Youre here: Home » eDigg Biographies » Biographies G-M » Mozart


» Biography Home

» Biographies A-F

» Biographies G-M

» Biographies N-S

» Biographies T-Z


      Leopold Mozart was a violinist in the band of Archbishop Sigismund, the reigning Prince of Salzburg, and it was probably in compliment to his master that he bestowed on the youngest of his seven children the name of Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Sigismundus. Born on January 27, 1756, this child was destined to make the name of Mozart famous wherever music is known; and surely no more beautiful life--beautiful in itself and in the works of immortal beauty which in its short course were produced--has ever been lived by anyone of those to whom the crown of inspired singers and an enduring monument in the temple of art has been given. "Look around," was the epitaph on a great architect. "Listen," is the most fitting tribute to the wonderful genius of a Mozart.

      Infant prodigies very often turn out to be nobodies in after-life. But Mozart was an exception; and though he might well have been called "the marvellous boy," his latest works--and he died at the early age of thirty-five--were undoubtedly his grandest and most perfect. He began very early to compose. One of these first attempts was a concerto so difficult that no one could play it; but the child undauntedly said, "Why, that's the very reason why it is called a concerto; people must practise it before they can play it perfectly."

      Wolfgang and his sister, Nannerl, as he used to call her, had been taken by their father, in 1762, to Vienna, where the children played the piano before the Empress Maria Theresa and her husband. Little Wolfgang was here, as everywhere, perfectly at his ease, with a simplicity and childish grace that won every heart. When he had been playing for some time, he jumped without ceremony on the lap of the empress, and kissed her heartily for being so good to him. Little Marie Antoinette, her daughter, afterward the ill-fated wife of Louis XVI., and then about the same age as Wolfgang, he treated in almost the same way. He had slipped on the polished floor, to which he was unaccustomed, and the little princess had hurried forward to raise him up, on which he promptly said, "You are good; I will marry you." The empress asked why he wished this, to which he answered, "Out of gratitude; she was kind, while her sister took no notice of me" (she had not come forward to help him). After returning to Salzburg, Leopold Mozart, in the spring of 1763, took his children on a more lengthy tour to Munich, Paris, London, and The Hague, and everywhere their playing, especially Wolfgang's performances on the organ, which he had now learned, were listened to with delight and astonishment. At Heidelberg the priest of the Church of the Holy Ghost engraved on the organ the boy's name and the date of his visit, in remembrance of "this wonder of God," as he called the child. At London, old Mozart says, they were received, on April 27th, by King George III. and Queen Caroline, at the palace, and remained from six to nine o'clock. The king placed before the boy compositions of Bach and Handel, all of which he played at sight perfectly; he had also the honor of accompanying the queen in a song. "On leaving the palace," the careful father says, "we received a present of 24 guineas."

      A great delight was now before him, for his father had resolved on a journey to Italy, then far more than now the land of music. How much this visit did for the young maestro it is impossible to say; he has not, like Mendelssohn, left us an "Italian Symphony," recording the impressions which that sunny spot of classic beauty had made upon him, but there can be little doubt of the great influence it had on the whole of his after-life. There are some significant words which he wrote eight years later to his father from Paris: "You must faithfully promise to let me see Italy again in order to refresh my life. I do entreat of you to confer this happiness upon me." In Mantua, Milan, Bologna (where he had the good fortune to meet the learned Padre Martini, one of the soundest musicians of his age, and for whom he ever afterward maintained a warm attachment), Florence, Rome, and Naples, the young genius was received everywhere with enthusiasm by the crowds who came to hear him. In Naples the superstitious people believed that there was magic in his playing, and pointed to a ring on his left hand as the cause of his wonderful dexterity; and it was only when he had taken this off, and gone on playing just the same, that they had to acknowledge it was simply the perfection of art.

Mozart singing his Requiem.

      There is something sad in contrasting these brilliant early days with the anxious times that came later on, when the great Mozart was compelled to wait in the ante-chambers of the great, dine with their lacqueys, give lessons to stupid young countesses, and write begging letters to his friends; yet, in reality, those later days, when "Don Giovanni," "Die Zauberfloete," and the "Requiem," were composed, were the truly brilliant ones. And it may be that the very greatness came, in some measure, from the sorrow and pain; that Mozart, like so many others of the world's great singers, "learnt in suffering what he taught in song."

