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The Magical, Mystical and Mythical Music of Mozart: The Mere Mortal

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Vincent Valentine, MD
Links Editor-in-Chief
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston, TX, USA

It's December, it's the time for merriment and celebration and for the third time in three years the ISHLT Links gives you another treatise a selected composer of Great Music and his influence on the World and the ISHLT. We began with Dvorak, the pride of Prague in the (ISHLT Links 2011, Volume 3, Issue 7) who gave America its own Classical music. Last year, we gave you the intense, passionate, individualistic and fearless self-expression of Beethoven (ISHLT Links 2012, Volume 4, Issue 8) whose alcoholic father tried to futilely beat him into being a child prodigy to rival Mozart.

We need no reminder that there is only one Mozart. Johannes Christian Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, the most comprehensively gifted musician who has ever lived, was born January 27, 1756. A child prodigy, who began to play the harpsichord by the age of three, completed his first musical compositions by age five. During his obscenely abbreviated life, Mozart composed enough musical master works, suffered many illnesses, traveled many miles, and experienced enough psychological stress for many full lifetimes, let alone one brief existence of 35 years. Although, there have been other prodigies, none has approached Mozart's ability to combine the elegant and dazzling musical imagination with a total mastery of style and form with matchless beauty, clarity and expression. The great 19th century German music critic and composer, Robert Schumann appropriately asked, "Does it not seem as if Mozart's works become fresher and fresher the oftener we hear them?"

For example:
•  Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525
•  Rondo in A Minor for Piano, K. 511
•  Symphony No. 40 K in G minor, K. 550
•  Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467
•  Piano Sonata in A Minor, K. 310
•  Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622
•  Opera, The Marriage of Figaro, K 492
•  Opera, Don Giovanni, K 527
•  Opera, The Magic Flute, K 620
•  Requiem in D minor, K 626

Need I provide more? How about letting "The Great Dane" or "The Clown Prince of Denmark" share his dream on Mozart. "In my dreams of Heaven, I always see the great Masters gathered in a huge hall where they all reside. Only Mozart has his own suite."

Mozart's mysticism and magic stem from his inexplicable and extraordinary ability to write more than 600 pieces. Nearly every year, he wrote more music than the Beatles recorded in their entire career composing 21 piano sonatas, 27 piano concertos, 26 string quartets, 41 symphonies, 18 masses, 13 operas, 9 oratorios and cantata, 2 ballets, 40 plus concertos for various instruments, trios and quintets, violin and piano duets piano quartets, and the songs. Also, he could sight read anything written, remember the most complex music after a single hearing and write it down. Above all, he was not mystical. His biographers deified him long after he died. Mozart referred to himself as Amade, never Amadeus which was adopted after his death by other writers. The name Amadeus implies a God-like deity derived from his third name, Theophilus or Gottlieb, "loved of God."

He was a talented performer, composer, and genius, but most of all he was a mere mortal. His music was not popular during his time and like other great artists he had his enemies. His music was criticized as being too rich in ideas, too "artful" and too complex. His compositions did not arise from divine inspiration, but came from an intelligent and hard-working man with monstrous talent. This talented man was the product of a domineering father, Leopold Mozart, who was also Wolgang's teacher, booking agent, publicist and tormentor throughout his life. Most of all, he was his creator not unlike Dr Frankenstein. The small, frail and desperate-to-please young Mozart became his family's main breadwinner. The Mozart family toured Vienna and all of Europe as a traveling musical circus in the 1760s. Mozart was showered with expensive gifts and became the pet of royalty with his prodigious performances. His musical training came from his father and the leading composers of the European musical scene, most notably, Johann Christian Bach, whom he met while in London in 1764. Mozart did serve an apprenticeship, not unlike other composers, however Wolfgang began his apprenticeship at a very young age and by age 20 he was a seasoned composer, an age when other composers are just starting their apprenticeships.

Over Leopold's objections, Mozart married Constanze Weber in August 1782. From 1782 - 1786, he reached the peak of his career as a pianist and composer with Constanze in Vienna. His income depended on commissions by wealthy aristocrats which he needed because he spent money as fast as he made it (why not, he was in his mid-twenties). Nevertheless, he worked very hard to earn a great deal of money to support himself and Constanze who were theatergoers with a rich and busy social life with many affluent friends. At the same time he had very little respect for rank and position with deep skepticism of enlightened despots and of all authority, and unlike Beethoven, Mozart was not fooled by Napoleon or other tyrants because he knew these men personally. His disrespect for authority through The Marriage of Figaro and its critical portrayal of the ruling class among other works offended many members of the Viennese aristocracy, who had been Mozart's primary source of income. Through the opera's critical portrayal of the ruling class, Mozart was biting the hand that fed him. While he was falling from grace in Vienna, Prague opening it arms to him. The new opera for 1787, Don Giovanni, was commissioned for premiere in Prague. According to legend, Mozart composed the overture the night before the final dress rehearsal. Don Giovanni was a bigger success than The Marriage of Figaro. Unfortunately, Mozart wanted to return to Vienna, he would have enjoyed a very successful and profitable career had he made Prague his home.

Between 1788 and 1791, Austria became engaged in a costly and unpopular war with the Ottoman Turks. The war resulted in drastic cancellations of concerts and opera performances in Vienna. Wolfgang and Constanze's extravagant lifestyle and loss of income put them into debt. They had fallen ill and lost their baby daughter. By late 1790, near destitute and in poor health with deepening depression, Mozart had a compositional renaissance culminating in the opera, The Magic Flute. In 1791, he was commissioned to write a Requiem Mass which was unfinished at the time of his death on December 5, 1791. Of course there was a great deal of speculation as the cause of his death. The most famous myth was that he was poisoned by the Italian composer Antonio Salieri. Another theory claims he died as the result of a Jewish-Roman, Catholic-Masonic conspiracy. Other speculations include mercury and arsenic poisonings, milletary or military fever, or a chronic subdural hematoma. All of these theories more than likely contributed to the riches gained by his wife and surviving children. He most likely died from rheumatic fever and shock induced by massive bloodletting.

Mozart was buried in a common unmarked grave without a ceremony and its exact location was lost. Fortunately for us, his music was not lost.

In memoriam we have:

Gioacchino Rossini, the great master of Italian opera, lived in awe of Mozart. He said, "The Germans have always been the greatest harmonists, and the Italians the greatest melodists. But from the moment the North produced Mozart, we of the South were beaten on our own turf, because this man rises above all nations, containing in himself the charm of Italian melody and the profundity of German harmony. He is the only composer who had as much knowledge as genius, and as much genius as knowledge." Rossini also exclaimed, "Beethoven I take twice a week, Haydn four times, and Mozart every day!"

"The sonatas of Mozart are unique: too easy for children, too difficult for adults. Children are given Mozart to play because of the quantity of notes; grown-ups avoid him because of the quality of notes." — Artur Schnabel

"Mozart encompasses the entire domain of musical creation, but I've got only the keyboard in my poor head." — Frederic Chopin

Disclosure Statement: the author has no conflicts of interest to report.

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