Dinner Topics for Friday
“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1
Enjoy A Little Night Music!
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (German: baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791), was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era.
Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty. At 17, he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg, but grew restless and travelled in search of a better position, always composing abundantly. While visiting Vienna in 1781, he was dismissed from his Salzburg position. He chose to stay in the capital, where he achieved fame but little financial security. During his final years in Vienna, he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, and portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of his death. The circumstances of his early death have been much mythologized. He was survived by his wife Constanze and two sons.
Mozart learned voraciously from others, and developed a brilliance and maturity of style that encompassed the light and graceful along with the dark and passionate. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers, and his influence on subsequent Western art music is profound; Beethoven composed his own early works in the shadow of Mozart, and Joseph Haydn wrote that “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on 27 January 1756 to Leopold Mozart (1719–1787) and Anna Maria, née Pertl (1720–1778), at 9 Getreidegasse in Salzburg. This was the capital of the Archbishopric of Salzburg, a former ecclesiastical principality in what is now Austria, then part of the Holy Roman Empire. He was the youngest of seven children, five of whom died in infancy. His elder sister was Maria Anna (1751–1829), nicknamed “Nannerl”. Mozart was baptized the day after his birth at St. Rupert’s Cathedral. The baptismal record gives his name in Latinized form as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. He generally called himself “Wolfgang Amadè Mozart” as an adult, but Mozart’s name had many variants.
Leopold Mozart, a native of Augsburg, was a minor composer and an experienced teacher. In 1743, he was appointed as fourth violinist in the musical establishment of Count Leopold Anton von Firmian, the ruling Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Four years later, he married Anna Maria in Salzburg. Leopold became the orchestra’s deputy Kapellmeister in 1763. During the year of his son’s birth, Leopold published a violin textbook, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, which achieved success.
When Nannerl was seven, she began keyboard lessons with her father while her three-year-old brother looked on. Years later, after her brother’s death, she reminisced:
He often spent much time at the clavier, picking out thirds, which he was ever striking, and his pleasure showed that it sounded good. […] In the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier. […] He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time. […] At the age of five, he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down.
Biographer Maynard Solomon notes that, while Leopold was a devoted teacher to his children, there is evidence that Mozart was keen to progress beyond what he was taught. His first ink-spattered composition and his precocious efforts with the violin were of his own initiative and came as a surprise to his father. Leopold eventually gave up composing when his son’s musical talents became evident. In his early years, Mozart’s father was his only teacher. Along with music, he taught his children languages and academic subjects.
During Mozart’s youth, his family made several European journeys in which he and Nannerl performed as child prodigies. These began with an exhibition, in 1762, at the court of the Prince-elector Maximilian III of Bavaria in Munich, and at the Imperial Court in Vienna and Prague. A long concert tour spanning three and a half years followed, taking the family to the courts of Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London, The Hague, again to Paris, and back home via Zurich, Donaueschingen, and Munich.
During this trip, Mozart met a number of musicians and acquainted himself with the works of other composers. A particularly important influence was Johann Christian Bach, whom Mozart visited in London in 1764 and 1765. The family again went to Vienna in late 1767 and remained there until December 1768. In 1767, during this period, Mozart composed the Latin drama Apollo et Hyacinthus first performed in Salzburg University.
These trips were often difficult and travel conditions were primitive. The family had to wait for invitations and reimbursement from the nobility and they endured long, near-fatal illnesses far from home: first Leopold (London, summer 1764) then both children (The Hague, autumn 1765).
After one year in Salzburg, Leopold and Mozart set off for Italy, leaving Mozart’s mother and sister at home. This travel lasted from December 1769 to March 1771. As with earlier journeys, Leopold wanted to display his son’s abilities as a performer and a rapidly maturing composer. Mozart met G. B. Martini, in Bologna, and was accepted as a member of the famous Accademia Filarmonica. In Rome, he heard Gregorio Allegri‘s Miserere twice in performance in the Sistine Chapel and wrote it out from memory, thus producing the first unauthorized copy of this closely guarded property of the Vatican.
In Milan, Mozart wrote the opera Mitridate, re di Ponto (1770), which was performed with success. This led to further opera commissions. He returned with his father later twice to Milan (August–December 1771; October 1772 – March 1773) for the composition and premieres of Ascanio in Alba (1771) and Lucio Silla (1772). Leopold hoped these visits would result in a professional appointment for his son in Italy, but these hopes were never realized.
