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The latter half of the 1700s was a great time for music, with the younger Bachs and Haydn creating remarkable innovations that would introduce the advent of a new style of music which would be come to be known as the classical period. Mozart was born during this time period in Salzburg, and was baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart in 1756. He called himself Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.2,3,6 He was the youngest of 7 children born to Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart, but only he and his sister survived childhood. He had access to music at an early age due to music lessons, primarily due to his father’s background as a German composer. Leopold Mozart was highly recognized in his day; an accomplished violinist and composer producing a famous violin method, the Violinschule, but Leopold recognized early on in his late twenties that his greatest work was his son. His work is largely forgotten today.1,2,3,6
In Mozart’s earliest years, around age three, his sister Maria Anna, nicknamed Nannerl, age seven, took keyboard lessons. He looked on, and often played around with the clavier. His father, almost as a game, taught him a few minuets for this stringed instrument that was somewhat similar to a harpsichord. Mozart created his first musical compositions at this time, and his father wrote them down. At age four, Mozart taught himself how to play the violin and became an accomplished singer.2,3,6 There is a large debate to what his exact age was when he first created his earliest works, which is generally considered to be about age four or five, but it shows his initial interest and appreciation for music.5 It also displays his ability to write music, and his skill of learning how to create music. He developed a lifelong friendship with Joseph Leutgeb, who would later inspire his concertos for French horn.1,3
How it works
At an early age, Mozart travelled and successfully performed with his sister as child prodigies, which would influence him throughout his life.2,3 His first public performance was in 1761 at age five. In 1762, the six-year old would enchant the Imperial Court in Vienna, including the Emperor and Empress. He wrote his first symphony, Symphony no. 1 in Eb, at the age of eight, along with his first opera, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, at the age of eleven.2,5 Although he would later become a famous composer, his sister, who maintained a close relationship with him for the rest of his life, became relegated to obscurity. In her later life, she embraced life as a music teacher, despite the fact that she was still an excellent and talented musician.1,3
Mozart’s earliest works were created during his travels with his family to Munich, London, Mannheim, Zurich, Donaueschingen, and Paris from 1762 through 1765, performing for European royalty. While performing for the royal family in London, he met Johann Christian Bach, Johann Sebastian’s youngest son, who especially inspired Mozart. His first symphony was written during these travels, at age eight.2,3,6 The young Wolfgang wrote his first work that is still performed during this time, Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165. The child genius also produced his first opera, La Finta Simplice, an Italian comic opera, during this time, at age twelve.2,5 His work was acclaimed during his travels and he was accepted into the prestigious Accademia Filarmonica at the young age of fifteen. During this time, he astonishingly wrote the first unauthorized copies of music closely guarded by the Vatican, Allegri’s Misere, from memory after only hearing it twice, further showcasing his musical brilliance, while annoying the Church in the process.6
Early in his career, he was employed at the Salzburg court where he wrote concertos for the Violin and Piano. He was unhappy here, as the low wage and poor treatment of musicians was unappealing to Mozart, who had been accustomed to a more luxurious life during his early travels.3
After resigning his post in the court, he once again travelled in search for employment. It would lead him across Europe, searching in the best orchestra at the time in Mannerheim, along with several others. He continued to Paris, while his father was searching for employment for him in Salzburg. At this time, his mother fell sick and died.2 Fortunately, he was also offered a job by some of the local nobility of Paris. The salary was large and appealing, but he was reluctant to take the job, and eventually went back to Salzburg.3,6
Later on, he moved to Vienna, where he married Constanze Weber. With Weber, he had 6 children, only 2 of whom survived infancy.3,6 He originally fell in love with the daughter of a musician from Mannerheim, but it is unclear about her own thoughts towards him.2,3 His professional career in Vienna began as a pianist, and his first compositions at this time were heavily influenced by Bach, Handel, and Haydn.2,5
