Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the most respected and revered composers who ever lived. Although he was a part of what has become known as the Classical era of music, it can be argued that Mozart transcended the aesthetic of his timer period and created works which are timeless. During his unfairly short lifetime, he helped create and popularize various musical forms. He has become an icon of genius and the epitome of the child prodigy, showing incredible artistic ability in a very early age. The totality of Mozart’s works includes a plethora of symphonies, concertos, and operas not to mention singular musical pieces. Mozart was one of the most prolific composers of his era, or indeed of any era. More than 600 works of Mozart still exist to this day and there are reports which indicated some others have been lost to history. His works have been featured in ballets, in plays, and in modern media such as films and television. Despite the fact that he has been dead for a long period of time, Mozart is still one of the most prolifically heard and appreciated musical artists the world has ever known. Some of the most beautiful pieces of music that ever were written were created by Mozart, including but not limited to the operas The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni and perhaps his most famous piece completed shortly before his death, The Magic Flute. It is truly amazing how one human being created things of such beauty. He is like no artist ever. Centuries after Mozart’s death he is still impacting the lives and culture of human beings from all over the world. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is widely considered to be one of the greatest creative minds in all of western civilization.
The facts of Mozart’s life have been convoluted by mythology and false stories, helped along in the modern psychology by the play and later award-winning film Amadeus. That story, although compelling, portrayed Mozart in a negative light. Rather than the foolish fop as shown on screen, Mozart worked incredibly hard on his music, revisiting pieces many times over until each composition met the level of perfection Mozart came to expect and demand of himself. Certainly certain other artists were jealous of him, but few people who actually met Mozart could dislike him. He was reported in fact as a kind, hard-working man who cared about his music and his family above everything else in life.
Most people know some about Mozart’s childhood. It is a well-reported fact that he began composing when he was only five years old, one of only two children of seven to survive infancy. Even as a small child, Mozart created works which were celebrated above the compositions of people many times his own age. Mozart’s father was a composer in his own right, although he never achieved anything close to the success of his young son. The two living children were encouraged almost as soon as they were born to pick up musical instruments and were reared with the belief that the ability to make music was a noble occupation (Rauglaudre 2012). This was centuries before modern psychologists have shown the importance of parental encouragement in the eventual success of their offspring. After seeing his son’s amazing abilities, Leopold Mozart began keeping a book titled the Nannerl Notenbuch where he wrote down all of young Wolfgang’s compositions (Deutsch 1965,-page 455). This book is studied by modern music scholars still today During his career, Mozart was honored with the attentions of some of the most powerful people of his day, including members of European aristocracy and even royalty.
Before Mozart, artists were less willing to push the limits of the tastes of the current listening audience. Composers of this period made a living by being patronized by wealthy members of the elite. This was the only way a person could make a living as a composer. The wealthy person would pay for everything for the artist, including clothing, food, and housing. This might seem like a good agreement for the musician, but it also meant that the artists were completely at the mercy of their patron. They had to make art which would please the one with the money. If not, they could be replaced by any number of hungry artists who were willing to do so. Consequently, they wanted to make work which would appeal to their benefactors, less the person paying the bills became displeased and stop providing funds. One of the exceptions to this type of composer was Johann Christian Bach who had a friendly relationship with Mozart during the period between 1764 and 1765 where the Mozart family traveled to England (Halliwell 1998,-page 51). In his youth, Mozart saw how dependent his father was upon the financial patronage of the elite members of the population and this helped shape in him the knowledge that his work had to be entertaining as well as brilliant in order to make a living as a composer.
Even though he understood the need for a patron to support him financially, Mozart was also determined to change music and was revolutionary in many of the techniques he employed in this capacity. This perspective was not new to Mozart, but he may have been one of the first artists to actually reject a patron rather than having his position revoked by the man or woman holding the purse strings. His first position where he had the benefit of a patron was when he got a job entertaining the ruler of Salzburg, . However, this position did not last long as Mozart felt too stifled by the need to please and the small amount of income he was provided. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was being forced to write pieces which would appeal to the prince and to his friends and family members, which were usually upbeat pieces with more flash than substance. Some of the pieces that Mozart put more effort into, such as the ones with complexity and dissonance were not liked by the elite audience members and he was ordered to write simpler compositions. Amazingly, some of his works were returned to him by musicians and conductors because they believed them to have wrong notes and were therefore unplayable. These stories are most often connected to his compositions which contained dissonance.
One of the reasons that Mozart ultimately resigned his position in Salzburg was a desire to write long operas with strong plots, something which the prince of Salzburg was not interested in (Solomon 1995,-page 98). Instead of being condescending or patronizing other composers and musicians, Mozart used every interaction as a learning experience, taking in and internalizing what he saw that worked in the compositions of others and then employing innovations into his own work. He understood music and the composition of music as a collaborative effort wherein the ultimate goal was to create a thing of beauty which the world could embrace. After his resignation, Mozart and his father traveled around Europe performing, composing, and also listening to the musical creations of others. He became the first recorded composer to break free of the feudal system of artistic patronage and become what would in the modern vernacular be called a free agent. Throughout his life, Mozart was dedicated to furthering his craft even after he had achieved a level of international acclaim and recognition; he still believed he could improve as an artist but only by getting away from Salzburg. This breaking away was instrumental in forming the present relationships that musicians have with those who patronized them. They were allowed greater artistic freedom and the encouragement to brave starvation for the sake of artistic integrity.
There are many examples of how Mozart came to influence other great artists, both in the music world and in other creative arts. Within his own era, Mozart was highly celebrated, a gift granted to few true geniuses. Just as he was inspired in his own artistry by the work of other artists, so too many composers have been influenced by the compositions of Mozart. A contemporary of Mozart, Joseph Haydn, was quoted after Mozart’s death. He said, “Posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years” (Landon 1990,-page 171). Haydn further was quoted as stating that he believed Mozart was the greatest composer he had ever known or had ever been because of his profound knowledge of composition. Another artist, Ludwig van Beethoven, who is perhaps the only composer who might vie with Mozart for the title of greatest composer who ever lived, stated that he was also heavily influenced by Mozart but was also angry in that he felt he could never write anything as beautiful as some of the works Mozart composed.
Mozart has been able to influence people even many centuries later. Igor Stravinsky who is one of the most innovative composers of the twentieth century credited Mozart for giving him his ideas. According to Stravinsky, it was Mozart’s mastery of the formal elements of music including the use of dissonance that was the primary inspiration for his own work. His influence has not been limited to other composers or musicians. Among philosophers, writers, poets, and musicologists Mozart has been elevated to a superhuman capacity and widely regarded as the greatest musical genius who ever lived. The narratives of his operas and the techniques used in his compositions have been adapted and influenced artists of every genre and media type imaginable. A handful of the people who admitted to be influenced by Mozart read like a “who’s who?” Of history’s greatest writers and artists. These include Kierkegaard, Stendhal, Bertrand Russell, and George Bernard Shaw.
Deutsch, O. (1965). Mozart: a Documentary Biography. Ed. P. Branscombe & E. Blom. Trans. J.
Noble. Stanford UP: Stanford, CA.
Halliwell, R. (1998). The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context. Clarendon: New York
Landon, H. (1990). 1791: Mozart’s Last Year. Flamingo: London, England.
Rauglaudre, D. (2012). Maria Anna Pertl. Genealogical Database.
Solomon, M. (1995). Mozart: a Life. 1st ed. Harper Collins: New York City, NY.