Great Masters: Mozart—His Life and Music
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands. He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres. Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.
Much of today's Mozart scholarship is about debunking myths; this lecture explores Mozart mythology. The goal of these lectures is to show Mozart to be a person: a talented, hard-working, ambitious man who had friends and enemies and whose music was subject to criticism in his own day.
02: Leopold and the Grand Tour
Leopold Mozart dominated his son's life from the start. When Leopold realized that his children, Marianne and Wolfgang, possessed prodigious musical talent, he made them his source of wealth and fame. Their grand tour of 1763–66 made them the sensation of Europe and turned Wolfgang into the child wonder by which we still measure prodigies today. The small, fragile, and desperate-to-please Wolfgang became his family's main breadwinner.
03: Mozart the Composer—The Early Music
Leopold probably had a hand in creating Mozart's early pieces, but Mozart also learned his craft from Johann Christian Bach, whom Mozart met in London in 1764–65. Mozart also modeled his early works on established Viennese symphonists, and he absorbed the Italian style on his tours of that country in 1769–73. By the time of his second visit to Paris in 1777, Mozart's own compositional voice had emerged.
The study of Mozart's musical style is often linked with two myths; neither one is true. The first is that Mozart was a vessel for divine inspiration. The second is that he composed without effort, automatically, subconsciously. What makes him different is that he began his apprenticeship at an incredibly young age and was a fully matured composer by the time he was 20. In 1777, Mozart left Salzburg for Paris—a disastrous trip during which his mother died.
05: The Flight from Salzburg and Arrival in Vienna
Despite the disasters that Mozart endured at the time of his trip to Paris, his creative energy never flagged. Longing to compose an opera, Mozart succeeded in convincing the Elector of Munich to commission the opera Idomeneo from him. The opera was premiered in Munich in 1781 to great success. Mozart married Constanze Weber in August 1782, against his father's wishes. The father-son relationship would be severely strained until Leopold's death five years later.
06: Life in Vienna
Between 1782 and 1786, Mozart reached the peak of his career as a pianist and composer in Vienna. Among his supreme achievements are his piano concerti, string quartets, and the C Minor Mass. His six string quartets, inspired by and dedicated to Haydn, exhibit an expressive range and intensity. Mozart worked extremely hard and earned a great deal of money. His speed of composing and ability to compose in his head are the stuff of legend. But his embittered father disinherited him before dying in 1787.
07: Operas in Vienna
Poet and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte collaborated with Mozart on his great operas: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte. Mozart's popularity in Vienna began to wane in the late 1780s and he experienced financial hardship; his marriage was strained because of Mozart's real and perceived affairs. Yet he continued to write a series of masterworks, the expressive moods of which seldom, if ever, betrayed his unhappy circumstances.
08: The Last Years
Mozart's Cosi fan tutte of 1789 was no more successful in Vienna than Don Giovanni had been. By late 1790, Mozart was in financial straits and his health deteriorated further. He wrote little of significance until January 1791: The Magic Flute. He began a Requiem Mass, which remained unfinished at his death on December 5. Among the most famous myths about Mozart's death is that he was poisoned by the Italian composer Antonio Salieri. The most likely theory is that he died from rheumatic fever. Mozart gave us a “picture of a better world” (Franz Schubert), and was, as the composer Rossini put it, “the only composer who had as much knowledge as genius and as much genius as knowledge.”