Mozart A Biography Essay Research Paper Wolfgang

Mozart A Biography Essay, Research Paper

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Early Years

European Tours (1756 – 1766)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as he is generally known, was baptized in a Salzburg Cathedral on the day after his birth as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus. The first and last given names come from his godfather Joannes Theophilus Pergmayr, although Mozart preferred the Latin form of this last name, Amadeus, more often Amad , or the Italiano Amadeo, and occasionally the Deutsch Gottlieb. Whatever the case may be, he rarely – if ever – used Theophilus in his signature. The name Chrysostomus originates from St. John Chrysostom, whose feast falls on the 27th of January. The name Wolfgang was given to him in honor of his maternal grandfather, Wolfgang Nikolaus Pertl.

He was the seventh and last child born to musical author, composer and violinist, Leopold Mozart and his wife Anna Maria Pertl. Only Wolfgang and Maria Anna (whose nickname was ‘Nannerl’) survived infancy. He was born in a house in the Hagenauersches Haus(today’s Getriedegasse 9) in Salzburg, Austria, on the 27th of January, 1756.

Anna Maria


The paternal ancestry of the family has been traced back with some degree of certainty to Fndris Motzhart, who lived in the Augsburg area in 1486; the name is first recorded, for a Heinrich Motzhart in Fischach, in 1331, and appears in other villages south-west of Augsburg, notably Heimberg, from the 14th century. The surname was spelled in a variety of forms, including Mozarth, Mozhard and Mozer. His mother’s family came mainly from the Salzburg region (her father held administrative appointments at H llenstein, near St. Gilgen), but one branch may be traced to Krems-Stein and Wien. They mostly followed lower middle-class occupations; some were gardeners.

Though he did not walk until he was three years old, Mozart displayed musical gifts at an extremely early age. At the age of four, he could reproduce on the piano a melody played to him; at five, he could play the violin with perfect intonation. In fact, with more recent evidence, Mozart is believed to have written his first composition just a few short days before his fourth birthday! These compositions, an Andante and Allegro K1a and K1b, were written, Leopold noted, early in 1760, as he approached his fourth birthday. They are very brief, and modelled on the little pieces that his sister had been given to play (and which he also learnt; the “Wolfgang Notenbuch” is a forgery). As they survive only in his father’s handwriting, it is impossible to determine how much of them are Mozart’s own work.

So when the six-year-old Wolfgang had proved his extraordinary talents at the keyboard, Leopold was keen to exhibit those talents along with those of his gifted pianist daughter, Nannerl. Thus Leopold undertook a four month tour of Vienna and the surrounding area, visiting every noble house and palace he could find, taking the entire family with him. Mozart’s first known public appearance was at Salzburg University in September of 1761, when he took part in a theatrical performance with music by Eberlin. Like other parents of his time, Leopold Mozart saw nothing wrong in exhibiting, or in exploiting, his son’s God-given genius for music. He took Wolfgang and Nannerl to M nchen, for about three weeks from January 12th, 1762, where they played the harpsichord before the Elector of Bavaria. No documentation survives for that journey. Later ones are better served – Leopold was a prolific correspondent and also kept travel diaries. The next started on September 18th, 1762, when the entire family set off for Wien; they paused at Passau and Linz where the young Wolfgang gave his first public recital at The Trinity Inn, Linz, on October 1st, 1762. Soon afterwards, he amazed the Empress at Schonbrunn Castle and all her royal guests with fascinating keyboard tricks: playing with the keys covered with a cloth, with his hands behind his back, and so on.

Wolfgang in a costume given to him by Empress Maria Theresa. Painted by P.A. Lorenzoni, 1763.

Except for a short time in December at Pressburg (Bratislava), at the invitation of a group of Hungarian patrons, they remained in Wien until the end of the year, playing at the homes of various noblemen and appearing twice before Maria Theresia and her consort at Sch nbrunn. The Empress sent them a set of court clothes, which they wore for the well-known paintings later done in Salzburg, probably by P.A. Lorenzoni. Leopold’s reports of the children’s triumphs, in letters to his friend and landlord Lorenz Hagenauer, are corroborated by the diary entries of Count Zinzendorf: Mozart “plays marvellously, he is a child of spirit, lively, charming.”

