Wolfgang Mozart was born on this day in 1756. He died just 35 years later, leaving behind a peerless resumé that included, among other things:
- Orchestral music, including some 40 symphonies;
- Concertos, including 27 for piano, 5 for violin, and concertos for clarinet, oboe, French horn, bassoon, flute, and flute and harp;
- Operas, including Idomeneo (1781), The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782), The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), Cosí fan tutte (1790) and The Magic Flute (1791);
- Choral music, including 18 Masses, the Requiem (incomplete, 1791), and other liturgical music;
- Chamber music, including 23 string quartets, string quintets, clarinet quintet, oboe quartet, flute quartet, piano trios and quartets, sonatas for violin and piano, and divertimentos and serenades (Eine kleine Nachtmusik, 1787);
- Keyboard music, including 17 piano sonatas.
What else might he have done had he lived to, say, even 50?
When I consider Mozart, I tend to pivot back and forth between that sentiment, i.e., “That he died so young is a tragedy! We could have had so much more!”, and another one, beautifully expressed by Peter Shaffer (1926-2016), the British playwright who wrote Amadeus:
“Trained superbly by his expert and relentless father, Wolfgang Amadeus was fitted from the age of 16 for one supreme mode of existence: to be the magic flute at the lips of God. His death at the age of 35 does not seem to me to be tragic in the least. He died after gigantic labors of sublime transcription, because the Player had finished playing with him: That is all. How lucky to be used up like that, rather than, as most of us are, by the trillion trivialities which whittle us away into dust.”
These days, as I grow ever older and wonder what, if anything, of lasting value I’ve brought to the table, Shaffer’s words dominate all of my Mozartian ruminations.
To close, I of course have to include a piece of music. I’ll go with the Rex tremendae from my favorite recording of my favorite of Mozart’s works, the Requiem. If I were a composer, and managed to commit only these two minutes of music to paper, I would consider myself a smashing success.
Rex tremendae majestatis,
qui salvandos savas gratis,
salve me, fons pietatis.
King of tremendous majesty,
who freely saves those worthy ones,
save me, source of mercy.
Trivia tidbit: As can be seen in the record below, Mozart was baptized Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus. Theophilus, from the Greek, can be translated as “lover of God” or “loved by God.” Its Latin form? Amadeus.