Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Monday, July 21, 2014

Have you ever watched “Toddlers and Tiaras” or any of the other reality shows populated with selfish, controlling stage mothers? Then you know what kind of father Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had.

Mozart was born in Salzburg (located in modern-day Austria) on January 27, 1756. He was baptized Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, so where did Amadeus come from? Theophilus and Amadeus both mean “beloved of God.” Mozart just used the French version (Amadé).

Mozart’s father, Leopold, was a musician who struggled to make a living. When he discovered that his two children, Wolfgang and older sister Marianne, were musical geniuses, he decided that they would support him.

From 1763 into 1766, the young Mozart (7-10 years old) and his sister made a grand tour of Europe, playing in concert halls to large crowds and being hailed as the protégées they were. They were paid well, but Mozart never saw any of it.

For one reason or another—probably because she was a girl and girls were supposed to marry—Marianne dropped out of the concert scene and Mozart became the primary breadwinner for the family.

In 1777, Mozart made his second trip to Paris. Leopold was unable to go but sent his wife to keep an eye on the 21-year-old Mozart. The trip was a failure on several levels. Mozart was unable to find a job, his father kept interfering even from afar, and his mother died.

After her death, Leopold ordered Mozart back to Salzburg. Mozart refused to go, so what did Leopold do? He used guilt. He wrote to Mozart claiming that Leopold and Marianne were destitute and needed the salary Mozart was guaranteed if he returned to Salzburg. Worse, Leopold told Mozart he was responsible for his mother’s death. Neither was true, but the lies achieved their purpose.

For a while, anyway. Mozart hated his employer and his life in Salzburg, and he finally found a way to get fired so he could move to Vienna. Once there, he married Constanze Weber against his father’s wishes. Leopold refused to pay the dowry that Mozart should have had and eventually disinherited him, as well.

Unlike her brother, Marianne stayed in Leopold’s good graces and was the sole beneficiary of his good-sized estate. Since Leopold himself was a failure as a wage earner, you can imagine where the money came from.

At first, Mozart earned a decent living as a freelance composer in Vienna. By the late 1780s, however, both his popularity and his finances were on the wane. Mozart wasn’t willing to compromise his musical integrity to please his audience or his critics, and the people of his day didn’t appreciate the complexity of his music. According to Emperor Joseph II, there were “too many notes, my dear Mozart.”

Mozart also may have hurt his financial situation by making fun of the aristocracy he relied on to commission him to write music. His great comic opera, “The Marriage of Figaro,” was about the follies of the aristocracy, and many considered it an insult.

Was Mozart murdered? His tragic death at the age of 35 has fueled much speculation, but the rumors started with a man in an insane asylum. The truth is that Mozart probably died from bad doctoring.

At his death, Mozart left a wife and two sons, no money, and a musical legacy that is priceless.

Next week we’ll talk about another composer who had a father from hell.


* The portrait by Johann Nepomuk dela Croce is circa 1780.

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