I am going to tell you a story of a prodigy, a genius. This composer is maybe the smartest and most talented composer who ever lived. He started learning to play the piano when he was 4 and wrote his first piece of music when he was 5. He would hear a piece of music and be able to write it all down after hearing it only once. When he wrote a piece of music, he had all of it in his head before writing it down. He never made any corrections on the paper. That’s like writing a perfect story without making a rough draft first.
His name was… He was born about 250 years ago – in what we call the CLASSICAL PERIOD.
…which came after the BAROQUE period, when Bach lived.
He was born in a beautiful country called Austria – if you’ve seen The Sound of Music , it was filmed in Austria.
– very close to Germany and Switzerland in the continent of Europe.
He was born in Salzburg, but lived much of his adult life in Vienna.
His father, Leopold, was a very good musician and composer and worked for the ruler of Salzburg, the Archbishop.
When his sister Nannerl was seven and Wolferl was three, Papa started teaching her to play the piano.
Mozart loved hearing her play. He would sit on the floor, playing with his toys while she practiced her music. After her lessons, he would go up to the piano and try to play the same pieces his sister had been practicing.
When he was four, his father gave him piano lessons. Wolferl loved to play the piano. He was amazing; as soon as he heard a musical tune, he could play it right back. He always had music playing in his head. When his father gave him staff paper, he began to write down the music playing in his head. When he was only five years old, he wrote a wonderful piece of music called a Minuet. He could write music before he wrote words!
He was too little to play the violin, (or so his papa thought) but they got him a little violin, just like Papa's, only smaller. One day, Papa came home with two friends. Wolferl came into the drawing room with his little violin and asked if he could play. His father refused, until a friend of his father’s said he could play with him. They all started playing, then everyone stopped and watched Mozart play the violin part all by himself – without any lessons!
Little Mozart was always humming new tunes, ones that no one had ever heard before. When he had no one to play with, he would sit down at a table, get his staff paper, and begin writing down all the tunes that were playing in his head. He never wanted to stop playing the piano. In fact, Papa would have to force him to go out and play, and even then, he only wanted to play games that included music.
When he was six, Mozart wrote a concerto, a difficult musical form even for an experienced grown- up to write!
Mozart’s parents soon realized that their children were different from other children. So, when Wolfgang was six and Nannerl was 10, Mr. Mozart decided it was time to travel and his show his talented children to the world.
They traveled around Europe for nearly 3 years. Mozart would do tricks, like play songs with his blindfolded – or compose pieces of music on the spot. Audiences loved seeing them play, but they didn’t make very much money.
They often played for important people who would pay them with gifts instead of money. Making enough money was always difficult for the Mozart family.
After traveling and performing for almost 3 years, and the kids were growing up, people didn’t find them as cute anymore. Then, on one final trip, just Mozart and his father went to Italy.
Once, in Italy, it was the week before Easter, that this choir performed a special work: the famous Miserere by the composer Allegri. Nowhere else could it be heard, for no other choir was allowed to sing it. It had never been printed, and nobody outside the choir had ever seen the music, which was kept carefully guarded. That night, when Wolfie went to bed, he could not fall asleep. The music he'd heard that day was playing over and over in his head. So, he got up and quietly unpacked his pen and music paper from his suitcase. There in the light of the moon, he began to write down every note he had heard. This is like if you went to a movie and after going home, you wrote down every single word that was mentioned in the whole movie! This marvelous memory for music astonished people for the rest of Mozart's life!
Mr. Mozart tried to get his son a job in a royal court, but it never worked out. He kept pushing his son to make a good living, but all young Mozart wanted to do was travel and have everyone appreciate him like when he was younger. He even started working for an important church man, called an Archbishop, but Mozart was so disrespectful, the Archbishop fired him.
He was always writing music to sell to try and make money. Occasionally, Wolfgang would sell a composition to a publisher for a good price or he would get an order to write an opera. Then he would have plenty of money. . . . . . for a while. Sometimes he burned his furniture to keep warm.) He wasn't getting enough sleep and he would get back aches from sitting at the piano all day. Finally, his doctor told him that he would have to get out and get some exercise. So Wolfgang would get together with friends and play games outside. He loved to play these games so much, that sometimes it seemed he wasn't writing enough music for the people who had commissioned it. But the music was always working itself out in his head. All he needed to do was stop and write it down, which he would do while he waited for his turn.
After he moved to Vienna, he married Constanze Weber. Wolfgang had some of the happiest times of his life in Vienna and wrote many of his greatest works. But as time went on, he got himself into money problems again.
One of Mozart’s most famous pieces of music was an opera called The Magic Flute . People loved the exciting story and colorful costumes. Going to an opera in those days was like seeing a movie to us.
Opera singers have loud voices because they had to sing louder than the orchestra – no microphones!
Operas are usually in other languages because the composers spoke other languages.
The most common language for operas was Italian, because operas were invented in Italy. Mozart caused quite a controversy, because he wrote his opera, The Magic Flute in German, the language his audience understood.
Mozart died from rheumatic fever at the age of 35 only 9 weeks after the first performance of The Magic Flute . His body was buried in an unmarked grave (where bodies were buried when you didn’t have enough money for a tombstone), and to this day, we still don’t know where he is buried. Even though he had a difficult life, his musical genius has made him one of the best composers who ever lived!