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History Of Music:
George Frederic Handel
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ludwig Van Beethoven
The Romantic Composers
Development Of The Piano
Famous Operas And Their Composers
Wagner And His Music Dramas
Tristan And Isolde
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Mozart came into the world at a time and in a place most unfavorable for his work. Poverty and hardship were his lot through life, but his writing bears no trace of the struggle. His compositions are the most perfect models of pure classic form, combining the elements of exquisite melody, simplicity of expression and faultless grace of design. When we consider that his life was forty-two years shorter than that of Haydn, who was twenty-four when Mozart was born and lived eighteen years after his death, and that during his brief working period he produced over three hundred compositions, we gain some idea of his musical precocity.
He was born at Salzburg, January 27, 1756. His father, a composer and violinist of good ability, was quick to perceive the early signs of genius in the boy, and immediately set about to direct his training. Of the other six children, only one survived-Maria Anne, usually called Nannerl, who also had great musical talent, though not in such a marked degree as Wolfgang.
Nannerl was nearly five years older than her brother, and it is said that when her father was giving her lessons on the harpsichord, Wolfgang-then only three-used to watch her attentively, and would afterward amuse himself by attempting to play what he could remember of her lesson. When he was four his father began to instruct him, and the child's progress was most astonishing. In this age, when the term "prodigy" usually implies pale and sickly youth of unusual ability, forced by hot-house methods to unnatural attainments, blossoming full blast into the world to live but a day and then sink into oblivion, it is difficult to understand the full force of the word when applied to the child Mozart. There was nothing unnatural or forced in his training, which was most zealously superintended by his father, the only teacher he ever had. Wolfgang was in truth born with the knowledge it has taken most composers years to attain.
At the age of seven he had composed several minuets that were clearly conceived in form and not lacking in melody; at twelve he had written an opera and was one of the most brilliant harpsichord players in all Europe. It was when he was six years old that his father took the two children to Munich on their first concert tour; there they played before the Elector, who marveled at their skill. In the fall of that same year the family journeyed to Vienna, Wolfgang and. Nannerl giving successful concerts all along the way. So, famous had these infant prodigies become that people crowded to hear them play, and in Vienna they were received by the Empress Maria Theresa. It is said that Wolfgang, never embarrassed in the company of the great, jumped into the empress' lap and, much to the amusement of all present, threw his arms about her neck and kissed her.
Many tours followed in rapid succession. They journeyed to Paris, where they played before the king and queen; and from there to London, where they were also received at court. Proud as he was of his children's talent, Leopold Mozart fully realized the importance of their receiving a most rigid training and never once failed in his duty toward them. How deeply he felt this responsibility is expressed in one of his letters: "It is important that there should be a home-life for me specially devoted to my children. God has given them such talent as, setting aside my obligations as a father, would incite me to sacrifice everything to their good education. Every moment that I lose is lost forever; and if I ever knew how valuable time is in youth I know it now. You know that my children are used to work. If they were to get into idle habits on the pretext that one thing or another hindered them, my whole structure would fall to the ground. Habit is an iron path, and you know yourself how much my Wolfgang has still to learn." The tours were taken with the idea of the artistic benefit they would bring, rather than that of exhibiting the wonderful ability of the young virtuosos.
In 1769 the father and Wolfgang set out for Italy, where the boy-then thirteen years of age-was greeted by learned musicians as an accomplished master of their art. There he became acquainted with the Italian style which so strongly characterizes his compositions. The following is one of many incidents which show the boy's skill. "They arrived in Rome in Passion Week and went at once to the Sistine Chapel to hear the music. Here they heard sung a Miserere by Gregorio Allegri, a composition so highly regarded by the church that, on pain of excommunication, no one was to take a copy from the choir, or to make a copy of it. Wolfgang heard it once, and wrote it out from memory; a day or two later, on Good Friday, he heard it again and corrected an error or two. He thus had a copy acquired in a manner so astonishing to every one, that instead of being held to have done wrong, he was greatly honored for the skill he displayed."
