Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Salzburg, January 27, 1756 – Vienna, December 5, 1791) was a prolific and influential Austrian composer of the classical period.

Mozart showed prodigious musical ability from his early childhood. Already proficient on keyboard instruments and the violin, he began composing at the age of five, and began performing for European royalty, astonishing everyone with his precocious talent. In his teens, he was hired as a court musician in Salzburg, but the limitations of musical life in the city pushed him to seek a new position at other courts, but without success. When he visited Vienna in 1781 with his employer, he had a disagreement with him and resigned, choosing instead to stay in the capital, where, throughout the rest of his life, he achieved fame but little financial stability. His last years saw the appearance of some of his best-known symphonies, concertos and operas, as well as his Requiem. The circumstances of his untimely death gave rise to several legends. He left a wife, Constanze, and two children.

He was the author of more than six hundred works, many of them referential in symphonic, concertante, operatic, choral, pianistic and chamber music. His output was praised by all the critics of his time, although many considered it excessively complex and difficult, and he extended his influence over several other composers throughout the entire nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today Mozart is regarded by critics as one of the greatest composers in the West, he has achieved great prestige even among laymen, and his image has become a popular icon.

Family and Early Years

Mozart was born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756, and baptized the next day in the local cathedral. The full name he received was Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, and his godfather was Joannes Theophilus Pergmayr. Later Mozart preferred to have his name Theophilus called in its French or Germanic versions, respectively Amadé and Gottlieb, more rarely the Latin form, Amadeus. The first two names were only used in his early publications, and he adopted the Germanic form Wolfgang instead of the Latin Wolfgangus. He was the seventh and last child of Leopold Mozart and Anna Maria Pertl. Of all the children only he and a sister, Maria Anna, nicknamed Nannerl, survived childhood. His father”s family came from the Augsburg region, and the surname was recorded as early as the 14th century, appearing in several different forms – Mozarth, Motzhart, Mozhard, or Mozer. Many of its members engaged in stonemasonry and construction, and some were artists. His mother”s family was from the Salzburg region, composed generally of middle-class burghers.

As soon as Mozart”s talent was recognized in his early years, his father, an experienced musician and renowned violinist, abandoned his pedagogical and compositional pretensions to devote himself to the education of his son and his sister Nannerl, who also early on manifested extraordinary musical gifts, but showed a clear preference for Wolfgang and considered him a divine miracle. It seems certain that much of the professionalism Wolfgang displayed in his maturity was due to the strict discipline imposed by his father. His musical apprenticeship began at the age of four. Leopold had compiled in 1759 a volume of elementary compositions for his daughter”s apprenticeship, which also served as a textbook for his brother. In this volume Leopold notes Mozart”s first compositions, dating from 1761, an Andante and an Allegro for keyboard, but it is impossible to determine to what extent they are Mozart”s integral works or whether they bear a paternal contribution.

First Trips

Soon the children were ready to perform publicly, and in the same year, 1761, Mozart made his first appearance as a child prodigy, at a recitation of works by Johann Eberlin at the University of Salzburg. Then began a period of about twenty years in which he made extensive trips around Europe, organized privately by Leopold with the declared aims of establishing his sons as precocious geniuses and obtaining financial gain. Between the numerous concerts they gave, the tests they underwent, the professional contacts and courtesy visits they were obliged to make, and the frequent listening to performances of other people”s music for the children”s instruction, in parallel with continuing their studies in music and elementary instruction, the schedule of these trips was always exhausting, and sometimes took a toll on their health.

Their first trip, in 1762, was to Munich, where they played before the Elector of Bavaria. At the end of the year they began another, which lasted until January 1763, going to Vienna and other cities, playing for various nobles and twice for Empress Maria Theresa and her consort. According to records of personalities who attended them, and of Leopold himself, who was a prolific epistolary and kept travel diaries, Mozart was already playing “marvelously,” being a “lively, witty, and full of charm” child. Shortly after his return home Mozart fell ill, apparently of rheumatic fever, but soon recovered, so much so that in February 1763 he played violin and harpsichord for the first time at the Salzburg court. A note in a local newspaper states that Mozart was already able to play like an adult, improvise in various styles, accompany at first sight, play keyboards with a cloth covering the keys, add a bass to a given theme, and identify any note that was played. Friends” accounts register that at this tender age, although his childish joviality remained manifest, his spirit was already composed in music, and he was only willing to play in front of an audience that took music seriously, showing pride in his abilities. In the same year he made his first recorded attempt at writing a concerto, and although his handwriting was a scribble, his music was considered by Leopold to be correctly and properly composed.

Also in 1763, in June, they began another journey, which lasted until 1766 and this time took them to Germany, France, England, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, passing several important musical centers along the way. They now had their own carriage and were accompanied by a servant. Mozart used to play the organ in the churches of the towns where they stayed overnight, and the family took advantage of their free time for various outings. In Ludwigsburg they met the violinist Pietro Nardini and the composer Niccolò Jommelli; arriving in Brussels, they waited five weeks before the governor received them for an audition. They arrived in Paris on November 18, and remained there for five months, except for two weeks at Versailles, when they performed before Louis XV, and in all probability gave other private performances. They gave two public concerts, came into contact with local musicians and with an influential literary and musical critic, Baron von Grimm. In Paris Leopold published Mozart”s first printed works, two pairs of sonatas for harpsichord and violin. In April of the following year they left for London, where they stayed for fifteen months. Soon after their arrival they were received by George III, who gave the boy some difficult tests on the harpsichord, and heard him on two other occasions. They gave public and private concerts, and Leopold invited experts to test Mozart in various ways, but the sensationalist advertisements published diminished Mozart”s age by one year, and the performances sometimes had an almost circus-like character. The philosopher Daines Barrington examined him and submitted a report with his findings to the Royal Society, stating his proficiency in improvisation and in composing songs in operatic style. Possibly in London Mozart composed and performed his first symphonies, may have come into contact with the music of Händel, which was still popular, and there he met Johann Christian Bach, with whom he began a long friendship and from whom he received musical influence. On August 1, 1765, they sailed again for France, but when they arrived in Lille, the boy fell ill and was bedridden for a month. The trip then continued to the Netherlands, and in The Hague Mozart again fell ill, this time suffering, along with Nannerl, from a severe bout of typhoid fever that lasted two months. They then passed through several cities, and during this period Mozart composed variations for harpsichord on Dutch songs and six sonatas for violin and harpsichord. They then returned to Paris, where Baron von Grimm heard them again and was amazed at the boy”s progress. His symphonies were presented with good reception and he passed with brilliance the most difficult tests given to him, leaving his audience astounded. From Paris they went on to the south of France, before heading to Switzerland and Germany, and finally to Salzburg, bringing with them an appreciable financial result. For a few sonatas dedicated to the Queen of England, Mozart had received the sum of fifty guineas, the equivalent of about ten thousand dollars today, which gives some idea of the profitability of the tours, not to mention the precious gifts he received, such as gold rings, watches, and snuff boxes.

The next few months were spent in his hometown, engaging in studies of Latin, Italian, and arithmetic, probably taught by his father, as well as writing his first vocal works for the stage, including an excerpt from a collective oratorio, the comedy Apollo et Hyacinthus, and an excerpt from a Passion of the Christ. The latter was possibly the piece he had to write locked in a room by himself to prove to the prince-archbishop that he was the one writing his compositions. He also did some arrangements of sonatas by other authors in the form of concertos. In September 1767, the family left for another trip, staying in Vienna for six weeks. A smallpox epidemic in the city led them to move to Brno and then to Olmütz, but the two children were taken by the disease in a gentle way that left indelible marks on Mozart”s face. Returning to Vienna, they were heard by the court and made plans to perform an opera, La finta semplice, but the composition was never performed, much to Leopold”s indignation. On the other hand, a short singspiel, Bastien und Bastienne, was heard at Franz Mesmer”s mansion, and a solemn mass he had written was performed at the consecration of the Weisenhauskirche, conducted by the composer himself.

Travels to Italy

On January 5, 1769 they were back in Salzburg, where they remained for about a year. Mozart wrote several new pieces, including a group of important orchestral serenades, several minor sacred pieces, and several dances, and was appointed honorary Konzertmeister of the court on October 27. On December 13, without his sister and mother, only father and son made their way to Italy. Following their usual pattern, the trip was dotted with stops wherever the boy could be heard and could be rewarded with good gifts. In Verona he was tested by members of the Philharmonic Academy, and this was repeated in Mantua. In Milan they received the protection of the powerful Count von Firmian, Austria”s minister plenipotentiary in Italy, and met musicians such as Giovanni Battista Sammartini and Niccolò Piccinni. Staying overnight in Lodi, there Mozart completed his first string quartet. In Bologna they visited the famous theorist Father Martini, an examiner at the prestigious Philharmonic Academy, who tested and approved Mozart and got him into the society, and met the castrato Farinelli. In Florence Mozart made an immediate and intense friendship with the young English composer Thomas Linley, and from there they went on to Rome, where they were received by the pope and Mozart was ennobled with the Order of the Golden Spire in the degree of knighthood, an extraordinary deference for a musician in his time. He wore the title publicly for some time but then abandoned the practice. In the Sistine Chapel they heard Gregorio Allegri”s famous Miserere, a work jealously guarded by the Chapel choir as its exclusive property, but Mozart transcribed it in full and by heart after hearing it. Returning to Bologna, he was tested by the local Philharmonic Academy, and admitted as a member. In Milan again, Mozart began composing an opera, Mitridate, re di Ponto, performed in the summer to an enthusiastic reception and remaining on stage for twenty-two evenings. The first three were conducted by the author. Passing through several other cities, giving several other concerts and making relations with important political and musical personalities, they returned to Salzburg on March 28, 1771.

But they hardly stayed at home; even before they left Italy they had arranged their return, signing a contract to perform a theatrical serenade, Ascanio in Alba, to be given in Milan at the wedding of Archduke Ferdinand, and an oratorio, La Betulia liberata, for Padua. By August 1771 he was back in Milan, where the Ascanio was performed with immense success, overshadowing an opera by Hasse, a celebrated older composer, heard at the same festivities. From a letter from the archduke to his mother it appears that he had considered giving Mozart a position at his court, but in her reply the empress advised him not to burden himself with “those useless people” whose habit of “roaming the world like beggars would degrade his service.” Back in Salzburg on December 15, they spent the next few months there.