      On his return to Munich, after composing a comic opera in the Italian style, "La Finta Giardiniera," which had a great success, young Mozart, who had been very shabbily treated by Archbishop Hieronymus--of whose spiteful conduct we shall hear more hereafter--the successor of Sigismund, determined to resign his situation in the court band, and to set out on his travels again, giving concerts from place to place, and everywhere looking out for some suitable appointment that might afford him a permanent income. This time his father was refused permission to travel, and, as on his exertions depended the support of the whole family, he remained behind, while Frau Mozart, the mother, accompanied young Wolfgang. In 1777, now a young man of twenty-one, he set out upon his second great artistic tour, buoyant with hope, and with all the beautiful audacity of young genius determined to conquer the world. This time it was not the infant prodigy whom men listened to, but the matured musician and the composer of melodies sweeter than men had ever listened to before. But the tale is changed now. True, there are triumphs to be spoken of, flattery from the great, and presents sent in recompense for his marvellous playing (he tells one day of his chagrin in receiving from a certain prince a gold watch, instead of money that he sorely wanted--and, besides, he had five watches already!); but rebuffs, intrigues, and all sorts of petty machinations against him, make the tale a sadder one; and so it continued to be to the end.

      From Munich--where it had been hoped that the elector would have given him an appointment at court, but he was only told to go to Italy and become famous, "it was too early yet to think about becoming a Capellmeister"--he went to Augsburg, spending some pleasant days there in the society of a cousin, Marianne, nicknamed by him Baesle, a merry, open-hearted girl of nineteen.

      Thence, he went on to Mannheim, a town that is memorable as the place where he first met the Webers, and made the acquaintance of Herr Cannabich, the director of the music at the elector's court, and one who proved a stanch friend through everything to the young composer. Cannabich had a daughter named Rosa, a girl of thirteen, exceedingly pretty and clever, and Wolfgang appears to have admired her very much, and perhaps for a time to have flirted and been in love with her. He wrote her a sonata, and was delighted with the way in which she played it; the andante, he said, he had composed to represent her, and when it was finished he vowed she was just what the andante was. But this little love affair, if it existed, soon was forgotten in a more serious one with Aloysia Weber. Her father was a theatre copyist in poor circumstances. There were a number of children, and she was a beautiful girl of fifteen, with a magnificent voice. She was cousin, by the way, to Weber, afterward composer of the "Freischuetz." Mozart was so charmed with her voice that he undertook to give her lessons, and we soon hear of him composing airs for her and meditating a concert tour in Italy in company with her, and her father and sister. In writing of it to his own father he sets out the advantages to be gained by co-partnership, and very prosaically says: "Should we stay long anywhere, the eldest daughter [Josepha, afterward Frau Hofer, for whom Mozart wrote the part of Astrafiammente in the "Zauberfloete"] would be of the greatest use to us; for we could have our own menage, as she understands cooking." But papa Mozart decidedly objected. "Your proposal to travel about with Herr Weber--N. B., two daughters--has driven me nearly wild," and he straightway orders his son off to Paris, whither, with a parting present of a pair of mittens knitted for him by Mlle. Weber, he reluctantly sets out in company with his mother.

      His stay in Paris during the next year was not very eventful, and a symphony produced at the Concerts Spirituels seems to have been his most successful work at this time. It was clever and lively, full of striking effects, and was most warmly applauded. He says: "The moment the symphony was over I went off in my joy to the Palais Royal, where I took a good ice, told my beads, as I had vowed, and went home, where I am happiest and always shall be happiest." A great sorrow came to him here in the death of his mother. Owing to the great expense of living in Paris, they had been compelled to live together in a small, dark room, so cramped for space that there was not even room for the indispensable piano. Here she was taken ill, and though for fourteen days Wolfgang most devotedly attended to her wants, she died in his arms. The letters in which he breaks the news to his father and sister are full of the most beautiful tenderness and forgetfulness of his own grief in solicitude for theirs. Things did not indeed prosper with him in Paris; he tried to give lessons, but the ladies whom he taught paid him very shabbily, and the labor of getting from one part of the city to another to teach was so great that he found it difficult to give the time he wished to composition.

      Music in Paris, just then, was at a low ebb. Vapidly pretty Italian operas were in fashion, and Piccinni was the favorite composer. It was some years afterward that the great contest between the Piccinnists and Gluckists culminated in the victory of the latter, though "Alceste," had already been produced, and "Iphigenia" was soon to follow. Mozart was a fervent admirer of Gluck, and the music of the older master had evidently an important influence on that of the younger and more gifted composer.

      Once more his thoughts were turned to Salzburg, for two of the leading musicians there having died, the Archbishop Hieronymus offered their posts to the Mozarts, father and son, at a salary of a thousand florins for the two. The father anxiously entreated his son to return and accept this offer, mentioning as a further bait, that Aloysia Weber would probably be engaged to sing in Salzburg. Much as Wolfgang hated Salzburg, or rather the people living there, his love for his father and sister prevailed over his aversion; and though with no pleasure at all in the prospect of seeing the hateful archbishop again, he set out from Paris, travelling to Salzburg in very leisurely fashion via Strasbourg, Mannheim, and Munich. At Strasbourg he was induced to give several concerts, but they were not pecuniary successes, and he did not make by any one more than three louis d'or. But how the artist peeps out in every line of the letters in which he describes these! After saying how few were present, and how cold it was, he proceeds: "But I soon warmed myself, to show the Strasbourg gentlemen how little I cared, and played to them a long time for my own amusement, giving a concerto more than I had promised, and at the close extemporizing. It is now over, but at all events I gained honor and fame."

