WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART  1756 - 1791 (G2, G3a, G3b)

xxxxxA child protégé, the Austrian musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was composing and performing at the age of six and, soon afterwards, touring the courts of Europe with his father and sister, also a talented musician. He later went on other tours, including Italy, but spent much time in his home town of Salzburg and in Vienna. His output was phenomenal. During a working life of just 30 years he composed over 600 pieces of church and secular music, including piano concertos, violin sonatas, symphonies, string quartets, and four of the world’s most famous operas, such as The Marriage of Figaro in 1786 and The Magic Flute, the year of his death. He excelled in every form in which he composed, and produced some of the world’s most beautiful and imaginative music. Some of his work shows great emotional depth, notably his operas and concertos. Among his work are the string quartets dedicated to his friend Haydn, his “Jupiter” symphony, and his serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik. He died at the age of 35.

xxxxxThe Austrian composer and virtuoso performer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the most talented and prolific musicians of all time. A child protégé, he was trained by his father Leopold Mozart - himself an accomplished violinist - and was composing minuets at the age of five, and symphonies at the age of nine. In the space of thirty years his phenomenal output exceeded 600 works, and included 27 piano concertos, 35 violin sonatas, 23 string quartets, and 41 symphonies, three of them composed within one year. In addition, he produced a number of the world’s most famous operas, notably The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, Don Giovanni of 1877, and The Magic Flute, completed in the year of his death.

xxxxxBorn in Salzburg, he was playing the harpsichord at the age of three. When he was just six his father - a harsh man with an eye for profit - took him and his ten-year-old sister Maria Anna (also an accomplished musician) on a demanding series of concert tours to the courts and cities of Europe. Both children played the keyboard, but Wolfgang was also a violinist to soloist standard. Over the next three years the two youngsters played their way across Europe, delighting and astounding their aristocratic audiences by their precocious and exceptional talent. They were warmly received at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa, played at Versailles, and met the composer Johann Christian Bach whilst in London. Mozart published his first works while in Paris - four sonatas for the harpsichord and violin - and produced his first symphony during his stay in London. His first opera, La finta semplice (The Simple Pretence) was composed in Vienna in 1768 and had its first performance at Salzburg the following year. Then over the next three years, 1769 to 1772, he and his father visited Italy, during which time he wrote three more operas, including his serious work Mithridates, King of Pontus, produced in Milan in 1770, and his impressive Lucio Silla two years later. These but underlined his prodigious talent, and confirmed and added to a reputation already well established.

xxxxxOn returning home in 1772, he was made concertmaster to the new archbishop of Salzburg, a man who cared little for music and did not appreciate the talent at his disposal. At this time Mozart composed a large amount of sacred and secular works for little remuneration or recognition. In 1777, therefore, he travelled to France with his mother in the hope of finding a more congenial and better paid appointment, but the two-year visit proved a disaster. No court would employ him - he was no longer the “boy wonder” - and when, at Mannheim, he fell in love with Aloysia Weber, his father demanded that he return to Paris. There, in 1778, he composed his famous Paris Symphony, but soon afterwards Aloysia rejected him, his mother died, and he returned home with little to show for his travels.

xxxxxAt Salzburg he was made court organist, and threw himself into composing a wealth of music which included his famous Coronation Mass, and a large number of symphonies, sonatas, concertos, and chamber music. These showed the emergence of a distinct style and a greater maturity in musical composition, and were followed in 1781 by his successful opera Idomeneo, King of Crete. Doubtless on the strength of this success, the archbishop invited him to his palace at Vienna, but the old antagonisms between them quickly came to the surface, and Mozart soon found himself out of a job. He requested his discharge and it was granted!

xxxxxThe following year, despite his father’s opposition, he married Constanze Weber (Aloysia’s younger sister) and they settled in Vienna. It was here, as a freelance composer, teacher and concert pianist that he produced some of his finest operas: He composed a German operetta for Emperor Joseph II in 1782 entitled The Abduction from the Seraglio, and followed this up with his four major works, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, All Women Do So (Cosi fan tutte), and the Magic Flute, all within the space of four years. In addition, his concerts proved a great success, and to this period belongs his great piano concertos, the six string quartets that he dedicated to his “dear friend” Joseph Haydn, his Serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and his last three symphonies, all composed within seven weeks and ending with his “Jupiter” (No.41 in C).

xxxxxThese works and concert performances brought him a measure of renewed fame, but very little financial reward. Indeed, because he received no commission for his operatic work, he struggled to make ends meet, especially as he tended to have extravagant tastes. Furthermore, matters became worse as his musical style began to fall out of favour, and some of his productions were seen as bordering on the revolutionary. Beaumarchais’ comedy The Marriage of Figaro, for example, upon which his opera was based, had been banned in France for some years because it was considered by the king as an attack on the ruling classes.

xxxxxIn July 1791 some person unknown commissioned him to write a requiem mass, paying him in advance. For some reason or other, probably because of ill-health, overwork and anxiety, this task deeply disturbed him. He became convinced that his own death was near, and this proved to be the case. He died in the December, and, after a simple funeral at Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at the cemetery of Saint Marx, a Viennese suburb. The exact place of his burial has never been identified. It was a sad ending to a man of such extraordinary talent.

