Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

John Chrysostomus Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , was born at Salzburg, in 1756. His father was an eminent musician, and the early proficiency of his son in music was almost incredible. He began the piano at three years of age; and from this period lost all pleasure in his other amusements. His taste was so scientific that he would spend his time in looking for thirds, and felt charmed with their harmony. At five years old, he began to compose little pieces, of such ingenuity that his father wrote them down.

He was a creature of universal sensibility, a natural enthusiast—from his infancy fond, melancholy and tearful. When scarcely able to walk, his first question to his friends, who took him on their knee, was, whether they loved him; and a negative always made him weep. His mind was all alive; and whatever touched it, made it palpitate throughout. When he was taught the rudiments of arithmetic, the walls and tables of his bed-chamber were found covered with figures. But the piano was the grand object of his devotion.

At six years old, this singular child commenced, with his father, and sister two years older than himself, one of those musical tours common in Germany; and performed at Munich before the Elector, to the great admiration of the most musical court on the continent. His ear now signalized itself, by detecting the most minute irregularities in the orchestra. But its refinement was almost a disease; a discord tortured him; he conceived a horror of the trumpet, except as a single accompaniment, and suffered from it so keenly, that his father, to correct what he regarded as the effect of ignorant terror, one day desired a trumpet to be blown in his apartment. The child entreated him not to make the experiment; but the trumpet sounded. Young Mozart suddenly turned pale, fell on the floor, and was on the point of going into convulsions, when the trumpeter was sent out of the room.

When only seven years old, he taught himself the violin; and thus, by the united effort of genius and industry, mastered the most difficult of all instruments. From Munich, he went to Vienna, Paris, and London. His reception in the British metropolis was such as the curious give to novelty, the scientific to intelligence, and the great to what administers to stately pleasure. He was flattered, honored, and rewarded. Handel had then made the organ a favorite, and Mozart took the way of popularity. His execution, which on the piano had astonished the English musicians, was equally wonderful on the organ, and he overcame all rivalry. On his departure from England, he gave a farewell concert, of which all the symphonies were composed by himself. This was the career of a child nine years old.

With the strengthening of his frame, the acuteness of his ear became less painful; the trumpet had lost its terror for him at ten years old; and before he had completed that period, he distinguished the church of the Orphans, at Vienna, by the composition of a mass and a trumpet duet, and acted as director of the concert.

Mozart had travelled the chief kingdoms of Europe, and seen all that could be shown to him there, of wealth and grandeur. He had yet to see the empire of musical genius. Italy was an untried land, and he went at once to its capital. He was present at the performance of Handel's admirable chant, the Miserere, which seems then to have been performed with an effect unequalled since. The singers had been forbidden to give a copy of this composition. Mozart bore it away in his memory, and wrote it down. This is still quoted among musicians, as almost a miracle of remembrance; but it may be more truly quoted as an evidence of the power which diligence and determination give to the mind. Mozart was not remarkable for memory; what he did, others may do; but the same triumph is to be purchased only by the same exertion. The impression of this day lasted during Mozart's life; his style was changed; he at once adopted a solemn reverence for Handel, whom he called "The Thunderbolt," and softened the fury of his inspiration, by the taste of Boccherini. He now made a grand advance in his profession, and composed an opera, "Mithridates," which was played twenty nights at Milan.

Mozart's reputation was soon established, and he was liberally patronised by the Austrian court. The following anecdote shows the goodness of his heart, and the estimation in which he was held. One day, as he was walking in the suburbs of Vienna, he was accosted by a mendicant, of a very prepossessing appearance and manner, who told his tale of wo with such effect, as to interest the musician strongly in his favor; but the state of his purse not corresponding with the impulse of his humanity, he desired the applicant to follow him to a coffee-house. Here Mozart, drawing paper from his pocket, in a few minutes composed a minuet, which, with a letter, he gave to the distressed man, desiring him to take it to his publisher. A composition from Mozart was a bill payable at sight; and to his great surprise, the now happy beggar was immediately presented with five double ducats.

The time which Mozart most willingly employed in compositions, was the morning, from six or seven o'clock till about the hour of ten. After this, he usually did no more for the rest of the day, unless he had to finish some piece that was wanted. He however always worked irregularly. When an idea struck him, he was not to be drawn from it, even if he were in the midst of his friends. He sometimes passed whole nights with his pen in his hand. At other times, he had such a disinclination to work, that he could not complete a piece till the moment of its performance. It once happened, that he put off some music which he had engaged to furnish for a court concert, so long, that he had not time to write out the part he was to perform himself. The Emperor Joseph, who was peeping everywhere, happening to cast his eyes on the sheet which Mozart seemed to be playing from, was surprised to see nothing but empty lines, and said to him, "Where's your part?" "Here," said Mozart, putting his hand to his forehead.