Soon after his arrival, Leopold”s employer died. Sigismund von Schrattenbach had been very tolerant of Leopold”s repeated and long absences, although he sometimes suspended payment of his wages. The rich gifts Mozart received on his travels, however, were a significant compensation. On March 14, 1772, Hieronymus von Colloredo, whose attitude toward his servant was much more rigid, ascended to the principality-archbishopric. These months were fertile for Mozart, composing a new theatrical serenade, eight symphonies, four divertimentos, and some major sacred works. On July 9 he was formally admitted as a violinist to the Salzburg court at a salary of 150 florins, a position he held on an honorary basis for three years. On July 24 the Mozarts left for their third and final trip to Italy, performing the opera Lucio Silla in Milan, whose performance was not entirely successful because of an uneven cast, as well as other compositions. Leopold wished to get his son a job outside Salzburg; he requested a position for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, but the request was not accepted, and by March 13, 1773 they were home.

Other trips

The family”s income at this time was sufficient to move to a larger house, but Leopold was not satisfied either with his relatively subordinate position in the court chapel or with his son”s meager prospects for professional advancement in his native city. These were probably the causes that brought them to Vienna a few months later in an attempt to obtain a position at the imperial court. This goal was not achieved, but Mozart”s music benefited from the contact with works by composers of the Viennese avant-garde, evidencing sensitive progress. In mid 1774 he performed an opera in Munich, La finta giardiniera, and composed his first sonatas for keyboard. Upon his return in March 1775, Mozart began a period of growing frustration with the limited conditions of local musical life and his employer”s lack of tolerance for prolonged absences. He did not stop composing, however, and a multitude of new works in various genres emerged, including keyboard concertos, divertimentos, serenades, sonatas, and sacred works. In August 1777, Mozart submitted his resignation, and the prince”s dissatisfaction with Mozart”s irregular service was reflected in the resignation in the same act also of Leopold. The latter could not afford to give up his position, and was reinstated.

To support himself, Mozart resumed his travels, and on September 23, now without his father”s company, he went with his mother on a tour of Germany and France, giving concerts and applying for jobs in various courts, but without success. In Augsburg they visited relatives and Mozart established an affectionate relationship with his cousin Maria Anna Thekla, nicknamed Bäsle, with whom he later kept in touch by correspondence. In Mannheim he became friends with several musicians from the important local orchestra and fell in love with the singer Aloysia Weber, intending to take her to Italy and make her a diva. Involved in this relationship, he postponed his trip to Paris several times, but the romance did not bear fruit. He kept in regular contact with his father by letter, and in this exchange of correspondence one can see Leopold”s growing irritation and concern over his son”s lack of objectivity, his irresponsibility with money, and his tendency to procrastinate decisions. It was evident to Leopold that his son was unable to manage on his own, and he filled his letters with a plethora of recommendations on how he should act, who to look for, how to flatter the powerful, how to manage money, and many other things. Despite performing several works successfully, his stay in Paris was not pleasant. Mozart complained about the lack of taste of the French, suspected intrigues against him, his old friendship with Grimm deteriorated, and he turned down the only steady job offer he received on the entire trip, the position of organist at Versailles. To make matters worse, his mother fell ill and died on July 3, 1778. Once the crisis passed, he received a letter from his father notifying him that Colloredo had changed his mind and was willing to reinstate him with a higher salary and travel leave. He left Paris on September 26 but decided to make the return trip through Germany, delaying his arrival in Salzburg, much to the exasperation of his father, who feared that the delay would compromise his readmission to the court. He did not arrive home until mid-January of the following year, with his plans for independence shattered, finances in a precarious state, and relations with his father strained.

He then sent a formal request for reinstatement in the court service and was employed as organist, with a salary of 450 florins. The contract also required him to compose whatever was asked of him and to give lessons to the choir boys. The next two years were uneventful, but he wrote several new works, including symphonies, masses, and important concertos, where the influence of the international styles he had known appears, and he continued to be interested in dramatic music. In 1780 he received a commission for an opera to be performed in Munich, which resulted in Idomeneo, the first of his great operas, portraying drama and heroism with a strength and depth unprecedented in his output, and remaining in these respects one of the most remarkable of his entire career.


In March 1781 his employer traveled to Vienna to attend the coronation of Joseph II, and Mozart accompanied him. The status of his position at court was low, and his correspondence from this period again reveals growing dissatisfaction, and at the same time shows him excited at the prospect of making a career in the imperial capital. On one evening a party was given for the new emperor, but Colloredo prevented him from playing, which would have earned him a gratuity equivalent to half his annual salary in Salzburg. The tension between the two increased and the inevitable crisis erupted on March 9, when in a stormy audience with his employer he again asked to be relieved of his duties. At the moment Colloredo refused, but soon after it was accepted. He then moved to the apartments of his friends, the Weber”s, with whose daughter Aloysia he had fallen in love in Mannheim. Mozart then began an emotional involvement with another of the Weber daughters, Constanze. In letters to his father he initially refuted the rumors about the romance, but to avoid an awkward situation he moved to another house. In the meantime he earned a living giving lessons and private concerts, and continued to compose. In December he performed at court in a competition with Muzio Clementi, and won, but his hopes of obtaining an official job did not materialize.

His relationship with Constanze deepened, and although he continued to deny her to his father, finally on December 15, 1781 he declared his intention to marry. Soon after the premiere of his new opera The Abduction from the Locksmith, which was a great success, pressured by Constanze”s mother, he hastened the wedding preparations and asked for her father”s blessing. On August 4, 1782 they were married in St. Stephen”s Cathedral, but it was not until the next day that the father”s letter giving his reluctant consent arrived. The figure of Constanze and her role in Mozart”s life have been the subject of much controversy, but it seems that the union was quite happy, even though she was not very capable of helping her disorganized husband run a household. A few weeks after their marriage they were already forced to take out a loan. Constanze soon became pregnant and their first child, Raimund Leopold, was born on July 17, 1783, but a few days after his birth he was left in the care of friends so that the couple could travel to Salzburg and visit Leopold. From later correspondence Leopold”s cold reception did not make the visit especially friendly.

They left Salzburg on October 27, 1783, but while they were still there the baby died on August 19, and it is not known when the parents learned of this. Letters from Mozart to Leopold at the end of the year reveal that the couple”s financial situation was not good, with several debts arising, but that he made optimistic plans for the coming musical season. This prospect was realized, giving so many concerts that he had little time to compose, while at the same time giving lessons, his most secure source of income, and began publishing several printed works, which also brought him some profit. In September 1784 his second son, Carl Thomas, was born, and in December he joined the Freemasons, writing music for Masonic rituals.

In early 1785 Leopold visited them in Vienna for a few months, and his letters describe the feverish activity of his son, involved in numerous concerts, the comfortable apartment they lived in, the recitations of Mozart”s music he attended, and testify that his son”s prestige was at its peak. Newspaper reports from this period speak of Mozart as “universally esteemed,” and the owner of “well-deserved fame.” Nevertheless, the income of an independent musician was anything but guaranteed; soon difficulties returned and he was forced to resort to further loans. The most important project of 1785 was the writing of the opera The Marriage of Figaro, with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, which was premiered in May 1786 with good reception, and soon became a regular repertory piece for several theater companies. In the fall of 1786 he made plans to go to England, but Leopold advised him not to go and refused to take care of the boy Carl, and the idea was abandoned. On October 18 his third son, Johann Thomas Leopold, was born and lived only a few days.

However, in 1787 he accepted an invitation to Prague, where Figaro had been a considerable success and he had become a popular composer. There he received a commission for a new opera to be premiered the following season, which resulted in Don Giovanni. In the meantime, Leopold died in May 1787. Mozart renounced his share of the inheritance in favor of Nannerl but recovered his manuscripts that were with his father. In May he moved to another, much more modest apartment behind the Cathedral, and in the following months there is no record of Mozart making any public appearances. He was ill for a short time, but continued to give lessons. He may have given some lessons to the young Beethoven on his first short visit to Vienna, and he certainly went on to teach Hummel, then about ten years old, who may have lived with them for a time. He also published several chamber pieces and songs, which were easy to sell. He returned to Prague in October for the premiere of Don Giovanni, which had an enthusiastic reception. On his return to Vienna in November he was finally granted his longed-for job at court, and was appointed Chamber Musician, with a salary of eight hundred florins and the simple task of writing music for court balls. Despite the greater prestige that an official position brought him and the relief that the regular income provided, it by no means solved all his problems. At the end of the year he had to move again, now to the suburbs, saw the birth on December 27 of his daughter Theresia, who died within a few months, and began the following year a period of repeated appeals for financial relief to his friend Michael Puchberg. The correspondence exchanged betrays his humiliation and a depressed mood. Even so, this period was creatively very fertile, with a remarkable succession of major works appearing.

Last Years

In early 1789 Mozart accepted an invitation to accompany Prince Karl Lichnowsky to Germany, playing in several cities on the way. His pleas for money continued and his wife was pregnant again. Their daughter, Anna, was born in November and lived only one day. He wrote a few quartets and sonatas that year, but was mainly involved with a new opera, Così fan tutte, the third in collaboration with Da Ponte. It was well received but performed poorly, and the resulting profit was meager. Although evidently poor, Mozart was not in misery. He still received a salary from the court, gave lessons, some concerts brought in income, and still sold plays. Their basic needs were met, and they could still afford a servant and a carriage. His letters from this time oscillate between laments and hopeful visions of future prosperity. With the rise of the new emperor, Leopold II, he hoped to be promoted, but this did not happen; he applied for the position of chapel master of the cathedral and succeeded in being appointed as a substitute, but without salary. In the early summer of 1791 his last child, Franz Xaver Wolfgang, was born, and Mozart went to work with the impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, whose company was making a success of composing his opera in the singspiel style, The Magic Flute. The public reaction was initially cold, but soon became popular. In the meantime, he received commissions for two other major compositions, the Requiem, from a patron who demanded secrecy and wished to remain anonymous (it is now known that it was commissioned by Count Walsegg-Stuppach), and his last opera, The Clemency of Titus, which premiered in Prague to great acclaim.

In Prague he fell ill, and apparently never regained perfect health. Later accounts show him back in Vienna engaged in an intense pace of work, involved with the completion of the Requiem and haunted by premonitions of death, but much of this atmosphere may be legend, and it is difficult to reconcile these descriptions with several of his letters from the period where he shows a jovial mood. In November 1791 he had to retire to bed and receive medical attention. In early December his health seemed to improve, and he was able to sing parts of the Unfinished Requiem with some friends. On the 4th his condition worsened; his doctor was called away but could do little. Around 1:00 a.m. on December 5, he expired. The cause of death was diagnosed as acute miliary fever. Folklore has formed about his death, and several different diagnoses have been proposed, including versions that speak of conspiracies and murder, based on Mozart”s own suspicions of having been poisoned, but all are hypothetical and some are quite fanciful. Possibly it was in fact a fatal recrudescence of the rheumatic fever that had attacked him in his childhood; the description of the illness as acute miliary fever fits many inflammatory fevers with exanthema, which does not exclude rheumatic fever.

