Called a true musical prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began composing music at the age of four, and he played in concerts across Europe at the age of six. He had perfect pitch, enabling him to sing a note on request or name a note when played for him. This ability became almost a parlor game at many of his concerts. And he taught himself how to play the violin, in addition to playing the clavier or keyboard. In his short lifetime (only thirty-five years) he composed over six hundred pieces in a variety of styles: operas, chorale music, symphonies, keyboard pieces, masses, and more. After listening to a small sampling of his works, you will readily agree that Mozart had a rare gift for creating music – compositions that have brought joy and delight to listeners’ hearts for nearly two-and-a-half centuries.
Mozart was exceptionally hard-working. Sometimes the musical tours on which he went lasted for three years. It has been said that nearly fourteen years of his thirty-five-year lifespan were spent on tours throughout Europe. In sheer volume of compositions, Mozart demonstrated unflagging labors in his music. If one were to listen to all of his works continuously, it would take over two hundred hours of listening (over eight days straight) to hear all of his compositions.
This hard work was sometimes demanded of him in his post as music master for the archbishop of Salzburg, for instance. At other times, the musical labors were necessary because of his family’s needs. Mozart was married and had two children who survived infancy; he needed to provide for them, but he always seemed to be scrabbling for money. Part of the problem may have been that Mozart often received gifts rather than money for his musical compositions and concerts. As a child, this trend was not a huge concern, but as a family man, jeweled boxes, imperial appreciation, and fancy costumes did not pay the rent. There is a story that friends once came to visit the Mozarts and found them dancing in one of the rooms during the middle of the day. Wolfgang explained that they had run out of firewood, and they were merely dancing to stay warm! (By the way, in spite of the financial strains the Mozarts faced, Mrs. Constance Mozart was an encouraging, attentive, and loving wife, and some of Mozart’s most beautiful works were composed during their ten-year marriage.)
Mozart’s music was largely shaped by his religious upbringing. Wolfgang’s parents were devout Catholics whose influence and guidance developed within their son a deeply religious nature, and perhaps even led to Mozart’s personal relationship with Christ. As the teenage organist for the Salzburg Cathedral, of course, his repertoire of works primarily was church music. Nevertheless, Wolfgang used his cast of great musicians around him to write church pieces that included, essentially, a set of mini-concertos for organ and orchestra, and even a church sonata. Some of his greatest church works were from his later years, including his C Minor Mass, with its sublime “Kyrie” (a common name for a liturgical prayer, and meaning “O, Lord”). Mozart’s Coronation Mass hinted at his operatic aspirations, and his Dominican Vespers and Requiem both display the beauty of Mozart’s love of God and music. The composer himself once wrote, “…God is ever before my eyes. I realize His omnipotence, and I fear His anger; but I also recognize His love, His compassion, and His tenderness towards His creatures. He will never forsake His own.”
Mozart’s music influenced numerous composers during and after his life, including Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, and Peter Tchaikovsky, not to mention the numerous modern-day composers who have used his musical innovations and styles. He is among the most enduringly popular Classical musicians in history. The majority of his music is joyous, lively, and very “listenable.” If you would like to learn more about this musical wunderkind (wonder child) and his music, read Opal Wheeler’s Mozart: The Wonder Boy, and listen to any of the master’s compositions. You will marvel at his genius, revel in the music’s beauty, and be refreshed by the spirit of his works.