Over two and a half centuries ago on January 27th, one of Western classical music’s most famous composers was born–Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He composed in every genre of music popular in Europe at the time, writing over 600 works for piano, symphonies, concertos, and operas. A child prodigy who started a music career at 6 years old, his music is remembered all over the world today.
Wolfgang Mozart is many people’s first introduction to classical music–in fact, some mothers even play Baby Mozart music before their child is born to encourage their musical development! Mozart’s music has endured since the 18th century because it has incredible melodies and is by turns playful and serious-just listen to “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” to hear why. In fact, Mozart’s is so famous in his hometown of Salzburg, Austria, that the whole city celebrates his birthday with an 11-day festival! So, let’s learn a little more about Wolfgang Mozart’s life and career before discovering 4 fun ways to celebrate his birthday and musical contributions!
Happy Birthday Mozart!
Mozart’s Musical Family
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27th, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria. Baby Mozart was given the name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart at his christening, but he preferred to be called Wolfgang Amadeus. His father, Leopold Mozart, was a kapellmeister (or choir director for a church) at the Salzburg Cathedral in Austria. Wolfgang also had an older sister, named Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart–as you might have guessed, she went by a nickname too and was called Nannerl.
When Nannerl started learning to play the clavier (an early type of piano), young Wolfgang was fascinated and learned along with her. Wolfgang’s family travelled Europe performing together, starting their first three year tour of the palaces and residences of kings and queens when he was only 6. Can you imagine playing your first concerts for royalty? When they were visiting Vienna, the young Wolfgang and Nannerl even played a concert for the future queen of France, Marie Antoinette! Since Wolfgang and Nannerl travelled widely and lived in Italy and France, the siblings spoke French and Italian in addition to German–but Wolfgang’s best known language was musical language! His compositions and performances were received with delight everywhere he went.
Mozart the Adult
After such an amazing childhood career touring and performing, Wolfgang struggled at first to find success as an adult. After all, it’s hard to top writing your first opera at age 11, which is when Mozart wrote Apollo et Hyacinthus! It took moving to Vienna for his works he composed as an adult to truly be appreciated. In Vienna, he also met and married his wife Constanza Weber, who was also a musician. Constanza, and especially her sister Aloysia, were well-trained singers from a musical family, and they greatly influenced his music. Wolfgang’s songs were composed for them to sing, and Aloysia sang a number of title roles in Mozart’s operas–it was clear that music truly was a family business for Wolfgang!
4 Ways to Celebrate and Learn from Mozart!
Now that you’ve learned a little more about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music and life, here are some fun ways you can learn from him. Even though we all come from many different types of families and different backgrounds, we can be inspired by Mozart’s commitment to music as we practice.
- Take a listen to one of the first pieces of music he ever wrote! W.A. Mozart was only 5 when he composed this piece, so his father wrote it down for him– K. 1.B. For an extra challenge, try to compose your own music! You can check out Mr. Hoffman’s steps to compose your first song here.
- Mozart loved animals and had many pets, including horses, dogs, cats, and even a pet starling (a type of bird that mimics sounds). Supposedly, Mozart brought home his starling because he walked by a pet shop and heard it singing his Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major (K453)! He loved the way that his starling sang, and worked the notes of his pets song into lots of his other music, too! You can hear the cries of starlings in the high notes of the Queen of the Night’s aria here.
- Do you know Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? While Mozart didn’t write the piece (it’s an old French folk tune called Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman) he did write variations on the tune in the 1780s. You can listen to the variations and follow along with the sheet music by watching this. Can you think of any other songs that use this melody, too? For an extra challenge, try to play the right hand melody!
- Play a practice performance for a friend or family member! Mozart played his first concert as a pianist in 1762, when he was just 6 years old! So, no matter your age or how long you’ve been practicing, now is the perfect time to play! Check out this post to learn more about preparing to perform!