They returned home after an absence of fifteen months. After such success as he had met in Italy, life in Salzburg seemed almost intolerable to the boy. Salzburg was the seat of the archbishop's court and it was here that Mozart was retained as concert-meister. The archbishop seems not to have been cognizant of Mozart's genius; he treated him most abominably, and for his services gave him about five dollars a year! With him Mozart remained until he was twenty-one, although the time was frequently interrupted with travel. This period of his life was marked chiefly by the production of many church works and a few sonatas. His strained relations with the archbishop finally becoming intolerable, he decided to leave Salzburg in search of more remunerative employment. His object in so doing was to obtain a salaried position in some musical center where he might have an opportunity to give his attention to composition; but lucrative commissions were exceedingly rare in the musical profession at that time and Mozart never realized his desire.
From that time on his life was a constant struggle for a livelihood, and the story of his efforts is one of great pathos. After many vicissitudes and suffering keenly the death of his mother, who died while staying with him in Paris, he located in Vienna. In Paris he had heard Gluck's operas performed and many by Italian composers, learning much from them in the way of orchestration. The reforms of Gluck had not yet taken a strong hold upon the minds of composers, and Italian opera was virtually what it had been in the early part of the century.
Soon after his arrival in Vienna, Mozart married Constance Weber, with whose family he had become acquainted while on a previous tour. His father strongly objected to the attachment, and for many years would hold no communication with either Wolfgang or his wife. The story of their married life shows them to have been congenial companions, but obliged to practice the strictest economy and not infrequently to have suffered actual want.
In July of the year 1782, Mozart's opera, "The Abduction," was performed and its merits were warmly praised by Gluck. The emperor's criticism was, however: "A great deal too many notes"; to which the genius replied: "Exactly as many notes as are necessary, your majesty!" Just after his thirtieth birthday his father relented in his hostile attitude and paid him a visit. He came at a time when great honor was being shown the composer, and on one occasion Haydn told Leopold Mozart that he regarded his son to be the greatest composer who had ever lived.
In spite of the fact that his fame was constantly increasing, Mozart's financial condition never improved. "His genius was actually too great for the public to appreciate, and, while lesser men grew rich by printing trivial compositions, Mozart's publishers declined many of his best works as too learned. His constant craving for liveliness, combined with his uncertain income, made him always ready to enjoy the passing moment, and his companions, chosen for their gaiety, were not always of the best. He was the most tender-hearted and affectionate of men, and in return for his natural kindliness the world treated him with contempt and slander during his life, and gave him a pauper's grave in death. The contrast seems only heightened by the fact that just at the last, when his prospects appeared to brighten, he was no longer able to take advantage of the favorable offers that came to him from Holland. "
Poverty and disappointment finally wore out his strength and he died on December 5, 1791, at the age of thirty-five. The body was taken to a pauper's grave on a day so stormy that the followers turned back, and only the attendants were present at the burial. Today there remains no trace of the spot where this genius was laid.
Mozart's instrumental compositions may be said to have been preparatory for his greater work in the opera field. Of the forty-one symphonies which he wrote, only three are played at the present time. These three last symphonies were written in the most distressed period of his life, when he was in great physical and financial trouble, but they bear no signs of his misfortunes. Tschaikowsky says that every artist must lead a double existence-that is, real life need not affect his work. This was the case with Mozart. The last, often called the "Jubilant Symphony," is more bold and powerful than the others; it is fugal in treatment of its themes, but not in form. All three show a richer orchestration than any of Haydn's symphonies; Mozart was a master of the orchestra and possessed a fine sense for tone quality. His piano sonatas were written for his own or his pupils' use and he himself attached little importance to them.
The place that Mozart holds today is due to three operas written in his latter life: "The Marriage of Figaro," "Don Giovanni" and "The Magic Flute." He is the only com poser who actually succeeded in depicting human character by means of his music. To him alone was given that vital power of characterization exhibited with such consummate skill in his later operas. "It is no exaggeration to say that Mozart's music reveals the inmost soul of the characters of his opera as plainly as if they were discussed upon a printed page." The text of "The Marriage of Figaro" is of a somewhat frivolous nature, throwing light on the existing social conditions of that time; but there is a great complexity of plot that affords variety of musical treatment.
