Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Composer

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His times: In Mozart’s Austria, musicians were servants – usually employed in the service of an aristocratic family for the performance and provision of music for aristocratic consumption. Mozart’s impulsive creativity famously jarred against this feudal order, and in the long term he arguably helped to destroy it. For all its perfection, Mozart’s music would become increasingly complex, outspoken and restless as his life progressed; his late symphonies paved the way for Beethoven’s social and musical upheavals while his last opera, The Magic Flute, was written not for the court opera but a suburban pay-on-the-door theatre on the outskirts of Vienna.

His music: Mozart’s music is often so beguilingly beautiful that many musicians believe it flowed directly from a super-human source. Despite advancing music at its most complex frontiers (use of chromatics, symphonic argument and the structure of operatic ensembles and concertos), Mozart always valued simplicity; his distilled-sounding passages are often his most spiritually and intellectually resonant. An absorption of North-German rigour and Italian suavity formed in Mozart a propensity for ordered beauty, though much of his music was written at lightning speed and under duress. Mozart advanced every musical form to such an extent that he effectively placed a full-stop on the Classical era, prompting the search for a new aesthetic that would lead to Romanticism.

Himself: Even into his twenties and thirties Mozart was childish, obscene and volatile and displayed spectacularly bad business acumen. His life was frequently turbulent and painful, but seems to have lurched into periods of particular artistic richness at precisely the same points in time.

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