Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Early Years

Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 in Salzburg, Austria. He is often thought of as the greatest composer who ever lived. Even though his music was very popular throughout his lifetime, he often had to struggle just to have enough money for every day necessities.

Wolfgang’s father, Leopold Mozart, was a head composer at the court of Prince-Archbishop Sigismund of Salzburg and the court’s assistant music director.

Leopold did not make very much money even though he worked for the bishop. He taught music lessons to make more money. He also taught his daughter, Maria Anna, how to play the clavier and violin. The clavier is like a harpsichord.

Maria Anna usually went by the nickname Nannerl and Wolfgang was often called Wolferl.

The Mozart house was always filled with music. When Wolfgang was a baby and he heard a wrong note, he would cry. He knew that the note was wrong. When he was only 3 years old, he could sit down at the clavier and play what her had just heard without even practicing beforehand.

One day when Leopold and his musician friends were preparing for a concert, Wolfgang ran into the room with his violin begging, “Let me play, too!”

At first his father told him no, but Wolfgang kept asking until his father finally agreed. Everyone was totally surprised at how perfectly Wolfgang played with the whole group of adult musicians.

Toddler Composer

Wolfgang began to compose his own melodies when he was about 4 years old. These were short pieces of music that his father wrote down for him. He soon realized that it was time to teach Wolfgang how to write down music, read music, and how musical instruments worked.

When Wolfgang wanted to learn how to play the organ, his father was concerned that he would not be able to reach the pedals with his feet. The first chance Wolfgang got to play a big organ in a church, he just stood on his tiptoes and pushed the pedals with such ease that it seemed that he had been playing the organ for a long time.

Let’s listen to some of Mozart’s earliest compositions. These were all written about the time he was just five years old. Look at the pictures of him in the video, too.

“Voices of Angels”

Soon the people all over town started talking about the talented Mozart children, especially the little boy who composed such beautiful pieces of music. When the Prince-Archbishop heard about the Mozart children, he invited them to perform at his palace. The bishop was known for being serious and boring, but when he heard the Mozart children’s music his attitude changed. He thought that Wolfgang’s music sounded like “the voices of angels”.

Before long, many of the noble families in the area were inviting the children to perform, but Leopold dreamed of bigger opportunities.

Leopold painted the keys of a keyboard on a board for the children to use while they traveled to concerts in their carriage, so that they would not miss out on valuable practice time.

Finally, he arranged for his family to go on a big trip to Vienna where Nannerl and Wolferl were able to perform. People all over Vienna were talking about “that amazing little Mozart”.

Performing for Empress Maria Theresa

One day, Leopold’s hard work finally paid off. They received a special invitation from Empress Maria Theresa. This is the same empress who had Haydn whipped for climbing on the scaffolding after being told not to when he was young.

She requested the children to perform for her family at her castle and she even sent them beautiful outfits for them to wear at the concert.

After the concert was over, Wolfgang was so excited about how everything went that he ran over, climbed up on to the lap of Empress Maria Theresa, and gave her a big kiss! But this is something that you were definitely NOT supposed to do back in those days.

He was a common person and she was an empress. Everyone else in the room was probably in shock and afraid of what would happen next. She did not seem to mind at all and said, “Wolfgang Amadeus is such a charming and gifted child. Such a great talent in such a small boy.”

The Mozart children were invited to perform at Empress Maria Theresa’s palace often. After each concert, they played with the empress’ children. She had sixteen children of her own.

They often played hide-and-seek. One time, Wolfgang tripped and fell. When a little princess helped him up, he thought, “When I grow up, perhaps I will marry her.” This little princess was seven year old Maria Antoinette.

Mozart Family
Mozart with his sister and father. His mother is in the picture on the wall.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Wolfgang wrote the symphony called Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (“A Little Night Music”) in just one day. This piece of music is my favorite composed by Mozart.

He never scratched out mistakes or added any notes after he first wrote the music, because it was perfect and complete the first time.

Let’s listen to this masterpiece.

Several years later, Mozart was actually a student of Franz Joseph Haydn. Mozart learned a lot about composing in the Classical style directly from Haydn.

We will learn a lot more about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in future lessons, so please check back.


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