Music with Ease > Life of Mozart
The Life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The main facts of Mozart's life are generally familiar. Born at Salzburg in January 1756, he startled the musical world as an infant prodigy, playing the clavier and composing little pieces before he was five. When only six, he was taken on tour by his father, and astonished everybody by his marvellous powers at the keyboard. He came to London in 1764, when he was eight; played in public and before George III and his Queen. To the Queen he dedicated six sonatas, and got fifty guineas for them. Advertisements invited people put the talents of the "wonderful boy" to the proof by giving him anything to play at sight, or any theme upon which to extemporise. Probably it was the feverish excitements on this juvenile "exhibition" which undermined his constitution, and helped to bring about his early death.
By the time he was fourteen, Mozart was supposed to have the technique of his art. Then he proceeded to Italy. The Italians were amazed at his genius. He played so magnificently at Naples that the audience declared the ring of his finger must be a talisman, and demanded its removal. He removed it, and -- played better than ever. Such useful triumphs are unique in musical biography.
In 1777 Mozart went to Paris with his mother, intending to make it his future residence. But his mother died, and he did not like the French, whom he described as "donkeys". He said their language must have been invented by the devil, and that they could not sing, only scream. So, in 1779, he returned to Germany. He settled first at Mannheim, where, as he wrote to his father, he had only one room, "quite crammed with a piano, a table, a bed, and a chest of drawers". Lack of money pinched him. Yet he must have a wife!
The lady, Constance Weber, was a niece of the composer of "Der Freischutz". Mozart told his father that she had a "pair of bright, black eyes and a pretty figure"; that she was "kind-hearted, clever, modest, good-tempered, economical, neat"; that she "dressed her own hair, understood housekeeping, and had the best heart in the world." The wedding took place in 1782, at St Stephen's, Vienna, where Haydn was married (to a shrew) twenty-two years before. Mozart was perfectly happy with his Constance, but she was a bad manager; and he, soaring far above mundane things, was in a perpetual worry of pecuniary embarassment. A friend called one winter day and found the pair waltzing round the room. "We were cold," they explained, and "have no wood to make a fire." Think of it, and then think of the glorious works Mozart under such depressing conditions.
Mozart's marriage was coincident with his serious start as a composer. An empty purse is a fine source of inspiration. With a wife and a young family growing up, Mozart had to exert himself. He made his home in Vienna, and set out on a career of creative industry which soon broke him down, and sent him to a premature grave. He poured forth symphonies, operas, sonatas, and other things with staggering prodigality. Day after day and night after night he hardly snatched an hour's rest. To these years belong his greatest works, the operas of "Don Giovanni," "Figaro," and "The Magic Flute," a noble trio. He wrote several other operas, each of which contained some of his best music, but only the three master-works just named have held their place to the present day.
Mozart got very little for his operas - only twenty pounds for "Don Giovanni" - and very little for his other compositions. Hence, he was always poor. He sought by frequent tours to recruit his finances, but the results were disappointing. There are pathetic stories of his pawning gifts showered on him to purchase a meal. The public bestowed their huzzas, which cost nothing, and withheld their gold. Thus he struggled on, the wolf always at the door.
In 1791, he entered on his thirty-sixth and last year. He became weak and ill, silent and melancholy. A commission for a Requiem preyed on his mind. "I well know I am writing this Requiem for myself," he said. The foreboding was realised. He died on December 5, 1791; and when they came to bury him, a poor, scanty, straggling coffin accompanied the procession from the house to the cathedral. A thunderstorm, with a deluge of rain, broke out before the service was over; and when the coffin emerged the so-called mourners had fled. And thus, unattended except by hirelings, the body of this immortal master was laid with paupers in a common grave, the site of which is now as unknown as that of the grave of Moses.