The Don Giovanni of this eminent composer, which is one of the most popular compositions ever produced, was composed for the theatre at Prague, and first performed in that city in 1787. This refined and intellectual music was not at that time understood in Germany; a circumstance which Mozart seems to have anticipated, for, previous to its first representation, he remarked to a friend, "This opera is not calculated for the people of Vienna; it will be more justly appreciated at Prague; but in reality I have written it principally to please myself and my friends." Ample justice has however at length been rendered to this great production; it is heard with enthusiasm in nearly all the principal cities of that quarter of the globe where music is cultivated as a science—from the frozen regions of Russia, to the foot of Mount Vesuvius. Its praise is not limited by the common attributes of good musical composition; it is placed in the higher rank of fine poetry; for not only are to be found in it exquisite melodies and profound harmonies, but the playful, the tender, the pathetic, the mysterious, the sublime, and the terrible, are to be distinctly traced in its various parts.

The overture to this opera is generally esteemed Mozart's best effort; yet it was only composed the night previous to the first representation, after the general rehearsal had taken place. About eleven o'clock in the evening, when retired to his apartment, he desired his wife to make him some punch, and to stay with him, in order to keep him awake. She accordingly began to tell him fairy tales, and odd stories, which made him laugh till the tears came. The punch, however, made him so drowsy, that he could go on only while his wife was talking, and dropped asleep as soon as she ceased. The efforts which he made to keep himself awake, the continual alternation of sleep and watching, so fatigued him, that his wife persuaded him to take some rest, promising to awake him in an hour's time. He slept so profoundly that she suffered him to repose for two hours. At five o'clock in the morning, she awoke him. He had appointed the music copiers to come at seven, and by the time they arrived, the overture was finished. They had scarcely time to write out the copy necessary for the orchestra, and the musicians were obliged to play it without a rehearsal. Some persons pretend, that they can discover in this overture the passages where Mozart dropped asleep and those where he suddenly awoke again.

This great composer was so absorbed in music, that he was a child in every other respect. He was extremely apprehensive of death; and it was only by incessant application to his favorite study, that he prevented his spirits from sinking totally under the fears of approaching dissolution. At all other times he labored under a profound melancholy, during which he composed some of his best pieces, particularly his celebrated Requiem. The circumstances attending this were remarkable.

One day, when his spirits were unusually oppressed, a stranger, of a tall, dignified appearance, was introduced. His manners were grave and impressive. He told Mozart that he came from a person who did not wish to be known, to request that he would compose a solemn mass, as a requiem for the soul of a friend, whom he had recently lost, and whose memory he was desirous of commemorating by this imposing service. Mozart undertook the task, and engaged to have it completed in a month. The stranger begged to know what price he set upon his work; and immediately paying him one hundred ducats, he departed.

The mystery of this visit seemed to have a strong effect on the mind of the musician. He brooded over it for some time; and then suddenly calling for writing materials, began to compose with extraordinary ardor. This application, however, was more than his strength could support; it brought on fainting fits, and his increasing illness obliged him to suspend his work. "I am writing the requiem for myself," said he one day to his wife; "it will serve for my own funeral service;" and this impression never afterwards left him. At the expiration of the month, the mysterious stranger appeared, and demanded the requiem. "I have found it impossible," said Mozart, "to keep my word; the work has interested me more than I expected, and I have extended it beyond my first design. I shall require another month to finish it."

The stranger made no objection; but observing that for this additional trouble it was but just to increase the premium, laid down fifty ducats more, and promised to return at the time appointed. Astonished at his whole proceeding, Mozart ordered a servant to follow this singular personage, and, if possible, to find out who he was. The man, however, lost sight of him, and was obliged to return as he went. Mozart, now more than ever persuaded that he was a messenger from the other world, sent to warn him that his end was approaching, applied with fresh zeal to the requiem; and in spite of his exhausted state, both of body and mind, he completed it before the end of the month. At the appointed day, the stranger returned; the requiem was finished; but Mozart was no more! He died at Vienna, 1791, aged 35 years.