Wolfgang and the Mozarts

by Jack Bryce

board member and
Carleton College
professor emeritus

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Mozart: how a nice young boy ended up with “a kick on…” what, exactly?


Mozart, the genius in the powdered peruke

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (Salzburg, January 27, 1756 – Vienna, December 5, 1791), Austrian composer, was deeply influenced by musical elements from around the world, which he blended into a unique mixture that became the high point of the classical style in Vienna. He excelled in every musical medium of his time and, to quote Grove’s Dictionary of Music, is “regarded as the most universal composer in the history of Western music.” His father, Johann Georg Leopold Mozart (1719-87) was a violinist, composer and theorist working for the Salzburg Archbishops; his mother, Anna Maria Pertl (1720-78) was the daughter of a local administrator and jurist. Wolfgang and his extremely gifted pianist sister Maria Anna, known as Nannerl (1751-1829), were their seventh and fourth children, the only ones to survive to adulthood. They were educated by their father in music, mathematics, literature, languages, dancing, and religion.

Father Leopold made Wofgang’s career a prime job, taking him with Nannerl on concert tours to Munich and Vienna in 1762, when Wolfgang was six and Nannerl eleven, and then from 1763-6 to Germany, France, the Low Cuuntries, England, and Switzerland. When they returned on November 29th, 1766, Beda Hübner, the Librarian at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Salzburg, wrote “today the world famous Herr Leopold Mozart, deputy Kapellmeister here, with his wife and two children, a boy aged ten and his little daughter of 13, have arrived to the solace and joy of the whole town… The two children, the boy as well as the girl, both play the harpsichord, or the clavier, the girl, it is true, with more art and fluency than her little brother, but the boy with far more refinement and with more original ideas, and the most beautiful harmonic inspirations.” In 1767 the family visited Vienna; from 1769 to 1773 Leopold and Wolfgang toured Italy three times. Hieronymus Colloredo was now Archbishop of Salzburg, a difficult employer; in 1777 he fired both of the Mozarts. After Wolfgang spent an unhappy visit to Paris in 1778, Collaredo took him back in 1779, but the relationship ended permanently in 1781; Mozart wrote that he was released “with a kick on my ass by order of our worthy Prince Archbishop.” Mozart moved permanently to Vienna, married Costanze Weber in August 1782, and continued to write sonatas, chamber and symphonic music, opera, and concerti; he also taught, and published widely, but he struggled for money. At his death from rheumatic fever just before 1 a.m. on December 5, 1791, his last work, the Requiem, was still unfinished.

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