Mozart was mourned in the cathedral on December 6 and on December 6 or 7 was discreetly buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery of St. Mark”s Church on the outskirts of Vienna, with no one accompanying him, which, contrary to the romanticized versions that gave his death as in abject conditions and his solitary burial as an indignity and a tragic betrayal of the Viennese to the great genius, was a common custom in his time. No tombstone was erected and the exact location of the grave is to this day unknown. It is possible, however, from an 1856 account by Jahn, that Salieri and Van Swieten were present, along with his pupil Süssmayr and two other unidentified musicians. The obituaries were unanimous in recognizing Mozart”s greatness, the Masons held a sumptuous mass on the 10th and published the eulogizing sermon delivered in his honor, several concerts were given in his memory, and some for the benefit of Constanze. In Prague, the funeral tributes were even grander than in Vienna. Mozart left a considerable inheritance in manuscripts, instruments and other objects, but the financial valuation of it was small.

Education, ideas and personality

According to Steptoe, all considerations about Mozart”s personality and the family environment in which he grew up must pass through the analysis of the figure of his father, Leopold. His mother, Anna Maria, remained an obscure, all-secondary character in her son”s life, but Leopold exerted an influence on him that lasted into maturity. He was born in Augsburg and moved to Salzburg to study philosophy and law, but did not complete his studies. He turned to music and took a position as violinist and violin teacher in the chapel of the prince-archbishop of Salzburg, and also devoted himself to composition. Later he rose to the position of substitute chapel master, and achieved considerable fame with the writing of a treatise on violin technique entitled Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (1756), which had several reissues and translations and remains one of the reference works in its genre written in the eighteenth century. Leopold was a typical representative of the rationalism of his time. He had a keen intelligence, was interested in the arts and sciences, corresponded with literati and philosophers such as Wieland and Gellert, and was a man who knew the twisted ways of the courtly world of his time.

The musical education that Leopold, a first-rate teacher, provided for his son was in every respect complete, and the presence of music in family life was constant, both through domestic practice and the numerous social activities in which the family engaged, often involving music. Little Mozart learned from the age of four the keyboard, at the age of five he began on the violin and organ, and already moved on to composition. Mozart”s education beyond music is not well documented, but apparently Leopold arranged for him to learn French, Italian, Latin, and arithmetic. The international trips, besides aiming for financial gain and fame, also served to expose Mozart to a variety of styles, to form his taste and learn new techniques. Leopold was also concerned with hiring teachers on these trips to complement any aspect that seemed necessary. In London he sought out the castrato Giovanni Manzuoli to give the boy singing lessons, and in Bologna he took him to Father Martini for counterpoint lessons, in addition to acquiring scores that were unlikely to be found in Salzburg. Travel was also useful for an expansion of horizons in other aspects of culture, and whenever possible the Mozarts attended the theater and read foreign literature. Moreover, outdoor recreation, social interaction, and exercise were an integral part of Leopold”s educational and hygienic values, so the image of Mozart as a lonely child in a world of adults, enclosed between four walls, is a myth.

During the itinerant period Leopold occupied a central place in his son”s life, being his secretary, teacher, collaborator, manager, public relations man, and his greatest promoter, meticulously planning the itineraries, exploiting every contact to his advantage, and organizing all of his son”s performances, including the sensational dissemination of his genius. Leopold exerted strong pressure on Mozart to try to instill in him a sense of responsibility and professionalism, and for a long time was his greatest aesthetic advisor. The nature and positive or negative repercussions of this dominating presence on Mozart have been a matter of much debate among critics, but it seems certain that although there was a real and deep affection between father and son, and Leopold was visibly a proud father, as the boy entered maturity the controlling nature of the father and his tendency to sarcasm and manipulate feelings to make the son bow to his ideas began to be a source of increasing tension between them. Over the years Mozart learned to ignore his father”s frequent reproaches of his behavior and choices, but letters from Leopold survive in which his impotent anger and disappointment are clear, and letters from Mozart in which he, between guilt and impatience, struggles to justify himself and assure him that he knew what he was doing. After Mozart moved to Vienna they met only twice. Once when Leopold was introduced to Constanze in Salzburg, and the second of these when he visited them in Vienna in 1785, when he seems to have found himself satisfied, witnessing his son”s professional success and prestige and seeing that he lived in a comfortable situation.

The father also seems to have been responsible for shaping some of his son”s religious, social, and political ideas. Leopold, despite being a man of the world was deeply devout; on one of his trips he interrupted his itinerary to convince an apostate to return to Catholicism, was an avid collector of relics of saints, and in several letters expressed his concern for the salvation of Mozart”s soul. However he related to Enlightenment and other anti-clericals, and on several occasions expressed his contempt for the corrupted values of the princes of the Church. On the other hand, he recommended his son to approach the high hierarchs and stay away from his fellow musicians, while placing more value on personal merit than on titles of nobility. Mozart to some extent echoed all these beliefs and opinions, as his correspondence attests. He condemned atheists – he called Voltaire an “ungodly arch-patriot” – and made at many times devout mentions of God. He had great sensitivity to social inequalities and a keen sense of self-love, and a letter he wrote after his confrontation with his boss Colloredo is illustrative in this regard. In it he says: “The heart nobles the man, and if I am certainly not a count, I may have more honor in me than many counts; and, lackey or count, insofar as he insults me, he is a scoundrel.” His closest engagement with politics was reflected in his joining, along with his father, Freemasonry, an organization that at the time openly campaigned for the legal systematization of fundamental human principles, education, freedom of political and religious expression, and access to knowledge, seeking to create, in the formula then used, an “enlightened society.

On other points he had very different thoughts from his father. Only a fourteen-year-old could ironize in a letter to his sister Leopold”s views on aesthetics, which leaned towards the models set by Gellert and Wieland and which sought for art a moralizing and noble social function within an austere and virtuous expression. These opinions already seemed old-fashioned to him, and in a letter to his father around 1780 he defended the validity of opera buffa and rejected its conformity to the dictates of opera seria. Nor is a love of the arts other than music evident in his correspondence – they were not even mentioned, and his inventory did not include a single painting – nor was he particularly attracted to the natural landscape. He does not seem to have been a great reader, but he knew Shakespeare, Ovid, Fénelon, Metastasio, and Wieland to some extent, and he probably read works on history, education, and politics, but much of this reading was apparently done primarily with a view to writing texts for operas or songs. However, there survive drafts of two of his prose comedies, some poems, and he was a great letter writer, whose content conveys a wide variety of feelings and ideas, presented in a deep and exuberant way that match in literary quality the correspondence of the most distinguished writers of his time.

Having spent the formative years of his personality always on exhausting trips, pressured in various ways by his father, and by the public who always demanded new feats from a child prodigy, and without receiving a standard education, Mozart surprisingly emerged as a mature man without serious psychological problems, but his passage into an autonomous life was not without negative repercussions, a phenomenon common to other child prodigies. While small, his vivacity and spontaneity, combined with his undeniable and amazing talent, won him the good graces and pampering of the high nobility and allowed him to maintain an intimacy with them in enormous disproportion to his insignificant bourgeois origins. When he grew up, the appeal of his childlike genius disappeared, he became just one more among thousands of talented musicians active in Europe – even though he was supremely talented – and the facilities for penetrating all social spheres that he had known before also disappeared. His early success had developed in him a considerable pride in his achievements, with a consequent contempt for mediocrity, but when he was deprived of his former privileges and began to reject Leopold as the organizer of his life – a role his father had performed so well before – he was obliged to earn his living first, and then to make his own living, being forced to earn his living first as a subordinate courtly musician, and then venturing into an uncertain life as an independent musician, he found it difficult to keep his domestic routine in good order, to balance his budget, to adapt to the market, and to socialize diplomatically and equally with his peers. A letter written from Paris to his father by his old friend, Baron von Grimm, expresses in broad outline the views of his contemporaries about him:

Also a point of much curiosity has been Mozart”s notoriously crude sense of humor, a trait he shared with his entire family, including his mother. Lewd jokes, involving sexual situations and literal descriptions of the excretory activities of the body, were common between them, his correspondence is full of them, and Mozart”s jocular interest in the anus and defecation remained throughout his life. Such behavior shocked the habits of the elegant circles he frequented, although this did not interfere with the recognition and appreciation of his refined musical talent. However, this kind of humor sometimes spilled over into his music. As an example, one can cite the canon Leck mich im Arsch, which literally means Kiss my behind. This polarity of temperament manifested itself in other ways as well. There are reports of frequent sudden mood swings, one moment dominated by a sublime idea, the next indulging in banter and ridicule, and then harboring gloomy feelings. In contrast to these oscillations, he always remained unshaken in his confidence in his own musical abilities, exulting in them, and there is no trace anywhere in his correspondence, nor in the memoirs of his contemporaries, that shows any doubt or insecurity on his part in this respect. However, in general terms his temperament was well disposed. When he devoted himself to compositional work, external circumstances did not seem to affect him. As an example, he worked on his string quartet K421 while his wife gave birth to their first child in the next room; in the summer of 1788, amid the death of their little daughter Theresia and critical financial difficulties, which led them to move into a cheap house, he composed no less than his last three symphonies, works of great importance, as well as a trio, a sonata, and other notable pieces. This however does not mean that his musical and personal life were at all disconnected, and on several occasions his health and especially his relationship with his wife, who shaped much of his adult personality, were reflected in his work.


Constanze was over time subjected to the most diverse appreciations, but in most of them she was portrayed as uneducated, vulgar, capricious, cunning for entangling Mozart in a marriage which he was, it seems, not so eager to bring about, and as unable to support him and help in household management, inducing him into a careless and irresponsible life which on several occasions led them into serious financial difficulties. It has also been suggested that she was unfaithful to him, although there is no evidence of this. What does seem certain is that she, whether or not she had the faults imputed to her, became her husband”s main emotional support until his death, was the object of his true passion, and made him happy. In Constanze”s various absences for health treatment, Mozart”s letters express perennial concern for her well-being and reveal the jealousy he felt for her, making a thousand recommendations to her regarding the decorous behavior she should maintain in public. And her alleged incompetence as a housewife is difficult to reconcile with the shrewd administration of her husband”s inheritance and name that she carried out after she was widowed.

Several loves have been attributed to Mozart in his youth, but the degree of their involvement is uncertain. Among them were his cousin Anna Thekla, with whom he may have had his first sexual experience, Lisel Cannabich, Aloysia Weber, and Baroness von Waldstätten. Even after his marriage he may have continued to court other women, among them the singers Nancy Storace, Barbara Gerl, Anna Gottlieb and Josepha Duschek, his pupil Theresia von Trattner and Maria Pokorny Hofdemel, but there is no evidence that he was concretely unfaithful to Constanze. There was a rumor after his death that he had impregnated Maria Hofdemel.

