Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the most performed, mythologised, deconstructed and popular of all composers. Excelling in opera, symphonies, and string quartets, he wrote more than 600 works in his short life. His unpredictable and indefinable vision speaks with a unique poignancy and power to modern ears. As a complex, restless man, his worldliness offset by high ideals, irresponsibility met with shrewd business acumen, the eccentric countered with melancholy introspection.
Mozart grew up in a musical family, his father, Leopold, a composer and noted violin teacher, and his older sister Marianne (‘Nannerl’) a gifted pianist. A true wunderkind, he composed his first works, for harpsichord, when barely out of his cradle, his earliest symphonies before he turned ten, and at the age of 12, his Missa solemnis K. 139 was performed in front of the imperial court in Vienna. In 1770, his Mitridate re di Ponto confirmed the 14-year-old as a master of the operatic style of the day.
From 1773, Mozart produced symphonies, five violin concertos, and a series of short masses in the cheerful, bustling style typical of Salzburg church music. It was in 1777 that he produced the ground-breaking Piano Concerto No. 9 and 1781 saw the premiere of his first real operatic masterpiece, Idomeneo. After moving from Salzburg to Vienna, Mozart gave keyboard lessons, published his works, and promoted himself as a composer-performer in subscription concerts, for which he wrote a series of piano concertos. Chamber music and opera were also central to his Viennese years, while the Turkish harem opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (his greatest popular success) and his three collaborations with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte – Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte – raised comic opera to a new level.
Mozart’s final year was one of the most productive and lucrative of his life, with major commissions for La clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte, and a Requiem, which he left unfinished at his early death, aged just 35.