Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1765, in Salzburg, a city near the Alps in the Northwest of Austria. Mozart grew up surrounded by picturesque landscapes, majestic mountains and rivers, great folk dances and folk music traditions.
Salzburg is an ancient city, historically ruled by aristocrats. Lofty churches are built everywhere; highly decorated centers of religious practice symbolizing the divide between the rich and the poor.
From an early age, Mozart had the opportunity to listen to the sounds of nature and the harmonies of folk song around him, to travel, and to enjoy various dances and musical performances.
Early childhood impressions lingered in his soul, and became significant inspiration for his later compositions.
Wolfgang’s father, Leopold Mozart, was a talented music teacher and a successful solo violinist in the court orchestra. His mother was a kind and diligent woman. The young Mozart’s parents gave birth to seven children, five of whom died in infancy. The two surviving children were Mozart and his sister, Maria Anna.
Mozart’s sister was also a musical prodigy. She played the clavier skillfully, and became a well-known musical expert in her adult life.
Mozart was an exceptional musician. At the age of 3, he could identify notes precisely by ear, and copy them. At 4, Mozart began to compose. His father recognized his son’s unique talent and taught him to play the violin and organ.
Soon after, Mozart began to perform in front of an audience.
Aged 6, Mozart traveled with his father and sister to Vienna, to perform. At that time, Vienna was the heart of European classical music. Famous composers, such as Haydn, traveled through and delighted audiences with their musical prowess.
Audiences warmed immediately to Mozart and his elder sister. Mozart had memorized a great number of compositions and was able to play competently in response to the audiences’ demands.
After a very successful tour in their home country, Mozart’s ambitious father took his children overseas to perform.
In June of 1763, the Mozart family set out for Paris. Along the way, they stopped in at many venues to perform impromptu for mixed audiences and fellow travellers. At every place, they received enthusiastic praise.
After France, the family traveled to London, and, as in France, the English welcomed the talented child musicians warmly.
Mozart was lucky enough to meet many well-known composers on the family’s European trip. Amongst them was Johann Christian Bach (1735-1788), J.S.Bach’s youngest son. Mozart and the young Bach played music together often.
Bach gifted Mozart copies of his compositions and attentively listened to Mozart’s impromptu performances.
After meeting Bach, Mozart invested more in composing for the piano in different forms, such as rondo and dance. He also began composing symphonies.
During the year traveling in London with his father and sister, the young Mozart also acquainted himself with Handel’s oratorios and listened to many famous Italian singers. Mozart diligently researched opera and learned Italian singing in order that he could compose opera himself.
Before leaving London, Mozart completed his very first symphony and a number of pieces of chamber music. He traveled on to Holland, where he completed additional symphonies, six sonatas for violin, and other works.
In November of 1766, the Mozart family returned to their hometown after a very successful tour. Mozart was being realized as a musical prodigy. In his hometown, he was highly respected. The ruler of Salzburg understood that the town was in possession of a “valuable treasure,” and that treasure was the young, skillful musician Mozart.
The ruler of Salzburg recruited the 10-year-old musician into his court orchestra. The salary, however, was a meager 12 florins a month.
Here began a new era for Mozart; a life of serving his ruler. Mozart still found time to study musical theory, composition analysis, and in turn progressively improved his compositional skills.
He began writing opera. At the end of 1769, with his lord’s permission, Mozart traveled to Italy. From Mannheim to Bologna, his performances were remarkably successful.
Mozart stayed in Bologna for a few days as the city housed a famous music academy called the Accademia Filarmonica. The leader of the academy was Giovanni Battista Martini, a reputable musician. Martini evaluated Mozart’s skills and recommended that he learn about the form of the “fugue.”
Mozart rose to the challenge, and quickly composed an extraordinary fuge. Consequently, Mozart’s father asked Martini for his permission for Mozart to remain at the school and study for two months.
Mozart’s extraordinary talent had intrigued Martini, and other members of the academy, who allowed him to join a contest. Mozart completed his submission in an impressively short time and members of the Accademia Filarmonica decided to accept him as a member. Mozart was just 14 years old.
The news spread nationwide, and a major theater in Milan immediately commissioned Mozart to write an opera, “Mitridate, re di Ponto.”
During his short time in Italy, Mozart also traveled to other cultured Italian cities including Florence, Napoli, and Rome.
In December of 1970, Mozart’s operas were performed for the first time in Milan. The musician himself played the clavier, conducted, and orchestrated the work. The opera was a huge success.
However, since his lord and employer had ordered him to return to Austria, Mozart was duty bound. He reluctantly bid farewell to his new friends and left Milan heavy with regret; his talent for opera composition was blossoming.
In homage to the young composer, let us enjoy an excerpt, “Non piu andrai,” from Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro, K.492” (an aria for bass).