1786–87: Return to opera
See also: Mozart and dance
Despite the great success of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Mozart did little operatic writing for the next four years, producing only two unfinished works and the one-act Der Schauspieldirektor. He focused instead on his career as a piano soloist and writer of concertos. Around the end of 1785, Mozart moved away from keyboard writing[page needed] and began his famous operatic collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. 1786 saw the successful premiere of The Marriage of Figaro in Vienna. Its reception in Prague later in the year was even warmer, and this led to a second collaboration with Da Ponte: the opera Don Giovanni, which premiered in October 1787 to acclaim in Prague, and also met with success in Vienna in 1788. The two are among Mozart’s most important works and are mainstays of the operatic repertoire today, though at their premieres their musical complexity caused difficulty for both listeners and performers. These developments were not witnessed by Mozart’s father, who had died on 28 May 1787.
In December 1787, Mozart finally obtained a steady post under aristocratic patronage. Emperor Joseph II appointed him as his “chamber composer”, a post that had fallen vacant the previous month on the death of Gluck. It was a part-time appointment, paying just 800 florins per year, and required Mozart only to compose dances for the annual balls in the Redoutensaal. This modest income became important to Mozart when hard times arrived. Court records show that Joseph’s aim was to keep the esteemed composer from leaving Vienna in pursuit of better prospects.
Later years and death
See also: Mozart’s Berlin journey
Toward the end of the decade, Mozart’s circumstances worsened. Around 1786 he had ceased to appear frequently in public concerts, and his income shrank. This was a difficult time for musicians in Vienna because of the Austro-Turkish War, and both the general level of prosperity and the ability of the aristocracy to support music had declined.
By mid-1788, Mozart and his family had moved from central Vienna to the suburb of Alsergrund. Although it has been thought that Mozart reduced his rental expenses, research shows that by moving to the suburb, Mozart had not reduced his expenses (as claimed in his letter to Puchberg), but merely increased the housing space at his disposal. Mozart began to borrow money, most often from his friend and fellow Mason Michael Puchberg; “a pitiful sequence of letters pleading for loans” survives. Maynard Solomon and others have suggested that Mozart was suffering from depression, and it seems that his output slowed. Major works of the period include the last three symphonies (Nos. 39, 40, and 41, all from 1788), and the last of the three Da Ponte operas, Così fan tutte, premiered in 1790.
Around this time, Mozart made long journeys hoping to improve his fortunes: to Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin in the spring of 1789, and to Frankfurt, Mannheim, and other German cities in 1790. The trips produced only isolated success and did not relieve the family’s financial distress.
Mozart’s last year was, until his final illness struck, a time of great productivity—and by some accounts, one of personal recovery. He composed a great deal, including some of his most admired works: the opera The Magic Flute; the final piano concerto (K. 595 in B-flat); the Clarinet Concerto K. 622; the last in his great series of string quintets (K. 614 in E-flat); the motet Ave verum corpus K. 618; and the unfinished Requiem K. 626.
Mozart’s financial situation, a source of extreme anxiety in 1790, finally began to improve. Although the evidence is inconclusive, it appears that wealthy patrons in Hungary and Amsterdam pledged annuities to Mozart in return for the occasional composition. He probably[vague] benefited from the sale of dance music written in his role as Imperial chamber composer. Mozart no longer borrowed large sums from Puchberg, and made a start on paying off his debts.
He experienced great satisfaction in the public success of some of his works, notably The Magic Flute (which was performed several times in the short period between its premiere and Mozart’s death) and the Little Masonic Cantata K. 623, premiered on 15 November 1791.
Appearance and character
Mozart’s physical appearance was described by tenor Michael Kelly, in his Reminiscences: “a remarkably small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine, fair hair of which he was rather vain”. As his early biographer Niemetschek wrote, “there was nothing special about [his] physique. […] He was small and his countenance, except for his large intense eyes, gave no signs of his genius.” His facial complexion was pitted, a reminder of his childhood case of smallpox. There is a photofit of Mozart, created from four contemporary portraits. He loved elegant clothing. Kelly remembered him at a rehearsal: “[He] was on the stage with his crimson pelisse and gold-laced cocked hat, giving the time of the music to the orchestra.” Of his voice his wife later wrote that it “was a tenor, rather soft in speaking and delicate in singing, but when anything excited him, or it became necessary to exert it, it was both powerful and energetic”.
Mozart usually worked long and hard, finishing compositions at a tremendous pace as deadlines approached. He often made sketches and drafts; unlike Beethoven’s these are mostly not preserved, as his wife sought to destroy them after his death. He was raised a Roman Catholic and remained a member of the Church throughout his life.
Mozart lived at the center of the Viennese musical world, and knew a great number and variety of people: fellow musicians, theatrical performers, fellow Salzburgers, and aristocrats, including some acquaintance with the Emperor Joseph II. Solomon considers his three closest friends to have been Gottfried von Jacquin, Count August Hatzfeld, and Sigmund Barisani; others included his older colleague Joseph Haydn, singers Franz Xaver Gerl and Benedikt Schack, and the horn player Joseph Leutgeb. Leutgeb and Mozart carried on a curious kind of friendly mockery, often with Leutgeb as the butt of Mozart’s practical jokes.