As far as I’m concerned, Mozart the child genius is a perfectly wonderful thing, not as amazing as some would have it, but definitely up there with the great prodigies.
The Mozart who absolutely astonishes and inspires me, though, is the guy from age 33-35. In those three years, he was
- Terminally ill
- Shut out, for political reasons, from virtually all the professional opportunities available to a composer of his day
- Racing around Vienna to teach piano lessons to uninterested children in their homes
- Deeply in debt and begging for loans from friends and acquaintances
- Supporting a wife and two toddlers (with four children having died in the previous eight years)
In other words, his life was about as grim as it gets. Meanwhile, what was he composing?
- The clarinet concerto
- The last piano concerto
- Two piano sonatas
- Three string quartets
- Two string quintets
- The clarinet quintet
- Two cantatas
- Dozens of songs and other vocal works
- Dozens of occasional dances for orchestra
- Several pieces for mechanical instruments
- Orchestrations for at least three Handel oratorios
- Cosi fan tutte
- Die Zauberflöte
- La clemenza di Tito
- The Requiem
In other words, in three perfectly dreadful years, more music than some composers write in a lifetime, and enough masterpieces to make the healthiest and most comfortable composer proud.
That’s the Mozart I celebrate: the Mozart who makes all of my excuses for why I don’t compose more music — and better music — thoroughly embarrassing. The Mozart who makes my complaints about the fact that I don’t get more acclaim for my work seem trivial. The Mozart who showed us that our bleakest moments can be transformed into our most ravishing insights.
Happy quarter-millennium, Wolfi.