Mozart had many patrons during his career, and some of them devoted legitimate friendship to him. The first protector he had when he arrived in Vienna was the Countess Thun, frequenting her home assiduously. Other friends of the nobility were Karl Lichnowsky, August von Hatzfeld, Gottfried von Jacquin, and above all Baron Gottfried van Swieten, perhaps the most loyal of all, and who possibly influenced his friend”s work by arousing in him an interest in fugue. Among composers and other professionals in the artistic world he developed a closer, though sometimes ephemeral, friendship with Johann Christian Bach, Thomas Linley, Christian Cannabich, Ignaz Holzbauer, Michael Puchberg, who came to his rescue in several financial crises, the actors Joseph Lange, Gottlieb Stephanie, and Friedrich Schröder, the instrumentalists Anton Stadler and Joseph Leutgeb, and members of Emanuel Schikaneder”s theater company, including himself. His friendship with Joseph Haydn became intense, although they did not live together regularly. However, they developed deep admiration for each other, and Mozart”s work reveals influence from the older composer. His ambivalent relationship with Antonio Salieri became another bone of contention for critics, and many legends formed around him, including one that accused him of being Mozart”s murderer. Mozart possibly envied his high position in the emperor”s esteem and was at first suspicious of him, supposing he sought to harm him with intrigues. He later established a cordial relationship with his competitor, inviting him to a recitative of The Magic Flute and being delighted with the compliments Salieri paid him. Salieri also showed his deference when he included works by Mozart when conducting the music for the coronation of Leopold II in Prague. Accounts left by Salieri”s friends say that in his old age he would have confessed to poisoning Mozart, but by then he had attempted suicide and gone into a delusional mental state, and today critics consider the suspicion unfounded.

Appearance and iconography

He was short of stature, thin and pale, smallpox had left marks on his face, and Nannerl said that he had no physical attractiveness, a circumstance of which he was aware. Hummel and others, however, remembered his big, bright blue eyes, and the tenor Michael Kelly, that he was vain of his fair, thin, blond hair. His left ear was deformed, and he kept it hidden under his hair. His fingers were also deformed, but this could be due to continued practice at the keyboard. In later years he acquired a jowl and his nose became prominent, which gave rise to jokes in the newspapers. Although these descriptions may be exaggerated, at various times his concern to compensate for his lack of physical beauty with elegance in his dress, shoes, and hairstyle, and even in his underwear, was recorded.

Mozart was portrayed several times in his lifetime. There remain about fourteen portraits considered authentic, and more than sixty whose identification is doubtful. Of those authenticated, the vast majority were done by painters of little merit, but important ones are Barbara Kraft”s, painted posthumously from earlier sources and according to Landon perhaps the one that came closest to his real physiognomy, and the one painted by his brother-in-law Joseph Lange, very poetic but left uncompleted. Also noteworthy are a lithograph by Lange made possibly from a lost painting, the silver-tipped drawing of Dora Stock, the family portrait of Johann Nepomuk della Croce, and the child portraits of Saverio dalla Rosa and Pietro Lorenzoni. When Mozart died a wax mask of his face was made, which unfortunately was lost. Throughout the 19th century several other portraits were produced, but they are romantic recreations that reveal the ideas of the bourgeoisie of the time rather than the composer”s true features.


After a beginning influenced by the Rococo aesthetic, Mozart developed most of his career during the period of music history known as classicism, so called in view of its balance and formal perfection. The movement had parallels in the other arts under the name of neoclassicism, which was born out of a renewed interest in the art of classical antiquity, taking place in the midst of important archaeological discoveries and having as one of its main intellectual mentors the German Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Neoclassicism also owed its origin to an influence of Enlightenment ideals, which were based on rationalism, combated superstitions and religious dogmas, and emphasized personal improvement and social progress within a strong ethical framework. With no knowledge of musical relics from antiquity, unlike the other arts, musical Classicism was largely a continuous evolution, without sharp breaks, from Baroque and Rococo roots. Gluck tried to give the chorus in opera an importance equivalent to what it had in classical tragedy, but the main musical genres consolidated in Classicism, the symphony, the sonata and the string quartet, had precursors since the early 18th century. Along with Haydn, it was Mozart who brought them to a high level of excellence and consistency. Although the first composers of these genres were invariably names of the second or third rank, without them Mozart”s instrumental music would have been unthinkable.

Salzburg, which had an ancient tradition in music, by the time of Mozart”s birth had become a center of some prominence in the musical world of Austria, having counted throughout the 18th century with the presence of important names such as Muffat and Caldara. At the time of Mozart”s birth, his own father, Leopold, was one of the leaders of a local school that had acquired characteristically Germanic outlines, supplanting the influence of the previously predominant French and Italian styles. At this time musical life became rich; the court orchestra and choir achieved some fame beyond local borders and attracted notable instrumentalists and singers; several wealthy bourgeois families began to form their own groups, some able to compete in quality and size with that of the court. However, when Colloredo ascended the throne of the principality, although he himself was a music lover and a violinist, he imposed a significant reduction in the number of his musicians and leaned the ritual of religious worship, aligning himself with the philosophy of Emperor Joseph II. With this severe limitation, Mozart”s future professional prospects in the city were reduced.

Vienna, in turn, as capital of the empire was a much more important musical center. Even with the limitations on sacred music, the court chapel boasted a high standard, and profane music was produced in quantity in opera houses, public concerts, and in the soirees of numerous families who maintained private orchestras and chamber groups. Some of them had small theaters in their palaces and were even able to provide conditions for chamber performances of operas. In addition, the city had music publishers, numerous copyists and renowned instrument makers, and a large traffic of visiting foreign musicians who circulated new ideas and compositions. With the performance of Haydn, Mozart himself, and soon after Beethoven, it became one of the biggest musical references in all of Europe.


Mozart adopted, like all classical composers, the sonata form as the basic structure for the vast majority of the most important movements of his compositions. This form had its origins in the bipartite structures of Domenico Scarlatti, which were developed by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and brought to a state of consolidation by Joseph Haydn, now transformed into a symmetrical structure divided into three well-defined and contrasting sections: an exposition where two distinct themes are presented, the first in the tonic of the piece, and the second in the dominant; a development, where the two themes are explored and combined in various ways, and a recapitulation, where the material of the exposition is taken up in the form of a conclusion. The classical composers not only brought the sonata form to a stage of perfection but also contributed to perfecting the sonata in several movements, defined as a piece generally in four movements: the first fast, in sonata form, followed by a slow movement, an adagio or andante that had a song-like character. Then came a minuet, a light piece derived from dance music, and the structure ended with a rondo or variations, again in rapid movement. The forms of the sonata-form and sonata were employed in all genres of composition, from sacred to profane music, instrumental or vocal, in music for solo or for groups.

Mozart”s music is basically homophonic, defined in a few words as a melodic line supported by a vertical harmony, with an economical use of modulations and dissonances, these placed in strategic points and soon resolved. His harmony, always clear, is extremely rich in subtleties and original solutions, and his use of dissonance, motival design and dynamics serves eminently expressive purposes. His rhythms are lively and his understanding of the textural possibilities of the instruments is immense. At the same time, he used polyphonic resources abundantly, including the strictest of them, the fugue, particularly in his masses. However, his use of the fugue could open up to formal liberties, depending on the characteristics of the subjects (themes). Fugues with long subjects are more likely to exhibit traditional features, while those with short subjects are more experimental and their melodic profiles fit better into the classical aesthetic. They rarely cover an entire movement, but are rather common in the concluding sections, a procedure understood as a rhetorical emphasization of the musical discourse. In instrumental music strict fugues are rare, and polyphonic features are structured as episodes within the framework of the sonata form. Mozart studied Bach”s fugues with interest and composed several, and also came into contact with the music of Händel, equally rich in polyphony, from which he received an important influence.

It is known that Mozart understood the compositional process as a conscious activity, which had to be undertaken with a definite purpose and according to a specific need. Daydreams waiting for inspiration, or an understanding of inspiration as an external force, had no place in his method. However, this did not exclude fantasy, nor did it prevent his feelings from exerting an influence on his work. His contemporaries did not know his compositional procedures, they only knew that he composed a lot and fast. But a folklore has been created, from his great gifts as an improviser and from some sparse remarks he made himself, that he wrote instinctively, or that the music came ready to his mind and then he just transcribed it mechanically to the score, without the need for corrections, or that he composed without any help from instruments, but this perception, confronted with a large body of other contrary evidence, largely does not survive. It is certain, on the other hand, that he possessed a prodigious memory and intellectual abilities. In one letter he stated that he mentally elaborated a composition while writing another ready-made one on paper, but in others he gave details of prolonged meditations planning works, and of his considerable effort until they were completed to his satisfaction. His acutely active state of consciousness when it came to music is reported in a letter to his father, saying that he thought about music all day long, and enjoyed experimenting, studying, and reflecting. His standard procedure, from the analyses of the manuscripts and his accounts, was as follows: first he would conceive an idea and use his fantasy to define it, then he would try it out on the piano – he said that without a piano he could not compose, or only with difficulty. The next step involved comparing his idea with models by other composers, and then writing down a first sketch on paper, often cryptically, so that no one would understand what he was planning. Other more complete sketches would follow, detailing the harmonic progression of the structure and its main melodic lines, as well as outlining the bass line, upon which the rest was built. I would note subsidiary themes for future use, and from there the work would begin to take its final form. The last stage consisted of the orchestration, which defined the final sound of the piece.

Contrary to the legends that described Mozart as an innate prodigy, his vast knowledge of the European musical culture of his time and of previous eras was decisive in the formation of his personal style. His taste for subtle and delicate nuances, his skillful use of the tonal spectrum to give richer colors to the harmony, and the flexibility of his style prevented his strong lyrical vein from entering into the excesses of romanticism. Even on occasions when he expressed the tragedy of human existence, he tempered the drama by refusing any affectation. Cultivating the balance, charm and grace characteristic of classicism, his work nevertheless possesses great vivacity, expressiveness and strength, always presenting his ideas in a clear and direct way. His production is enormous, multifaceted, and here can only be briefly approached in its main genres, including about twenty operas, seventeen masses, a requiem, 29 piano concertos, several concertos for various instruments, 27 quartets and six string quintets, 41 symphonies, and a large number of smaller compositions in various formations. The Köchel Catalog lists 630 pieces by him, but occasionally others have been rediscovered.


