Happy Birthday Mozart! Or maybe we should say Amadé, the name by which he wanted to be called: French or, we would say, Neapolitan!
In fact, we all know Mozart for his nickname “Amadeus“, but this was a stylistic choice. Let’s find out then how this nickname was born retracing the incredible life of the Austrian genius.
The little Wolferl
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756.
But, as we anticipated, Amadeus is not the real middle name of Mozart who was instead baptized … roll of drums … Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart! The name “Wolfgang” means “running wolf”, the name of his maternal grandfather.
As a child his father began to shorten this name to “Wolferl” or “Wofer” and these are the nicknames by which the whole family continued to call him. As a child Mozart learned any piece that was submitted to him.
Since the age of 4 he began to play short compositions on the piano or harpsichord and was able to perform them perfectly after only half an hour. He began composing at the age of 5 and quickly became a brilliant organist, an excellent violinist and a skilled singer. At 12 he composed his first opera and since then he has become a refined conductor.
Mozart was such a genius that dad Leopold decided the world needed to hear his son play with his sister Maria Anna. Therefore, leaving Strasbourg they left for a long concert tour (1763-1777) venturing into the great cities of Europe. The figure of Leopold was decisive and significant for Mozart and often associated with severity, so we want to dedicate a curious anecdote to him.
As a composer Leopold is known today above all for a piece entitled “Toy Symphony“. It is a fun piece for orchestra where some toy instruments imitate the sound of birds such as the quail, the cuckoo and the nightingale; since they are very easy to play instruments, sometimes it happens that during special concerts famous people who are not musicians participate as special guests in the orchestral performance.
Mozart’s journeys in European courts
From an early age Mozart was constantly in love with beautiful ladies. During this journey through the European courts, it has been said for more than 200 years that Mozart met the then contemporary Marie Antoinette, both were 7 years old and had a big crush on the Future Queen of France so much that he informed her that he intended to marry her.
As Mozart grew up he developed a remarkable sense of humor. He could be funny, but at the same time absolutely disgusting. He was obsessed with the events taking place in the bathroom and their smells! During this tour Leopold, his father, began to write a series of long letters to his friends in Strasbourg listing the successes of Wolfgang and Anna Maria. These letters and later those addressed to the family offer us a great deal of information about Mozart’s life and are still being studied today. From here it can be said that little Mozart listened to the music on the spot and then instantly composed a reckless number of wonderful accompaniments, even better than the original version.
Of course the public ended up worshiping him, but Mozart’s sensitivity was such that an excessive amount of praise and enthusiasm could upset him to the point of making him cry. In London, at the age of 8, Mozart struck a long friendship with Bach’s son, J.C. Bach, the cheeky one who called his father “old wig.” During a meeting in the presence of the King and Queen of England, Wolfgang sat down at the piano between J.C. Bach and together they enjoyed performing a piece in which one of the two intervened when the other broke off: the fun went on for two hours without either of them getting bored.
Amadé and Italy
Between 1769 and 1773, the young Mozart and his father Leopold made three trips to Italy.
The first was an extensive fifteen-month tour reaching the most important Italian cities, up to Naples in 1770. And here Amadé was born.
One of Mozart’s second names is in fact Theophlius: a Greek name that means “loving God” or “loved by God”. In its German form this is “Gottlieb” while in Latin “Amadeus”. During his life, Mozart signed some letters in fake Latin such as “Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozartus”.
At that time it was considered quite normal to translate the name into other languages so when in Italy around 1770, Mozart transformed himself into Wolfgango Amadeo, later becoming Wolfgang Amadè since around 1777. Mozart became fond of his nickname so much that in his marriage certificate he signed: “Wolfgang Amade Mozart”.
It is said that in Rome Mozart listened to the Pope’s choir singing Il Miserere by Gregorio Allegri. This famously complex religious piece was considered so sacred that no one was allowed to copy its music. Mozart listened to it for the first time and when he returned home he wrote it down in full by heart; he then went back to listen to it a second time, made some corrections to its writing and had a perfect copy of the forbidden motif!
If he had been discovered by the papal authorities, he would have had serious problems. But this remains further proof of Amadé’s absolute genius. Mozart’s health suffered from the consequences of long journeys. The health problems he experienced in adulthood were probably the result of this uneven lifestyle. Although he was a true musical prodigy, Mozart was still a child, but he certainly did not live a normal childhood. He was showed to the public like a circus animal.
At the court of Salzburg and Vienna
Employed by the archbishop
After returning from his trip to Italy, Mozart regularly carried out the task, which had been assigned to him the previous year, of konzertmeister with an annual salary of 150 florins at the court of Archbishop Colloredo.
Mozart did not like the city of Salzburg because it was too small and bigoted and even less the archbishop who treated him as a worker in his service; the archbishop was not exactly narrow-minded, but he probably did not have a soul devoted to the arts.
At the age of 20 Mozart was not tall, he had a rather large head and the skin pockmarked by the smallpox he had suffered from when he was 11. He wore no wig and showed his carefully cut and powdered hair which he was very proud of. Regardless of how many commitments he had on my agenda, his day started at 6 in the morning with the hairdresser arranging his hair perfectly.
