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Timeline: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Even if you’re not that familiar with classical music you still know the name Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and can probably even hum a few of his tunes. His music has always been popular and his legacy has influenced composers for centuries.

To call Mozart a child prodigy is an understatement. By the age of 6 his talents were sensational. He could improvise in multiple styles, sight-read on instruments he had never studied and could literally play the harpsichord blindfolded and backward. It’s no wonder that his father — Leopold — took Mozart and his older sister across Europe performing in the courts of royalty from Germany to France to England. Mozart never had formal musical training or even traditional schooling. His childhood was one journey after another.  Mozart’s life and music were defined by these travels. He absorbed musical styles and idioms from locations across the continent.

Later when the novelty of his genius began to fade, Mozart’s father arranged employment with him at the Salzburg court. But Wolfgang had itchy feet and left his position to travel and seek his own employment in Mannheim, Paris and Munich. His success as an opera composer brought him to Vienna. It was here he met and married Constanze Weber and earned a name for himself as a freelance composer. Unlike his contemporaries, Mozart found success in every genre he attempted; symphonies, concerti, operas, chamber works, everything found an audience.

In 1787, Mozart was appointed to the court of Emperor Joseph II, filling a position left vacant by the death of Gluck. But as the decade came to a close, Mozart had fallen into hard times financially. His lifestyle was extravagant and his income simply could not keep up. He was heavily in debt which was a great source of stress. In the fall of 1791, Mozart fell gravely ill and passed away on December 5 at the age of 35. Contrary to romantic notions, he was not buried in a pauper’s grave. He was buried as any other citizen of Vienna would have been. However, these graves were subject to exhumation every ten years to make space.  So that is the reason why we don’t know Mozart’s final resting place today.

Credit US-PD
The signature of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Take a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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