Happy Birthday, Wolfie!

Today is the 266th anniversary of Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart’s birth in the splendid town of Salzburg in western Austria. Clearly an unusually musically gifted child by the age of four, Mozart astonished the aristocracy of Europe with his highly refined performances of piano and violin as his father, Leopold, toured with him around the continent. Famously, at the age of six, Mozart crawled up onto the lap of Marie Antoinette after he performed at Versailles.

Mozart was more than just a skilled performer of course. He composed his first opera at the age of nine, and his prodigious musical output embraced operas, symphonies, concerti, and his renowned Requiem. What is amazing about the vast range of his creations is their extremely high quality and extremely durable appeal. Though Mozart’s music was somewhat out of style in the early 1800s, it was never “lost” or “forgotten” the way that Bach’s works or others were until they were rediscovered. Another amazing fact about Mozart’s music is the fantastic speed at which he composed. He actually did write the overture to The Magic Flute in one night, and surviving manuscripts of his music indicate that he wrote rapidly yet with rarely a correction or change. The fictionalized account of his life, Amadeus, by playwright Peter Shaffer probably exaggerates many aspects of Mozart’s life, but his technique of composing off the top of his head is apparently authentic.

Many notable musicians have heaped praise upon Mozart, no surprise, but even those whose fame comes in other fields have extolled Mozart’s place in the musical firmament. Albert Einstein was an accomplished violinist, and preferred to play Mozart above other composers because, as the celebrated physicist observed, while other composers labored to create their compositions, Mozart, “Mozart’s “was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.”

By the way , today we know his name as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but his parents originally named him Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Gottlieb Mozart; he was baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Later his father decided to drop the first two names, probably for simplicity’s sake when preparing promotional literature for his tours. The name Wolfgang was the one which his family used when addressing him. So why the variations on his remaining middle name? Gottlieb is simply German for “Love God.” “Amadeus” is the Latin form of that same name, while “Theophilus” is the Greek form. In his late teens, Mozart decided to stick with “Amadeus.”

I cannot possibly do Herr Mozart justice in a few paragraphs, but I would say that words alone never can: one must listen to his music. That’s all one really needs to know about Mozart.

— Jamie Rawson
Updated 27 January 2022

“Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music.” — Mozart

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