Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
“He was physically restless, quick-witted, sociable, flirtatious, and obscene,” New Yorker music critic Alex Ross wrote of Mozart. “But he often gave the impression of not being entirely present, as if his mind was caught up in an invisible event.”
Donald Jay Grout’s ponderous History of Western Music echoes the impression: “Mozart lived his real life in the inner world of his music, to which his everyday existence often seems only a troubled and shadowy parallel. There is a touch of the miraculous, something both childlike and godlike, about this.”
Separating the myth of Mozart from the facts is difficult when so much—including a great deal of fiction--has been written about him. Some impressions of the composer are based on Milos Forman’s 1984 film “Amadeus”, an award-winning cinematic treatment of a play by Peter Shaffer which the playwright himself called a “fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri.” Alexander Pushkin wrote a play about Mozart and his contemporary Antonio Salieri in 1830, and even Rimsky-Korsakov was drawn to the subject, writing a seldom-performed opera.
Mozart was the son of a respected Salzburg musician and teacher, Leopold, who early on dropped all other activities to educate and promote the boy. Has there ever been such a prodigy? By the time he was six years old, he was a virtuoso on the clavier, and he soon became a good organist and violinist as well, though the viola was always his chosen instrument to play. He wrote his first symphony before his ninth birthday, his first oratorio at eleven, and his first opera at twelve.
Biographies write of Constanze Weber, the giddy girl Mozart married—after months of pleading for his father’s permission-- in August of 1782. Less well known is the fact that the couple had six children, four boys and two girls, in their nine years of marriage, and that only two of these survived infancy. By most accounts, Mozart and Constanze were happy despite their profligate spending, which led to their being constantly short of money. They moved 12 times in their nine years together.
Certainly Antonio Salieri—despite the implication of the stage plays and film-- had nothing whatsoever to do with Mozart’s death and was hardly even considered a serious rival. Both Constanze and Wolfgang were frequently in ill health, hers complicated by constant pregnancies and his by overwork. What does seem to be true is Mozart’s premonition about the commissioned Requiem on which he was working when he died. He said that he had the curious sensation that he was writing his own funeral mass.
Mozart was buried in an anonymous communal grave in Vienna. For those who would mourn his early passing or celebrate his singular life, he left the deathless memorial of his perfect music.