Among his most important compositions are his operas, which incorporated elements from very different traditions: the German singspiel and the Italian opera seria and opera buffa. However, one cannot take these categories too literally, and there are many works with features common to all. Even some of his opere buffe include dramatic elements of great weight in the plot and character of the music, to the extent that he describes Don Giovanni, for example, as a “jocular drama”. His early creations in the genre are notable for being the work of a child, but while technically correct, they lack greater dramatic qualities nor do they possess a very rich or complex musical architecture. His best moment in the childhood phase is Lucio Silla, composed at the age of sixteen, where a more effective dramatic coherence between the numbers is sketched out, of special interest being the end of Act I, where he managed to evoke a dark atmosphere of great interest. However, in general the work strictly follows the conventions of opera seria, concentrating its forces on bravura arias for the display of pure vocal virtuosity. His approach is already quite different in Idomeneo, the first of his great operatic works. He already strives to master his means consciously and with a definite purpose, demonstrating an appreciable understanding of the conventions of theater and the ways to achieve the best dramatic effect. He avoided cadences of a strongly conclusive character at the end of each number, so that the integration between them would be more natural and continuous, eliminated the decorativism of the Italian tradition of bel canto, and using simple resources wrote sober and expressive music, providing it with great pathetic and lyrical intensity.

In The Abduction of the Locksmith a step forward is taken, even though the work does not have the dramatic pretensions of Idomeneo. The numerous bravura arias are much brighter and richer musically than in his earlier works, but the end result is a confused hybrid between opera seria and opera buffa, where the integration of the two universes is disjointed and inconsequential. A balance was only achieved at a later stage in the evolution of his musical thinking and understanding of the characters” character and psychology, resulting in the three operas he wrote on librettos by Lorenzo da Ponte, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte, in the final phase of his career. In all of them, the bourgeois or comic characters receive a musical and characterological treatment of the same importance as the heroic and noble characters. In fact, Mozart did not change the conventions of the genre, but accepted them and imbued them with a sonorous power, a dramatic range, and a psychological penetration hitherto unparalleled, along with the creation of elegant sound architecture, a harmony transparent and colored with subtlety, a clear and evocative orchestration, and a melodic inspiration full of freshness and vivacity. According to Hindley these characteristics combine to give them their fantasy atmosphere, their exact balance, and their deep human significance.

His two ultimate operas, The Magic Flute and The Clemency of Titus, also of great value, leave intriguing outstanding questions for critics, who speculate on where the innovations they introduced might have taken him had he lived longer. The Magic Flute is the best example of Mozart”s interest in creating a Germanic national opera in both form and expression, employing German as the language of the libretto and realizing an expanded conception of the singspiel form. Its theme is esoteric and partly archaeological, and may reflect influence from Masonic doctrines. It deals in brief with the victory of light over darkness; the protagonist couple passes through an initiation rite, and the ending is an allegory of the marriage of Wisdom and Beauty, but the work also has important elements of fairy tales and pantomime. Technically, Bravery”s writing serves not exhibitionistic but dramatic purposes, and is quite economical; at several points an attempt to base the action more on the resources of the voice than on the choreography of the characters is apparent, with innovative declamatory passages of strong dramatic quality and harmonic coherence, traits that trigger unforeseen and unusual mutations in the overall structure of the work. As for Titus, it is a pure opera seria, without comic interpolations, a political drama extolling the nobility and generosity of the protagonist emperor – an allegory of Leopold II – against a background dominated by intrigue, betrayal, passion, jealousy, cowardice, and civil turmoil. It was hastily composed but represents a late and noble evocation of a genre that was already dying out, assimilating in part the influence of Gluck”s renewal of opera seria and giving the music an atmosphere of true classical tragedy with wise economy of means, great expressiveness, and an instrumentation that pointed to the future. Many authors considered it at the time the sum of Mozart”s achievements in opera seria.

It is interesting to note that the treatment of the arias in his operas conformed to the needs and abilities of each singer he had available. Also the literary form of the libretto gave him suggestions on how to structure the musical content. In the highly conventional context of opera seria the aria is one of the most important elements, it is where most of the musical material of the entire composition is presented, leaving the recitatives and choruses a much smaller amount. However, the aria does not involve progress within the unfolding of the action, it is a number where the action is frozen so that the soloist can make a private meditation on the events that happened before or plan a future action. The movement of the drama happens primarily in the dialog recitatives, where the characters can interact and move the action forward. Being a static scene with a symmetrical structure, the aria in essence is contrary to the natural development of an ever-expanding drama, and the strictness of symmetry prevents the free development of characterization. Thus, it requires the composer to infuse it with dramatic interest by other means, notably by the accumulation and structuring of purely musical elements. Mozart dealt with these conventions by organizing his material on a new hierarchy of proportions, on a more coherent and consequent thematic sequentiality, and also by seeking librettos that offered a more dynamic dramaturgy. With this he managed to give the rhetoric intrinsic to the aria more defined and more functional objectives within the more or less rigid framework of opera.


According to Levin it is not the symphonies but the operas and concertos that most reveal the evolution of Mozart”s orchestral writing in the Viennese years, and both share several technical, expressive, and formal characteristics in the treatment of the soloist part in relation to the orchestra and in the adaptation of the writing to the capabilities of the performers, as described above in relation to operatic arias. But unlike a theatrical dramatic situation, the concerto is not tied to a libretto or to the canonical aria-recitative-recitative-etc sequence that characterizes opera. This opened up for the composer a much greater freedom in the development of musical rhetoric, even if much of this rhetoric transposed to instruments remained subject to the same laws of articulation and comprehensibility, as is revealed especially in the first movements of the concertos, organized in the essentially dialectical structure of the sonata-form, where all the elements pursue the same defined rhetorical goal and virtuosity is reconciled with the needs of dramatic expression. This is a trait that appears in almost all his concert production, particularly in the concertos of his maturity.

The debt of Mozart”s concertos to his solo vocal music is also revealed in many details of his slow movements, as for example in the recitative-style passages of the piano concertos K466, K467, K595 and several more, in the variety of orchestral accompaniments to the soloist part, and in the vivacity with which the orchestral ensemble reacts to the soloist and provokes him in turn to a reaction on his part. In the same way, he adapted the writing of the solo instruments according to the technical abilities of their performers or the possibilities of their particular instruments. For example, in the concerto for harp and flute K299 he included the bass notes re♭3 and C3 in the flute part because the instrument of the performer, the Count of Guines, had a flute with an adapter that made it possible to play these notes inaccessible to flutes in general. The clarinet concerto K622 was composed especially for Anton Stadler, whose instrument reached four semitones below the usual tessitura. The concertos composed for the horn player Joseph Leutgeb testify to the gradual decline of his skill: the first ones, K417 and K495, from 1783 and 1786 respectively, include the high notes b4 and c5, but in the 1787 concerto K447 they are omitted, and in an unfinished draft of another concerto from 1791 no note below G3 appears.

Mozart created his early concertos by adding orchestral parts to keyboard solo sonatas by other composers, keeping the keyboard part essentially unchanged, but he soon manifested an ability to summarize the thematic and structural material in the orchestral writing he added. Mozart practiced little of the concerto form until about 1773, when his more advanced experiments in opera sparked his interest in instrumental rhetoric, making him aware that the complexities inherent in the solo concerto form could amount to a specific dramatic situation. Thus, since he composed his first concerto with original material, the violin concerto K207 of 1773, all his subsequent concertos are highly particularized and all feature a wealth of different thematic and structural materials. In the general model of the exposition section of the first movements of his concertos appear around seven distinct structural cells, some of which may, however, derive from the same theme. With this abundance of elements and his ability to integrate them, Mozart avoided the two main problems of his contemporaries” concertante writing: mechanical formalism and lack of tension, which generated a loose, episodic and repetitive musical discourse. By achieving a remarkable integration between form and rhetoric, Mozart supplanted all other composers of his time who dedicated themselves to this genre.

Several authors consider that within all of Mozart”s concertos, the piano writings (actually the pianoforte), which he composed for his own performances as a soloist, represent his greatest achievement in concert music, and hover far above all the output of his colleagues for the richness and originality of the ensemble and the subtlety and complexity of the relationship created between soloist and orchestra, maintaining the idiomatic characteristics of both soloist and ensemble, and establishing a dialogue between the two that was able to express a vast plethora of meanings and emotions.


Mozart made, right after Joseph Haydn, the greatest contribution to symphonic writing. He worked in the genre throughout most of his career, the earliest dating from 1764 and the latest from 1788. The first ones show the influence of composers such as Johann Christian Bach, Karl Friedrich Abel and others he met on his international travels, mixing Italian and Germanic styles. Its structural pattern is uniform: all in three movements, without a minuet; the first movement is in fast tempo in meter 44 and divided into two sections. The second movements are slow, also in binary form and usually meter 24, and the final movements are as a rule fast rondòs in meter 38. However, variations on the basic form of the symphony are found in some of them. From the K43 symphony on, the minuet is introduced as the third movement, and the four-movement form becomes the usual pattern, the first movements are less regular, and in the last of the group the fully developed sonata form finally appears. The next phase comprises the period of the first two Italian tours, but several pieces from this group have only been transmitted from secondary sources, and therefore have doubtful authorship. Of confirmed authorship are only K74 and K 112, composed between 1770 and 1771, and given this authorial uncertainty and the discrepancy between the two that are assured, it is difficult to form an idea about the degree of direct Italian influence on this phase.

Soon afterwards, between the end of 1771 and mid 1774, he composed another large set of seventeen symphonies, whose form and expressiveness are much more varied and unpredictable, assimilating elements from Italy, the Mannheim School, and local composers such as Michael Haydn. The final half of this group elaborates its first movements more consistently in sonata form, using the contrast of the two main themes as an expressive and structuring resource, while revealing a growing interest in counterpoint. The next few years were poor in new symphonies, but he reworked some overtures from old operas as symphonies with the addition of finales. He did not resume the genre until 1779, producing several until 1780, with significant formal variations. In 1783 he wrote the first with a slow first movement, but it is his last three works in this form, K543, K550 and K551, that stand out in his entire output, being among the most important and influential symphonies composed in the entire 18th century. They were written on a jet, in only six weeks, in the summer of 1788. In them appear clearly the elements that constitute his essential contribution to the symphonic genre: a perfectly balanced and proportioned structure, a harmonic vocabulary of great richness, the use of thematic material with structural functions, and a deep concern for orchestral textures, manifested especially in the highly idiomatic writing for the wind instruments, particularly the clarinet and French horn, which act as support and link between the strings and woods. He was also the first to introduce an elegiac element in the first movement of the symphony, and although his work favors the homophonic style, he was a master of counterpoint and fugal composition, leaving an important example in the finale of the symphony K551 (Jupiter).

