more fully to their musical development, he stopped composing and often neglected his professional duties altogether -- to the detriment of his career at the Salzburg court.
Of the five prince-archbishops that Leopold would serve in his 44 years in the court orchestra, two would greatly affect his career and that of his son. Count Sigismund Christoph Schrattenbach, while not the most effective ruler, was fond of music. He appointed Leopold vice-Kapellmeister in 1763 and gave him much freedom to promote his son's career. With Schrattenbach's blessing, Leopold and his family embarked on several trips, including a "grand tour" of more than three years that took them as far as Paris and London. The story was much different under his successor. Count Hieronymus Colloredo, elected archbishop in 1772, was personally very fond of music but sought to rationalize its use at his court and church. Unfortunately, he also had a dictatorial temperament and brooked no criticism. He treated the court musicians as servants, and would make no exceptions -- even if they had toured Europe and hobnobbed with heads of state.
This did not go down well with Leopold, who by nature was resentful and suspicious of authority. His overriding goal became to secure employment for his son (and himself) outside of Salzburg. And though in their letters they carefully coded all references to the "arch-booby," Colloredo was doubtless aware of the Mozart family's near-insubordination. At last he tightened the leash and, in 1777, refused to give Leopold leave to accompany his son on a job-hunting trip to Germany and France.
Though Leopold made every effort to manage the tour by letter from Salzburg, he soon began to lose control of events. First, in Mannheim, Mozart tarried and fell head over heels in love with Aloysia Weber. Leopold, seeing this as a threat to the trip and to his son's future, urged him to continue on to France.
Next came a more serious blow: In Paris, Anna Maria became ill and died.
Leopold could hardly comprehend his loss. He wrote: "It is mysteriously sad when death severs a very happy marriage -- you have to experience it before you can realize it."
Something else had been severed, or at least damaged: the bond between father and son. Leopold made it clear that he held Mozart responsible for Anna Maria's death. Yet he also understood that now he needed his son more than ever. After Mozart returned to Salzburg, he would do everything in his power to keep him there.
An explosion was bound to happen. When it did, and Mozart made his break to Vienna, he was careful to direct his anger at the archbishop. But he was defying his father as well, a fact that became clear when he courted and married Constanze Weber against Leopold's advice. At the last minute, Leopold gave his consent, but he and his son both knew that it was only a matter of form.
Mozart, who habitually had closed his letters to his father with the words "I am your most obedient son," virtually stopped writing as he became busy with his own family and career. In his letters to Nannerl, Leopold stopped referring to Mozart by name; he became simply "my son" or "your brother."
A visit by Mozart and Constanze to Salzburg in the fall of 1783 failed to set things right, but there is some evidence that Leopold's attitude toward his son and daughter-in-law softened somewhat when he visited them in early 1785. In Vienna he was able to experience Mozart's popularity at its peak. "We never get to bed before one o'clock and I never get up before nine," he complained in a letter home to Nannerl. "We lunch at two or half past. The weather is horrible. Every day there are concerts; and the whole time is given up to teaching, music, composing and so forth. I feel rather out of it all. If only the concerts were over! It is impossible for me to describe the rush and bustle. Since my arrival your brother's fortepiano has been taken at least a dozen times to the theatre or to some other house."
Earlier, he had proudly recounted a conversation with Franz Josef Haydn, perhaps the most respected composer on the continent: "Haydn said to me: 'Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.' "
Evidence of reconciliation may be found in the fact that Leopold, shortly before his departure from Vienna, was admitted to Mozart's Masonic lodge. Now they were more than father and son, they were "brothers," and it was in this spirit that Mozart would write to Leopold as he lay dying in Salzburg:
"This very moment I have received a piece of news which greatly distresses me, the more so as I gathered from your last letter that, thank God, you were very well indeed. But now I hear that you are really ill. I need hardly tell you how greatly I am longing to receive some reassuring news from yourself. And I still expect it; although I have now made a habit of being prepared in all affairs of life for the worst. As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind, that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling! And I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity (you know what I mean) of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. . . . I hope and trust that while I am writing this, you are feeling better. But if, contrary to all expectation, you are not recovering, implore you by . . . not to hide it from me, but to tell me the whole truth or get someone to write it to me, so that as quickly as is humanly possible I may come to your arms. I entreat you by all that is sacred -- to both of us."
Mozart would never see his father again.
On Whit Monday, May 28, 1787, this devout, intelligent and complicated man died at the age of 68. He had lived long enough to witness firsthand his son's brilliance, and he probably understood that he himself had long been eclipsed. His greatest success was at once his own most bitter personal failure. And if history has often not been kind to Leopold Mozart, it is because it has never forgiven him for knowing this.