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

By Jacob Shelton

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.

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.

Hieronymus, Count of Colloredo, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, c. 1780. (Salzburg Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

Trouble In Europe

While working for the prince-archbishop, Mozart fell in love with Aloysia Weber, one of four daughters from a Viennese family of musicians. He pined and wrote arias for her, but when he finally proposed, she turned him down. Heartbroken and still not getting anywhere in his career, Mozart pawned everything he owned that was worth anything and left for Paris in 1778. Soon after, his mother fell ill, and since he couldn't afford the cost of a doctor, she died.

As his family fell apart, Leopold Mozart threw himself into finding work for his son in Salzburg and procured him a position as a local court organist and concertmaster for 450 florins a year. Mozart initially passed in favor of traveling around France and Germany, but after bumping into Aloysia in Munich, he gave in and returned to Salzburg at the beginning of 1779.

In March 1781, Mozart left Salzburg for the last time after he was summoned to Vienna by Colloredo but soon found his working conditions lacking. He was forced to dine with the servants, later quipping "I guess I at least sat above the cooks," and forbidden from performing for Countess Thun and other members of royalty who could give him a job. The final straw was when Mozart sought a meeting with Colloredo to address his dissatisfaction and the archbishop sent his steward in his place. Mozart quit on the spot and decided to work as a freelance composer in Vienna, but in what may be the earliest case of "You can't quit, you're fired," the steward refused to accept Mozart's resignation and instead dismissed the composer by kicking him out of his residence on June 8, 1781.

1782 portrait of Constanze Mozart by her brother-in-law, Joseph Lange. (Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery/Wikimedia Commons)

Everything's Coming Up Mozart

Mozart may have struck out with Aloysia Weber, but he eventually settled for her younger sister, Constanze. They married on August 4, 1782, less than a month after an incredibly successful performance of his new opera, The Abduction From The Harem. For the next three years, he performed relentlessly, and whether it was held in a tiny apartment or a restaurant ballroom, each concert was a success. He was even starting to build a fan base of loyal listeners. Meanwhile, Constanze gave birth to two boys, although their first tragically died after only one month of life. (She would go on to give birth to a total of six children, only two of whom survived infancy.)

Unfortunately, the Mozarts spent their money as quickly as it came in. They hired servants, sent their son to boarding school, and dropped major cash on a slick apartment. They spent so much that by 1787, Mozart was again seeking steady work and eventually hired by Emperor Joseph II as his chamber composer for mere 800 florins a year.

Fortepiano played by Mozart in 1787, Czech Museum of Music, Prague. (VitVit/Wikimedia Commons)

The Death Of Mozart

Mozart's finances were up and down in his final years, but he didn't stop hustling until he was on his death bed. In his final year, he composed the opera The Magic Flute as well as a series of concertos and string quartets and began paying off his debts as his work finally received the recognition it deserved.

Just as things seemed to really be leveling off, however, Mozart fell ill in Prague, where he'd traveled for the premier of his opera, La Clemenza Di Tito. He continued to perform for two more months until he became bedridden with pain, but even then, he attempted to finish his Requiem in D Minor before passing away on December 5, 1791. His influence can still be heard today, not only in modern classical musicians but those artists who refuse to take an easy paycheck and instead follow their dreams.

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.