Mozart: Biography, Facts, And Things You Didn't Know About The Prodigy Composer

By | January 25, 2021

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Posthumous portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1819. (Barbara Krafft/Wikimedia Commons)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart only lived to be 35 years old, but in his brief time on Earth, he composed more than 600 works that came to be known as the height of symphonic musicWe're still talking about Mozart, so his lifelong efforts to create something important seem to have paid off.

Mozart's Early Life

The composer known the world over simply as Mozart was born Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria. He was the youngest of seven children, five of whom passed away in infancy. His only surviving sibling was his sister Nannerl, who noted Mozart's talent early in his life, later writing:

He often spent much time at the clavier, picking out thirds, which he was ever striking, and his pleasure showed that it sounded good ... In the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier ... He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time ... At the age of five, he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father, who wrote them down.

Mozart studied everything under his father, from languages to music to math. Leopold Mozart had musical ambitions himself, but after realizing that his son held true talent, he stopped composing completely and essentially began working as young Mozart's manager.

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The Mozart family on tour: Leopold, Wolfgang, and Nannerl. Watercolor by Carmontelle, c. 1763. (Condé Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

"Useless Persons"

Before Mozart was a singular force in the world of music, he was only one half of a brother-sister musical act. The two child prodigies began their extensive tour in 1762 at the court of Prince-elector Maximilian III of Bavaria in Munich, and for the next three and half years, the family traveled the continent, performing for royalty.

During this time, at the age of eight, the young Mozart composed his first symphony and finally broke out on his own in 1769, when he and his father left for a two-year tour of Italy. Mozart was soon accepted as a member of the Accademia Filarmonica before earning a series of commissions based on the success of his opera, Mitridate, Re Di Ponto. His father pushed Archduke Ferdinand of Parma to hire Mozart as his personal composer, but Ferdinand's mother, the Empress, was against the employ of "useless persons."

At 16, Mozart was hired by the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo, as the prince-archiepiscopal concertmaster. During his employ with the prince-archbishop, he wrote symphonies, sonatas, serenades, and even various masses for the court. He got briefly but deeply into violin concertos, writing five in rapid succession and then never again. The position came with an annual salary of 150 guilders, which is about $85 in 2020 money. It's not clear just how far that went in the 1770s, but it wasn't enough to keep Mozart from seeking employment elsewhere. What he really wanted to do was compose operas, which he didn't have a chance to do in Salzburg.