Influential Composer in the Era of Classical Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

If not for the existence of the era of classical music between 1730 and 1820, many influential musical styles and iconic pieces would not be present today. Classical music between these Baroque and Romantic periods provided a solid foundation for the creative composers that quickly followed it. Within this time there were a number of famous composers, one of the most valuable being Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Still today, Mozart is undoubtedly one of the most noteworthy composers in the era of classical music and even in all of music history. His perfectly designed works and compositions were refreshing, unique, and relatable to many, making them unprecedented for his time. The timeline of his life is quite fascinating and his legacy has had a long-lasting impact as it has influenced and continues to influence many great composers and musicians until this day.

Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, better known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was a creative and influential composer of the classical era in music. He was born in Salzburg, Austria on January 27, 1756 and was considered to be a genius as a child, as he showed exceptionally remarkable musical abilities from an incredibly young age. Mozart was Leopold and Maria Pertl Mozart’s only surviving son. His mother was born to a middle class family of local leaders in the community and his father was a successful violinist, composer, and assistant concertmaster at the Salzburg court.

With the guidance and encouragement of his father, Mozart was introduced to music at a young age. The three-year old mimicked his sister on the keyboard and quickly began to show a strong understanding of musical concepts such as chords, tonality, and tempo. Soon after realizing his son’s talents, his father began to tutor him. Eventually, the family made several journeys around Europe in which he performed as a child prodigy. During these trips he was given the opportunity to acquaint himself with quite a number of composers and their works.

Prince-Archbishop Colloredo, the ruler of Salzburg, employed Mozart as a court musician like his father. Despite his success, he was unhappy as assistant concertmaster and even more unhappy with the limitations of Salzburg. Many were impatient with his complaining and immature attitude; but, ambitious and confident in doing much better somewhere else, he set out on a trip to find a more successful job. There were several employment opportunities during his travels that had seemed promising, but unfortunately fell through over time. He began to run out of money and even had to sell several valuable personal items to afford these expenses.

Luckily, Mozart quickly found work in Vienna where he guided students, wrote published musical pieces, and performed in concerts. With surprisingly overwhelming income from concerts and publishing, he and his wife Constanze enjoyed a lavish lifestyle living in an exclusive Vienna apartment, sending their children to expensive schools, keeping servants, and maintaining a busy social life. In 1784, Mozart became a Freemason, focusing on charitable work, moral uprightness, and the development of fraternal friendship. His frequent attendance to meetings and involvedness in various functions left him well regarded in the Freemason community and later became a strong influence in his music.

Mozart died at age 35 on December 5, 1791 by an uncertain cause of death due to the limits of postmortem diagnosis at the time. The record lists the official cause as severe fever, although many hypothesize that it was rheumatic fever, a disease he suffered from many times in his life. At the time, aristocrats and nobility were the few chosen to enjoy public mourning, so it was reported that Mozart’s funeral drew few mourners; however, his memorial services and concerts in Vienna and Prague were very well attended. After his death, Constanze sold many of his unpublished manuscripts and organized several profitable memorial concerts in an effort to pay off the family debt. She was able to gain some financial security, allowing her to send her children to private schools and fulfill some other financial goals.

Anyone that can recognize his name should know that Mozart was truly one of the greatest composers to ever live, but how many of those people actually know why? Although in reality his legacy is a result of many different things, there are several key reasons for Mozart’s importance to the world of classical music. First, he had a naturally prodigious personality, particularly for his very young age. Mozart’s first compositions were short keyboard works created at as early as five years old, his first symphony just three years later. Even in its simplicity, he somehow managed to pack tons of action with proud fanfares and surprisingly soft, and occasionally dissonant moments simultaneous to fast music. While the manuscripts of many other great composers are full of scratched-out passages and practically unreadable scribbles, Mozart always composed without error or need for revision. His works are immaculate, as if they were perfectly laid out in his head and all he had to do was copy them down.

The second reason for his greatness is his extensive range of work. Mozart’s work extended to all styles and types of music: operas, choral works, concertos, symphonies, chamber music, solo songs, and sonatas. In fact, he was one of the few composers in history to compose masterworks in every conceivable musical genre and write solo works for nearly every instrument of his time. He knew how to blend traditional and contemporary elements to create his own distinctive style, which was mostly characterized by thematic and tonal variety and melodic, rhythmic and dynamic contrasts. He created twenty-four operas such as The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro, seventeen masses, and over fifty symphonies. Each piece radiates a bold confidence that is instantly recognizable as Mozart.

Lastly, his personality that is reflected through his music is so truthful to the human condition and makes him relatable and understandable. Mozart’s operas are timeless works of art, featuring perfect dramatic timing, lifelike characters, and humanistic themes that are fresh and relevant even in modern times. Drama is not only present in his operatic works, but also in the rest of his music, from the piano sonatas to the string quartets to the symphonies. Among his 626 works is the innermost yearning of a soul determined to explore all that life has to offer. Without all of the pain and struggles he endured, he may not have composed such powerful music that beams full of life and enthusiasm.

Since the beginning of time and all throughout history, a child’s first and most powerful influence derives from their parents. Mozart's father, for instance, had an immense impact on the budding musician. Being a musician himself, Mozart’s father found it important to introduce music to his children at a young age. When his father realized how much potential his talent had to flourish, he did all that he could as a parent that would lead him in the direction of musical greatness. If not for Mozart’s father who gave him access to instruments, taught him about music, took him to several cities to meet other composers and so on, he would certainly not be the same Mozart that we know today.

It is often that a famous composer who is considered to be incredibly influential was not only influenced by a previous significant composer, but is also an influencer of future famous composers that follow them. Gottfried van Swieten, owner of many manuscripts of the Baroque masters, influenced Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. Years later, Bach and Handel became prominent influences in Mozart’s life as he began to travel and make connections in the world of classical music. Another example of this domino effect is when Mozart met Joseph Haydn in Vienna around 1784. The two composers became friends and they sometimes played together in a string quartet. Later on, Mozart dedicated his very own six quartets to Haydn.

It is somewhat obvious that many famous composers would have had an influence on Mozart, but something that very few people may know is that he actually had an influence on Beethoven. In his youth, Beethoven studied and performed much of Mozart’s music and was instantly inspired. Throughout the 19th century, Mozart’s music was programmed on symphony concerts. In the 20th century, many music scholars analyzed his music. One of the fathers of modern music theory, Heinrich Schenker, included Mozart to his list of geniuses. Mozart still receives much analysis by today’s music scholars.

Although Mozart died at a very young age, he still managed to put out an extensive collection of works that have yet to be matched. The ability to be as successful as Mozart during this time period was highly impressive considering the fact that they did not have a means of spreading ideas and pieces of work quickly and easily like we can today through the internet and social media. For Mozart to be able to attract such a large following for his own distinctive musical style is exceptional. He had already mastered his craft as a child and dedicated his entire life to composing pieces of music, many of which are still listened to today. For these reasons, Mozart is certainly one of the most influential composers in Western music and all of music history. 

07 July 2022
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