Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Born in Salzburg, January 27, 1756;
died in Vienna, December 5, 1791

One of the most prolific composers of all time, Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart created well over 600 works during his short 35-year life. His catalogue of compositions includes works that are considered models of perfect of symphonic, piano, chamber, operatic and choral music in the classical style.

Mozart was born in Salzburg as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Mozart's agility for music became apparent at about age three, and his father, Leopold, a violinist and composer himself, encouraged child prodigy Mozart to feed his obvious talent and taught him formal music lessons in clavier, violin and organ. By the age of 5, he was already turning out fairly sophisticated compositions.
Growing up, Mozart traveled extensively throughout Europe, beginning with a performance in 1762 at the Court of Elector of Bavaria in Munich. He went on a concert tour for the next three years and visited the courts of Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London, the Hague, Zurich, Donaueschingen and Munich. Mozart and his father Leopold landed in Vienna late in 1767 and stayed there for the next year, until December of 1768 furthering his musical craft.
While the young Mozart periodically returned to Salzburg, the early years of his life were marked by extensive travel, particularly in Italy. While in Bologna, the young prodigy met and performed with many great musicians and studied the works of contemporary composers and particularly took to the work of Johann Christian Bach, who befriended him during his journey. Much of Mozart's early work was directly influenced by Bach's compositions.
Mozart was multi-faceted and moved by many inventions outside of music. He was inspired by Benjamin Franklin's glass harmonica and composed several pieces specifically for it as a way to experiment with his music further.
In 1781, Mozart traveled to Vienna with his difficult employer Archbishop Colloredo and was dismissed. Undeterred, he decided to settle in Vienna and work as a composer for the aristocracy. A year later, on August 4, 1782 he married Constanze Weber against the wishes of his father and together they had seven children, two of which survived infancy. Neither child, Karl Thomas or Franz Xaver Wolfgang married or had families of their own, although the latter became a successful composer himself.
Vienna marked the beginning of Mozart's friendship with great classical composer Joseph Haydn, and the two became lifelong friends. Mozart and Haydn often played chamber music together and Mozart wrote six string quartets dedicated to Haydn during the period of 1782-85. It was during these years that Mozart put on concerts in which he was a featured soloist in his piano concertos, which are considered to be some of the greatest compositions of his life. After 1785, Mozart performed less and did not write as many concertos. It is suspected by experts that the reason was because of declining health and perhaps hand injuries suffered by the composer that prevented him from performing.
Mozart's music was informed by eighteenth century European Enlightenment and he actually became a Freemason in 1784. The work of Mozart is a perfect example of the classical style. His masterpieces were composed during a time of transformation in classical music and one can trace a change from a simpler style of music to one that started to show the complexity of late Baroque music. The central characteristics of the classical style of music include clarity, balance and delicacy and can be seen in Mozart's works clearly. But still some of his best works offered a darker side that went beyond classical music's original purpose of light entertainment for the masses. Because Mozart wrote in almost every major genre, including symphony, opera, solo concerto, chamber music and piano sonata, the metamorphosis of classical music can be seen directly in his library of works, and he was responsible for popularizing the piano concerto.
Mozart's final decline into illness and his death are difficult to discuss because there are so many legends and theories swirling around them. Many disagree about the point at which Mozart first became aware of his illness and whether his illness affected his final works. The romantic idea of his final demise is that Mozart declined slowly and that this decline can be seen reflected in his later works. However, some reports from that time indicate the composer was in good spirits until his death and that it was rather unexpected by his family and friends. The final cause of his death was reported as "severe military fever," which does not lend insight into what the actual cause was in the language of modern medicine. According to scholars, Mozart's final words on December 5, 1791 were "The taste of death is upon my lips - I feel something not of this earth."