Mozart's Paris Connection
they always play Bach.
But when they play just for themselves,
they always play Mozart."
Born in Salzburg, Austria on le 27 janvier 1756, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the world's greatest musical geniuses. His connection to Paris is that it was among the cities he visted on tour, in this case with his mother, who fell ill and died in Paris. Also, one of Mozart's superb symphonies, Number 31 from 1777, is named "the Paris." It was peformed in Paris on the tour when his mother died. While in Paris, Mozart stayed at the Hôtel de Beauvais, which is in the 4 ème arrondissement.
Though the facade was damaged in the Revolution, l'hôtel de Beauvais remains one of Paris's most charming hotels. A plaque announces that Mozart lived there in 1763 and played at the court of Versailles. (He was 7 at the time.) Louis XIV presented l'hôtel de Beauvais to Catherine Bellier, wife of Pierre de Beauvais and lady-in-waiting to Anne of Austria; she reportedly had the honor of introducing Louis, then 16, to the facts of life. The precocious seven year-old Mozart asked the Austrian-born Marie-Antionette to marry him.
At the age of four Mozart could learn a piece of music in half an hour. At five he was playing the clavier, an ancestor of the piano, incredibly well. Mozart began composing at the age of six, and wrote his first symphony at the age of eight. He was constantly travelling all over Europe with his father, Leopold Mozart (1719-1787), a violinist, minor composer and Vice-Kapellmeister at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. The musical feats and tricks of young Wolfgang were exhibited to the courts (beginning in Munich in 1762), to musical academicians, and to the public. Between the ages of seven and fifteen, the young Mozart spent half of his time on tour. During these tours, Mozart heard, absorbed, and learned various European musical idioms, eventually crystallizing his own mature style.
Fully expecting to find an ideal post outside his sleepy home town of Salzburg and the detested archiepiscopal court, in 1777 Wolfgang went on a tour with his mother to Munich, Mannheim, and Paris. It was in Paris that his mother died suddenly in juillet 1778. With no prospects of a job, Mozart dejectedly returned to Salzburg in 1779 and became court organist to the Archbishop. Mozart achieved an unceremonious dismissal from the archiepiscopal court in 1781, and thereafter became one of the first musicians in history to embark upon a free-lance career, without benefit of church, court, or a rich patron. Mozart moved to Vienna where he lived for a time with the Webers, a family he had met in 1777. He eventually married Constanze Weber in août 1782, against the wishes and strict orders of his father. Then for a time, things began to look bright for the young composer. Beginning in 1782 with the Singspiel "Die Entführung aus dem Serail" (The Abduction from the Seraglio), Mozart began turning out one masterpiece after another in every form and genre.
Mozart is probably the only composer in history to have written undisputed masterworks in virtually every musical genre of his age. His serenades, divertimenti and dances, written on request for the entertainment and outdoor parties of the nobility, have become synonomous with the Classical "age of elegance," and are perhaps best exemplified by the well-known Serenade in G major, "Eine kleine Nachtmusik," (A little night music).
In Vienna, Mozart became a regular at the court of Emperor Joseph II (1741-1790), where he wrote much of his greatest music. A sampling of Mozart's mature works comprise a virtual honor roll of musical masterpieces: the last ten string quartets, the string quintets, and the Quintet for clarinet and strings; the Mass in C minor and the unfinished Requiem; the Serenade for thirteen wind instruments, the Clarinet concerto, the late piano concertos, and the last six symphonies. Mozart's more than twenty piano concerti remain models of the classic concerto form, developed by him over time into works of symphonic breadth and scope. The concerti often begin with an elaborate sonata form first movement, followed by a tender and melodious second movement, and usually conclude with a brisk, engaging rondo, as in the Piano Concerto no. 22 in E-flat. In his last three symphonies, the second of which is the great Symphony Number 40 in G minor, Mozart infused this form with a passion and expressiveness unheard of in symphonic writing until the advent of Beethoven.
Of Mozart's operas, "Le nozze di Figaro" (The Marriage of Figaro), composed for the Viennese court in 1786, is the earliest opera still found in the repertoire of virtually all of today's opera houses. Through his dramatic and musical genius, Mozart transformed such operatic comedies and characters into living, breathing dramas peopled with real human beings. He found a kindred spirit in this regard at the Viennese court in the person of Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1783), who supplied Mozart with the librettos of his three Italian operatic masterpieces. Figaro was followed in 1787 by "Don Giovanni" (Don Juan), written for Prague, where Figaro had been an overwhelming success. (Mozart was extraordinarily popular with the Czechs.) The intensity of Mozart's music in the penultimate scene of Don Giovanni, in which the title character is dragged down to hell, unrepentant, at the hands of an avenging spirit, might even be said to have helped usher in the Romantic era. Having scaled the heights of Italian opera buffa, Mozart turned again to the German Singspiel in the final year of his life. Again he produced yet another masterpiece, this time with the unconventional combination of low comedy and high ideals. "Die Zauberflöte" (The Magic Flute) tells of a young prince who successfully endures the trials put to him by a fraternal priesthood in a search for truth and love, while the everyman character of Papageno in his song "Der Vogelfänger bin ich, ja" yearns for the earthly pleasures of wine, food, and female companionship.
Mozart had become a member of the Masonic order, and "Die Zauberflöte" contains many Masonic themes and images in it. In fact, the opera is written in the key of E-flat, the Masonic key. The E-flat triad of the overture sounds that Masonic note. "The Magic Flute" can be enjoyed on several levels, one does not need to be a Mason to understand it.
(If you are not exactly versed in opera, but would like to become better acquainted with the genre, Louis la Vache recommends "Die Zauberflöte" as an excellent opera with which to start. "The Magic Flute" offers comedy, drama, a happy ending and marvelous parts for the singers. For example, the vocal pyrotechnics of the Queen of the Night's aria is an extraordinary showcase for a coloratura soprano. Zarastro's bass aria, "O, Isis und Osiris" is as fine a bass aria as Louis has ever heard. "The Magic Flute" is a splendid wasy to tip-toe into opera.)
During his years in Vienna, Mozart also made the acquaintance of composer Franz Joseph Haydn. The two became close friends and the older composer's music had a profound influence on Mozart. Between 1782 and 1785, Mozart composed a series of six string quartets which he dedicated to Haydn. Upon playing through some of them together, Haydn said to Mozart's father, who was present, "Before God and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer I know, either personally or by name."
Yet through his mismanagement of money (and as a successful composer of operas and a reknowned piano virtuoso, he made a great deal), and the documented incidences of his tactless, impulsive, and at times childish behavior in an era of powdered wigs and courtly manners, Mozart seemed to find it difficult to make a successful living. By 1790 he was writing letters to friends, describing himself and his family (he and Constanze had six children, only two of which survived) in desperate circumstances and begging for money. He was also by this time seriously ill, and had been intermittently for some time, with what was most likely kidney disease. With the success of The Magic Flute and a newly granted yearly stipend, Mozart was just beginning to become financially stable when his illness brought an end to his life and career at the age of thirty-five on le 5 décembre 1791. He was buried, like most Viennese in those days by the decree of Emperor Joseph, in a common grave, the exact location of which remains unknown. (The rumors that the composer Salieri was so jealous of Mozart that he was responsible for Mozart's death simply have no foundation. The play and movie "Amadeus" perpetuated the myth, and many take it as fact.)
The power of Mozart's music is seen in the studies that prove that listening to his music has a beneficial effect on the brain, "The Mozart Effect." There is a series of Mozart CDs edited for children to aid their mental development. Mozart's influence on the composers that followed cannot be emphasized too strongly. He was idolized by such late XIX ème siecle composers as Richard Wagner and Peter Tchaikovsky; and his music came to influence the neo-classical compositions of Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev in the XX ème siecle.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Louis la Vache has read this Mozart biography and highly recommends it:
Listening to Mozart.
(Louis la Vache regrets that the album images are not available.)
Mozart: The Piano Concertos [includes Bonus DVD]