Great Masters: Mozart-His Life and Music

Course No. 752
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 752
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Course Overview

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)

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8 lectures
 |  46 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction
    Much of today's Mozart scholarship is about debunking myths; this lecture explores Mozart mythology. 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. x
  • 2
    Leopold and the Grand Tour
    Leopold Mozart dominated his son's life from the start. When Leopold realized that his children, Marianne and Wolfgang, possessed prodigious musical talent, he made them his source of wealth and fame. Their grand tour of 1763–66 made them the sensation of Europe and turned Wolfgang into the child wonder by which we still measure prodigies today. The small, fragile, and desperate-to-please Wolfgang became his family's main breadwinner. x
  • 3
    Mozart the Composer—The Early Music
    Leopold probably had a hand in creating Mozart's early pieces, but Mozart also learned his craft from Johann Christian Bach, whom Mozart met in London in 1764–65. Mozart also modeled his early works on established Viennese symphonists, and he absorbed the Italian style on his tours of that country in 1769–73. By the time of his second visit to Paris in 1777, Mozart's own compositional voice had emerged. x
  • 4
    Paris
    The study of Mozart's musical style is often linked with two myths; neither one is true. The first is that Mozart was a vessel for divine inspiration. The second is that he composed without effort, automatically, subconsciously. What makes him different is that he began his apprenticeship at an incredibly young age and was a fully matured composer by the time he was 20. In 1777, Mozart left Salzburg for Paris—a disastrous trip during which his mother died. x
  • 5
    The Flight from Salzburg and Arrival in Vienna
    Despite the disasters that Mozart endured at the time of his trip to Paris, his creative energy never flagged. Longing to compose an opera, Mozart succeeded in convincing the Elector of Munich to commission the opera Idomeneo from him. The opera was premiered in Munich in 1781 to great success. Mozart married Constanze Weber in August 1782, against his father's wishes. The father-son relationship would be severely strained until Leopold's death five years later. x
  • 6
    Life in Vienna
    Between 1782 and 1786, Mozart reached the peak of his career as a pianist and composer in Vienna. Among his supreme achievements are his piano concerti, string quartets, and the C Minor Mass. His six string quartets, inspired by and dedicated to Haydn, exhibit an expressive range and intensity. Mozart worked extremely hard and earned a great deal of money. His speed of composing and ability to compose in his head are the stuff of legend. But his embittered father disinherited him before dying in 1787. x
  • 7
    Operas in Vienna
    Poet and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte collaborated with Mozart on his great operas: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte. Mozart's popularity in Vienna began to wane in the late 1780s and he experienced financial hardship; his marriage was strained because of Mozart's real and perceived affairs. Yet he continued to write a series of masterworks, the expressive moods of which seldom, if ever, betrayed his unhappy circumstances. x
  • 8
    The Last Years
    Mozart's Cosi fan tutte of 1789 was no more successful in Vienna than Don Giovanni had been. By late 1790, Mozart was in financial straits and his health deteriorated further. He wrote little of significance until January 1791: The Magic Flute. He began a Requiem Mass, which remained unfinished at his death on December 5. Among the most famous myths about Mozart's death is that he was poisoned by the Italian composer Antonio Salieri. The most likely theory is that he died from rheumatic fever. Mozart gave us a "picture of a better world" (Franz Schubert), and was, as the composer Rossini put it, "the only composer who had as much knowledge as genius and as much genius as knowledge." x