Sacred music

His main sacred works, the masses, follow the principles of symphonic writing, but are composed with a great variety of forces, from a simple vocal quartet accompanied by the organ, to pieces that require a large orchestra, a group of soloists and a choir, which combine in multiple ways in structures of great amplitude that can extrapolate liturgical uses, as is the case of the Great Mass in C minor. Its main direct models were the Masses of Michael Haydn, Johann Eberlin, and his father, Leopold. Seventeen of Mozart”s masses are currently accepted as authentic, some in the form of the brief mass and others in that of the solemn mass, as well as the Requiem for the Dead. His first works in the genre are unpretentious, but at the age of twelve he could already compose a significant piece, the Mass in C minor K139. When Colloredo took over the archbishopric, he introduced some changes in the liturgy influenced by the Enlightenment, and tried to establish a less decorative and more functional sacred music, preferring concise structures that emphasized the comprehensibility of the text. Mozart”s Masses of this period reflect these ideas, and are all interesting, with a rich sonority and creative solutions. The Great Mass is the one that stands out most, both for its length and style, but it remains incomplete. In it, Mozart tried to rescue the tradition of the erudite mass, with archaic passages that refer to baroque references and others that reveal the influence of Italian opera, with ornate solos. Other notable ones are the so-called Orphanage Mass and the Coronation Mass.

After the Great Mass Mozart did not return to the genre until his last year of life, when he composed the Requiem, the best known of his sacred works, also unfinished. It was composed in secret by an anonymous commission from Count von Walsegg-Stuppach, as he apparently wished to pass the work off as his own and perform it at a memorial service for his wife. It is a controversial situation, however, and much folklore has been formed around the peculiar circumstances of its commissioning and composition. The work received additions from Mozart”s disciple Joseph Eybler, but he was unable to finish it. The missing parts were finally completed by another pupil, Franz Süssmayr, probably partly using drafts by Mozart himself, but to this day the question remains as to how much is due to the disciples in the final result known today. Several musicologists have offered alternative versions in an attempt to recreate Mozart”s original intentions. Its musical content is very rich, using elements of classical counterpoint, motival reiterations that integrate the entire composition, baroque techniques – the example of Händel being important -, instrumentation associated with Freemasonry, and operatic traits, producing a work of great solemnity and remarkable aesthetic cohesion for the multiplicity of references it employs.

In addition to the Masses Mozart composed a large number of other sacred works in his duties at the archiepiscopal court of Salzburg. Among these the most substantial are the vespers and litanies, with stirring writing for strings and rich choral declamation interspersed with passages in erudite counterpoint. The best known series of vespers is Confessore”s Vesperae Solemnes of 1780, employing a wide variety of stylistic resources, from fugal writing to sections in aria form and others in antiphonal format. In other genres the motet Exultate, jubilate of 1773, composed as a sacred cantata in three movements interspersed with recitatives; the little-known motet Venite populi, and the small but famous motet Ave verum corpus, are noteworthy. His sacred dramas Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots (1767) and La Betulia liberata (1771) belong more to the realm of opera, and the ritual cantatas he wrote for Masons are interesting for their employment of a sound symbolism associated with Freemasonry.

Chamber music

Throughout his career Mozart produced chamber music, which was a central element in his domestic life, not only for public performances. It comprised about one-fifth of his total works, covering a wide variety of formats, from string quartets and quintets, through keyboard sonatas, trios, duos, divertimentos, cassations, dances, and more. In all of these, Mozart composed significant works, but particularly notable are his compositions for strings and the sonatas for keyboard solo or accompanied, while his works for mixed formations tend to be considered, not without exceptions, derivations from these other basic genres and of less relative importance. When Mozart began to dedicate himself to chamber music there were no clear boundaries to symphonic music, and this is reflected in his works. Over the years the genres have acquired definition and independence. Serenades and cassatas, music written to be played usually in the open air, which played an essential role in the progressive abandonment of the continuous bass writing style, also belong in a separate category.

His early string quartets show the influence of Giovanni Battista Sammartini and the Northern Italian trio-sonatas in the use of short melodies, the organization of the movements, the unity of clef, and the predominant homophonic style. These early quartets also exhibit similarities to the divertimento form, and the main interest lies in the two upper voices. The sonata form is embryonic, with short developments and repetitions. The group of six quartets produced between 1772 and 1773 is already more cohesive, has more defined chamber characteristics and forms a logical cycle of tonalities, all have the same number of movements and the lower voices are already more dynamic, enabling the creation of a concertante effect. The next group of six quartets was produced in Vienna after contact with the work of Joseph Haydn, from whom they bring strong influence. Their quality is clearly superior to the previous ones, their technique is richer, they make use of counterpoint and all voices have equal importance; the development is thematic and not sectional, they sometimes employ slow introductions, chromaticisms, and in one of them there is a fugue. His last quartets (1782-1790) are mature works, the canonical form of the string quartet is clearly established, again they are influenced by Haydn and six of them were dedicated to him as “the fruit of long and laborious effort,” as he inscribed in the dedication. They use short chromatic lines and freer harmony, the sonata-form is fully developed, the counterpoint forms complex textures, and the codas are more elaborate, with a result of almost symphonic density. The last of the six quartets for Haydn is famous for its emotional intensity and chromatic openness, and is called the Quartet of Dissonances, where for a stretch the definition of tonality is left in abeyance.

Of the six quintets for strings, one is a youthful work and shows influence from Sammartini and Michael Haydn. The others are mature, but are not a unified group, each having unique characteristics. The first two make use of concertante writing, the last two are more counterpointistic and have more concentrated thematic material. Among the serenades for strings by far the best known is the Little Evening Serenade K525, which has become extremely popular.

Mozart was a consummate pianist, one of the greatest virtuosos of all time, although in his time this had a different meaning than it acquired in the 19th century, after the activity of Clementi and Beethoven. He wrote for the pianoforte, an instrument of less power and sound support than the romantic piano. His sonatas for pianoforte and violin show the evolution of the concept of this form. Historically, until c. 1750 the violin had the main role, with the keyboard acting as harmonic support. Around 1750 the keyboard took predominance, so much so that many works in this form give the violin an ad libitum participation, and it can be omitted without great harm. According to Einstein, it was up to Mozart to establish a balance between both instruments, creating a true dialogue. However, this was only achieved in his mature works, the earlier ones being mere adaptations of others” works for keyboard or had an improvisational character. In Carew”s opinion, the last four sonatas for pianoforte and violin deserve a place alongside his greatest creations in other genres. His two string quartets with piano (1785-1786) are also important and original works, since Mozart did not have many models to draw inspiration from. The piano is an integral part of the discourse and not a mere accompaniment, reaching at some moments a concertante effect. Their content reveals the complexity of his mature phase, exploring in depth the sonata-form, the timbres, the motival developments, the dynamics and the textures. These works are also special because of their pre-romantic atmosphere, combining lyricism and drama.

His eighteen sonatas for solo keyboard equally testify the evolution of the form. He produced nothing significant before coming into contact with the output of the French, especially the sonatas of the Germanic Johann Schobert, based in Paris, and the works of Johann Christian Bach, whom he encountered in London. Another important influence was the sonatas of Joseph Haydn, a little later. Only around 1775 he began to show a personal style, important as a landmark being the sonata in D K284, which exhibits an almost concert-like animation and one of the movements, in variations, is very unified. Between 1777-1778 he composed a series of seven, a kaleidoscopic group full of passages of great pianistic brilliance and very sensitive slow movements, with the left hand part acquiring equal importance to that of the right. From this group is the sonata in A major K331, whose finale is the well-known Rondò alla turca. The production of sonatas was then interrupted for six years, and when he resumed them, he produced a group of works characterized by drama. The sonatas of his final years bring back elements of his rococo beginnings combined with a great mastery of counterpoint writing. These works remain unfairly neglected by the modern public, which knows only a few, being overshadowed by the production of Beethoven and the other romantic composers in the same genre. Part of this phenomenon is due to their deceptively simple character, always with a clear melodic line and clear harmony, without many modulations and without exceptional difficulty for the average player, which makes many of them to be found more in piano classes than in concertos. However, this false simplicity is one of the most typical stylistic characteristics of Classicism, which intentionally seeks decorum and restraint in a balanced form. Passionate outbursts and unbridled fantasy were not considered at that time compatible with the intimate atmosphere of the sonata.

In the group of mixed formation pieces, which move between the chamber and symphonic dimensions, his five divertimentos for strings and horns stand out, light works that were generally written to celebrate some special date. All but one have six movements, and the horns are silent in the slow movements. The first violin has a larger role, with virtuosic writing. Four of them are preceded and followed by a march to be played as the instrumentalists enter and leave the venue. Of the serenades the Haffner K250248b and the Posthorn K320 are important, and the string quartet with clarinet K581 is also worth mentioning as one of Mozart”s best known and most expansive chamber pieces, a major work of his maturity with perfectly balanced writing between the instruments. The serenade for thirteen instruments K361370a, called Gran Partita, for wind and double bass, is perhaps his greatest achievement in exploring varied instrumental combinations. Using thematic material organized in dialogic form or creating contrasts between small groups against the rest of the ensemble, similar to the old concerto grosso, he wrote music of unique timbral richness and offering great possibilities for demonstrating virtuosity for all instruments. Finally, his quintet for piano and wind instruments K452, from 1784, is considered by the author to be the best piece he had composed until then.

The thirty or so short songs for solo voice and piano accompaniment that Mozart produced deserve a brief mention. Most of them are minor pieces, and Mozart himself doesn”t seem to have given them much value, but the best ones, created between 1785 and 1787, have a place in music history both for their exceptional intrinsic quality, transcending the realm of miniatures, and for being precursors to the development of the German lied genre.

Dances and arrangements

Mozart”s dances occupy a large space in his production: there are about 120 minuets, more than fifty German dances and about forty counter-dances, mostly composed after he took over as Chamber Musician at court, where his main activity was to provide music for the imperial balls. In general his instrumentation is for strings without viola and various wind instruments. They deserve a record not for their breadth, as they have only from 16 to 32 bars, but for the impressive variety of formal solutions he introduced within these limited forms, for the rich harmonization and for his great melodic inspiration.

Although they occupy a minor place in Mozart”s output, the various arrangements he made of other composers are important for two reasons: first, the various arranged works from his early career are musically almost merely curiosities, but of great interest to learn about the influences he suffered and how he developed his own style. Second, the various arrangements of fugues by Bach and of operas and oratorios by Händel that he made in the 1780s on commission from Baron van Zwieten, a lover of Baroque music, awakened his interest in the classical styles of the past and had a significant impact on his writing, especially visible in his Requiem. His arrangements of Händel enjoyed considerable prestige in the 19th century, but today, with concerns regarding historical authenticity, they are little heard.

