Welcome to The Independent’s new ebook series The Great Composers, covering fourteen of the giants of Western classical music.
Extracted from Michael Steen’s book The Lives and Times of the Great Composers, these concise guides, selected by The Independent’s editorial team, explore the lives of composers as diverse as Mozart and Puccini, reaching from Bach to Brahms, set against the social, historical and political forces which affected them, to give a rounded portrait of what it was like to be alive and working as a musician at that time.
In this ebook Steen describes the packed life of one of the greatest composers who ever lived, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In his short life of almost 36 years, music poured from his pen. Symphonies, concertos, masses, chamber music tumbled out of him. By the age of fourteen he had already completed a staggering four operas, although it is for the later ones that he is revered as one of the greatest operatic composers ever. Yet the beauty of his instrumental music alone would have guaranteed his place in the pantheon of great composers.
Born in 1756, in Salzburg, Austria, he was, famously, the infant prodigy whose cash flow potential had to be maximised before he grew up and ceased to be a novelty. The relentless touring he undertook as a small child – Munich and Vienna, a three-and-a-half-year trip to Paris and London, and trips to Italy – gave way to an adulthood where he was endlessly seeking a job and patronage in a perpetual struggle to make ends meet. Steen traces Mozart's poignant progression through an age of back-biting courtiers when a composer could not hope to make his own way without bowing and scraping to the political elite, and his genius, incomprehensible as it may seem to us now, too often went unremarked.