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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.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This excerpt is from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s A Student’s Guide to Music History written by R.J. Stove. We highly recommend this to all who wish to learn more of classical music.

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3 replies to this post
  1. Thank you TIC for this tribute to a musical genius who gave us such sparkling and stirring music. It never grows old. Mozart's story certainly illustrates the gap between a life and its fruits (although the unflattering film portrayal in Amadeus was largely a work of fiction.) Why is it that so few great composers and artists manage to strike a balance between creating and living?

  2. The scholar HC Robbins Landon estimated that Mozart's income in the last year of his life was equivalent to Haydn's at the height of his London fame. Haydn, though a generous man, was somewhat obsessive, even unscrupulous, when it came to money matters, whereas the Mozarts were less careful – Wolfgang gambled and Constanze had a penchant for expensive spa treatments.

    Mozart's funeral was according to the Viennese custom of the time, following the decrees of the late Emperor Joseph II and befitting his middle-class status. The funeral service was in a chapel attached to the cathedral, and the body was taken to St Mark's cemetery in a hearse and interred in a single grave which would have been marked, but which the city authorities had the right to re-use after ten years (even today in the German lands burial plots are only rented). The day was calm and mild; stories of a storm and the mourners turning back are later inventions. His widow would not have been present as this was not customary.

    On 10 December 1791, five days after the composer's death, a Requiem Mass was celebrated at St Michael's church next to the Hofburg. It would appear that the completed parts of his Requiem were sung, so his morbid prediction that he was writing a Requiem for himself proved to be accurate.

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