Mozart, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Amadeus
one of the greatest musical composers, if not the greatest, deserves a place here for his many and valuable contributions to sacred music. He was born at Salzburg (then in Bavaria, but soon after transferred to Austria), January 17, 1756. From the earliest age Wolfgang evinced the strongest predilection for music, which induced his father, who was organist of the prince's chapel, to discontinue the instruction of others, in order to devote himself to his tuition and that of a sister about four years older. After studying the harpsichord during a year, the flights of his genius were so rapid that he exercised his own invention in original composition at the age of only five, and attempted notation, which could hardly be deciphered. When only six years of age, his performances were so remarkable that his father took him and his sister, who possessed similar gifts, to Munich and Vienna, where they obtained every kind of encouragement from the elector of Bavaria and the emperor Francis I. In 1763 the Mozart family visited Paris; and, though now only at the age of seven, Mozart surprised a party of musicians, including his father, by taking part, at sight, in a trio for stringed instruments. He also earned a great reputation as performer on the organ, and during his stay at Paris performed on the organ in the Chapelle du Roi before the whole court. While at the French capital Mozart also entered upon his career as musical author, for he there published his first two works. From Paris the Mozart family went to London in 1764, and there, according to Holmes, "the boy exhibited his talents before the royal family, and underwent more severe trials than any to which he had been before subjected, through which he passed in a most triumphant manner. So much interest did he excite in that country that the Hon. Daines Barrington drew up an account of his extraordinary performances, which was read before the Royal Society, and declared by the council of that body to be sufficiently important to be printed in the Philosophical Transactions, in the 60th volume of which it appears." In the 69th volume of the same work Dr. Burney remarks: " Of Mozart's infant attempts at music I was unable to discover the traces from the conversation of his father, who, though an intelligent man, whose education and knowledge of the world did not seem confined to music, confessed himself unable to describe the progressive improvements of his son during the first stages of infancy. However, at eight years of age I was frequently convinced of his great knowledge in composition by his writings; and that his invention, taste, modulation, and execution in extemporary playing were such as few professors are possessed of at forty years of age." Symphonies of his own composition were produced in a public concert in London; and while there he composed and published six sonatas, and made acquaintance with the works of Handel, recently deceased. In 1765 the Mozarts returned to the Continent, and, passing through Paris, went to Holland, and at the Hague, when not more than eight years old, young Wolfgang composed a symphony for a full orchestra, on occasion of the installation of the prince of Orange. On their return to Germany shortly after, he again produced a sensation by his compositions for the religious service, and for a trumpet concert at the dedication of the Orphan House Church in Vienna, himself conducting the music in presence of the imperial court. After this the Mozarts went home to Salzburg, and Wolfgang was afforded every advantage for his musical training. He devoted himself most assiduously to the study of his art, and evinced his mastery of the subject in 1768, when, at the request of the emperor Joseph II at Vienna, he composed music to the opera-buffa La Finta Semplice, which, though never performed, was approved of by all the masters and cognoscenti of the period. In 1769 young Mozart was nominated concert-master to the archbishop of Salzburg, and thus gained a small compensation and a somewhat independent position. We do not know exactly what his salary was when first appointed, but in his twentieth year, we learn from his biographer, Mozart earned the trifling sum of $5 per annum. We do not wonder, therefore, that the artist occasionally strayed from home to earn a few additional dollars. Thus in the very year of his appointment we find him starting for Italy, where he was most rapturously welcomed. His first performance in Italy was given at Milan, where he was engaged to return and compose the first opera for the carnival of 1771. At Bologna and Florence the reception he met with was equally flattering to the young musician. At Rome Mozart arrived in Passion Week, and on Wednesday went to the Sistine Chapel, where he heard for the first time the celebrated Miserere, which was prohibited to be copied, or in any manner published, on pain of excommunication. On Good Friday the same Miserere was again performed, when Mozart was present with the MS. copy he had made from memory concealed in his hat, that he might have an opportunity of making corrections. This circumstance created an immense excitement at Rome, because the peculiarities of the Miserere were thought impossible to be expressed by musical notation; and when young Mozart, in presence of some Sistine choristers, sang the composition in the very manner in which it was sung by those who had acquired it only after long practice, the professional singers expressed their astonishment in terms of unmeasured admiration. The