Like Prince Tamino's adventures in THE MAGIC
FLUTE, Mozart's life was a fantastic journey. His talisman was music — a
magic flute which he could use to free himself from all of the worries that
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, he 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
Wolfgang was very charming as a youngster. 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 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 out of financial need. This, unfortunately, proved to be more often
than he had hoped.
Mozart began composing in earnest. At the age of twelve, his first opera
was produced, Bastien und Bastienne. Another opera followed a year
later, La Finta Semplice. He was soon considered to be a successful
composer by the public, but had not yet secured a job providing financial
In 1770, 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.
The social position of the musician was at its lowest. He was forced to
live in the royal household and dine with the servants. Finally unable to
withstand the mistreatment, Mozart asked to be released from the position.
A large quarrel resulted and, although Mozart gained his freedom, the powerful
Archbishop was now his enemy. Mozart again found himself without a job and
He always felt frustrated by the lack of appreciation for his talents as
well as always being underpaid. When he did have money, however, he lived
recklessly, and never saved for times of need. He longed not to have to
beg for favors from nobility or to give lessons to untalented students,
but for a position which would free him from his financial worries and allow
him to compose as he wished.
Composing music was the only thing that set him free from his worries.
Composing 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 he would have 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 range
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 allowed him the financial security he felt he needed to marry Constanze
Weber in 1782. They had six children, but only two boys survived.
Leopold Mozart, who felt Constanze to be "beneath his son," had not consented
to the union and was horrified by his son's decision. Mozart dearly loved
his father, but he was determined to marry Constanze. Much against his nature,
he disobeyed his father. It has been said that although Leopold encouraged
his son in his musical endeavors, he rarely let him make his own decisions.
Mozart was, however, very dependent upon him and constantly sought his advice.
In the years following their marriage, Mozart was happy and experienced
some professional success. He met and developed a relationship with the
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 (1787)
gave Mozart great satisfaction.
The year 1787, however, also marked the death of Mozart's beloved father.
Fate was again filling his world with despair. He was once more very deep
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 with musical selections that were framed with spoken dialogue
known as a German Singspiel or sung play. Mozart wrote the last notes of
THE MAGIC FLUTE on September 29, 1791 and it premiered in Vienna
on September 30, 1791 and it premiered in Vienna the very next day.
He was unable to enjoy the success of his new opera. Mozart collapsed from
exhaustion after the premiere and his illness grew more serious. Death was
near. During his final days, he was visited by a stranger who commissioned
him to compose a Requiem Mass. In his deteriorating state, Mozart began
to believe 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, he 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 phenomenal 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 a common unmarked pauper's grave.
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