As the young Mozart’s reputation grew, his father Leopold realized the financial opportunities that could arise from increased exposure of his son’s talents. From that time on, Wolfgang and his sister Nannerl spent much of their childhood traveling through Europe. The rulers of Europe and England were astounded by Wolfgang’s abilities of composition, improvisations, and sight reading. While the public admired Wolfgang for his talents, they disapproved quite heartily of his father, saying extensive voyages and frequent exhibitions were no life for the child.

The family returned to Salzburg on January 5th, 1763. In February of that year, Mozart played the violin and harpsichord in a concert at the Salzburg court. A report in an Augsburg newspaper in May tells of the kinds of performances: he could play in an adult manner, improvise in various styles, accompany at sight, add a bass to a given theme, and name any note that was sounded. There are numerous anecdotes about his precocity, most of them coming from accounts of him prepared after his death by his sister and a family friend, J.A. Schachtner (a poet, Salzburg court trumpeter, violinist, and cellist.) One story tells of Mozart remembering, correctly, that Schachtner’s violin was tuned an eighth of a note lower than his own; another, of his taking a second violin part at sight and playing it perfectly, although he had no violin lessons. He was only four or five when he tried to compose a concerto, which looked like “a smudge of notes” but Leopold found “correctly and properly” composed. Mozart also had a very docile and tender disposition: he was afraid of the trumpet, demonstratively affectionate with friends, high-spirited, eager to learn anything but preoccupied with music. He was also pround and ambitious, and willing to play only before people who took music seriously.

Young Wolfgang’s health delayed them from leaving Salzburg on yet another tour: scarlet fever in Sch nbrunn and now rheumatism in Salzburg. Yet on June 9th, 1763, they began a tour of Europe which, in its length and complexity, was incredibly ambitious, considering the travel difficulties of those days. It was natural that Leopold Mozart would want to take his son to Paris and London, the largest and most prosperous musical centers in Europe: their intention was to visit every significant musical center on the route, particularly those with courts where the children might be heard and generous gifts bestowed. Mozart usually played the local church organ at towns where they made overnight stops. They also did a great deal of sightseeing.

Daines Barrington on the young Mozart

“Suppose then a capital speech in Shakespeare never seen before, and yet read by a child of eight years old, with all the pathetic energy of a Garrick. Let it be conceived likewise, that the same child is reading, with a glance of his eye, three different comments on this speech tending to its illustration; and that one comment is written in Greek, the second in Hebrew, and the third in Etruscan characters . . . When all this is conceived, it will convey some idea of what this boy was capable of.”

Their first important stop was M nchen, where Mozart played at court. Next they went to Augsburg, Leopold’s birthplace; here there was no court and they gave three public concerts. They travelled to Ludwigsburg, the Duke of W rttemberg’s summer residence (the duke was away, but they met Jommelli, his Kapellmeister, and the violinist Nardini); then to Schwetzingen, the summer palace near Mannheim of the Elector Palatine Carl Theodor, who heard the children on July 18th. This is also where they discovered the Mannheim orchestra installed for the summer. This, which was the finest orchestra in Europe at that time, left Wolfgang open-mouthed and open-eared as they played their brilliant symphonies. One day, he would write such music. He had composed keyboard pieces at the age of five and, with Leopold’s experience on tap, he was learning fast. They passed on to Mainz; the elector there was ill, so they gave a public concert instead of playing at court. In August they were in Frankfurt, performing four or five times. Passing through Heidelberg, Mannheim and Worms, the family arrived at Mainz, where they gave six weeks of concerts.

Then they were off to Paris via Aachen. In Aachen they met Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia(who annoyed Leopold by compensating them with only kisses), sister of Frederick the Great. With enormous charm she invited them to Berlin, but Leopold vetoed the idea. ‘The Princess herself has charm but no money,’ he reported, so that was that. During five weeks in Brussels(having waited all five of them for permission to play before the governor, Prince Charles of Lorraine), Wolfgang soaked up the musical styles prevalent in the Low Countries, storing away every experience in his mind for future reference.

They reached Paris on November 18th, where they stayed for five months. It was nearly a month before arrangements could be made for them to see the splendour of Versailles, where on January 1st, 1764 they played before Louis XV. Possibly to mark his son’s eighth birthday Leopold paid for the first publication of works by Wolfgang: the sonatas K6-K9, pieces that he doubtless had had a hand in composing. Leopold did not mark the birthday publicly, for Wolfgang was still described as “7-years-old” in London a few months later. No doubt they gave other private performances; they also met several active musicians active in Paris, notably the Deutsch Schobert and Eckard, as well as Baron Grimm, a leading figure in literary circles. There Mozart published two pairs of sonatas for keyboard and violin – his first music to appear in print – with dedications to a royal princess and to a lady-in-waiting. They gave two public concerts and then, in April, left for London.