fame of Mozart after this event was spread far and wide. His wonderful musical talents and power of performing on the organ were attributed to a charm which it was supposed he carried in his ring. When the pope first heard him perform he conferred upon him the order of the Golden Spur; and at Bologna he was unanimously elected a member of the Philharmonic Society, which was at that time an honor rarely conferred even upon the greatest musicians, but yet well earned by this marvellous youth, who, at the age of sixteen, was acknowledged the first claveiinist in the world, and had produced two requiems and a stabatmater, numerous offertories, hymns, and motets, 4 operas, 2 cantatas, 13 symphonies, 24 piano-forte sonatas, not to speak of a vast number of concertos for different instruments, trios, quartets, marches, and other minor pieces. In 1773 Mozart produced, among numerous other works, two Masses for the chapel of the elector of Bavaria, etc. In 1775, at the desire of the archduke Maximilian, he composed the cantata Il Re Pastore; and from that period till the year 1779 he continued to labor with his pen, though but few of its products then obtained, or ever will obtain, a celebrity at all equal to that which his subsequent productions have so justly acquired. In 1775 his fame was so completely established and so widely known that he could have made choice of engagements in all the capitals of Europe. His father preferred Paris, and therefore, in 1777, he, with his mother, set out for a second journey towards that city. The death of his mother made Paris insupportable, and he returned to his father at the beginning of the year 1779. Some time after this Mozart went to Munich, whence he went to Vienna; and in November 1779, he finally settled in the latter city, the inhabitants and manners of which were very agreeable to him; and now, having reached his 24th year, he exhibited the rare example of one who had been astonishing as a child, had disappointed not even the most sanguine hopes, and became proportionately great as a man. Whatever the precocity of the child — and in that respect as well as in any other he was unlike other noted musical composers, for though Handel and Haydn and Beethoven all gave proofs of their musical powers in boyhood, none of them showed as children that full maturity of mind which distinguished Mozart, and which only a few of those who witnessed it could appreciate-it was now in the maturity of life that he began his career as composer, and gained that celebrity which will last to all time. Mozart was now in the service of the emperor as composer to the court; but his office was rather honorary than lucrative, and he lived by concerts, musical tours, teaching music, and the small profits derived from the sale of his published works, till an offer of a large salary made to him by the king of Prussia led the emperor to give him 800 florins a year; and though several tempting offers came to him after this time, and Mozart's pecuniary condition would i have made greater compensation very desirable, he refused to quit his emperor's side. His great opera of Idomeneo was composed in 1780, with a view to induce the family of Mademoiselle Constance Weber, afterwards his wife, to consent to the marriage, which they had declined on the ground that his reputation was not sufficiently established. This opera forms an epoch not in the composer's life only, but in the history of music. In construction, detail, instrumentation, and every imaginable respect, it was an enormous advance on all previous works of the kind, and established his reputation as the greatest musician whom the world had seen. His other principal works, composed about and after this time, are Cosi Fan Tutti: — L'Eunlevement du Serail: — Nozze de Figaro: — Don Giovanni: — Zauberflote: — Clemenza di Tito: — and last, but not least, his world renowned Requiem — one of the most perfect sacred musical compositions, if not the most perfect — in which, while the sacred character is maintained throughout, the airs have all the requisite grace and freedom, the instrumentation all the resources of modern refinement, and the whole exhibits in a perfect manner the blending of the varied powers of the orchestra with the voice, without ever allowing the former to encroach on the latter. The story of his composing the Requiem deserves mentioning here. Mozart's intense application to keep the wolf from his doors, and to avoid trouble on account of the many papers that came to him showing "res augusta domi" (warrants for debt), had brought on a state of melancholy from which nothing could arouse him, and he was full of terror at his approaching end. One day, while plunged in a profound reverie, a stranger of dignified manners was announced, who communicated the wishes of some unknown person of exalted rank that he should compose a solemn mass for the repose of the soul of one tenderly beloved, whom he had just lost. An air of mystery pervaded the interview; the composer was exhorted to exercise all his genius; and he engaged to finish his work in a month when the stranger promised to return. He disappeared, and Mozart instantly commenced writing. Day and night were uninterruptedly occupied; but he was consumed by gloomy presages, and at length exclaimed abruptly to his wife, in great agitation, "Certainly I am composing this requiem for myself-it will serve for my own funeral." Though his strength continued to fail, his assiduity was unabated, and at length he was obliged to suspend the undertaking. At the appointed time the stranger returned. "I have