Figaro, the valet of Count Almariva, is engaged to Suzanna, maid to the Countess, notwithstanding the fact that the old duenna, Marcellina, pretends to have claims upon him. Although the Count has carried on a flirtation with the charming Suzanna, he is madly jealous of his wife, whom he suspects of being fond of her beautiful page, Cherubino. In the second act the Countess, aided by Suzanna and Figaro, plan a scheme by which they may have a jest at the expense of the Count, who has written a note to Suzanna asking for a secret meeting in the garden. They dress Cherubino in the maid's costume, but the Count appears too soon and the scheme is given up. While Figaro is explaining away the confusion and suspicious actions of the others, Marcellina enters and presents Figaro's written engagement with her. This secretly delights the Count, who has never wished to see Suzanna married, and he promises Marcellina that she shall have justice. The next act, however, proves Figaro to be the long-lost son of Marcellina, and Figaro is again jubilant. The trick planned in the first act is carried through; by an exchange of costume, the Countess is made love to by her own husband, who in the darkness supposes her to be Suzanna, and soon after thinks he sees first Cherubino and then Figaro flirting desperately with his wife, though it is in reality her maid. Finally the Countess makes her identity known and the Count, thoroughly ashamed of himself, vows her eternal allegiance and restores Suzanna to Figaro.
Mozart's next opera, "Don Giovanni," also in Italian text, furnishes a supernatural libretto which admits of a wide scope of imagination in its musical setting. His marvelous power of differentiating his characters' natures is nowhere more strikingly shown. This opera met with great success and is a general favorite in our own time. Streatfeild made the criticism: "If there be such a thing as immortality for any work of art, it must surely be conceded to "Don Giovanni."
"The Magic Flute" is the most important in that it suggests the establishment of a distinctly German school of opera. Before this work appeared all countries had adopted not only Italian melody and form in their operas, but the Italian language as well. Although "The Magic Flute" is not so great a work as either of the other two operas, it possesses unquestionable merit. Written in German text, it contains many songs in imitation of the native folk song and readily found a warm welcome in all German hearts.
Its libretto is partly allegorical and partly fictitious. As the curtain rises Prince Tamino is seen rushing in, pursued by a horrible serpent, and falls exhausted at the foot of the temple of the Queen of Night. He is spied by three ladiesin-waiting, who rush out and kill the snake with their silver spears. They then show Tamino a portrait of Pamina, the daughter of their mistress, and he is filled with a great longing to see the maiden. Pamina, he is informed, has been stolen by Sarastro, the old high-priest of Isis, and is being held a prisoner in his palace. Tamino resolves to rescue the maiden, and the ladies present him with a magic' flute, which will act as a charm and ward off all danger. Pagageno, a gay fellow, is armed with magic bells and assigned to him as a companion, and together they set out. Three genii are sent with them to point out the way.
Arrived at the palace, Tamino is refused admittance, but Pagageno contrives by some means to get in, and persuades Pamina to flee with them. She agrees, but as they start they are intercepted by a Moor, whom Sarastro has set as a guard over his prisoner. Finally the high-priest himself appears and says that Tamino and Pamino shall not be united until they have undergone trials to test their love. To this the lovers agree, go through the period of probation successfully and are happily married. The Queen of Night and her kingdom are then vanquished and a reign of wisdom and light is established.
The hand of death was already upon Mozart when he finished this opera, but he had begun a still greater work. His Requiem Mass is one of the most beautiful compositions the Catholic church possesses. When analyzing this mass we must remember that it was written by a dying man, and allow for certain defects. It is a most worthy farewell to the world and a fitting testimony to the greatness of the soul of its creator. He left f unfinished, but a pupil who worked with him has given it an admirable completion.
Mozart was in no respect a reformer. He was content to take forms as he found them and with consummate skill make them perfect models of their kind. His influence over modern composers cannot be exaggerated; without him the work of Weber and Wagner would have been impossible. To modern ears, accustomed to rich and highly-colored harmonies, Mozart's orchestration sounds thin and often monotonous, and he never allowed expression to interfere with the conventional form in which he clothed his beautiful melody. But he stands as the highest type of the purely classical composer; in his style we see a blending of German depth, Italian beauty and French truth to facts.
CLASSIFIED LIST OF HIS WORKS
Instrumental: Forty-one symphonies, twenty-eight serenades for orchestra, thirty-one string quartets, twenty-eight concertos, forty-six sonatas for piano and violin, twenty-one piano sonatas and fantasias, marches. quintets, sets of variations and a vast number of minor pieces. Vocal: Twentyone operas, sixteen masses, arias, trios, quartets and songs.