Tuesday, 8 December 2015


This is partly true, but must be placed into context as to the role of a musician at the time Mozart lived. The age of glorification of the musical artist, unfortunately, had not yet dawned in Europe. Musicians, in this case, Composers - were seen not so much as entertainers of luxury, but rather as servants. It was remarkably difficult to secure a steady income or wealth as a composer, even in the 18th century, without securing an appointment, preferably a court appointment,** and even then, it had to promise a salary, a pension - in addition to fulfilling private commissions, subscriptions, and concerts the composer could only hope would yield a healthy lot of performances.

Mozart, all too aware of his genius, suffered the unfortunate syndrome of egoistic-driven self sustainability - a determined desire to go it alone, aspiring to create for himself an ‘empire’ of wealth built on the latter, ensuring the bulk of the proceeds drawn from subscriptions went directly to him in lieu of his publisher. While this strategy may make sense to us today, 18th century Europe was not quite ready for such a deviation from the status quo.  

**Compare the composers Georg Friedrich Händel, who secured for himself Court appointment, and at the time of death in April of 1759 was estimated to have been worth £20, 000 (a sizable sum for that period) with the also noted and esteemed Composer W.F. Bach, who died in abject poverty in July of 1784.

Critically, Mozart enjoyed periods of great esteem and praise. In Vienna (July, 1782), the composer launched his first production of Die Entführung aus Dem Serail* - it was a ravishing triumph, and went on to become the greatest success of the young composer’s career. (Despite what the film “Amadeus” would have us believe).  

*This Opera Singspiel would later attract the praise of the literary elite in Goethe.

Italy was also a great time of flourishment and accreditation for Mozart, who, within in two years earned himself an elected spot at the Accedemia Filharmonica of Bologna; was nominated an honorary director to the Accedemia of Verona; commissioned to write another opera for Milan (Lucio Silla); his serenata Ascanio in Alba commissioned for the wedding of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria to Princess Maria Beatrice D’Este of Modeana in Milan; and the distinction of Knight of the Golden Spur, bestowed upon him by Cardinal Pallavicini - a distinction of particular note, as no other but one (a musician, Orlando di Lasso) had previously received the order in such a high grade. This distinction brought Mozart a meeting before, and esteem from, the Pope.

Mozart’s time in Italy also marked the period behind the infamous Sistine Chapel anecdote of a young Wolfgang, who, overcome with a state of prodigal reverie upon hearing Composer Gregorio Allegri’s exquisite “Miserere Mei Deus” (a composition whose ornaments were notoriously kept a guarded secret among the Catholic Church), rushed home to pen the choral masterpiece from memory.

Mozart wears the Insignia of a Knight of the Golden Spur.

The years prior to Mozart’s death were arguably some of the most productive years of the composers’ short life. They also brought with them much critical acclaim. One of Mozart’s last Operas, Le Nozze de Figaro, was noted for it’s splendor:

“...it contains so many beautiful things, and such a wealth of ideas, as can only be drawn from the source of inherent genius.” - Wiener Realzeitung, 1786

Publicly praised by esteemed composers (the likes of Franz Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven) and their teachers alike, Mozart was anything but ordinary.

“Salieri listened and watched with great attention, from the overture all the way through to the final chorus, there was not a single number that did not elicit from him a “bravo” or “bello...” - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in his last letter to his wife, Vienna, Oct 14, 1791 .****


****A note on suggested reading:

I have studied and own quite a few biographies on Herr Mozart and will be posting the titles in my library on an upcoming Book Review section of this blog. In the interim, for anyone seeking an in depth look into the character of the great Composer, I highly recommend "Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life," as edited by Robert Spaethling as a contemporary/autobiographical account of aspirations, accomplishments and failings both inside and outside of the musical sphere in which Mozart lived. To supplement any Mozart biography, "The Compleat Mozart: A Guide to the Musical Works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" as edited by Neal Zaslaw is a must have. 

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