xxxxxTogether with his close friend Joseph Haydn, Mozart enriched both in purity and depth the musical forms of the classical period, be it the sonata, the symphony, the concerto, the opera or the string quartet. He excelled in every form in which he composed, and he produced some of the world’s most beautiful and imaginative music. Yet whilst his music is tuneful and technically perfect, much of it is infused with a depth of emotion which goes far beyond the superficial. And nowhere is this more marked than in his operas where, refining the changes introduced by the German composer Cristoph Gluck, his music, both vocal and instrumental, greatly enhanced the moods of the plot, and the subtle development of the principal characters. And in his hands, too, the overture becomes an intrinsic part of the musical composition, seen at its best, perhaps, in his Don Giovanni of 1787. It is little wonder that, today, Mozart is regarded by many as the greatest composer of all time.

xxxxxIncidentally, he never finished the Requiem Mass, and the “mystery” surrounding this commission, his last piece of work, doubtless contributed to the rumours that he had been poisoned. There is no evidence to that effect. It is likely that he died as a result of kidney failure from natural causes. Another source suggests he died from mercury poisoning while being treated for syphilis. Thexrequiem was completed in 1803 by Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803), one of his pupils. ……


xxxxx…… It was while composing Don Giovanni that Mozart received a 16-year-old pupil whose skill as a pianist greatly impressed him. His name was Ludwig van Beethoven. ……

xxxxx…… Mozart’sxworks were catalogued chronologically by the Austrian scholar Ludwig von Köchel (1800-1877) in 1862. He gave each work a “Köchel number”, and it is for this reason that the number of each piece is prefaced with the letter “K”. The catalogue finishes at K626. Most other composers use the term “Opus” (Latin for “Work”). ……

xxxxx…… In September 2008 a piece of music by Mozart turned up in the city library of Nantes in western France. A single sheet and described as a “melody sketch”, it was apparently bequeathed to the library in the early part of the 19th century, and subsequently forgotten! Evidence, including the type of paper, suggests that it was written some time during the last four years of the composer’s life.……

xxxxx…… And in May 2011 a collection of six short sonatas for piano and violin was discovered at the back of a charity shop in Reading, England. It was found to be a 31 page booklet of sheet music written by Mozart and dedicated to Queen Charlotte (wife of King George III) when he visited London as a child prodigy in 1765.


Mozart: detail, by the Austrian painter Johann Nepmuk della Croce (1736-1819), c1780. Birthplace: postcard, date and artist unkown. Clementi: engraving by the English artist Thomas Hardy (1757-1805), 1794 – private collection.


Muzio Clementi

xxxxxIn December 1781 Mozart took part in a famous keyboard competition with the Italian pianist and composer Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), It was diplomatically declared a draw! Clementi spent most of his life in England and made his London debut as a soloist harpsichordist in 1775. From then on he enjoyed a successful career as teacher, composer and piano virtuoso, and he made a number of concert tours across Europe. In the 1790s he opened a music publishing company in London, and also began to manufacture pianos, making improvements to the instrument in the process. As a composer, his sixty or so sonatas defined the form of this musical composition. Today he is remembered as “the father of modern piano playing”, due in most part to his Gradus ad Parnassum of 1826, a work which made an invaluable contribution to piano technique. One of his pupils, the Irish composer John Field, by his works and playing, had an influence on a number of major composers, including Chopin and Liszt.

xxxxxIt was in December 1781 that Mozart took part in his famous keyboard competition with the Italian pianist and composer Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). Staged in Vienna by Emperor Joseph II in order to entertain his guests, the competitors were asked to improvise and to play selections from their own compositions. It is said that both played so well that the Emperor declared - diplomatically - that the contest was a draw! After the competition Clementi had nothing but praise for his famous rival, but Mozart confided to his father that the Italian played with little or no feeling, and was, in short, “a mere mechanicus”.

xxxxxClementi was born in Italy, and by the age of 13 had already composed an oratorio and a mass. In 1766 he came to the attention of a wealthy Englishman, Sir Peter Beckford, who was prepared to pay for his musical training up to the age of 21. As a result he moved to England and for some years studied and performed at his benefactor’s estate in Dorset. He made his first public appearance in London as a soloist harpsichordist in 1775, and this marked the beginning of a highly successful career as a teacher, composer and piano virtuoso. He made a number of concert tours across Europe and it was during his first one, begun in 1780, that his skill as a pianist was pitted against that of the great Austrian composer and virtuoso.

xxxxxIn 1790, after giving up his performing career, he opened a music publishing business in Cheapside, London and set up a factory to manufacture pianos. From then on he concentrated on composing - especially sonatas and symphonies - and on improving the construction of the piano itself. In 1813, along with other professional musicians, he founded the Philharmonic Society of London - which became the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1912. And it was in 1826 that he completed his vast collection of keyboard studies known as Gradus ad Parnassum, a work that made an invaluable contribution to piano technique.

xxxxxHe made his last public appearance at the opening Concert of the Philharmonic Society in 1828, and spent his final years in Evesham, Worcestershire. He died there after a brief illness, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Clementi has justly been termed “the father of modern piano playing”. Modern techniques are still based on those that he developed. And as a composer, his sixty or so sonatas defined the form of this musical composition.

xxxxxIncidentally, the great German composer Ludwig van Beethoven greatly admired Clementi’s compositions. He found them full of fresh and original melodies, particularly his sonatas. As a measure of his esteem, in 1807 he gave Clementi full publication rights on all his music in England. ……

xxxxx…… One of Clementi’s pupils was John Field, a young Irishman whose works and playing were to influence a number of major composers, including Chopin, Brahms, Schumann and Liszt.