      At Munich a great shock awaited him. He visited the Webers, and being in mourning for his mother, wore, after the French fashion, a red coat with black buttons. When he appeared, Aloysia hardly seemed to recognize him, and her coldness was so marked, that Mozart quietly seated himself at the piano, and sang in a loud voice, "Ich lass das Maedchen gern das mich nicht will" (I gladly give up the girl who slights me). It was all over, and he had to bear the loss of the fickle girl as best he might. There is a significant line in one of his letters at this time to his father: "In my whole life I never wrote worse than I do to-day, but I really am unfit for anything; my heart is so full of tears." After two years' absence he returned home to Salzburg, where he was warmly welcomed back. Here he remained for a little while, and wrote his first serious opera, "Idomeneo," to the text of an Abbe Varesco, a Salzburger. This opera Beethoven thought the finest of all that Mozart wrote. It was brought out at Munich in January, 1781, and was brilliantly successful. In the March following, an order was received from the archbishop to follow him to Vienna, where he wished to appear with all the full pomp and brilliant retinue of a prince of the church; and as one of this retinue Mozart had to follow him, little thinking at the time that he should never return to Salzburg, but that Vienna henceforth was to be his home.

      In Vienna he found that he had to live in the archbishop's house, and was looked upon there as one of the ordinary servants. He says, "We dine at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, unluckily rather too early an hour for me. Our party consists of the two valets, the comptroller, Herr Zetti, the confectioner, the two cooks, Cecarilli, Brunetti (two singers), and my insignificant self. N. B.--The two valets sit at the head of the table. I have, at all events, the honor to be placed above the cooks; I almost believe I am back to Salzburg."

      Mozart was a true gentleman, with no foolish false pride, but with the honorable self-respect that every gentleman must possess, and it was very galling to him to have to suffer such odious treatment from the mean-spirited archbishop. Indeed, it was only for his father's sake that he submitted to the continued contumely and petty slights to which the archbishop delighted in subjecting him. At last the open rupture came. The archbishop called him a knave and dissolute fellow, and told him to be off; and when Mozart waited upon Count Arco, the principal official, to obtain the regular dismissal that was necessary, the fellow poured abuse upon him, and actually kicked him out of the room. Poor Mozart was in a state of violent excitement after this outrage, and for some days was so ill that he could not continue his ordinary work. But now at least he was free, and though his father, like a timid, prudent old man, bewailed the loss of the stipend which his son had been receiving, Mozart himself knew that the release was entirely for the best.

      In 1782 appeared "Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail," his first really important opera, full of beautiful airs, which at once became enormously popular with the Viennese. The Emperor Joseph II. knew very little about music, but, as frequently happens in such cases, considered that he possessed prodigious taste. On hearing it he said, "Much too fine for our ears, dear Mozart; and what a quantity of notes!"

      The bold reply to this was, "Just as many notes as are necessary, your Majesty."

      Much of the delight which Mozart felt in the success of the opera arose from the fact that it enabled him seriously to contemplate marriage. Aloysia Weber had been faithless to him, but there was another sister--with no special beauty save that of bright eyes, a comely figure, and a cheerful, amiable disposition--Constanze, whom he now hoped to make his wife. His father objected to all of the Weber family, and there was some difficulty in obtaining the paternal consent; but at last the marriage took place, on August 4, 1782. How truly he loved his wife from first to last, his letters abundantly show; her frequent illnesses were afterward a great and almost constant source of expense to him, but he never ceased to write to her with the passionate ardor of a young lover. He says: "I found that I never prayed so fervently, or confessed so piously, as by her side; she felt the same." And now for some time everything went smoothly in the modest little menage in Vienna. Mozart had plenty of lessons to give, but none of the commissions for operas which he would have wished.

