Mozart: the fate of the Artist in the age of “reason and enlightenment”


Mozart was a comfort of my childhood. How many times would I stop in the corridor of our community flat and listen with delight to the divine sounds of his music wafted from a radio outlet through a cracked open door of the neighbours’ room. Amid the unanimous approval of the policy conducted by the party and the government and as unanimous condemnation of American imperialism, among infinite reports about another overachievement of targets, and also amid pseudo-folk music presented by the Pyatnitsky choir, one could hear on the Soviet radio genuine masterpieces of the world classical music. The still remaining Russian intelligentsia, having entrenched themselves in the all-Union radio, citing the necessity of the communist upbringing of working people, used the slightest opportunity for the propaganda of their “rotten” universal values. Surely, Mozart’s music is accessible to all, and playing it caused neither irritation from the authorities nor active opposition from the common people. Besides, Mozart’s music was for me personally associated with the image of my mother, whom I loved madly and who, as it seemed to me then, looked very much like Mozart (I saw the picture of the latter in the Moscow Conservatoire’s Grand Hall).

Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born on January 27th, 1756, in Salzburg, the capital of a prince-archbishopric of the same name, which at the time was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. His father was his first and, perhaps, the only teacher. He taught the little Wolfgang to play the harpsichord, violin, and organ, as well as languages and general subjects. Unlike ordinary pupils, Wolfgang did not just follow his education, but rather took the lead over it, making much more progress than he was required to. By the age of 5, the infant prodigy had made such great strides that his father gave up composing himself and only recorded what his son would compose.

From 1762 oMozartn, the young genius’ guest performances across Europe began. During those tours, he would familiarize himself with the works of other composers and also with the composers themselves. When in London, for example, he met one of the most fashionable composers of the time, J. C. Bach, a son of the great Cantor, who had a great influence on Mozart. His sonatas for violin and harpsichord were published in Paris. In 1771, his opera “Mitridate” was staged in Milan. Wherever he performed, he would cause a great sensation and be showered with kisses by numerous nobles, including the kings. But, contrary to his father’s expectations, the sensational success was not crowned with any considerable funds or permanent position for Wolfgang.

In 1773, Mozart was appointed musician in the archbishop’s court in his native Salzburg. Here, Mozart’s genius blossomed out with new colours and found expression in a variety of genres. Symphonies, clavier and violin sonatas, concertos, and new operas appeared. However, his salary stayed comparatively low. Besides, Salzburg was a fairly small city, which did not allow Mozart’s genius to manifest itself in full. So, he did not give up trying to find a better lot somewhere else.

In 1781, Mozart had a chance to get added evidence that his position in the “enlightened” society of those days was effectively no higher than that of a servant or even serf; and it came to a physical insult. Mozart, with his head turned by a sensational success of his opera “Idomeneus” in Munich, was summoned by his employer, the archbishop of Salzburg, to Vienna to take part in the events related to the coronation of Austrian emperor Joseph II. The music-loving monarch offered Mozart to perform before him for a whopping sum, but the archbishop forbade his court musician to do so. The artist made a protest, but literally got a kick in the ass from one of the archbishop’s attendants. Despite his father’s persuasion, Mozart quitted his service and stayed in Vienna as a freelance musician.

At first, Mozart’s stay in the Austrian capital was going on well, although he had to work especially hard. However, writing had always held much joy for him, and, sometimes, 24 hours a day was too short for him to put all the revelations that had occurred to him on paper. In the house where he rented a room, he found himself surrounded by fair maidens. But, for the time being, Mozart stayed true to music alone. In one of his letters to his father he confessed: “I have a God-given talent, and I am not going to waste it on marriage and all that.”

The emotional wealth conveyed in his music widened, reaching the plenitude characteristic of Romantic music. These include love and innocence, melancholy and fury, boldness and fright. His Russian “counterpart”, poet Alexander Pushkin, seems to have found the best possible words to express the image structure of many of Mozart’s compositions:

  • Picture… well, whom should you?..
    Say, even me – a little younger, though;
    In love – not much, just lightly – having fun
    With a good-looking girl, or friend – say, you;
    I’m merry… All at once – a deathly vision,
    A sudden gloom, or something of that sort…

At about that time, Mozart formulated his esthetic credo: “The passions, whether violent or not, should never be so expressed as to reach the point of causing disgust; and music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music”.

He would often perform before the emperor, in particular, competing in the art of improvisation with Muzio Clementi. Mozart’s new opera “The abduction from the Seraglio” enjoyed sensational success and was staged in many European cities. At about that time, Mozart scrutinized manuscripts of great polyphonists, including J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel, which was sure to considerably enrich his musical language. One day he observed: “Communing with Bach to me is tantamount to communing with the Universe”.

Nevertheless, in 1782, Mozart got married. His chosen one was one of the above-mentioned maidens, a singer, Constanze Weber (incidentally, a kinswoman of the composer C. M. von Weber). Mozart composed more and more clavier concertos, with which he would successfully perform in various halls and salons of Vienna. The young family’s income grew dramatically, so they denied themselves nothing and, one can say, lived well off the fat of the land.