Mozart as teacher

Teaching was never a favorite activity for Mozart, but he found himself having to take several piano students to improve his income. Teaching was only enjoyable for him when he could establish a friendly and informal relationship with the student. In these cases, he could even dedicate compositions to them. His methods are little known, but something is known from some accounts and the preservation of an exercise book by his pupil Thomas Attwood. Another pupil, Joseph Frank, described one of his lessons with the master saying that he himself preferred to play pieces and by living example show the correct interpretation, rather than instruct him by verbal recommendations. Some students said that he was often careless, and that he invited them to play cards or pool during lessons instead of studying music, but Eisen & Keefe disagree with this impression, considering him a careful teacher. Mozart not only taught the practical part, but also music theory, using Johann Joseph Fux”s well-known manual Gradus ad Parnassum as a basis. From Attwood”s notebook it can be seen that Mozart used to give a bass for the student to supply a counterpoint, and then correct the result. For more advanced students, he might examine and correct their compositions, even rewriting long passages. The best known student of all was Johann Nepomuk Hummel, who lived with the Mozarts for about two years, accompanied them at parties and at court, and later became a virtuoso pianist of great fame.


Although some of the first pieces Mozart composed during his youth were written for harpsichord, he also had contact with pianos built by Franz Jakob Späth of Ratisbonne. Later, when he visited Augsburg, he was impressed by Stein pianos and shared this fact in a letter he wrote to his father. On October 22, 1777 Mozart premiered his triple piano concerto K.242, having used instruments provided by Stein. The organist Demmler from Augsburg Cathedral played the first part, Mozart played the second, and Stein played the third. In 1783, while living in Vienna, Mozart bought an instrument made by Walter. Leopold Mozart in a letter to his daughter confirmed the affection his son had for his piano Walter: “It is impossible to describe such affection. Your brother”s forte-piano was moved from his home to the theater or to someone else”s home at least twelve times.”

Initial reception and later influence

The critics of his time were unanimous in recognizing his superior talent, but many considered his music overly complex, making it difficult for the uneducated listener to understand and a challenge even for connoisseurs. An appreciation by the composer Karl von Dittersdorf is illustrative:

However, also symptomatic was the position of the critic Adolph von Knigge, who, after weaving a large number of objections to various aspects of Mozart”s writing that seemed too extravagant to him, did not shy away from adding, “Oh yes, all composers should be in a position to make such mistakes!” Some reported that his pieces became more accessible after repeated auditions, and others felt that they were hampered mainly by mediocre interpretations by not very competent musicians, becoming much clearer in the hands of virtuosos. Even so, at the height of his career, the 1780s, his compositions managed to touch the public on a large scale, and were heard in many parts of Europe with success. Soon after his death he was still called Orpheus or Apollo, and had become a notorious name.

Even with the prestige he acquired during his lifetime, Mozart did not exactly create an aesthetic school, but his music managed to survive the transition to Romanticism and still exerts some influence on composers today. His successors did not try to imitate his style, but attracted them more to aspects of form, technique and musical syntax, namely: the possibilities that Mozart pointed to for the expansion of musical forms, his ability to coordinate heterogeneous elements to form a unified whole, the way he gave consistency to an eloquent phrasing, and the fertility of ideas subsidiary to the main themes, used as complex and structuring ornaments. He had no renowned direct disciples save Hummel, but several exponents of subsequent generations, in an unbroken line up to contemporary times, were indebted to him in some degree and cited him explicitly as a model for one or more aspects of their own music. Of the most prominent, one can cite as examples Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, Max Reger, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schönberg, and more recently John Cage and Michael Nyman. For many other authors today he remains, if not an inspiration, a model of excellence.

The myths

The first substantial biography of Mozart was an obituary written by Friedrich Schlichtegroll in 1793, basically from accounts obtained from Mozart”s sister Nannerl and some additional material from friends of the musician. The picturesque stories they told the biographer were presented with exaggerated importance, creating an image of the musician as a child who had never grown up, irresponsible and incompetent in everything outside the world of music, at the expense of studying his life as an adult man. This approach was more or less imitated in the others that immediately followed, such as those of Arnold, Nissen, Niemetschek, Novello and Rochlitz, all to varying degrees inclined to romanticization, pure misrepresentation or biased interpretation of the facts, and they were the basis for the birth of a whole distorted biographical tradition, which even today still makes its influence felt, mixing legend and fact indiscriminately. Constanze also played a role in this tradition, for having access to much of Mozart”s autograph material, she did not hesitate to destroy or censor correspondence from her husband so that his image, and by extension her own, would be presented to the public in a respectable manner. His adult life always in economic straits, his death in the prime of life, his burial in a mass grave, became the object of much fantasy, being painted in tragic or melodramatic colors and making him a kind of misunderstood and abandoned hero when most needed. On the other hand, part of the romantic biographers, based on suggestions by Schlichtegroll, developed the theory that Mozart was responsible for his own ruin for having a supposedly dissolute and extravagant character, having been involved with numerous women, indulged in drinking, and behaved arrogantly in front of potential patrons. As if this were not enough, Constanze was systematically vilified because she was thought to have been an evil influence and to have actively contributed to her husband”s disgrace. These stories were not only accepted by several serious scholars such as Alfred Einstein and Arnold Schering, but became extremely popular, even though the most up-to-date criticism considers them to be largely without any foundation.

Besides these aspects, other distortions in his biographies arose from seeing him as a genius. Certainly Mozart”s enormous talent made room for this, but then all the romantic biographical constructions were structured from a preconceived idea of how a genius should be and behave. As the very concept of genius has changed since the 18th century, the result is that many different images of Mozart have been formed. This tradition was launched by his father Leopold, according to an almost religious view of genius as a being blessed by God. With such innate privilege, it was up to Mozart to consummate this prophecy. Catholic biographers such as Adolphe Boschot, Theodor de Wyzewa and Georges de Saint-Foix continued the theme as if genius was something external to the musician, as if it spoke through him, emphasizing the idea that Mozart needed no study, effort or reflection to compose, as if he had been born from nothing, but it should be noted that Mozart himself, although aware of his exceptional abilities, never described himself as a genius in this sense, and acknowledged his debt to other musicians. Nevertheless, a forged letter from Mozart came to light in 1815 in which he described his compositional process as an inspiration close to sleepwalking. This vision made Mozart not only a special being, but truly angelic, essentially kind, healthy and balanced, and therefore a classic par excellence.

All this distorted or fantastic ideology about Mozart was also taken advantage of by other Romantic artists to insert him into fictional literature. The practice began with E. T. A. Hoffmann, who wrote in 1814 a short story, Don Juan, where the opera Don Giovanni is analyzed as an allegory of the fall of a spirit in his mistaken search for the divine through the love of a woman. Alexander Pushkin contributed two short tragedies, Mozart and Salieri – made into an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov -, and The Stone Guest, the first reinforcing the legend of Mozart”s poisoning, and the other a retelling also of the original Don Giovanni, finding in the protagonist an alter ego of the composer. Incidentally, this opera attracted several other Romantic writers, such as Søren Kierkegaard, Eduard Mörike, and George Bernard Shaw, with a variety of philosophical, moral, and psychological interpretations.

Dissemination of your music

During Mozart”s lifetime, his compositions were disseminated through manuscript copies or printed editions. In Mozart”s childhood and youth, his father managed the dissemination, but relatively little was printed and copied in order to protect his son”s interests, because after leaving the hands of the composer it was not uncommon that the works were recopied and republished without his permission. What appeared in print were chamber pieces, since operas and major orchestral works circulated only in manuscripts. In the 1780s the diffusion expanded. Vienna had then become a major publishing center, and Mozart”s financial needs required the sale of works. Thus, until his death, a significant number of his compositions were offered to the public, totaling about 130, reaching many countries in Europe, to the point that his fame was compared only to that of Haydn. He was regularly quoted in theoretical works and musical dictionaries, and his operas were promoted by traveling companies.

Immediately after his death a large number of new pieces appeared on the market, in part because of the great success of The Magic Flute, the composer”s fame, and also the likely release of several unpublished works by Constanze. Then the publishers Breitkopf & Härtel of Leipzig and André of Paris approached the widow to acquire others. Breitkopf”s project was ambitious, so much so that in 1798 the first gathering of his complete works was begun, although this was not achieved at the time. But by 1806 seventeen volumes had appeared. In 1799 Constanze sold most of his inheritance in manuscripts to André, but the sale did not result in a massive publication. But since the publisher was concerned with fidelity to the originals, the works he printed are valuable and some of them are the only sources for certain pieces whose originals were later lost.

In the mid-nineteenth century interest in Mozart”s music revived, along with a widespread rediscovery of the music of the past, but the number of his works still being heard was not large. Of the operas, Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro and The Magic Flute remained viable, and of the instrumental music, the pieces in minor key and the last symphonies, but accessible to the Romantic sensibility that by now was taking over the aesthetic primacy in Europe, supplanting Classicism. Mozart came to be seen by German critics as a typically romantic composer, who perfectly expressed the deepest yearnings of the German soul, and it was found in his music, especially in those composed in minor keys and in the opera Don Giovanni, Dionysian, disturbing, passionate, destructive, irrational, mysterious, dark and even demonic elements, in diametrical opposition to the classicist ideals. Nevertheless, for 19th century Europe in general the image of Mozart as a classical composer prevailed, but his music tended to be understood in an ambivalent and often stereotypical way. For some, Classicism was a formalistic and empty style; like Berlioz, who could no longer stand Mozart”s operas, finding them all the same and seeing in them a cold and tedious beauty. Others, however, like Brahms, could find in his last symphonies or in his best concertos more important works than Beethoven”s in the same genres, even if the latter were regarded as more impactful. Schumann, in an attempt to elevate Mozart”s music to the realm of timelessness, said that clarity, serenity and grace were the hallmarks of the artworks of antiquity, and that they were also those of the “Mozartian school,” and described the K550 symphony as of “fluttering Greek grace.” Others like Wagner, Mahler and Czerny saw Mozart more as a necessary precursor to Beethoven, who would have brought the art of music to the consummation prophesied but not realized by Mozart.

Mozart”s operas were re-performed in sporadic festivals in Salzburg between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but modern Mozartian festivals only began in the 1920s, after initiatives by Hermann Bahr, Max Reinhardt, Richard Strauss, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and as soon as they stabilized they attracted the participation of the best conductors of the period, such as Bruno Walter, Clemens Krauss, and Felix Weingartner. Fritz Busch played a great role in transposing aspects of Mozart”s Austro-Germanic approach to the Glyndebourne Festival in the UK, which was instrumental in fixing the performance style throughout the century, and with the performance of John Christie and his wife, Glyndebourne became a festival almost exclusively dedicated to Mozart, presenting in addition the operas in their original language, which was rare in non-German-speaking countries. In the 1950s Idomeneo and Così fan tutte entered the operatic repertoire, and in the 1970s, with greater acceptance of the conventions of opera seria, other of his operas were occasionally revived. Other genres he cultivated also moved into the standard repertoire, especially the piano concertos and symphonies, and the influence of the dissemination of his music on records was profound in making Mozart a popular name; between the 1960s and 1970s complete recordings of entire genres appeared.