      Passing over a visit to Leipsic--where he studied with the keenest delight a number of the unpublished works of the great Sebastian Bach--and to Berlin, he returned to Vienna, and at once set to work upon some quartets which the King of Prussia had ordered from him. "Cosi fan tutte," a comic opera, with the beautifully flowing music that only Mozart could write, but with a stupid plot that has prevented its frequent repetition in later times; and the glorious "Zauberfloete," written to assist a theatrical manager, Schikaneder, were his next works. At this time a strange melancholy began to show itself in his letters--it may be that already his overwrought brain was conscious that the end was not far distant. Such lines as these, pathetic and sad in their simple and almost childlike expression, occur in a letter he wrote during a short absence from his wife, at Frankfort, in 1790: "I am as happy as a child at the thought of returning to you. If people could see into my heart I should almost feel ashamed--all there is cold, cold as ice. Were you with me, I should possibly take more pleasure in the kindness of those I meet here, but all seems to me so empty." On his return to Vienna pecuniary want was rather pressingly felt; his silver plate had to be pawned, and a perfidious friend, Stadler, made away with the tickets, and the silver was never redeemed. On one occasion Joseph Deiner, the landlord of the "Silberne Schlange," chanced to call upon him, and was surprised to find Mozart and his wife Constanze dancing round the room. The laughing explanation was that they had no firewood in the house, and so were trying to warm themselves with dancing. Deiner at once offered to send in firewood, Mozart promising to pay as soon as he could.

      That grand work, the "Zauberfloete," had just been completed when a strange commission was given him. One day a tall, haggard-looking man, dressed in gray, with a very sombre expression of countenance, called upon Mozart, bringing with him an anonymous letter. This letter contained an inquiry as to the sum for which he would write a mass for the dead, and in how short a time this could be completed. Mozart consulted his wife, and the sum of fifty ducats was mentioned. The stranger departed, and soon returned with the money, promising Mozart a further sum on completion, and also mentioned that he might as well spare the trouble of finding out who had given this commission, for it would be entirely useless. We now know that the commission had really been given by Count Walsegg, a foolish nobleman, whose wife had died, and who wanted, by transcribing Mozart's score, to pass it off as his own composition--and this he actually did after the composer's death. Poor Mozart, in the weak state of health in which he now was, with nerves unstrung and over-excited brain, was strangely impressed by this visit, and soon the fancy took firm possession of him that the messenger had arrived with a mandate from the unseen world, and that the "Requiem" he was to write was for himself. Not the less did he ardently set to work on it. Hardly, however, was it commenced than he was compelled to write another opera, "La Clemenza di Tito," for which a commission had been given him by the Bohemian Estates, for production on the occasion of the Emperor Leopold's coronation in their capital. This was accomplished in the short space of eighteen days, and though it does not contain the best music, yet the overture and several of the numbers are full of a piquant beauty and liveliness well suiting the festival of a people's rejoicing. But a far greater work, the "Zauberfloete," was produced in Vienna shortly afterward. It did not take very well at first, but subsequent performances went better.

      His labors in bringing out the "Zauberfloete" over, Mozart returned to the "Requiem" he had already commenced, but while writing he often had to sink back in his chair, being seized with short swoons. Too plainly was his strength exhausted, but he persisted in his solemn work. One bright November morning he was walking with Constanze in the Prater, and sadly pointing out to her the falling leaves, and speaking of death, with tears in his eyes, he added; "I well know I am writing this 'Requiem' for myself. My own feelings tell me that I shall not last long. No doubt some one has given me poison--I cannot get rid of this thought." With these gloomy fancies haunting his mind, he rapidly grew worse, and soon could not leave his room. The performances of the "Zauberfloete" were still going on, and extraordinarily successful. He took the greatest interest in hearing of them, and at night would take out his watch and note the time--"Now the first act is over, now is the time for the great Queen of Night." The day before his death he said to his wife, "Oh, that I could only once more hear my 'Flauto Magico!'" humming, in scarcely audible voice, the lively bird-catcher song. The same day, at two o'clock in the afternoon, he called his friends together, and asked for the score of his nearly completed "Requiem" to be laid on his bed. Benedict Schack sang the soprano; his brother-in-law, Hofer, the tenor; Gerl, the bass; and Mozart himself took the alto in a weak but delicately clear voice. They had got through the various parts till they came to the "Lacrymosa," when Mozart burst into tears, and laid the score aside. The next day (Sunday), he was worse, and said to Sophie, his sister-in-law, "I have the taste of death on my tongue, I smell the grave, and who can comfort my Constanze, if you don't stay here?" In her account of his last moments, she says: "I found Suessmayer sitting by Mozart's bed. The well-known 'Requiem' was lying on the coverlet, and Mozart was explaining to Suessmayer the mode in which he wished him to complete it after his death. He further requested his wife to keep his death secret until she had informed Albrechtsberger of it, 'for the situation of assistant organist at the Stephen Church ought to be his before God and the world.' The doctor came and ordered cold applications on Mozart's burning head.... The last movement of his lips was an endeavor to indicate where the kettledrums should be used in the 'Requiem.' I think I still hear the sound."

Privacy Policy
Copyright © 1999-2008 All rights reserved.