Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the most influential and well-known composers of Western music. More than other composers, he was prolific in all genres of music; his compositions include symphonies, concertos, chamber music, sonatas, solo works, sacred music, and operas. The sheer number of pieces he wrote—including 41 symphonies, 27 piano concertos, and 23 string quartets—are astounding given his brief life of 35 years.
Mozart was born in 1756 to Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl. His wunderkind abilities are legendary: he wrote his first compositions at age five and his first symphonies at age eight. By nine his sonatas were being published in Paris and by 16 he had written three operas and 25 symphonies. As a child, he and his sister, Maria Anna, were taken on European tours by their father, himself a violinist, music teacher, and minor composer. Displaying his children’s musical gifts, Leopold took Wolfgang and Maria Anna to perform at courts throughout Europe, where they played for such figures as Louis XV, George III, Madame de Pompadour, and Empress Maria Theresa. Based on historical records, Maria Anna is thought to have been equally talented with only her society’s restrictions standing between her and the fame her brother achieved.
After thirteen years of intermittent tours, Mozart was employed at the age of eighteen as concertmaster of the court orchestra by the Archbishop of Salzburg. Feeling frustrated and limited by his work in Salzburg, he departed in 1777 with his mother to Munich, Mannheim, and Paris, hoping to find work as a court musician and composer. Following his mother’s death in 1778, he returned to Salzburg without having found the employment he had hoped for, and worked as the court organist for the archbishop. In 1781, he moved to Vienna, where he married Constanze Weber in the following year. The couple had six children, two of whom survived past the age of one.
During the next years, Mozart moved around to various residences in Vienna, and achieved fame as a composer and performer. Despite his success, his extravagant spending led to financial hardships, and he frequently wrote letters to friends imploring them for money. Die Zauberflöte, completed in 1791, brought him back to financial stability, but by that point he had fallen seriously ill with what is now thought to have been a kidney disease, and died on December 5 of that year. He was buried in a common grave in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna.
Mozart was already considered a great composer during his lifetime, as well as bold and innovative, with Don Giovanni in particular being considered dissonant and radical when it was premiered. Within a decade of his death, Mozart was the subject of biographies, and within a century his complete works were published. His most famous compositions, such as his operas Die Zauberflöte, Le nozze di Figaro, and Don Giovanni, his piano concertos, and his late symphonies remained prominent in the nineteenth century, and the twentieth century took a broader appreciation of his complete works. He was a key influence on future composers; Beethoven used his works directly as models numerous times, and various composers, such as Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, and Schubert, praised him.
As a figure, Mozart has various cultural associations, including child prodigy, immature adult, and reckless spender. Whether he was in life as portrayed in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus may never be resolved. His musical genius and the profound influence he has had on composers and culture at large, however, are undisputed.