He composed his first symphony at the age of 8. His middle name means "loved of God." And Austrian Emperor Joseph II accused his music of having "too many notes." This course is a biographical and musical study of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), who composed more than 600 works of beauty and brilliance in just over 20 years.
According to Professor Robert Greenberg, Mozart's music combined the pure lyricism of song with dramatic timing, depth of expression, and technical mastery of the complexities of phrase structure and harmony that allowed him to create a body of work unique in the repertoire.
Will the Real Wolfgang Please Stand Up?
And his personal life has generated nearly as much interest as his music. Who was Mozart? Was he the fair-haired boy-divinity of 19th-century Romanticism? Was he indeed the horse-laughing lout of recent theater and cinema? Was he borderline autistic or musical freak?
Was he an artistic traditionalist working happily within Haydn-defined Classicism? A social and musical rebel at war with a patronage system?
What did his contemporaries think of his music? Why was he so passionate about writing operas? How did he view his audience, his patrons, and his fellow composers? Does any of his music reflect his own moods or states of mind?
Who and what were the crucial influences in his life and his art? And how did he die?
You learn about Mozart's:
- Journey from youthful prodigy to posthumous deification
- Difficult relationship with his father
- Tours to London and Paris
- Struggles for a successful career
- Marriage to Constanze Weber
- Triumphs and disappointments in Vienna
- Relationships with Haydn, Emperor Joseph II, and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.
"Much of today's Mozart scholarship is about debunking myths," says Professor Greenberg. "One of the reasons for the Mozart mythology is the fact that few responsible accounts of Mozart's life and personality were written during his lifetime. Much was written years after his death.
"Mozart's extraordinary, prodigious talent also fueled the notion that he was some kind of freak. At the heart of the Mozart mythology is the otherworldliness of his music. His middle name, Amadeus, 'loved of God,' also helped to imbue him with a God-like image.
"The goal of these lectures is to show Mozart to be a person: a talented, hard-working, ambitious man who had friends and enemies and whose music was subject to criticism in his own day."
Mozart's Early Life: Young Apprentice and a Domineering Father
The reality is that Mozart, like any other composer, served an apprenticeship. What is extraordinary is that Mozart's apprenticeship began at such a tender age; he wrote his first symphony at the age of 8 and was a mature composer by age 20, when most other composers are beginning their training.
He had an extraordinary memory and an ability to compose whole symphonies in his head. He worked extremely hard, frequently to the point of exhaustion—often at breakneck speed, amid squadrons of distractions, and without putting pen to paper until every last note of a new work had been composed in his head.
Mozart's early life was dominated by his father. Leopold Mozart counted on his children's musical talents to bring him the fame and fortune he could not earn for himself. The grand tour of 1763–1766 made the Mozart family the sensation of Europe and turned the small, fragile, desperate-to-please Wolfgang into an international celebrity and the family's main breadwinner.
Mozart learned his craft by absorbing the music of the best composers of his day: Johann Christian Bach (eleventh son of Johann Sebastian Bach) and the legendary Franz Joseph Haydn. By the time of Mozart's second visit to Paris in 1777 at age 21, his own original genius was emerging.
But that trip to Paris was also a disaster. His mother died there, he failed to find a position, he had no money, and his domineering father was interfering with his life to a degree he now found intolerable.
Settling in Vienna: A Soaring Genius
In 1781, Mozart settled in Vienna, an exciting place to live and work for artists at the time, thanks to the reforms of Emperor Joseph II. He married Constanze Weber against the wishes of his father; Leopold withheld Mozart's wedding dowry and later disinherited his son.
Mozart's genius soared. He reached the peak of his career in Vienna in 1782–1786. At this point, his piano concerti were his main source of income. Then, beginning in 1786, he collaborated with the great librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte on three of the repertoire's finest operas: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte.
By the late 1780s, however, Mozart's popularity in Vienna was on the wane. His music had always had its critics—those who thought it too difficult, complex, or contrived.
"Mozart never attempted to compromise his musical integrity just to please the masses," notes Professor Greenberg. "Even his so-called 'entertainment' music is stamped with his inimitable and complex genius."
His politically controversial opera, The Marriage of Figaro, did not help further his career in Vienna. Masterpiece though it is, it deeply offended the Viennese aristocracy.
"Mozart was, in essence, biting the hand that fed him," says Professor Greenberg.
Mozart continued to pour out one masterwork after another, the expressive content rarely hinting at his unhappy circumstances.
The Final Years: The Magic Flute and a Requiem Mass
In 1790 Mozart's health began to deteriorate and he became depressed. That year, he wrote very little of significance. His creative recovery in early 1791 was inexplicable. The compositions of that year culminated in the great Masonic opera, The Magic Flute.
By the end of the year, he was working on a Requiem Mass, anonymously commissioned by a nobleman who liked to pass off others' compositions as his own. The Requiem remained unfinished at Mozart's death on December 5, 1791.
Myths and speculation surround the cause of Mozart's death. The most famous myth is that he was poisoned by the Italian composer Antonio Salieri who, while a patient in an insane asylum decades later, claimed that he had done the dastardly deed. The most likely theory is that Mozart died from acute rheumatic fever and a stroke brought on by excessive bloodletting—at the age of 35.
A Wide Selection of Excerpts from The Great Masters
Mozart wrote more than 600 compositions, whose standard numbering comes from the catalogue listing first published in 1862 by Ludwig von Köchel.
Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:
Eine kleine Nachtmusick, K. 525 (1787)
Don Giovanni, K. 527 (1787)
Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major, K. 467 (1785)
String Quartet in C, K. 465 (Dissonant ) (1785)
The Magic Flute, K. 620 (1791)
Serenade in D Major, K. 320 (Posthorn) (1779)
Così fan tutte, K. 588 (1789)
Flute Concerto in D, K. 314/320d (1777)
Piano Concerto no. 18 in B-flat, K. 456 (1785)
Ein Musikalischer Spass, K. 522 (1787)
Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, K. 364/320d (1779)
The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492 (1786)
String Quintet in C Major, K. 515 (1787)
Symphony no. 40 in G Minor, K. 550 (1788)
Symphony no. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543 (1788)
Symphony no. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (Jupiter ) (1788)
Requiem Mass, K. 626 (1791)