Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Leopold Mozart, letter dated March 1781
“My main goal right now is to meet the emperor in some agreeable fashion, I am absolutely determined he should get to know me.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 in Salzburg, today’s Austria and the former capital of the Prince-Archbishopric of Salzburg. His father, Leopold, was also a musician and realized his son’s potential at the early age of three. Mozart completed his first-ever composition as part of his father’s notebook instructions for his sister, Maria Anna (Nannerl Notenbuch). Seeing the musical potential in his children—and the potential financial earnings—Leopold took his family on tours beginning in 1763. The family “band” toured grand houses and royal palaces from Germany to Paris, London, Versailles, Vienna, and beyond. Their three-month visit to Vienna included a concert before the imperial family, at which the seven-year-old Wolfgang proposed to Maria Antonia—the future Marie Antoinette of France—after she caught him from slipping.
Charming as it was for the son of a musician to make an idle proposal to the daughter of an empress, Mozart lived in an age of strict social hierarchy. As a teenager, the desire to demonstrate his full potential clashed with an inability to find a rewarding job. The young Mozart profited from commissions—including his successful opera Lucio Silla—during his stay in Milan from 1771-73, but Empress Maria Theresa overruled any thought of a permanent position at the court of her son, Archduke Ferdinand. Thus, Mozart returned to Salzburg in the early months of 1773. Shortly upon his arrival, 17-year-old Wolfgang was appointed court musician to Prince-Archbishop Hieronymous. Soon after, Mozart completed his Symphony No. 25 in G minor, among others. But as time passed, Wolfgang increasingly found Salzburg to be too small for his talent. He dreamed of the bright lights (lamps?) of bigger cities like Vienna and Paris. Four years after his appointment, Mozart resigned and set out on his own tour. He traveled to Mannheim, the premier music scene at the time, where he found many friends but no employment. Mozart then made his way to Paris. It was during his 1778 stay in the French capital that Mozart composed Sinfonie Concertante, K. 297b in E-flat Major, in addition to the greater known “Paris” Symphony (No. 31), and his A minor piano sonata, K. 310/300d.
While Mozart’s tour yielded artistic success, it was difficult for him to find meaningful employment. His return the Prince-Archbishopric of Salzburg in early 1781 coincided with the death of Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria. Her son, Joseph II, took the reins of power when she died. Shortly after, the Archbishop summoned Mozart to Vienna, where the 25-year-old was able to perform for Joseph II. Mozart immediately won over the Emperor, who regarded him “as the finest keyboard player in Vienna.” Joseph hoped to use Mozart’s talents to bolster himself as ruler of the Enlightenment Age, where music and the arts were not just beautiful, but also propagandistic. But both the Archbishop and Wolfgang’s father disapproved of this idea. They sent letters to Wolfgang over subsequent months, pleading him to return to Salzburg—but he resisted. Finally, Wolfgang was brought before the Archbishop, who gave him the boot. As one story goes, he was literally kicked in the arse as a sign of the Archbishop’s firing. Mozart returned to Vienna as a freelancer.Though he earned success in Vienna and later Prague, the final years of his life were met with financial burdens. In his final year of life, he produced several famous works: the opera The Magic Flute; a piano and string concerto; and the sadly unfinished Requiem in D minor. Mozart’s fortunes were turning around until he fell ill and died in Prague on September 6, 1791 at the age of 35. Though his life was short, his musical legacy remains popular and far-reaching—to a larger degree than he could ever have expected. Join us as we pay tribute to the life and legacy of Mozart this Sunday, 2pm at Hochstein Performance Hall! Tickets available here, or call our Patron Services Center at (585) 454-2100.