In 1784, Mozart met J. Haydn, to whom he dedicated his 6 string quartets. The “father of the symphony” accepted the colleague’s offering with gratitude, and the 2 pillars of Vienna classical music became friends.

Despite laMozart-adultck of systematic education, Mozart, as is usually the case with great artists, could not help thinking about the meaning of life and somehow addressing religious and philosophical issues. Apparently, that was the main reason why he decided to join a masonic lodge. Subsequently, his father and his friend J. Haydn followed suit. Masonic fraternity was a kind of church for educated people at the time. Those congregated there were guided by the ideals of the good and justice put forward by French enlighteners, in particular, J.-J. Rousseau and D. Diderot. The equality of the “brothers”, irrespective of their social rank, was especially underlined there; they would call each other thou, whether it was a king of a coachman.

Joining the brotherhood of masons appeared for Mozart as not just repose from evil and injustice abounding in everyday life. This brought to life one of his best operas, “The Magic Flute”, and also a whole layer of “masonic music” that contrasted with the “gallant style” prevailing at that time. Moreover, in its spirit and melodic structure, this music anticipated the final chorus of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

In 1786, Mozart’s opera “The wedding of Figaro” was staged in Vienna and Prague. There, arrayed in catchy melodies and sweet harmonies, the theme of the protest against social injustice resounded with renewed vigour; the commoner Figaro’s nobility and his titled master’s pettiness were shown. In 1787, the opera “Don Giovanni” was staged, where moral standards were addressed with a stress on the unavoidability of punishment. Both operas were a great success, although some critics mentioned some problems in the performance and perception of those works.

In 1787, Emperor Joseph II invited Mozart to be his court musician with a permanent salary. The position became vacant after the death of the opera reformer K. W. Gluck.

In 1788, Mozart’s last symphonies came out, including the famous 40th.

That same year, Austria declared war on the Ottoman Empire. In 1789, the French Revolution burst out. On the one hand, the Revolution was hoped to implement the ideals of the good and justice which were so close to Mozart, but it augured no improvement whatsoever in Mozart’s financial status. Those disturbing events resulted in Vienna concert life being wrapped up. Arts sponsors were increasingly worried about how to preserve their power and property.

As a result, Mozart was severely shaken in his economic condition. In an attempt to improve it, he undertook guest performances in Germany. In the process, he even seems to have received an invitation from the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II (a nephew of the celebrated enlightened monarch and composer Friedrich II) to become his court musician. But for some reason their cooperation came to nothing more than Mozart’s writing several string quartets for the king himself and several clavier sonatas for this daughter.

In 1790, Mozart’s royal patron, Emperor Joseph II died, and things for Mozart were getting quite bad. Having gotten used to live in a great style, he started to borrow huge sums of money. His operas “Cosi fan tutte” (Thus do all women) and “La clemenza di Tito” (The clemency of Titus) did not gain immediate public popularity and failed to bring any tangible proceeds.

In 1791, Mozart’s last opera, “Die Zauberflöte” (the magic flute) came into being. Its premier took place in one of Vienna suburbs with Mozart himself conducting. Despite an intricate plot, the opera’s main idea is quite clear – it is the victory of good and light over evil and darkness, it is happiness granted to the one who has gone through all the trials. The opera also exposes the late-period Mozart’s political sympathies, that is, enlightened monarchy. However, all those ideas are “served” with such elegance and a fairly good share of humour, that it is hard to suspect the author of any tendentiousness whatsoever. Besides, ”The magic flute”, as well as an earlier written “The abduction from the Seraglio” (both performed in German), laid down the foundations of the German national opera.

Mozart felt sick at the time of the Prague premiers of his last operas. He developed intense pain, vomiting, and his body began to swell, which could suggest some poisoning. Besides, not long before his illness, some “man in black” commissioned him to write a Requiem Mass. The deeply sensitive Mozart took it to heart and could never shake off the feeling that he was writing that mass for himself. All this might be indicative of some infernal plot – as if someone wanted to crush him both morally and physically.

Mozart died on December 5th, 1791. The circumstances of his funeral remain shrouded in mystery, and his burial site is unknown. This, again, suggests some plot – as if someone wanted to obliterate even the very memory of Mozart.

Really, he had more than enough ill-wishers. Certainly, first of all, there was envy, which could not but be physiologically felt towards him by some of his, not so gifted, colleagues. Besides, Mozart did not stint himself in his everyday life and was not ashamed of luxury. He would rent a large and sumptuous set of rooms, dine at the best restaurants, ride about in chic carriages, and his wife would hardly put on the same clothes twice. He would bear his head high, had a sharp tongue, and would speak his mind without fear or favour. One day the emperor Joseph II made a rather delicate remark to him: “Dear Mozart, your music is beautiful, but there are too many notes in it”. To which Mozart replied annoyedly: “Exactly as many as needed, Your Majesty”.

But the malefactors (if there were such) proved right only in part in their calculations. Certainly, we will never hear the pieces that Mozart would compose, should he lived any longer. And yet, what he did have time to compose was sold out throughout the entire Europe, and it was impossible to destroy. As impossible is to obliterate the memory of the great Austrian musical genius.


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