Wolfgang Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born into a world filled with music on January 27, 1756 in the town of Salzburg, Austria.  His father, Leopold Mozart, was a professional musician and scholar who not only taught his children music, but assumed responsibility for all of their education.
 
Leopold Mozart began giving music lessons to Mozart's sister Nannerl when she was seven.  Wolfgang, who was barely three years old at the time, became very interested in the lessons.  He would entertain himself for hours pressing the clavier (precursor of the piano) keys and delighting in the sounds they produced.  Leopold was soon also giving Wolfgang music lessons.
 
By the age of four, the boy could memorize little pieces and play them perfectly.  At five years of age, he could compose short pieces.  His ear was already so keen that he was able to tell his elders if their violins were a quarter tone out of tune. 
 
Leopold Mozart saw the talents of his children as a way to gain fame and fortune for the family.  At the age of six, Wolfgang set out with his family on a musical tour of Europe.  Wolfgang and Nannerl became known as the "Wonder Children" and were in great demand, amazing and entertaining all the courts of Europe.
 
Even at a young age, Wolfgang was very charming.  While in Vienna at the home of Empress Maria Theresa, he slipped and fell upon a polished floor.  Maria Antoinette, who would later become the Queen of France, came to his rescue.  Wolfgang was so delighted that he pronounced, "Oh, how pretty you are!  When I grow up, I will marry you."
 
As the novelty of the performing children declined, Leopold Mozart was forced to discontinue the tours.  The many years of travel over unpaved roads in horse-drawn carriages had taken their toll on Wolfgang's health.  A severe case of smallpox nearly killed him and forever affected his health.  In later years, Mozart only traveled when he was forced to because his finances were low -- which occurred more often than he wished.  Mozart began to compose at an early age.  His first opera, Bastien und Bastienne, was produced when he was only twelve years old.  Another opera followed a year later: La Finta Semplice
 
Even though the public regarded Mozart as a successful composer, he had not yet found a secure job.  Eventually, he received employment in the court of Archbishop Hieronymous of Salzburg.  The ten years in this position proved to be very unhappy for Mozart.  He was subject to the whims of the Archbishop who treated him harshly, but for whom he was expected to perform radiantly at private concerts. 
 
Mozart's social position, like that of most musicians of the period, was very low.  He was forced to live in the royal household and dine with the servants.  Finally unable to tolerate the mistreatment, Mozart lost his temper and flew into a rage.  He ended up without a job.  Although Mozart gained his freedom, the powerful Archbishop was now his enemy.
 
Mozart always felt frustrated by the lack of appreciation for his talents as well as continually being underpaid.  When he did have money, however, he lived recklessly, and never saved for times of need.  He longed for a position which would offer him financial security and allow him to compose as he wished. 
 
Composing music was the only thing that set him free from his worries.  It was as natural and as much of a necessity to him as eating and sleeping.  He could work and rehearse all day and night.  His barber later related a story of the difficulty of trying to dress Mozart's hair because he could never sit still.  The moment an idea would occur to him, he would dash to the clavier with the barber, hair ribbon in hand, running behind him.  During Mozart's brief life, he produced an astonishing legacy of beautiful music: over 600 different compositions in a wide variety of musical forms.
 
After his departure from the service of the Archbishop, Mozart was able to have some of his music published.  He also began teaching students privately.  This gave him the financial security he felt he needed to ask for Constanze Weber's hand in marriage.
 
Mozart's decision to marry Constanze horrified Leopold Mozart who opposed the union because he felt her to be "beneath his son."  Mozart dearly loved his father and was very dependent upon him; he constantly sought his advice.  It has been said that Leopold Mozart rarely let his son make his own decisions.  Much against his nature, Mozart disobeyed his father and married Constanze in 1782.  They had six children, but only two boys survived.
 
In the years immediately following their marriage, Mozart was happy and experienced some professional success.  He met and developed a relationship with Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) whose music had inspired Mozart as a young boy.  The friendship they shared was based on admiration and mutual respect and led to the enrichment of each man's music. 
 
The success of his operas, The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni, gave Mozart great satisfaction.  Don Giovanni premiered on October 29, 1787 in Prague where it triumphed, despite a very rushed schedule.  According to one story, no overture had been written in time for the final dress rehearsal.  Mozart planned to work all night, but sleep overcame him.  He awoke with half of the overture still to be written.  Within two hours he completed it, fully orchestrated, and delivered it to the copyists.  It took longer for the manuscript to be transcribed for the orchestra members than it had taken Mozart to write it.  The musicians received their parts -- with the ink on the paper still wet -- as the audience filled the opera house behind them.
 
The year of 1787 also marked the death of Mozart's beloved father.  Despair filled his world.  He was once more deeply in debt and frequently ill, yet drove himself to fulfill his obligations.  He began another series of tours in 1789 to try to earn a living.  Upon returning home, Emanuel Schikaneder, a theatrical manager and actor, approached Mozart with a libretto he had written for a magical opera based on an oriental fairy tale.  Although Mozart was very ill, he feverishly began writing an opera.  Mozart completed The Magic Flute on September 29, 1791 and it premiered in Vienna the very next day.
 
Mozart was unfortunately unable to enjoy the success of his new opera.  He collapsed from exhaustion after the premiere and his illness grew more serious.  During his final days, he was visited by a stranger who commissioned him to compose a Requiem Mass.  In his deteriorating state, Mozart believed that the stranger was a messenger from heaven who came to give notice of his approaching end and that the Requiem was for himself.  The mysterious visitor was actually sent by Count Walsegg whose wife had just passed away.  A musician of little skill and even less merit, the Count intended to claim the work as his own to impress his friends.
 

Mozart died on December 5, 1791 before he could complete the Requiem.  This genius, so rich in talent, died a poor man at only thirty-five years of age.  En route to his final resting place, a storm arose and all of his friends retreated.  Only his faithful dog watched his master disappear into an unmarked pauper's grave.

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