Who was Mozart Anyway?

In January, the Jacksonville Symphony performs its first ever Midwinter Mozart Festival. Never before has the orchestra celebrated the works of one single composer with three consecutive weekends of incredible music. But who was Mozart anyway?
The man, the myth, the legend. If there is one name that is universally associated with classical music, even among musical novices, it is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We all may be familiar with the overdramatized character portrayed in Hollywood’s Amadeus. Cinematic exaggeration aside, it remains a fact that one man, born centuries ago, has become ingrained in today’s culture: whether a patron of pop, rock, hip-hop, rap, country or classical, most will be able to peg Mozart as a man with a funny wig and a writer of classical music.
Let’s start from the very beginning: Mozart was born in 1756 in Salzburg, Austria. Although known as one of the most prolific composers of all time, he may also be known as having had one of the longest names. He was baptized Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart – quite a mouthful. It wasn’t until later that he changed his name to Amadeus, a Latin version of one of his middle names.
By most standards, Mozart could be considered a boy genius. Born into a musical family, he showed an incredible affinity for music from a very young age. His father was also a talented musician and remained an important figure throughout Mozart’s life. The young prodigy was composing music by the age of five; became a fine keyboardist and violinist by the age of six; a published composer by the age of seven, and wrote his first opera by the age of twelve. For most of us, just managing even one of these could take many additional years and multiple degrees.
We know he was talented beyond his years, but what was he like? Most assumptions made about Mozart’s personality are garnered from letters written by the composer to friends, family and professional acquaintances. Was Hollywood’s representation accurate? All exaggeration must start somewhere. Mozart was sometimes known to have a somewhat inappropriate sense of humor, pull pranks on his friends and, in general, have a good time. He was known to act childishly and struggled with maintaining his finances throughout his life. It is also quite possible that he was a little bit of a procrastinator; a trait many of us may have some experience with. The story goes that the overture to Don Giovanni, arguably his most popular opera, was written the morning of its performance!
Yet, regardless of a personality that may be considered borderline immature, he was also a man who loved his wife. “Without my Constanze I cannot be happy and merry,” he said. He had many friends, including fellow composer Joseph Haydn, and traveled often.
The fact of the matter is the music of Mozart continues to capture our attention. In his short life of thirty-five years, Mozart managed to bring us six-hundred and twenty-six works of art (that includes roughly twenty-one stage and opera works, fifteen masses and more than fifty symphonies). Considering he wasn’t composing for five of those years, imagine what he might have been able to accomplish had he lived another thirty-five years! He was a source of inspiration for composers who followed, including Ludwig van Beethoven.
Knowing all of this, it is quite fitting that the Jacksonville Symphony chose to honor this miraculous composer with The Midwinter Mozart Festival, which continues through the end of January. If you can’t make it, there will be a performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter,” in the spring.
Even though the season has started, there are still plenty of opportunities to discover where the music will take you! For more information, visit JaxSymphony.org for event details, program notes and information about guest artists.

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