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  • Timeline
  • Glossary

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Reviews

Great Masters: Mozart-His Life and Music is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 81.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Introduction I have listened to many Mozart works without knowing their significance or much about the man. Professor Greenberg provides a great deal more than expected. That is not to say that this was not totally unexpected, as I have taken several other of his TC courses in the Great Masters series, the most enjoyable being that on Brahms. In this course, Professor Greenberg deals with a composer who not only had a tremendous output, but also crossed the lines in composition excellence, for instance creating the classical piano concerto (with due respect to Haydn and J.C. Bach), and innovations in opera (notably ‘The Marriage of Figaro’). All of this Professor Greenberg brings out very well. But though he peppers his lectures with sixty-six musical selections, they are often quite short. Too often he refers only to more extended treatments of Mozart’s works in his other TC courses. While this is a criticism, considering this is Mozart and confined to an eight-lecture course, this is likely as good as it can get. What is key to Professor Greenberg’s course is not just conveying the significance of Mozart’s music, but also freeing him from the many myths that developed after his death, showing him as a real human being. “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.” (Course Guidebook, Page 4). In this, Professor Greenberg argues successfully against such portrayals of Mozart as a “horse laughing idiot savant of recent theater and cinema” (Page 4), that he was “a vessel of divine inspiration” (Page 15), or even that he was autistic. Mozart composed rapidly and prolifically (with his first symphony at eight years old!) but not so much to justify the many myths that developed about him and his genius. While I enjoyed Professor Greenberg’s taking the myths head on, he sometimes goes the other way with his heavy-handed humor, for instance likening “Wolfie” in his early stay in Vienna as a “…Viennese Elton John or Tom Cruise” (audio only, lecture six). Peppering the lectures with examples of Mozart’s addiction to toilet humor certainly takes Mozart down several pegs, but got tiresome for me. Despite my criticisms, I find this an exceptional course. While I would have appreciated more and longer musical selections, I got a good taste of Mozart’s range and developed a desire to learn more. That pursuit will be aided by the very useful contexts provided by this course, beginning with Mozart’s family (notably the years of repression and exploitation by his father), his marriage and crushing debts from high living, to fine explanations of historical and political situations within which Mozart lived. Come to think of it, Professor Greenberg really did accomplish his purpose with this short course, keeping my interest throughout. The 51-page guidebook for this 2000 TC course is a fine complement, with good lecture summaries, timeline, and bibliography (including Professor Greenberg’s recommended 1995 Mozart biography by Maynard Solomon).
Date published: 2018-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg at his best Professor Greenberg at his best - nothing more to say.
Date published: 2018-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another fabulous course from Prof. Greenberg As in all of his biographical courses, Professor Greenberg provided a beautifully crafted account of Mozart’s life; particularly his stressful relationship with his family and particularly with his father. He gives a wonderful, lucid account of the world in which Mozart lived, including some of the people who would have a strong influence on his professional life. Professor Greenberg was very thorough, in my opinion, in dispelling some of the myths that the popular public has come to accept regarding Mozart (primarily arising from his description in the movie “Amadeus”) such as that he was an “idiot genius” or “autistic”. He was very thorough in explaining why in his opinion this is not the case and provided a lot of data to the contrary. His demonstrations of Mozart’s peculiar sense of humor were great, and while I think he presented a strong case to prove his points, one can still understand where these conceptions stemmed. In this respect, his description was in my opinion, detailed and fair. I have never really connected with Mozart’s music – I think primarily because it is the epitome of the classical genre and for this reason – is not very strong on the expressive side in relation to, say, composers of the 19th century. Having heard this course I believe that I have a much better context for understanding and listening to his music, and therefore, for enjoying it. Another fabulous course by Professor Greenberg.
Date published: 2018-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A badly-needed corrective to the Mozart myths So much of Mozart's life is mythologized and misunderstood, to the point where his talents are seen as supernatural, not as the output of a real, live human being, who studied and learned over the course of his lifetime. He was undoubtedly born with a gift that is given to few, and that many of us cannot comprehend. But that doesn't mean he never had to work at it. Mozart was constantly exposed to new musical ideas and learned to incorporate what was good and to reject what was not good. His relationship with his father and his break from his father is also too often treated as if Mozart was an eternally brow-beaten child. He was not. He was the first composer to truly go free-lance and in that regard he was revolutionary, and paved the way for future composers. The movie "Amadeus" was undoubteldy a great movie, even a masterpiece in its own right, but it is not and never was intended to be a biopic of Mozart's life. It's a drama which asks questions about the nature of man and his relation to art. As great as "Amadeus" the movie is, this course provides a much needed return to the realities of Mozart's lived experience.
Date published: 2018-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Suspicions Confirmed Probably out of all the “Great Masters” series, I know both the music and life of Mozart the best. But still Professor Greenberg managed to add to my knowledge and fill in missing pieces where there had been gaps before. For example, I knew that Mozart’s father was a self-centered, overbearing, controlling jerk, but I was unaware of just how much, and more to the point the idea that the deprivations during Mozart’s youth may well have contributed to this untimely death. Or that this same parsimonious attitude likely also was a major contributing factor to Mozart’s mother’s death. And to top it off, that dad then put the blame on the son is really shocking, though not unexpected. As usual in reviewing a Dr. Greenberg course, one has to consider the rapid patter filled with multiflorous adjectives, adverbs, examples and analogies that at times tend to overwhelm the message. Not to mention his humor, often amusing, sometimes hilarious and with a few jokes that just fall flat. For me, Professor Greenberg’s passion more than makes up for any delivery deficiencies, but it is understandable that others disagree. I would suggest that those who disagree, must acknowledge that amount of considered material and analysis that Dr. Greenberg can manage to put into eight, 45-minutes lectures. And all of this filled with plenty of examples of Mozart’s marvelous music. As an aside I do like to be reminded that much of what he wrote seemed at the time to be surprising and even ground-breaking, as it always seems to me that one note follows another perfectly, just as one might say about an elegant mathematical proof, “it had to be that way.” Along the way Dr. Greenberg takes plenty time to dispel many of the popular myths about the life of Mozart and his contemporaries. And he never fails to take a shot, cheap or otherwise, as to the movie “Amadeus”. Here I think Dr. Greenberg displays a bit of a thin skin. After all a movie is a movie and not really an accurate biography. Someone had to be antagonist and in this case Salieri was chosen. Fortunately Professor Greenberg gets his chance to correct the record for any who thought that the movie reflected real life.
Date published: 2017-12-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I know I will enjoy. Don't know what else to say at this time.
Date published: 2017-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very nice, maybe not perfect Interesting course on the life of Mozart. Professor Greenberg is great, as always. Unfortunately, not much music inside, it’s really first of all about the biography. Also, the audio quality is good but not on par with the most recently recorded Great Courses.
Date published: 2017-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from These lectures are outstanding in every way -- expertly researched, organized and presented in an incredibly entertaining style. I'm near the end and will be sorry to see it go!
Date published: 2017-05-25
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