European Mozartways

Mozart's Biography

W. A. Mozart

Born in Salzburg on January 27th, 1756; died in Vienna on December 5th, 1791. In the years between, a boy genius, freelance artist and - according to the Köchel catalogue - creator of 626 musical works.

Stations of his life
  • Childhood and First Journeys
  • Journeys to Western Europe and Italy
  • The Young Man
  • The Move to Vienna
  • A Freelance Artist
  • After Mozart's Death


The Mozart biography which has been retold here is drawn with the kind permission of Salzburg's International Mozarteum Foundation from the following webpage: The translations into English, French and Italian are drawn with the kind permission of SalzburgerLand Tourismus.

Mozart and the historical background

W. A. Mozart’s life fell into the age of enlightened absolutism, a time that also heralded the revolution. In Austria the French Revolution’s counterpart was dissolving the rigid structures in both church and state. Mozart was a freelance artist during this period of upheaval and thus a child of his time: emancipated, independent and revolutionary.

Salzburg, Mozart's birthplace, was the capital and court seat of the Salzburg principality. The state of Salzburg was only one of many smaller German states and did not become part of Austria until 1816. It was ruled by an archbishop and was a Catholic principality. The archbishop was not only the prince archbishop but also the head of state and man of political authority.

The emperor of the kingdom came from the Habsburg dynasty. Austria was already a not entirely correct designation for the Habsburg territories referred to as the "Austrian patrimonial lands". They were eventually united, centrally administered and considered to be one unit of government by the Habsburgs. The capital city had approximately ten thousand residents and thanked its affluence to salt mining and shipping.

Mozart's life was in a time of peace. The Seven Years' War (1756 - 1763), conducted to decide whether Silesia should belong to Prussia or to the Habsburg possessions had no affect on life in Salzburg. When Austria was drawn into a war with Turkey based on an alliance with Russia, this did not have a negative affect in Vienna, although the war kindled great patriotic enthusiasm which was reflected in a series of Mozart's occasional works. Mozart lived under the reign of the following rulers: in Salzburg under Prince Archbishop Siegmund Graf Schrattenbach (ruled from 1753 - 1771) and Archbishop Hieronymus Graf Colloredo (ruled from 1772 - 1801). The regents over the Habsburg countries during Mozart's lifetime were Maria Theresia (1740- 1780) together with her husband, Franz Stephan, upon his death in 1765 together with her son Joseph II, who succeeded her as the sole ruler in 1780 (until 1790). The emperors ruling in Mozart's day: Franz I, his son Joseph II elected as his successor, ruling as the emperor from 1765 - 1790. Joseph II was succeeded by his brother Leopold II, who ascended the throne as regent and the elected emperor (1790 - 1792).

The church and state were in upheaval in Mozart's day. The old social order was changing. The state and the administration began to question the strict differentiation between the authorities and subjects, the boundaries between aristocracy and the bourgeoisie began to dissolve as well as those between the urban and rural population. The construction of the "New Gate" (1764 - 1767) marked the opening of the Salzburg court's small, secluded seat. Public education was introduced in 1774, torture during court proceedings was abolished in 1776, freedom of religion was introduced in 1781. A new tax law came into force in 1789, based on the principle of equality and directed against the old principle of feudalism. Church reforms during this time were marked by the austere, rational thinking of the Enlightenment. The number of holidays was reduced, countless monasteries were closed and new regulations for divine worship were issued. Political and religious reforms found their way into music.

Mozart's urge to be an independent, freelance artist is reflected in the intellectual history of this time. Emancipation and the new consciousness of the middle class eventually did away with the former supremacy of the music heard by the nobility and court. Aristocracy and the bourgeoisie sat side by side in the audience at public concerts. These and other phenomenon in the development of the church and state are manifest in Mozart's biography and recaptured in his compositions.

The Mozart Family

One family - two child prodigies. The special talent of the Mozart children was a great challenge to both their parents and their environment. The father, Leopold Mozart, devoted his life to his son’s education and career. When Mozart began to go his own way, he left behind a disappointed old man in Salzburg.

Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, better known as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was born on January 27, 1756 at Getreidegasse 9 in Salzburg. His parents, Leopold and Maria Anna Mozart, were afraid for their son's life at birth, five of his siblings having died as infants.

Only the four-year-old Maria Anna, known to the family as "Nannerl", had survived. But young Wolfgang lived through the worst and soon displayed a remarkable talent for music.

Leopold Mozart was born in 1719 as the son of a bookbinder in Augsburg. Initially destined to become a priest, he devoted himself to music and entered the services of the Salzburg archbishop as a violinist. He eventually achieved the rank of the vice kapellmeister for the court. His compositions (symphonies, concerts, chamber music pieces) were overshadowed by his son. However, his "Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule", a comprehensive treatise on violin playing (1756), has remained one of the most important textbooks on instrumental performance to this day. Leopold Mozart died in Salzburg in 1787 at the age of sixty-eight.

Mozart's mother, Maria Anna Mozart née Pertl, was born in 1720 in St. Gilgen near Salzburg. She companied her son on a trip to Paris in 1777, where she died in July 1778.

The two child prodigies, Wolfgang and Nannerl, grew up under their father's watchful eye. He noted their rapid progress, particularly that of his son, with great pride. Although his father tried to direct the four-year-old's attention to toys and games, Wolfgang's mind was on music and everything he did had to be accompanied by music. The Mozart children grew up in a happy family with a dog, cats, birds and a host of friends. Everyone met on Sundays for the popular target shooting known as "Bölzlschiessen". The family developed its own secret code for their correspondence. "Herr Father" always came first with the children, the mother playing a subordinate role next to her strict husband. Wolfgang, well-known for his crude language, was one of his mother's willing pupils. She loved crude jokes and was fond of unladylike, unrefined expressions. The father had great plans for his two wunderkinder. He gave up his teaching and composing ambitions to be able to devote his complete time to the education of his children. His journeys across Europe were to become triumphal. He planned every step down to the last detail and continued to take over all of Mozart's organizational duties in later years. He was very intent on obtaining a prominent and well-paid job for his son at one of the European courts. Mozart's ambivalent attitude towards him continued to dominate his private and professional life as an adult. It was painful and disappointing to Leopold Mozart to realize that his son was gradually becoming independent. He kept trying to exert pressure on his son.

For example, he did not give his consent to marry Constanze Weber until after the couple had married. The fact that he only lived for and through his son became his fate. He only saw his son twice in the last six years of his life. Mozart did not attend his father's funeral in Salzburg. The two siblings divided up their father's modest estate.