Musical Focus: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791, Austria)

Biographical Notes
Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria. His father was a violinist in the Archbishop’s orchestra. Mozart began his formal music education at age four. By age six he was ready to tour Europe as a "boy-wonder” on the harpsichord, organ, and violin. During his travels he absorbed the musical cultures and traditions found throughout Europe. In England he met J.S. Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian Bach. During his trip to England he wrote his first of forty-one symphonies. In Italy he was very well received and decorated by the Pope.

Unfortunately, his talent in music did not always extend to his social or professional relationships. He worked hard to find employment beyond Salzburg, which was not appreciated by the local Archbishop, who fired him.

He traveled throughout Europe and at times made substantial amounts of money, which he and his wife, Constanze, spent rather freely. He and Constanze had six children, but only two survived. He died at the age of 35 after enduring a great deal of financial stress. He had established himself as an outstanding musician and composer, but had failed to sustain an income proportionate to his talent or his popularity.

During his short life he composed 18 operas (including The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, etc.), forty-one symphonies, six violin concertos, the very famous Clarinet Concerto K622, twenty-five piano concertos, dance tunes (which were a continuing source of income), and more.

While Bach composed Baroque music for the Protestant Reformation, Mozart composed beautiful music for the Catholic Church, including the Mass in C minor, whose performance included Contanze as a soloist. He composed nineteen masses. The piano had just been invented, and he embraced this new technology in his work as a marvelous musical advance. He also championed the Classical Period’s musical style. He was praised and appreciated by Beethoven, Haydn, and an adoring public.

He died very young, and was buried in an unmarked grave, the location of which is still unknown.

Mozart’s Life and American History
  • Portola led a land expedition up the California coast
  • Junipero Serra established the San Diego Mission, and other missions throughout California
  • French and Indian Wars
  • Boston Massacre: British soldiers, legally defended by John Adams, fired on an angry crowd and killed five colonists.
  • Boston Tea Party
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Revolutionary War
  • Washington became President
  • Handel’s Messiah is performed in New York
  • "Yankee Doodle” adopted by the colonists as a fighting song
  • First music store opened in the U.S.
  • First piano is built in the U.S.

Five Recommended CDs
1. Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, by Bruno Walter and the Columbia Orchestra, CBS Great Performances recordings
2. Mozart: Clarinet Concerto and Oboe Concerto, by Christopher Hogwood and The Academy of Ancient Music
3. Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 23 and 24 by Jeno Jondo, Concentus Hungaricus, Antal conductor, on Naxos
4. Mozart: Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter,” and Nos 25 and 32 Symphonies, by Naxos
5. Violin Concerto No. 5 with Heifets and the Chamber Orchestra, by BMG/RCA

Lesson Opportunities
My students were quite captivated by the thought of someone being so good at such a young age, and dying so young. I used the Mozart’s piano concerto as an introduction to that form of classical music and the children had no problem identifying it as a type of music in which the piano and the orchestra "talk” to each other. They also enjoyed his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik ("A Little Night Music”.) They were able to differentiate between Mozart’s symphonies and Beethoven’s by noticing the somewhat lighter orchestration (Mozart’s orchestra’s were smaller than Beethoven’s) and its pure ornamental melodic beauty.