Leopold(w/ violin), Wolfgang(at piano), and Nannerl.

The family spent 15 months in England. They appeared at court, where George III gave Mozart some difficult tests at the keyboard soon after their arrival and twice more in the succeeding months; the children were heard at four courts, one of them in Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens, and Leopold invited music lovers to visit them in private and put Mozart’s “Talents to a more particular Proof.” Mozart was extensively tested by the philosopher Daines Barrington, who in 1769 furnished a report on him to the Royal Society; it mentions among other things his improvisations on the harpsichord, including songs of love and of rage in an operatic style. The report also nearly states flat out the Mozart was the most intelligent human being known to have ever existed.

Among the composers the family met in London was J.C. Bach, who was particularly friendly; this was the beginning of a lifelong influence. They improvised together on the harpsichord, but contrary to some myths, J.C. Bach gave no lessons of any sort to the young Wolfgang. While the Mozarts were in London, Leopold was ill, and they moved to the suburban calm of Chelsea; it was probably there that Mozart composed his first symphonies(under the watchful eye of Leopold), some of which were given at their next concerts. At the request of the youngest Bach, Mozart also met J.C. Bach’s concert-giving partner Abel, who – with Johann Christian – had a decisive influence on Wolfgang. The “London Notebook” contains many pieces which show Wolfgang learning composition, and the first keyboard concertos came about through the friendly Bach allowing the boy to turn some of his sonatas into concertos(piano concerto nos. 1-4.)

After this profitable period in London, the family travelled to Dover (pausing in Canterbury to attend a race meeting and stay with Horace Mann; a planned concert there was cancelled) and embarked for Calais on August 1st, 1765. They were obliged to wait a month at Lille, as Mozart was ill, before going on through Ghent and Antwerp – where he played on the local organs – to The Hague, arriving on September 10th. There they gave two public concerts and played before the Princess of Nassau-Weilburg, to whom Mozart dedicated a set of six keyboard and violin sonatas published in The Hague. Some keyboard variations on Dutch songs and a Galimathias musicum also come from the months in the Netherlands. In The Hague first Nannerl and then Wolfgang succumbed to “intestinal typhoid.” Gravely ill, Wolfgang still managed to compose sonatas and symphonies while his father acted as copyist and tutor.

They moved on in January of 1766, and gave concerts in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Antwerp before returning through Brussels to Paris(where it was noted that Wolfgang looked no older than he had done two years earlier), and here they remained for two months. Baron Grimm again heard the children and commented on Mozart’s “prodigious progress” since the preceding visit. He mentioned his symphonies, which had been very well received in Paris, and referred to his encounters with experienced musicians, in which the boy had undergone the most difficult tests that could be devised and had left everyone baffled. To this day, most of those tests have never been successfully passed by another person, ever. Mozart (as Daines Barrington also said) sang weakly but with great expression.

Salzburg, Austria

The final stage of the homeward journey took several more months. They paused to play in Dijon, Lyons, Geneva, Lausanne, Berne, Zurich, Winterthur, and Schaffhausen; then they went into Deutschland and spent 11 days at Donaueschingen, with four-hour musical sessions with the Prince of F rstenberg on nine of the evenings. They passed on through Dillingen and Augsburg to M nchen, where they appeared at court (Mozart had to improvise on a theme supplied by the elector) and where Mozart was again briefly ill. They arrived back in Salzburg on the 29th of November, 1766, bearing a large number of gold rings, watches, and snuffboxes. In mind, Wolfgang had gained tremendously, but his constitution had been weakened. Despite severe illnesses, he had been propelled right across western Europe by a father who put profit before everything.

Wolfgang made a huge impression wherever he went, but at the end of ten years of strenuous travel he had to return to Salzburg and a hum-drum existence as a musical servant.

W.A. Mozart : Adolescence: (1767 – 1777)


Last Modified: May 29, 2000 — Classical Corner 1997-2000

Thanks to Steve Boerner and “The Mozart Project” for a few of the images shown above.


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