An 18th century Austrian composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered one of the greatest figures in musical history. Along with the other two acknowledged leading composers of the classic era—Haydn and Beethoven—Mozart laid the groundwork for all that was to come in classical music. Born January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria, the young Mozart was purportedly composing by the age of 5. A musical genius and child prodigy as a violinist, pianist, and composer, he churned out a vast amount of quality work in a brief span. Granted, he started young, but completing some 300 works before his death at age 35 is still impressive output.
Early life of a musical genius
Often left out or forgotten is the fact that many of Mozart’s earliest performances were with his sister, whose nickname was Nannerl. Born as Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart, the older sister of Wolfgang was a musical talent in her own right. As a pianist, she went on tour with her brother and their father, Leopold Mozart. Acting as their manager and booking agent, he arranged performances for his children at churches and royal courts throughout Europe, where the 6-year-old Mozart astonished delighted patrons with his advanced musical talents.
They toured what were, at the time, all the main western European musical and cultural centers, including Munich, Augsburg, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Mainz, Frankfurt, Brussels, Paris, London, the Hague, Amsterdam, Lyon, and Switzerland. On each stop, Mozart and his sister played and improvised, whether in a private performance before a noble court, in public, or in a church.
Like all of the best, Mozart learned from the best. He counted Haydn among his influences, and while in London on the above-mentioned tour, he met Johann Christian Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach’s youngest son. Appropriately enough, with his musical lineage, Johann Christian Bach was a key figure in the musical circles of London. It was during this meeting that, under Bach’s influence, Mozart composed his first symphonies.
Key pieces of a stylistic chameleon
Arguably Mozart’s three best-known works are the short orchestral masterpiece “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music)” and the operas “Don Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro.” Another opera, “The Magic Flute,” and his final completed symphony, the “Jupiter Symphony,” are two additional standouts in his varied and voluminous oeuvre.
In fact, it is the breadth and scope of his work that make Mozart such a standout. He broke with convention by writing in all the musical genres of his day, something unlike any other composer in musical history. Mozart’s compositions comprise orchestral, operatic, symphonic, chamber, and choral music. Mozart also deserves credit for the development and popularization of a now well-known form, The Classical Piano Concerto. He also composed religious music, including large-scale masses. On the lighter side, Mozart produced music for dances, divertimenti, serenades, and other forms of the day’s popular and whimsical musical entertainments.