Born in Salzburg, Austria. Mozart represents one of the great peaks in the history of music. His works, written in almost every conceivable genre, combine luminous beauty of sound with classical grace and technical perfection.
A remarkable prodigy, Mozart was taught to play the harpsichord, violin, and organ by his father, Leopold, and began composing before he was five. When Mozart was six, he and his older sister, Marianne, were presented by their father in concerts at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna and in the principal aristocratic households of central Europe, Paris, and London. His progress as a composer was amazing; by the age of 13 he had written concertos, sonatas, symphonies, a German operetta, Bastien und Bastienne (1768), and an Italian opera buffa, La finta semplice (1769). During a tour in Italy (1768–71) he absorbed Italian style, received great acclaim for his concerts in Rome and other major cities, and successfully produced his opera Mitridate, re di Ponto (1770).
In 1771 Mozart was appointed concertmaster to the archbishop of Salzburg. However, he was dissatisfied with his position and the restrictions placed on his work, and after six years he went on tour in search of a better post. He traveled with his mother, visiting numerous cities, including Munich, Mannheim (where he fell in love briefly with the singer Aloysia Weber), and Paris. Despite the successful performance in Paris of his Symphony in D (1778), known as the Paris Symphony, Mozart did not receive much attention there.
After resuming his post at Salzburg in 1779, Mozart composed Idomeneo (1781) for the Bavarian court. One of the best examples of 18th-century opera seria, it marks the first opera of Mozart's maturity. In the year of its production he resigned from the archbishop's service and moved to Vienna, where in 1782 he married Constanze Weber, the sister of Aloysia. Financial difficulties beset him almost immediately, since he was unable to secure a suitable position and had to earn his living by teaching and giving public concerts.
In Vienna, Mozart met Haydn, and the two developed a long and warm friendship that benefited the work of each. Mozart's six string quartets (1782–85) dedicated to Haydn are testimony of his influence. Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio, 1782), a singspiel combining songs and German dialogue, brought Mozart some success.
The Viennese court opera was dominated by Italian tradition, and in his next operas Mozart turned to the style of the Italian opera buffa. With the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte he created the comic masterpiece Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro, 1786), which, after a lukewarm reception in Vienna, became a sensation in Prague. From that city also came the commission that resulted in Don Giovanni (1787). Although it has come to be regarded as one of the most brilliant operas ever written, it was considered rather difficult by his public, which preferred his more frivolous works.
At the death of Gluck (1787), Mozart succeeded him as chamber musician and court composer to Joseph II. His salary was far less than Gluck's had been, however, and his financial troubles persisted to the end of his life. An example of the elegant pieces written for social occasions at this time is the famous serenade for strings, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1787).
In the space of three months in 1788 Mozart composed his last three symphonies—No. 39 in E Flat, No. 40 in G Minor, and No. 41 in C, called the Jupiter Symphony; they all display a complete mastery of classical symphonic form as established by Haydn. In 1789 Mozart traveled to Berlin, where he was presented to King Frederick William II. Mozart's last three string quartets (1789–90) were written for the king, an accomplished cellist. Returning to Vienna, Mozart composed his clarinet quintet (1789); his last opera buffa, Così fan tutte (1790), and his last piano concerto, the Piano Concerto in B Flat (1791).
In Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791), with libretto by the actor Emmanuel Schikaneder, Mozart returned to the German opera in the singspiel, bringing this form of light musical entertainment to a height of lyrical and symbolic art. Its composition was interrupted by a commission from a wealthy nobleman for a requiem mass and by the composition of La Clemenza di Tito (1791), an opera seria for the coronation of Leopold II as king of Bohemia.
After the production of Die Zauberflöte, Mozart worked feverishly on the requiem, with the foreboding that it would commemorate his own death. He died at the age of 35 without finishing it; the work was completed by his pupil Franz Süssmayr. A thematic catalog of Mozart's works was made by Ludwig von Köchel and published in 1862; an edition revised by Alfred Einstein appearing in 1937. Mozart's works are usually identified by their numbers in this list.
Mozart's father Leopold, 1719–87, besides being the teacher and promoter of his famous son, was a capable composer and author of A Treatise on the Fundamental Problems of Violin Playing (1756; tr. 1951), of interest today as a record of 18th-century musical practice.