Genius is a word bandied around these days as if it is going out of fashion. Musicians in this day and age are a good example. Some are very good instrumentally on their chosen instruments. Some like Rick Wakeman studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He later became the driving force behind Yes, and excelled on his keyboard.
Some, like Paul Simon, are creative, poetic, and have written great albums and individual songs. There are others, of course, but I have named just two. But Geniuses? Not really.
The Boy Wonder
Mozart, on the other hand, was. In his short life, he created more than just works of musical art. There are very few artists in the world who have changed the course and direction of their chosen medium. Vincent Van Gogh was one. Mozart was another.
From a very young age, he began to demonstrate that this was no ordinary young musician. A novelty at the Royal Courts of the time, to begin with, his talent suddenly exploded into people’s consciousness.
He composed over 600 pieces that covered what was then the complete genre of music. He wrote chamber, choral, masonic, and concertante styles. As well as his more famous symphonic and operatic works.
His influence lives on
Even today, we can hear his influence in ‘modern’ music. He could well have been the writer of the original ‘pop’ song. He had this ability to be able to create what we would call ‘catchy’ tunes and place them in his serious works. His Symphony Number 40 is a good example.
But what do we really know about this young man from Salzburg? Like most geniuses, he led a spectacular but often troubled life.
Let’s find out a bit more as we go through some amazing Facts about Mozart…
He was born at Getreidegasse 9, Salzburg, now Austria, on 27th January 1756. His given name was Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. He was the seventh child of his parents Leopold and Anna Maria. He had an older sister but their five previously born children had all died in infancy.
Mozart was known as Amadeus because of a series of translations of his third name Theophilus. From Greek to German, and finally, into Latin, it is finally translated, Amadeus.
In the year he was born, his father, also a musician, published a book on teaching the violin.
A child prodigy…
His first contact with music was watching his sister, Maria Anna, practice the clavier, an early harpsichord.
He began his own lessons taught by his father, aged 5. He was very soon creating his own small compositions. Even at that age, his father was staggered by his fluency in the instrument and his abilities to create his own music.
You might say, in modern vernacular, he undertook his first European tour in 1762 at age 7. Music at that stage was largely performed at Courts of Royalty or for influential, wealthy people. They employed and paid musicians to be resident, compose new works, and entertain guests. Mozart’s first tour included playing at Courts in Vienna, Prague, Munich, Paris, and London.
He wrote his first symphony at age 8. And was introduced to J.C. Bach, son of Johann Sebastian, and also to Haydn while staying in London from 1763 to 1766.
A natural talent…
His father took him to Rome, where he was allowed to hear Allegri’s Miserere played in the Sistine Chapel. This was a piece that was jealously protected by the Catholic Church and not played outside of the Vatican. Mozart came from the performance and wrote it down by hand from his head. This created an authorized copy. Oops.
Mozart returned with his father to Salzburg and was given a position as a court musician in the Court of Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, ruler of Salzburg.
Mozart felt inhibited by Royal Patronages and left to pursue his own path in 1773. By this time, his compositions exceed well over 300 individual pieces, including every form of classical work. But he was just entering his most prolific period.
Time to move…
Restricted by small concerts and performances in and around Salzburg, the ambitious Mozart set off for Vienna. Finally arriving in Vienna in 1781, he encountered his supposed arch-nemesis for the first time. Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) was resident at the court of Emperor Joseph II.
He was already an established and respected musician and composer. In later years he taught Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt. He was a character who flew under the radar and is only well-known by most people for his alleged clashes with the brash young pretender to his throne.
There was, though, no real animosity between them. They didn’t get along, but there was a deep mutual respect between them. The invention of the friction between them suited those who make movies not to tell the story but to make money. Quite a common problem in certain circles, it is clear to see.
It was at this time that he wrote the “Marriage of Figaro’. An opera still performed to this day and considered one of his finest works. Salieri himself complimented the now renowned Mozart on its styling and composition.
With fame comes wealth…
Between 1782 and 1785, he was at the peak of his productivity as a composer and performer, and concerts were organized with him as lead soloist. The plaudits poured in, as did the money.
He married Constanze Weber, a German singer, in 1782 and had six children, but only two survived. This was during his successful period. They lived in luxury, had their own servants, and sent their surviving son to a private school.
Surrounded by Emperors and wealthy people, he became a Freemason in 1784. Naturally, he started to compose Masonic music.
Dark times ahead…
His mental state of mind, though, seemed to be deteriorating. He had become interested in a melodic but darker style of composition. This was known as ‘Strum und Strang’ or Storm and Stress. It had its impact on his life, and he entered a period of dark depression. This inevitably led to financial problems, and for a time, he was personally insolvent.
He had a visitor come to study under him in 1787. His name was Ludwig van Beethoven. He came with a letter of recommendation from Max Franz, a mutual acquaintance. He gained access to Mozart’s home, but Mozart refused to listen to him play.
There is no official account of them ever meeting or working together. But as Beethoven stayed a year, we must assume it did happen. The only formal acknowledgment was that Mozart said of his young admirer, “Watch this young man; he will yet make a noise in the world.”
Darkness to creativity…
It was, though, during this dark period of depression and ill-health that he created his Symphony no 40 in G minor. He didn’t often write in minor keys, but this reflected his dark emotions. It is now one of his most famous works.
His health and state of mind had improved by 1790, and he seemed to be on the road to recovery. He would sit up in his bed and dictate compositions for others to write down. From his head, all parts were included for every instrument. Salieri was one who undertook this chore for him.
His health failed again, though, and he died on November 20, 1791, of renal failure. As with most geniuses, years after his death, there was an outpouring of respect and acclaim.
Haydn had told his father, “your son is the greatest composer known to me by person and repute; he has taste, and what is more, the greatest skill in composition.”
Despite all of this, Mozart relied on his performances of his work. When he was sick, he could not perform. Therefore there was little money coming in. And this was compounded by the fact that, unlike others, he did not have a wealthy or Royal patron. However, he had just enough put away.
However, he didn’t die in poverty, nor was he buried in a pauper’s grave as that joke, it was a joke, wasn’t it, Shaffer’s film portrayed. He did have debts because he lived above his means at times. But unlike, as it was portrayed, to earn a cheap buck.
Somewhere outside Vienna…
He was buried in a mass grave just outside of Vienna in St. Marx Cemetery. This had nothing to do with poverty but because he wasn’t an aristocrat. The law at the time said that the only private burials were for nobility.
Efforts to locate the exact site have all failed. The current monument in place is an educated guess at where he may have been laid.
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Amazing Facts About Mozart – Final thoughts
Genius, of course. A bad man as portrayed, not at all. It is interesting in some uneducated circles that the film Amadeus was one of the great films of all time. It won academy awards, not that that means much in the majority of cases. People should read more often.
Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. A genius whose music still echoes all around the world.
Take a listen to Mozart Symphonies Nos. 40 + 41, and you’ll hear why.