Mozart, Wolfgang (Austrian, 1756–91). No, not “Amadeus”; his baptismal certificate reads “Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart,” “Amadé” (the form of his middle name that Mozart himself preferred to use) being Theophilus’s Gallicized version. In fact, almost everything else Hollywood told you about him is wrong, except his child prodigy status, which even Hollywood could hardly have invented. The face that launched a thousand chocolate boxes belonged to one who seethed with anger over rivals now largely forgotten; whose repeated failures to obtain or keep well-paid jobs with emperors and prelates derived in almost every case from his own inability to hold his tongue; and who employed servants even during his worst periods of Viennese impoverishment, a detail irksome to sentimentalists. One thing in his largely misbegotten career he did get right: he acknowledged Haydn’s genius, and a symbiotic relationship existed between the two men.

To a minor composer who sniffed at an unconventional passage of Haydn’s—“I would not have written it that way”—Mozart delivered a bruising snub: “Nor would I. And do you know why? Because neither I nor you would have thought of it!” Difficult though it is to single out a solitary area of Mozart’s chamber composition for special applause, his string quintets are almost universally regarded as excelling all else that he produced in chamber genres. Of Mozart’s mature operas, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, and Don Giovanni have been favorites for most of the last two centuries. Così Fan Tutte, on the other hand, only entered the repertoire after World War II, its few stagings before that date having often been in bowdlerized versions. No aspiring pianist would even consider ignoring the best of Mozart’s twenty-seven concertos; similarly, no aspiring conductor could possibly ignore Mozart’s three last symphonies, including the “Jupiter.” The list goes on. There are 626 items in the official catalogue of Mozart’s works, a catalogue compiled not by Mozart but by nineteenth-century musicologist Ludwig Köchel (hence the “K” that appears before the number of a particular composition). When it comes to discovering Mozart, you have your whole life before you.

This excerpt is from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s A Student’s Guide to Music History written by R.J. Stove. 

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