Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria, which was then part of the Holy Roman Empire. His father and mother were Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart. He had one sister, Maria Anna Mozart, who was born in 1751.
Mozart’s father was a minor composer with an interest in music. When his older sister was seven and Wolfgang was three, their father began giving Maria Anna piano lessons as Wolfgang watched with great interest. He had a natural talent for picking out chords, and by age five Wolfgang was composing small pieces on the clavier. His father wrote the pieces down, and they eventually were popularized under names like the Andante and the Allegro in C.
As evidence of Wolfgang’s genius became apparent, his parents decided to put him on tour across Europe and showcase him as the child prodigy he was. They traveled to cities like Vienna, Munich, Prague, Paris, Mannheim, London, The Hague, Zurich and Donaueschingen. During his travels, Wolfgang met many influential musicians, including Johann Christian Bach. However, travel was difficult and the family was often wrought with illness.
In 1769 the family set out for Italy. The journey took them until 1771. When they arrived at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Mozart witnessed a performance of Miserere by Gregorio Allegri. He then was able to write down the entire piece from memory, much to the amazement of the music community. Transcribing the music was technically illegal according the Vatican, but the event remains legendary to this day.
In Milan in 1770, Mozart composed and successfully performed the opera Mitridate, re di Ponto, which led to two future operatic commissions for Ascanio in Alba and Lucio Silla. Mozart traveled back and forth between Salzburg and Milan to complete these pieces in the years that followed.
When he returned to Salzburg in 1773, he was appointed as royal musician to the court by the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colleredo. His popularity increased tremendously, but so did his yearning for bigger and better successes.
After years searching for a new job in Paris and Mannheim, Mozart eventually was sent to Vienna by his employer. His salary was cut, and he attempted to resign, but the request was denied. He was eventually fired with dishonor in 1781, and he set out to make a freelance career for himself.
His career blossomed in Vienna, and in 1782 he married a woman named Constanze with whom he had six children. At this time, composer Joseph Hayden and Mozart became good friends. He finally obtained an aristocratic commission in 1787 when Emperor Joseph II appointed him as chamber composer. In the same year, Mozart’s famous opera Don Giovanni opened in Prague to much critical acclaim.
In the last few years of his life, Mozart produced many noteworthy compositions, like The Magic Flute and his famous unfinished Requiem. He fell ill in 1791 while in Prague for the premiere of his opera La clemenza di Tito in September. By November of that year, Mozart was bedridden because of his illness. He was tended to by Constanze and his family doctor until his death on December 5.
It is impossible for modern medicine to pinpoint the exact cause of his death, but the old medical practice of bloodletting is believed to be a contributing factor. He was buried in a common grave, as was the practice of the time in Vienna. While illness may have stopped the progress of his musical career, the genius of Mozart’s compositions lives on through the ages.