by Jacy Burroughs
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791)
1. Mozart was baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. (Imagine trying to learn to write that name!) His first two names, Johannes Chrysostomus, represent his saint’s name, following the tradition of the Catholic Church. This saint’s name was in all likelihood chosen because Mozart’s birthday, January 27th, was the feast day of Saint John Chrysostom. Wolfgangus, or Wolfgang in German, means “running wolf” and was the name of Mozart’s maternal grandfather. Theophilus comes from the Greek for “loved by God.” Gottlieb is the German form and Amadeus is the Latin form.
2. Mozart was a child prodigy. At the age of three, he was picking out chords on the harpsichord by ear; at four he was playing short pieces, and at five he was composing. He wrote his first symphony in 1764 – he was only eight years old! Starting when he was six, his father Leopold began taking him on concert tours throughout Europe. You get the picture.
3. It would be unfair to not at least mention Mozart’s sister Maria-Anna, better known for her nickname “Nannerl.” The brother and sister were the only two surviving children of seven. Nannerl was also a prodigy and performed on European concert tours with her brother. Nannerl transcribed Wolfgang’s first symphony. Some musicologists suggest she may not have only been the copyist, but also a collaborator. Unfortunately, she was not allowed to continue her musical career into adulthood. When she turned 18, a marriageable age, her father no longer allowed her to perform in public. While her brother died at the young age of 35, Nannerl lived to the ripe age of 78.
4. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Mozart was afraid of the trumpet as a child. The clarinet would become his favorite instrument, for which he wrote the first concerto.
5. While Mozart’s music was distinctly in the Classical style, his compositional language was unique because of the conglomeration of various styles he learned while touring Europe. When he visited London as a child, he met Johann Christian Bach. Some of his symphonies mimicked J.C. Bach’s compositional style. In Italy, he was introduced to the Italian overture and opera buffa (comic opera). In the early part of his career the galant style, characterized by simple, light music, was prevalent in London and Italy. In Paris and Mannheim, he discovered a more avant-garde style, especially that used by the Mannheim Orchestra. For example, the Mannheim rocket, a rapidly ascending broken chord covering the orchestra’s full range, is found in the beginning of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. Evidence of Baroque and Sturm und Drang influence are present in Mozart’s more mature works.
6. Mozart was infamous for his toilet humor. We have proof in letters to his sister, parents and most especially his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart. He also had a somewhat mean, mocking sense of humor, which he especially directed at his friend and horn player, Joseph Leutgeb, for whom he composed the four horn concertos.
7. During the last seven years of his life, Mozart was a Freemason. He was involved in a rational, Enlightenment-inspired faction, as opposed to those that leaned toward mysticism. Several of Mozart’s compositions contain Masonic symbolism, perhaps most famously his opera The Magic Flute.
8. On 5 December 1791, Mozart succumbed to illness. The exact cause of death is unknown. While the official record states he died from “severe miliary fever,” a severe rash that looks like millet seeds, researchers have posed at least 118 different causes of death, ranging from rheumatic fever to the flu to mercury poisoning. Mozart was buried in a common grave in Vienna, as was the custom of the time. (A common grave refers to an unmarked grave that could be excavated every 10 years.) Only members of the aristocracy and nobility received the privilege of being buried in marked graves. Mozart left his family with a large number of debts, which his wife, Constanze, paid off by selling his unpublished manuscripts.
9. Unlike most other composers, Mozart composed in all major genres and excelled at every one: sonatas, concertos, symphonies, operas, choral music and chamber music. He is credited with popularizing the piano concerto. While he didn’t invent any of these forms, he is responsible for their technical advancement. In his brief 35 years, he composed over 600 works.
10. Ludwig von Köchel, an Austrian musicologist, created a chronological and thematic register of Mozart’s works. The first edition of his catalog was published in 1862 and has undergone several revisions as scholarly research unveiled new information. Mozart’s works are often referred to by their “K” number. For example, the Jupiter Symphony is Symphony No. 41 in C major, K.551.
Bonus: In 1984, the movie Amadeus was released depicting Mozart’s life. However, it was largely dramatized and mostly false. In the movie, the character of Antonio Salieri is the narrator. It begins in an insane asylum to which Salieri is confined for murdering Mozart. Historically, Salieri was a successful Italian composer in Vienna at the same time as Mozart. Mozart and his father blamed Salieri for Mozart’s difficulties establishing himself in Vienna. Despite being rivals for the same positions, there is no evidence that Mozart and Salieri’s relationship was anything but cordial. Decades after Mozart’s death, a rumor began claiming Salieri had poisoned Mozart. Amadeus perpetuates that rumor, as well as the conception that Mozart was childish and ill-behaved as an adult.
Shop Mozart Sheet Music at sheetmusicplus.com
Jacy Burroughs is the Online Merchandiser and Social Media Manager for Sheet Music Plus. She has degrees in horn performance from the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is a freelance horn player in the Bay Area.