found it impossible to keep my word," said Mozart; to which the stranger answered, "Give yourself no uneasiness. What longer time do you require?" Mozart replied, "Another month." The stranger now insisted on doubling the covenanted price, which he had paid down at the outset, and retired. It was in vain that Mozart endeavored to trace him, and this, conjoined with other circumstances, corroborated his belief that he was some supernatural being sent to announce the close of his mortal career. Nevertheless his labors were renewed, and the work at last was nearly completed within the stipulated period, when the mysterious stranger again returned; but Mozart was no more. He died December 5, 1791. In the intervals of his greater works, Mozart composed the majority of the orchestral symphonies, quartets, and quintets which are an almost indispensable part of the programme of every concert in the present day, besides masses as familiar in England and America as in Catholic Europe, innumerable piano-forte concertos and sonatas and detached vocal compositions, all of the most perfectly finished description. "The genius of Mozart in music," says Hogarth, "was sublime. By the number, variety, combination, and effect of his works he ranks in the highest class of modern masters. An air of delicacy and sentiment pervades the whole. Full and harmonious, they are altogether free from that meagreness and those capricious eccentricities which betray the sterility of invention too common among musicians. The taste which they exhibit shows that vulgar images were incompatible with his mind; it seems as if he knew that such a deformity is alike pernicious to science and the arts... Moiart has been most successful in gloomy passages, or those of rising grandeur; they according better with the ordinary train of his feelings. On almost all occasions he is more serious than comic in endeavoring to portray the passions; and his love, it has been remarked, is rather sentimental than sportive. However simple the theme, however intricate its variations, his return is always natural, and the finale appropriate. Perhaps the celebrity of Mozart's music partly arises from the skilful management of his finales, for they invariably leave an agreeable impression. No one has surpassed him in the suitable distribution of the parts of his concerted pieces; for, understanding the precise qualities of every different instrument, nothing is. appointed to any which is inconsistent with its character." "No composer has ever combined genius and learning in such perfect proportions; none has ever been able to dignify the lightest and tritest forms by such profound scholarship, or at the moment when he was drawing most largely on the resources of musical science, to appear so natural, so spontaneous, and so thoroughly at his ease" (Hullah). To Haydn Mozart always acknowledged his obligations; but Haydn's obligations to Mozart are at least as great. Haydn, though born twenty-four years earlier, survived Mozart eighteen years, and all his greatest works written after Mozart's death bear manifold traces of his influence. Mozart is the first composer in whose works all signs of the old tonality disappear; he is the father of the modern school. "Mozart," says Prof. J.K. Paine, "is rightly considered as the universal master. This universality is not only evinced in his complete mastery of every form of music, from a song to a symphony, from a simple dance to a solemn requiem, but in the rare adaptation of the national peculiarities of style — Italian, French, and German — to his own individuality. It was his mission to unite harmoniously and beautify these national elements. In his immortal works European music attained its concentration for the first and only time in history" (Lectures on Music, at the Boston University, in 1874). In person Mozart did not exceed the middle size; he was thin and pale, and his health was always delicate. The expression of his countenance, without anything striking, was exceedingly variable, and rather that of an absent-minded man. His habits were awkward, and his hands had been accustomed so incessantly to the piano that they seemed incapable of application to anything requiring address. He was of a mild and affectionate disposition: his mind was not uncultivated, and the number of his works is a sufficient proof of his industry. His opinions of other composers were liberal, and he entertained the highest respect for Haydn in particular. "Believe me, sir," said he to an officious critic, who sought to demonstrate certain errors of that great master — "believe me, sir, were you and I amalgamated together, we should not afford materials for one Haydn." He was not insensible of the beauties of his own compositions; and on the very day of his decease, calling for the Requiem, he had some parts of it performed by his bedside. See Holmes, The Life of Mozart, including his Correspondence (Lond. 1845, 2 volumes, 8vo); Jahn, Mozart's Leben (Leips. 1856, 4 volumes, 8vo; 2d ed. 1867); Diring, Mozart (Leips. and Paris, 1860); Nohl, Mozart's Briefe (Salzb. 1865; English version by Lady Wallace [Lond. and N.Y. 1865, 2 volumes, 18mo]); Oubilicheff, Mozart's Leben u. Werke (Leips. 1873, 3 volumes, 8vo); Hogarth's Musical History, Biography, and Criticism (Lond. 1835, 12mo); Jiiger, Gallery of German Composers, with
Biographical and Critical Notices by E.F. Rimbault, LL.D. (Lond. 1875); For. Qu. Rev. January 1846; Blackwood's Magazine, November 1845, art. 5; Edinb. Rev. April 1836, art. 2; Edinb. Cyclop. s.v.; Chanzbers's Cyclop. s.v.; English Cyclop. s.v.