Toward the end of the century specialized studies introduced a style of musical practice that attempts to reconstruct authentic 18th century means and techniques. The recent tendency of performers is to purge all their music of the interpretive and orchestral tradition typical of Romanticism, which still inadequately survived in Mozart”s classicist music. On the other hand, even today the stereotypes that have been formed around Mozartian music from superficial readings of Classicism, understanding it only as something “elegant,” or “tranquil,” or “perfect,” although they have some basis, negatively influence the correct appreciation of his works, which are much richer, more surprising, and more varied than supported by unthinking and uninformed analyses. According to Harnoncourt, Mozart”s music today embodies for many the apogee of serene and luminous harmony, the interpretations that are characterized by a stylistic perfection, without tensions, without nuances, without any harshness, conflict or despair, reducing the musical substance to “a sweet smile”, and what deviates from this norm is rejected for bringing Mozart too close to the dramatic aesthetics consecrated by Beethoven. This mistaken, or at least partial, understanding of Mozartian classicism contrasts with impressions recorded in his own time, which described several of his pieces with expressions such as “fiery,” or “passionately moving,” or “terrifyingly beautiful,” or “moving from the most melancholy to the most sublime,” and other adjectives indicating intensity, diversity, and dynamism.

Critical studies

The first critical biography on Mozart was written by Otto Jahn between 1856-1859, a monumental, scientifically based study that summarized the earlier biographies and sought to distinguish fact from legend as far as was possible for the time. He partly idealized Mozart, but his achievement, as King said, was spectacular, receiving several reissues with significant additions. Another milestone in specialized Mozart studies was the cataloguing survey of his complete works, carried out in 1862 by Ludwig von Köchel. This was followed by the equally monumental biography of Wysewa and Saint-Foix, one of the most extraordinary biographical undertakings concerning any composer, with a high degree of detail. Important as it was, it was a flawed work in several respects, especially regarding chronology, now obsolete, and critical impartiality, also tending to idealize its subject, but even so it remains a reference for its acute penetration into the subtleties of Mozart”s work. In 1954 Alfred Einstein presented a biography with a then original approach, which became a classic in the genre, studying it not from a chronological but from a thematic perspective. In recent decades the most important and comprehensive was Erich Schenk”s biography of 1955, expanded in 1975, very detailed, and based on documented facts and recent research.

In the 20th century, in addition to biographies, studies on specific points of his work also saw impressive progress, addressing all aspects of compositional technique, style, orchestration, meaning, sources, editions, context, influences, derivations, authenticity, interpretation, legacy, genres, comparisons, and many others, not to mention numerous periodicals exclusively devoted to Mozartiana, resulting in a material vast enough to generate the need for books to be released just to survey the accumulated bibliography.

Before Köchel”s work in cataloging his complete works, several other attempts to compile Mozart”s works appeared, but none strictly speaking deserved the name complete. In fact, not even Köchel”s deserved it when it was published, although it has become established and remains in use, being constantly updated with recent discoveries. That claim was broadly met only with the publication of the Alte Mozart-Ausgabe (Old Mozart Edition – AMA), 1877-1883, completed in 1910, and also through Köchel”s initiative, revising his earlier studies more accurately and augmenting them with deeper critical comments from a large group of collaborators that included among others Johannes Brahms, Philipp Spitta and Joseph Joachim. The result was altogether remarkable, hardly conceivable even today, but this edition still suffered from a weak editorial unity and left some important aspects unexamined. With the uninterrupted series of studies appearing, it soon became apparent that the AMA was becoming outdated on several points, and a complete new edition was planned. After many delays caused by World War II, in 1954 the Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum in Salzburg announced the release of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe (New Mozart Edition – NMA), beginning publication in 1955 under the editorial direction of a group of distinguished musicologists headed by Otto Deutsch and financed by private enterprise in partnership with the German government. The most important distinguishing feature of the NMA was its approach, seeking to offer an edition that excels in fidelity to the originals and that takes advantage of the latest research in the field of historical authenticity of music. The main work was not completed until 1991, comprising 120 volumes, but the edition is still continued with supplements.

An important part of the study of Mozart”s work has been the analysis of his correspondence. According to Eisen the Mozart family letters comprise the most extensive and detailed correspondence about any composer of the eighteenth century or earlier. In all, nearly 1,600 letters from Mozart and his family members survive, providing an invaluable body of information not only about his life but about the cultural environment of his time, as well as giving valuable data about the chronology of his works and his compositional process, sometimes bringing detailed descriptions of various aspects of individual pieces.

Less erudite biographies and other narratives appeared in profusion in the 20th century, describing him in a wide variety of ways. There were those that continued the Romantic myths, speaking of him in terms such as “son of the Sun” and “his music is the same as civilization,” or “only with the reverence due to saints and martyrs can one speak of Mozart”s life and death,” or lamenting that he “had died of starvation and been buried in a pauper”s grave; in Nazi Germany they represented him as a nationalist, while other countries needed as compensation to describe him as a cosmopolitan, lover of humanity, and the best that Germanic culture possessed; works from Eastern Europe preferred to see him as a composer of the people, a kind of socialist avant la lettre, and the most diverse intellectual trends of the 20th century in one way or another could be applied to him, being a subject of social history, the history of ideas and, logically, the history of music. He was even put on the psychoanalytic couch, acquired a status as a New Age guru, and was transformed into a punk icon. Because of the complexity of his person, his music, and his time, and because of the large amount of surviving documentation on all these aspects, almost any point of view about him can be backed up with at least some evidence.

On the other hand, as Sadie reminded us, with the amount of new studies always appearing, the “facts” of his life are always changing, as much new material is being discovered, including musical works, which implies a continuous re-evaluation of the impact of these discoveries on what is already known, giving rise to new interpretations and conclusions. An example of this situation is the fragile substantiality of the classification of Mozart as a Classic, and of the definition of Classicism itself, against which several objections have been raised, both historical and contemporary – just remember that for many Romantics he was also a romantic. With recent research many established concepts have been reviewed, and Classicism is no exception. Some authors have pointed to the fact that in their own time the concept did not even exist, and musicians of that time called themselves “modern. The consecration of the term applied to music only occurred in the mid-nineteenth century, first as a compliment, with the simple meaning of “exemplary,” and as an aesthetic definition it arose from a split in the Germanic intelligentsia between those who declared themselves for the principles of Romanticism and those who took a conservative stance and opposed the Romantics. Others point out that the usual defining terms of Classicism – perfection, unity, synthesis, balance, restraint, and form-content integration – can be perfectly applied to other artistic manifestations, emptying the concept of deep meaning. Nevertheless, it remains widely used.

In the general opinion of contemporary music critics, Mozart is one of the greatest names in the entire history of Western music, and according to Eisen & Keefe, editors of The Cambridge Mozart encyclopedia, published by Cambridge University, he is an icon of the whole of Western society, but the central position he occupies today in that history was not achieved until recently; until then he had been appreciated, sometimes even deified, but within a limited scope. He was not a revolutionary, accepting most of the musical conventions of his time, but his greatness lies in the complexity, breadth, and depth with which he worked them, rising above his contemporaries. As Rushton said, his popularity is growing, and even if at specific points his works can be criticized, he is a composer who no longer needs lawyers to defend him.

Mozart in popular culture

In more recent times, thanks to his worldwide fame, Mozart”s image has become a widely exploited product, reaching, according to Jary, the point of abuse, overflowing the boundaries of the music world and being used in the tourism, commerce, advertising, cinema and also politics industries, many times without any association with his legitimate historical and artistic attributes. In this context, with vastly disparate needs to be met, the limits of good taste are easily overstepped. His image appears on porcelain figurines, on packages of ice cream, cigarettes, chocolate, perfume, clothes, postcards, calendars, cookbooks, and countless other consumer goods. Today there are companies exclusively dedicated to exploiting his image in commerce, with huge profits.

A few years ago Rauscher and Shaw published articles claiming that high school students raised their scores on a test of spatial-motor performance after listening to a Mozart sonata. Soon these studies on what came to be called the Mozart Effect hit the press and became widely reported, but the public interpretation was that Mozart”s music made people smarter, and it became fashionable to get children to listen to Mozartian music. However, several other controlled tests were conducted by other researchers trying to reproduce those results, but confirmation was consistently not obtained. One such test reproduced exactly the conditions of the original study, and even then the response was negative. Frances Rauscher herself refuted the connection of her test results with increased intelligence, saying that they referred specifically to mental visualization and temporal ordering tasks. This however has not been enough to discredit the Mozart Effect among the lay public; it continues to be advertised as fact, and “Music for The Mozart Effect” has become a trademark, offering selected recordings that, according to advertising claims, have benefited “millions of people,” and includes an audio program entitled Mozart as Healer. The impact of this advertising has gone far beyond mere commerce. In the United States, the state of Georgia now gives the parents of every newborn baby – about 100,000 a year – a CD of classical music. In Florida, a law required all publicly funded childcare and educational programs to play classical music for thirty minutes every day for children under five. The controversy continues, as some new studies claim to confirm the Mozart Effect, and others continue to raise doubts.

This often acriterious multiplication of Mozart”s presence contributes on the one hand to increase the general interest in him, but on the other hand perpetuates stereotypes, which are obvious in films, fictional literature books, and plays he continues to star in, such as Gunnar Gällmo”s Wolfgangerl, Milos Forman”s Amadeus (based on Peter Shaffer”s play of the same name), and Thornton Wilder”s Mozart and the Gray Steward. Even in the classical music industry there is a clear tendency to distort the facts; a few pieces receive repeated, wide-ranging recordings, while the rest of his vast output remains unknown to the general public. These same selected pieces are used as soundtracks in other situations because their immense popularity guarantees the attraction of consumers for other products. More serious is their appropriation by politics, one example being the use of Mozart”s image by the Nazi regime in Germany. In 1938 the slogan Mozart as Apollo was used at a Salzburg festival celebrating the annexation of Austria to Germany, and in 1939 the musician became a symbol of Hitler”s pact with Mussolini. According to statements by the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, Mozart”s music was a defense of German soldiers against the “barbarians of Eastern Europe. Even after the war the Austrian state continued to use Mozart as a kind of ambassador for Austria, claiming that his genius remained hovering over the country. This extensive use of Mozart in an immense variety of situations does not seem to be waning as the years go by, and in Helmut Eder”s opera Mozart in New York, it is said ironically that whether on tourist souvenirs or featuring on the Austrian five thousand shilling note, “Mozart is money!”


  1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart