Personalities | Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | Classical Era | Classical

(Wôlf’-gäng Am-ä-da’-oos Mot’-särt) 1756–91
Austrian composer

The ‘miracle which God let be born in Salzburg’ – to quote his father, Leopold – came into the world on 27 January 1756 and was baptized the next day as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus; he normally used only the last two names, in the forms Wolfgang Amadeus or Wolfgang Amadè.

His father, a violinist, came from an artistic family, from the Augsburg area; his mother, Maria Anna née Pertl, was from near Salzburg. Wolfgang was the second of their surviving children; his sister, Maria Anna, usually called Nannerl, born in 1751, was an accomplished musician and keyboard player. His musical gifts were obvious when he was three or four. There are many anecdotes about his extraordinary precocity: about his insisting on joining in on the violin during family music-making, and doing so perfectly; about his noticing that a friend’s violin was tuned a quarter-tone different from the pitch he was used to at home; about his writing down music he had composed, full of ink blots – and when his father said it was too difficult to play, claiming it was a concerto, so it had to be difficult. When he was five he was writing short pieces, and at that age he first played the harpsichord in a public concert.

Leopold Mozart

While Mozart was greatly affected by the various composers and musical styles he encountered throughout his short life, the most dominant influence on him, personally and musically, was his father. Leopold Mozart was an excellent musician; he wrote an important treatise on violin playing and composed a great deal, especially church music and symphonies, although he gave up composing in the early 1760s when he came to realize the extraordinary nature of his son’s gifts and saw that fostering them had to be his chief responsibility. He has often been accused of exploiting Wolfgang in a selfish way, and later of trying to dominate him. But it is absurd to condemn Leopold according to the criteria of modern child psychology. There is little doubt that he educated his son (not only in music) diligently and lovingly and that he felt he had a duty – a duty to God – to show this wonder to the world; he also tried to help his son (as any father might) to behave responsibly and develop a satisfactory career. Possibly he passed on to his son a certain suspicion of his fellow musicians and of the motives behind their behaviour. Leopold never quite attained the recognition he deserved; a friend in Salzburg said, on his death, that although he was a man of wit and wisdom he ‘had the misfortune always to be persecuted here and was far less loved than in other great places in Europe’. His best testimony is the superb musical technique that he passed on to his son.


Salzburg, where Mozart spent his early years, close to the Bavarian border, was a handsome city in an Alpine setting containing...

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