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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The musical genius of the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart produced some of the world's greatest and best loved music. Born in Salzburg, he was a celebrated child prodigy, displaying at an early age an amazing knowledge of musical composition as well as an original imagination. He received his musical education from his father, Leopold (1719-87), violinist, composer and concert-master.
Mozart learned to play the harpsichord at the age of four and wrote numerous keyboard pieces and sonatas before he was eight, at which age he began to compose symphonies. In 1762, he and his elder sister, Maria Anna, also a gifted musician, began a series of concert tours throughout Europe. These tours brought the young Mozart into contact with every kind of contemporary West European music. Despite his phenomenal success as a child prodigy, his fortunes changed for the worse as he grew up. He spent an unhappy period as concert-master to the archbishop of Salzburg (1769-81), a position that offered him little financial security. Although his genius was widely recognized and many of his works were successfully performed and even though he received various commissions throughout his career, he never materially prospered from it and was obliged to sustain himself by teaching.
In 1782, he married Constanze Weber. The added burden of having to support a family increased the conditions of poverty and yet Mozart's output continued to be prolific until he died of typhoid fever in Vienna at the age of 35. His funeral was that of a pauper and was attended by only a few friends; the site of his grave remains unmarked. During his short life, he produced more than 600 compositions and many unfinished works. Although he imitated other composers and was particularly influenced by Johann Christian Bach, Joseph Haydn (to whom he dedicated six chamber quartets) and Johann Sebastian Bach, his work was never merely derivative.
Mozart lived at a time when elegance of style and balance of form were of singular importance in musical tastes: the eighteenth century Classical period. Although he always remained within this style, he developed his ideas to an emotional fullness, thus anticipating the nineteenth century Romantic movement. His instrumental works include sonatas, concertos, chamber music and symphonies. His last three symphonies, No 39 in E flat, No 40 in G minor and No 41 in C, are often considered to be his highest achievements in orchestral music. His vocal works, operas and church music have an outstanding dramatic quality combined with subtle characterization. His best known operas are The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787) and The Magic Flute (1791).