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One of the most famous composers in all of Western classical music is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – a child prodigy and composer of over 600 works. Born in 1756, Mozart was immersed in the Classical era of music as a child. His father, Leopold Mozart, a composer and violinist, taught him piano, violin, and to compose at a young age. Wolfgang’s talents became apparent quickly, as he began to compose his own music at the age of five. Soon he was touring Europe performing for royalty.
Like Haydn’s, Mozart’s music followed the balanced, symmetrical structures typical of the Classical period. In fact, historians often remark that his music had a divine quality in its proportions, with moments of major musical arrivals in his pieces often occurring at intervals that correspond to the Golden Ratio. The Golden Ratio is a mathematical concept whereby the ratio of two numbers is the same as ratio of their sum to the larger quantity. He was a significant figure in many genres of classical music, composing 18 piano sonatas, 41 symphonies, 22 operas, and much more. In qualitative terms, Mozart’s music is thought to be a sophisticated and emotional take on the preexisting Classical forms, expanding on Haydn’s early work and incorporating the more contrapuntal (involving multiple, simultaneous contrasting voices) influences of Bach. Another aspect of Mozart’s work was that he seemed to compose effortlessly – original manuscripts of his music indicate that he rarely crossed things out.
Despite his incredible ability, Mozart was known to be self-destructive. He often stayed out all night, drank lots of alcohol, and spent all his money. This lack of discipline occasionally translated into his professional life, too. For example, he did not finish writing the overture, or the opening orchestral piece, to his opera The Marriage of Figaro until the day of the premiere.
On His Own Terms
Mozart has been a renowned musician since the 1760s, and his abilities became more developed and nuanced as he matured. Some of his final works, such as his last three symphonies, are considered to be the pinnacle of classical music. Interestingly, these pieces were some of his only works written out of pure artistic inspiration – not motivated by a deadline or a patron’s request. Like Haydn, Mozart went on to break from the constraints of patronage (the system under which musicians were employed and responsible to nobility or rich, influential people).