Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756, the son of a violinist at the court of the local Prince-Archbishop. His father, recognising early the boy’s extraordinary musical talents, proceeded to take him on performing tours throughout Europe so that he could be exposed to as wide a range of musical styles and cultural milieux as possible. By the age of 16 Mozart had visited England, Italy, France and Germany, had met many important musical and political figures, and had had three operas performed in Milan.
It was the sort of education he could never have gained in Salzburg; and, while the constant travelling may have contributed to his lifelong poor health, it was doubtless also a major factor in the formation of his cosmopolitan musical style.
Throughout the 1770s, however, Mozart was a member of the Salzburg orchestra. Growing frustration with his position led him to try his luck in Mannheim and Paris in 1777–8, but the trip brought only disappointment and within a few months he was back in Salzburg. A breakthrough of sorts came when a commission from Munich led to his first great opera, Idomeneo (1781), a work into which he poured all of the musical experience he had so far gained.
The year 1781 finally saw him break with Salzburg and move to the musically more sophisticated Vienna, where he embarked on the life of a freelance composer, pianist and teacher. At first he enjoyed considerable success, particularly as a pianist in his own concertos and with his lively comic opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (1782). There followed three of his greatest operatic masterpieces – The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (1790) – but by the time of the last his popularity had waned and he found himself seriously in debt. He died in December 1791, not long after the successful premiere of his final opera, The Magic Flute.
Profile by Lindsay Kemp © BBC