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Born on January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the only son born to Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart. His father, an eminent musician in his own right, began teaching him the harpsichord when Mozart was only four years old.
He wrote minuets when he was five, a sonata at seven, a symphony at eight; and, at the suggestion of the Holy Roman Emperor, an opera, La finta semplice at 11.
At the age of six, he and his sister Maria Anna were taken by their father to the electoral court in Munich, where they were a huge success, and for the next several years, Leopold took his children on tour throughout Europe.
Mozart and his father embarked on an extended tour of Italy in 1770. For Milan, he wrote the opera, Mitridate, re di Ponto, which was first performed on December 26, 1770.
From 1772 to 1777 Mozart resided in Salzburg, under unhappy conditions. The city’s new archbishop, Hieronymus von Colloredo failed to appreciate Mozart’s genius. The young man was treated as a servant, under imperious authority and receiving personal abuse.
Finally, Mozart escaped Salzburg in 1777, setting off for Paris with his mother in the hopes of finding a more advantageous post. Unfortunately, his stay in Paris came to an abrupt end with the death of his mother and Mozart had to return to a drab existence in Salzburg.
In January 1781, Mozart was acclaimed for his new opera, Idomeneo. This was the first work that hinted at his developing powers as a composer for the stage. The permanent break with the archbishop of Salzburg came in 1782 when Mozart visited Vienna with the archbishop’s entourage. Denied permission to appear at a number of benefit concerts, Mozart denounced his employer, and was summarily dismissed. From then on Mozart resided in Vienna. There, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II commissioned him to write a new opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, which premiered on July 16, 1782, and was a triumph.
Confident of his future, Mozart married Constanze Weber on August 4, 1782. He expected a profitable position at court, but, although the Emperor was lavish with praise and commissions, no position appeared. To earn a living, Mozart gave lessons, which brought in only meagre earnings.
A meeting in 1785 with Lorenzo da Ponte, recently appointed poet of the Viennese court theatres, resulted in three of Mozart’s greatest operas. The first was The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, followed quickly by Don Giovanni in 1787: both were triumphs.
The last of their three collaborations was Così fan tutte in 1790. It was considered a failure and only received 10 performances before being dropped from the repertoire.
The final year of Mozart’s life brought no end to his continuing personal misfortunes. While he had finally received a permanent post as court composer and chamber musician, he received such a small salary that it neither relieved him of his debts nor provided for necessities. Yet 1791 was a period of brilliant creation, yielding two operas, La clemenza di Tito and The Magic Flute, and his great Requiem. Mozart died at the age of 35 on December 5, 1791 after a short and violent illness. His funeral was held at Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and his body was interred in a mass grave.
“Las Dos Fridas” painting by Frida Kahlo © 2011 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust. Av. Cinco de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, Del. Cuauhtémoc 06059, México, D. F.
Generously underwritten in part by
Cosi fan tutte is generously underwritten in part by Philip Deck and Kimberley Bozak