Composer Focus: Mozart

Posted on: November 7, 2013 in: Composer Focus

As we approach our annual performance of Mozart’s Requiem with Polyphony, we couldn’t resist doing a post about this beloved composer.  Composing from the age of five, and already engaged as a court musician in Salzburg by the time he was 17, Mozart was the epitome of the child prodigy. His death was famously untimely, and historians, musicologists and conspiracy theorists alike have all enjoyed speculating over its exact cause, with the most salacious (and, therefore, persistent) rumour that Mozart was poisoned by fellow composer, Salieri, popularised by Peter Schaffer’s 1979 play, Amadeus.

Name: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozartmozart photos

Born: 27 January 1756. Died: 5 December 1791 (aged 35)

Nationality: Austrian

Background: The son of Leopold Mozart, a minor composer and an experienced teacher, Wolfgang was the youngest of seven children, five of whom died in infancy. He watched his older sister, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl) begin clavier lessons when she was seven and he was three. Having watched Wolfgang’s delight at picking out thirds on the keyboard, Leopold started to teach his son a few minuets, only to soon find that he could play them faultlessly. Wolfgang married Constanze Weber in 1782, having been rejected by her older sister, Aloysia. He was also a member of the Masonic order, and scholars such as Katherine Thompson have explored the influences of this association in his work. Examples include the dotted figure, below, which appears in the overture of The Magic Flute and allegedly symbolises the Masonic initiation ceremony, in which the candidate knocks three times at the door to ask for admittance.

masonic mozart

Breakthrough: As children, both Mozart and Nannerl performed with their family as prodigies, travelling extensively throughout Europe. Mozart heard Allegri’s Miserere performed twice in Rome, and wrote it out by ear, thus producing the first unauthorised copy of the piece, which was jealously guarded by the Vatican. After returning with his father from Italy on 13 March 1773, Mozart was employed as a court musician by the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo.  During this time, Mozart acquired a number of admirers and began to compose extensively across genres, including symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, masses, and operas. However, dissatisfied with the lack of opportunity to compose opera, and the low pay of 150 florins a year, Mozart left his position, eventually settling in Vienna.

Requiem: Mozart’s unfinished Requiem was completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr and was commissioned anonymously by Count Franz von Walsegg to commemorate his wife’s death. It is believed that Walsegg intended to pass the work off as his own, as he has been known to do. The flurry of myths about Mozart’s death, and his “instructions” on how to complete his Requiem, arguably stem from the actions of his wife, Constanze, who tried to attach as much Mozart-authenticity to the finished Requiem as possible.

Not enough Mozart for you?

Check out the trailer for Amadeus, the 1984 period drama based on the play by Schaffer. We can’t guarantee historical accuracy, but it’s a great film that was nominated for eight Academy Awards.

Visit our November 2012 blog posts for our Mozart Diaries series, and check out our website for a playlist featuring the Requiem, along with other pieces to be performed next Wednesday!

Our Mozart Requiem with Polyphony will be performed at St John Smith’s Square on Wednesday 13 November at 7.30. More information about the concert, and how to book tickets, is available on our website.