Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart�s name is familiar even to people who know little or none of his music. However, Mozart�s fame is based on two different frames of reference: firstly, being the most famous child prodigy in music history (as both a performer and a composer) and secondly, his unquestioned brilliance as an adult composer of Classical symphonies, operas, chamber music, sonatas, church music, and concerti for various instruments. Perhaps what he is best remembered for are his operas. His astonishing rate of production continues to stupefy scholars today. In his short life, he composed over 600 works, including 21 stage and opera works.

The most obvious distinction between Mozart and other opera composers is that he was the master of all other branches of composition. Mozart�s operas are from a mind that thought symphonically, so even if you don�t know what�s going on, you can tell you are listening to an extended piece of music in which the dramatic incidents form a part of a perfectly coherent whole. Mozart wrote from some excellent libretti, yet the music is always the dominant element, giving the action inflections of meaning the words alone couldn�t reflect. Furthermore, until Mozart�s emergence, operatic characters where generalized and typical. Mozart was the first to put real people up on the stage, people who had real emotions that were inconsistent and whose personalities were evolutionary.

In 1767, the Mozarts went to Vienna where Wolfgang was commissioned to compose his first opera, La finta semplice, K. 51. Intrigues created by envious composers, prevented this first opera from being performed. However, another charming early theatrical work of Mozart, Bastien und Bastienne, an opera buffa, was performed in Vienna where it was greeted with much acclaim. His first major serious opera, Mitridate, was performed in Milan in 1770 when he was only fourteen, and it was received with unqualified raves that critics compared him to Handel.

The 1780�s began the struggling times for Mozart, although the Emperor, who thought highly of Mozart, attended several of his \"academies\" but did little else for him. Eventually, there was an appointment as Court composer, but there were next to no orders for compositions. When a salary was added to the title, it was a meager one, and Mozart\'s last years, in spite of some notable successes (Figaro, 1786), were beset by financial worries, aggravated by Konstanze\'s (Mozart�s wife) many sicknesses and confinements. Although Mozart had initially thrived in Vienna, since he was in great demand as a performer and composition teacher, and his opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, was a hit, life was seldom easy for him. He was a poor businessman, and finances were always tight. Political infighting at the Vienna Court kept him from obtaining the patronage that composers of the period so greatly relied upon, and he descended to a life of genteel poverty.

In 1787, Mozart visited Prague where both Die Entführung and Figaro had been well received. The composer was already well known and liked when he arrived in the Bohemian capital. He added to these successes by conducting Figaro and other works including the Symphony in D, K. 504, and he signed a contract for a new opera to be produced in Prague for which Da Ponte supplied the libretto. Don Giovanni, the result of their collaboration, turned out to everyone\'s satisfaction, yet even the most complimentary reviews referred to an aspect of his music that was mentioned with increasing frequency from then on: the difficulty of execution. Many of Mozart\'s late works lacked general acceptance because of musical and technical problems with which performers and audiences, accustomed to the lighter fare of Dittersdorf, Wanhal, and other fashionable composers, could not cope. After Don Giovanni, Mozart\'s optimism about the future, which had often worried his father, disappeared and reversed itself. There were many setbacks.

Work on The Magic Flute occupied much of Mozart\'s time in the first half of 1791, in collaboration with his friend and fellow-Mason, Schikaneder. It was interrupted in July by the appearance of a mysterious messenger from an unidentified patron: Mozart, for a considerable fee, was to compose a Requiem Mass. Attempts by amateur composers to shine with someone else\'s work were not unheard of in the days before copyright protection. Mozart, however, in poor health and greatly depressed, was shaken by the experience and obsessed by the idea that this was to be his own Mass for the Dead.

A further interruption came in the form of a last-minute request from Prague to write an opera for the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia. Metastasio\'s often-composed libretto La Clemenza di Tito was given to Mozart, who had little more than two weeks to write the music. To accomplish this feat, he enlisted the help of his pupil, Süssmayer, who composed the recitatives. Both of them worked feverishly, even during their three-day journey to Prague. Success was only moderate, and the Empress allegedly referred to Tito as \"una porcheria tedesca.\"

All accounts agree that Mozart\'s health had deteriorated visibly and rapidly. The incredible haste with which work on Tito and The Magic Flute had to proceed make this idea plausible. The latter was performed in Vienna on September 30, less than a month after Tito. Death came on December 5, but to the end Mozart felt compelled to continue work on the Requiem, which he did not finish. Fortune never turned for Mozart, and when he died in 1791 at the age of thirty-five, he was buried in an unmarked grave.