He also had met the Emperor Joseph II of Austria at this time, who had him hired for a part time job after he had won a competition. Mozart had a standing quarrel with Colloredo, one of the local nobility and his employer, from whom he had attempted several times to resign. Colloredo often attempted to prevent Mozart from performing outside of his establishment, including a successful attempt to keep him from performing before the Emperor by charging him half of his yearly salary from Salzburg as a performance fee. When he finally tendered his resignation, he decided to settle down in Vienna as a freelance performer and composer.3,5 During this time, Mozart wrote some of his most enduring operas, creating works like The Marriage of Fiasco and Don Giovanni.6
His early years in Vienna were prosperous, and were largely successful. Notably, he performed for the Emperor, and had the reputation as the best keyboard player in all of Vienna.3,5 His composing also created a name for himself, and soon he finished his work of Die Entf??hrung aus dem Serail, which would be performed throughout German-speaking Europe, and would also establish his success as a composer.2,3,6 During the height of his quarrel with Colloredo, he settled in with the Weber family, soon after the loss of the father, Fridolin Weber.3,6
Originally he was interested in Constanze’s sister, Aloysia, but she rejected him in favor of an actor named Joseph Lange. Settling with Constanze, he had trouble getting his own father’s permission for the marriage, but Leopold eventually to the marriage.2,3,5 Shortly after this time, he began to become intimately acquainted with the works of Bach and Handel, and took most of the inspiration for his later works from them. His return trip to Vienna also inspired Mozart’s creation of a new piece, one with a solo for Constanze. Although the piece itself, the Mass in C Minor, was incomplete, it was still performed in Salzburg. Also during this time, Joseph Haydn became friends with Mozart, and together they performed and wrote pieces. Mozart also experienced success with his compositions, using unconventional spaces such as apartment buildings in order to host the massively popular concerts containing new piano concertos, featuring himself as the soloist.3,6
The late 1780s saw the return to opera for Mozart. He created most of his operas during this time, mostly in the two year period of 1786-1787.2,3 His collaborations with Da Ponte and the successful premier of The Marriage of Figaro marked another time period of prosperity for Mozart. He still created his concertos, but they were not as prominent at this time as his operas. His father did not get to see several of these operas, as he died in 1787.6
Towards Mozart’s later years, the conditions for musicians in Austria deteriorated. The presence of the Austro-Turkish war decimated income for several musicians as the government funds were funnelled to the war efforts, and represented a dark time for Mozart. He less frequently appeared in public, and his income nearly vanished entirely. He moved to the suburbs in an attempt to reduce spending, but in reality all he did was keep spending the same in a much larger living space, meaning that he was forced to borrow money frequently. He had a few desperate trips to Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden, all of which only brought isolated success and which did not help to improve the situation of his family.1,3,5 During this time, Mozart wrote his last three symphonies, along with the last three Da Ponte operas.2,3
In his final year, he published many of his most admired works, such as The Magic Flute and the Clarinet Concerto K. 622. He became ill in September of 1791, and died in December of that year at the tender age of thirty-five. The official cause of his death was recorded as “severe miliary fever”, but no autopsy was performed and the symptoms reported by his family members prior to his death raised questions about the actual cause.1.3 The cause of his death is largely unknown, and is cause of much speculation and conspiracy. Mozart himself suggested that he would meet his death through poisoning as he had made enemies along with admirers during his life. One thing is certain: his wife crawled into bed with him in an attempt to catch his illness and die together but failed, so it was certainly not something contagious. His funeral was quiet, with few mourners present. Burial procedures of the time dictated common burials in lime to hasten decomposition, with the plots dug up and reused after a period of years.4
Mozart created his horn concertos later in his life, although multiple parts of it were left unfinished by the time of his death. He had begun a separate concerto that had only 91 bars for the first movement, along with two movements that were both in Eb. Each concerto has a distinct style, yet some sound similar at points. These compositions retain a lasting and enduring legacy today, and serve as inspiration to horn players with their joyful melodies and challenging stigma.6
Mozart’s legacy continues throughout today, and is present in many of the later classical composers. Their music followed similar styles, but often failed to capture the magic of his work. It is said that Beethoven once came to Vienna to learn from his idol and, certainly, Mozart influenced Beethoven to find his own musical voice. He had a unique style of music that was loved by everybody, and some of his more well-known works include his 40th Symphony, all of his horn concertos, and The Magic Flute. Although the world never experienced Mozart’s brilliance past his 30s, his legacy will continue to inspire musicians for many years to come.
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