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Welcome to Mozart's fast-paced world of music, travel and adventures! The National Arts Centre Orchestra is pleased to share the incredible life, times and music of a universally loved composer.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the most sensational Wunderkind (a German word meaning "wonder-child" or child prodigy) in the history of music. He started playing the keyboard at the age of three, composed little piano pieces at age five; symphonies at nine and complete operas at twelve. Unbelievable, isn't it? Let's find out more about this phenomenal fellow, Mozart!
He was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1756. His father, Leopold, was also a composer, but he was best known as a violin teacher. Mozart never went to school. His father tutored him in languages (English, French, Latin, and Italian in addition to his native German), geography, science, history, math ï¿½ Mozart particularly liked math and, of course, music!
Mozart with his father and sister. By Carmontelle: © Photothèque des Musées de la Ville de Paris/Ladet
Mozart came from a warm and loving family. He delighted in playing duets at the keyboard with his older sister, Nannerl, and even wrote a concerto for two pianos for them to play together. He was also very close to his mother, and wrote her endless letters. His father guided him through every aspect of life ï¿½ teaching him how to manage money, how to deal with people, and how to behave in society. As a child, Mozart was obedient to his father, playful, and full of humour. As a man he was small and rather thin, his head was quite large for his body, and he had a lot of hair, which he was very proud of and took care to powder every day (Using powder was a fashionable thing to do in those days, just as men and women use gel and hairspray today). He was always full of energy, often restless, and extremely hardworking.
In Mozart's day, a musician was considered just another form of servant ï¿½ you served your aristocratic master, who hired you to write and play music at his court or palace; your job was on a par with the cooks, butlers, maids, and cleaning staff. From the age of about twelve until he was twenty-five, Mozart was in the service of Count Colloredo, Archbishop of Salzburg.
Slowly Mozart came to hate life in little Salzburg, where he was poorly paid and sadly underestimated. In 1781, he left and moved to Vienna. Here he also gave piano lessons, conducted his own compositions, starred in his piano concertos as soloist, and became the talk of the town. During his years in Vienna, Mozart was what we today would call a freelance musician ï¿½ one who picks up jobs here and there rather than receiving a regular salary from a single source.
So how did musicians earn a living?
Speaking of making money, the income Mozart would have earned from The Magic Flute would have come not in the form of a fee for each performance (a "royalty"), but from the sales of arrangements of favorite passages ("hits") for piano alone, for piano duet, for violin and piano, string quartet, wind ensemble - almost anything! There were no copyright laws in those days, so anyone could make arrangements if the composer didn't get around to it first.
Mozart loved games of all sorts. He knew many card tricks and his other interests included billiards, bowling, charades, fencing, and horseback riding. He liked to keep dogs, cats, and birds as pets. He once owned a starling that could sing the main tune from the last movement of his own Piano Concerto No. 17.
Mozart died on December 5, 1791, at the young age of thirty-five. His health had never been good. All those years travelling as a boy took their toll. In addition, he had an intense lifestyle and was always overworked. His death cannot be attributed to a single cause, but during the last few weeks of his life we know he suffered from kidney failure and possibly rheumatic fever, which put a further strain on his feeble body.