One of Mozart’s favorite games in Salzburg was a pastime he played with his family and his friends: set a target, often a quite offensive drawing if Mozart got it, he had to hit it with an air rifle. Perhaps even the archbishop became a target, who knows! Mozart remained in the employ of the archbishop from 1773 to 1781, but after an altercation with the same prelate he was fired. However, this fact proved very useful.
The Weber family
In May 1781 Mozart moved to Vienna, as a guest of the Weber family, whom he met a few years earlier: the second of the 4 daughters was Aloysia Weber, a soprano whom Mozart fell in love with without ever being reciprocated.
Shortly after moving to the Weber home, he married Aloysia’s sister Costanze. Fortunately, this makeshift seems not to affect the marriage, although Mozart’s father Leopold had always been suspicious of the entire family.
It seems that Wolfgang and Costanze lived happily together. There were rare moments when he caught her flirting with other men, which annoyed him a lot. But it is possible that she just wanted to be sure of her husband’s appreciation…
In 1782, in Vienna, Mozart finally managed to see produced one of his most famous works: The Abduction from the Seraglio, after which for a few years Mozart neglected his vocation as an opera player to devote himself mainly to instrumental music. From this period comes the composition of a famous piano sonata which would become very famous thanks to mobile ringtones: Turkish Rondo (1783).
Mozart was never successful money-wise. Although at a certain point in his life he earned a lot, he never managed to save, also because he enjoyed good living! He often organized dancing parties in his apartments, he bought a horse and owned a lot of pool tables, a game he loved and in which he distinguished himself.
His clothes were always very colorful and fashionable and therefore the most expensive on the market. Indeed, Constanze’s health was also a serious reason for wasting money. His wife’s precarious health also partly depended on her continuing pregnancies: she had six children in 8 years, although in the end only two of them survived.
Dona eis requiem
In 1787 at the age of 67 dad Leopold died. Mozart was now fundamentally freed from his father’s influence, yet he still loved that boring old man he missed for a long time.
Mozart aspired to a position of great prestige at the court of the emperor in Vienna, but was unable to obtain it, apparently also because of the secret plots of Antonio Salieri, the court composer. The public has always been fascinated by the story of the rivalry between the rich but not excellent composer Antonio Salieri and the poor genius Mozart.
In the 19th century the famous Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin wrote a play in verse entitled Mozart and Salieri which later became a successful opera. More recently, the English playwright Peter Shaffer took up the idea in the play Amadeus based on the relationship between the two musicians and from which the famous film Amadeus by Milos Forman.
The relationship with Salieri has become such an iconic dynamic that it has even been used in The Simpsons where a Bart-Mozart drives a Salieri-Lisa mad.
In times of need, those who came to Mozart’s aid were mainly his Freemasons friends. Free Freemasonry was a semi-secret society whose members were of noble origin or belonging to the middle class, like Mozart; their goal was freedom and equality for all men. In the last years of his life, this association represented a danger for Mozart, because the Emperor began to have suspicions about these idealists. Mozart became so passionate about these ideals to the point of dedicating music to them, including his most famous opera The Magic Flute, of which we want to mention a particular production: that of our beloved Julie Taymor.
The last works
In 1791 two new works were commissioned to Amadé: the first was precisely The Magic Flute composed for a Popular Theater in Vienna, the other was entitled The Clemency of Titus, composed for the city of Prague; Mozart wrote the entire opera in just 18 days, half the time that any other musician would have spent just to transcribe it.
It was then that his health began to falter. Shortly before, a strange messenger dressed in black had presented himself and had commissioned him a Requiem, or a mass for the dead. Mozart was convinced that he came from another world and that the Requiem was for himself. In reality, the commission came from a count who wanted to dedicate the work to his recently deceased wife. His intent was to pretend that he had composed the Mass himself, but this Mozart never knew. Mozart never finished the Requiem, although he worked on it until a few days before his death, at the age of 35.
Mozart’s funeral was miserable at that time. In fact only the nobles were reserved for important celebrations, while most of the coffins were taken to cemeteries outside Vienna where three or four bodies were placed in the same grave.
Mozart’s body was thus placed in one of these common graves, but no one was able to know for sure which one, so the remains are lost forever. On the day Mozart died, December 5, 1791, his name was entered in the registers of the magistrate of Vienna as “Wolfgang Amadeus“.
Seven years later, the publishing house Breitkopf & Härtel produced an edition of Mozart’s complete works under this name, but the real rule of “Amadeus” began around 1810, 19 years after the composer’s death.
Romantic writers and authors used the nickname to proclaim their adoration of Mozart, eventually turning “Amadeus” into everyone’s favorite nickname for the classical giant. Over the years Mozart’s music and life have become legendary enough to inspire a French production to make one musical: Mozart l’Opera Rock or to develop a tourism around the places associated with its name. There is even a chocolate named after him: the famous “Mozartkugel”.
What’s in a name? What we call by the name of rose, even if we called it by another name, would still have the same sweet scent. Wolfer, Theophilus, Amadeus, no matter the name he always remains a genius!