Wolfgang Amadeus 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.”
Family and early years
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born to Leopold Mozart (1719–1787) and Anna Maria, née Pertl (1720–1778), at 9 Getreidegasse in Salzburg, capital of the Archbishopric of Salzburg, a former ecclesiastical principality in what is now Austria, but then was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. He was the youngest of seven children, five of them who 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 there were 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.
These early pieces, K. 1–5, were recorded in the Nannerl Notenbuch.
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 also taught his children languages and academic subjects.