Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Something miraculous hovers above the music of Mozart. His elegant writing and his rich instrumental colors sound effortless. This deceptive simplicity is the secret of his art. Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria, the son of Leopold Mozart, an esteemed composer-violinist at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. The most extraordinarily gifted child in the history of music, he started to compose before he was five, and, with his talented sister Nannerl, performed at the court of Empress Maria Theresa at the age of six. By age thirteen, the boy had written sonatas, concertos, symphonies, religious works, and several operas. The high-spirited young artist rebelled against the social restrictions imposed by the patronage system and at twenty-five established himself in Vienna as a struggling freelance musician. In 1782, he married Constanze Weber, against his domineering father’s wishes. He reached the peak of his career in the late 1780s with his three comic operas (The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte) on librettos by Lorenzo da Ponte. Although in poor health, Mozart continued to produce masterpieces for the Viennese public, including his Clarinet Concerto (he was one of the first to compose for this new instrument) and his final opera, The Magic Flute (1791). With a kind of fevered desperation, he then turned to the Requiem Mass, which had been commissioned by a music-loving count. There are indications that Mozart became obsessed with the notion that this Mass for the Dead was intended for himself and that he would not live to finish it. He died on December 4, 1791, shortly before his thirty-sixth birthday. Mozart is revered for the inexhaustible wealth of elegant and songful melodies. His instrumental music combines a sense of drama with contrasts of mood ranging from lively and playful to solemn and tragic. His orchestration is colorful, and his development sections full of chromatic...
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