Wolfgang Mozart

Published 21 Jun 2017

I. Introduction

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an Austrian composer. One of the outstanding masters of the Classical period, he composed works in almost every form. His masterpieces for the piano, symphony orchestra, and operatic stage are favorites in the standard repertoire

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II. Background

A. His Life

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, where his father, Leopold Mozart (1719-1787), was a composer and violinist serving the archbishop. Young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart began his musical studies with his father when four years old. He played the clavichord and harpsichord, and composed minuets and other pieces. At the age of six the boy, with his sister Marianne, gave concerts in Munich and Vienna.

In the next three years Mozart visited London, Paris, and other cities, delighting the courts with his technical skill and amazing powers of improvisation. In Vienna in 1768, Mozart wrote his first opera, la finta semplice, at the request of the emperor. Court intrigues, however, prevented its production until the following year in Salzburg. At 13, Mozart became director of concerts for the archbishop of Salzburg.

During the next decade Mozart composed numerous works and visited Milan, Rome, and other Italian cities. In 1772, the archbishop died. His successor cared little for music or for Mozart. After many disagreements, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart left

Salzburg in 1781 and settled in Vienna. The following year he married Constanze Weber. Although many commissions came his way, Mozart was unable to secure a good court position. He struggled to earn a living by teaching, giving concerts, and composing light dance music.

The Marriage of Figaro, produced in 1786, was followed the next year by another operatic masterpiece, Don Giovanni. In 1788 the emperor gave him a minor court appointment. During six weeks that same year, Mozart composed his last three symphonies—those in C (the “Jupiter”), E Flat, and G minor. He wrote the opera Costi Fan Tutte in 1790.

In the last year of his life Mozart composed The Magic Flute, an opera, and Requiem Mass, a choral work written almost as if in anticipation of his own death. it was unfinished at the time of his death and was completed by his pupil Sussmayr. Suffering from illness and overwork, Mozart died in Vienna at the age of 35. He was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

The Marriage of Figaro is a comic opera in four acts by Mozart. The Libretto, written by Lorenzo de Ponte, is based on a comedy by De Beaumarchais. The opera was first performed, in Vienna, in 1786. The overture and the aria “Deh vieni non tardar” are popular selections.

The Marriage of Figaro continues the story told in Beaumarchais’ The Barber of Seville. It takes at the palace of Count Almaviva near Seville in the 17th century. Figaro, the popular barber, is now the count’s valet. A complicated plot of love affairs develops before Figaro can marry Susanna, the maid.

The Magic Flute, an opera in two acts by Wolfgang Mozart. Emmanuel Schikaneder wrote the libretto, which is in German. The Magic Flute is a singspiel, an opera that has spoken dialogue, instead of recitatives, connecting the arias. An allegory and political satire, The Magic Flute symbolizes the ideals of Freemasonry. The story takes place in ancient Egypt. With the help of a magic flute, the love of Prince Tamino and Pamina, daughter of the evil Queen of the Night, triumphs after Tamino has passed a series of tests. The opera was first performed in Vienna, in 1791.

Don Giovanni, a comic opera in two acts also written by Mozart. The Libretto in Italian, based on the story of the legendary lover Don Juan, was written by Lorenzo da Ponte. Don Giovanni was first performed in Prague in 1787, where it was an immediate success. Popular selections from the opera are the overture, the minuet, the arias “Il mio tesoro” and “ Deh, Vieni alla finestra,” and the duet “La ci darem la mano.”

B. His Music

Mozart was not an innovator or reformer. The many tours he made as a child prodigy taught him a variety of musical styles. Absorbing these styles, he created one of his own. His music, marked by melodic richness, reflects a variety of emotions. He often expressed deep and passionate feeling.

Mozart composed more than 600 works but did not use opus numbers. In the 19th century his works were arranged chronologically by Ludwig von Kochel, an Austrian nobleman. They are usually identified by K, or Kochel, numbers.

In his instrumental works Mozart brought Classical form to perfection. A piano virtuoso, he composed many works for his own performance. He was the first great master of the concerto, composing more than 25 piano concertos including those in D minor and A major. He also wrote many string quartets and piano sonatas.

Of Mozart’s more than 40 symphonies, the six written in his last 10 years are the most popular. They are the “Haffner” in D, “Linz” in C, “Prague” in D, and three composed in the summer of 1788. Other instrumental works include divertimenti, serenades including Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and dance music. His chamber music includes the so-called “Haydn” and Prussian string quartets.
Mozart was the foremost opera composer of his days. His comic and grand operas both are marked by sharp musical characterization and dramatic intensity.


  • Einstein, Alfred. Mozart: His Character, His Work. Oxford University, 1945.
  • Sadie, Stanley, editor. The New Grove Mozart. Norton, 1983.
  • Mozart. New Standard Encyclopedia. Page 593-594. Volume 11.
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