Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born in a house on the Getreidegasse in Salzburg, Austria, on 27th January 1756, the feast of St John Chryostom. His parents were Leopold Mozart and Maria Anna Pertl. He was the last of seven children but only himself and his elder sister Nannerl, survived into adulthood.
Later in life the boy would choose to adopt the latin ‘Amadeus’ in place of the Greek Theophilus.
Wolfgang’s order sister (whose was called Maria Anna but always known as ‘Nannerl’) showed musical promise from an early age and began to learn the harpsichord in 1758 at the age of seven. Wolfgang seemed interested in her lessons and began to learn the instrument himself at the age of four and soon picked up some of her pieces. Incredibly he had, by the time he was five, managed to compose a few simple pieces of his own with the help of his father.
Leopold Mozart was at that time Court Composer to the Archbishop of Salzburg and was an accomplished composer and well respected teacher. However he realized that Wolfgang’s talents were exceptional and decided to concentrate on the musical development of his two children. He arranged for Wolfgang to perform publicly at the University in Salzburg in 1761 and over the next few years undertook a number of lengthy tours of European cities where the young Wolfgang and Nannerl would perform for the entertainment of the Royal Courts.These trips had their hazards. They could be lucrative but also highly expensive. Both Wolfgang and Nannerl were seriously ill on more than one occasion contracting both Typhoid Fever and smallpox.
Mozart’s first opera, La Finta Semplice, was performed in 1769, when he was just thirteen, in the Archbishop of Salzburgs Palace.
When they finally returned to Salzburg Wolfgang spent time composing and was also appointed to the post of konzertmeister.
However things changed when the old Archbishop, who was tolerant of the Mozarts extended absences,died. The new Archbishop was not so amenable.
In 1777, at Mozart’s request,the Archbishop released him from his post. He also took the opportunity to dismiss Leopold at the same time, although he was fairly quickly re-instated.
Mozart set off on tour again but this time with his mother. It turned out to be disastrous. Without his fathers strict discipline Wolfgang, now 21, was more interested in enjoying himself than working. At one stage they were almost penniless and had had to sell some possessions in order to continue their journey. In July Frau Mozart became ill and died. Mozart returned to Salzburg and returned to his former position which his father had managed to secure. This didn’t last long – the Archbishop dismissed Wolfgang during a trip to Vienna where they attended the celebrations of the accession of the new Emperor, Joseph II. Leopold was horrified but Wolfgang regarded it as a golden opportunity to stay in Vienna. He did reasonably well there teaching and composing. Then he shocked his father again -by announcing he was to marry. Leopold protested but to no avail and the marriage between Wolfgang and Constanze Weber took place on 4th August in St Stephens Cathedral.
The couple enjoyed relative success for a few years with Mozart’s music being popular and there being no shortage of pupils. However they had an expensive lifestyle to maintain and some jealousies began to emerge from other composers. A huge blow came when on 28th May 1787, Mozart’s father died.
Mozart’s financial situation became worse and by 1789 he was regularly requesting loans from friends . He toured again but had little success. He was working hard and earning money but their outgoing were such that they had constant financial worries.
Emmanuel Schikanader, was an actor,singer,writer and an old friend of Mozart’s.He was the manager of the Theater auf der Weiden in the suburbs of Vienna and he suggested to Mozart that he write a pantomime type opera in German which would have mass appeal and, most importantly, be profitable. Mozart agreed, probably in desperation for money and worked on it ( The Magic Flute) through the summer of 1791. It was a huge success and brought temporary relief financially.
During this time Mozart received an anonymous letter asking him to compose a requiem mass. Although it was a strange request he decided to accept as there was a significant fee offered. However Mozart became overworked and his health began to decline. He was desperate to complete the commission but was becoming exhausted and on 20th November his condition worsened so much that he took to his bed. With the help of his pupil Sussmayr he attempted in vain to finish the Requiem but got only as far as the Lachrymosa.
As Mozart’s condition deteriorated he suffered from fever,vomiting and swelling.On 4th December Mozart went into a coma. In the early hours of 5th December 1791, the greatest composer the world has ever known, died.
In a final ironic twist to the tale, the emperor confirmed Mozart’s appointment to the post of Kapellmeister at St Stephens, a position which would finally have given the Mozarts lasting financial security.
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