Whilst in Vienna, I’ve been able to visit the only surviving apartment where Mozart lived in that city, and to learn a little more about his life- which was so different from the two most common stereotypes – 1) the stuffy old person in a powdered wig, or 2) the crass and arrogant genius from the movie Amadeus.
Mozart died young, and in relatively difficult financial circumstances, and it was his death that led to a re-appreciation of his music and huge resurgence in his popularity as a composer.
In the truest sense of the word/s he was a rebel and a disruptor for his times – and he paid the price – suffering periods of great wealth, insolvency illness, depression, enthusiasm and volatility as a result, but never reducing his huge work ethic and output (he started “work” every morning at 5am). He was not the lazy, crazy genius portrayed in Amadeus – he worked HARD, and mastered almost every instrument of his time.
His talent was recognised at a very early age, and he was composing works from the age of six. He had a real stage parent for a father who pushed him very hard, and they travelled extensively so that Mozart could perform – and earn money for the family- as a child prodigy.
In Mozart’s time, the conventional path to success was to secure a patron, preferably at the royal court), but he didn’t want the limitations (or the relatively small salary) of life as a court composer, and so his patrons were more (so called) “minor” nobles, which also restricted his earning potential- but also changed the course of his life.
He also promoted and staged his own concerts and shows – at a time when supposedly only “gentlemen” of a certain social status could attend concerts – he made it more accessible – and by being his own promoter, he also made huge profits (which, it must be said, he wasn’t great at saving for a rainy day).
Some have described Mozart as the Elvis of his era – flamboyant, breaking the rules of music, and scandalising and dividing his audiences in the process.
A lot of people HATED his music – thinking it too complex and difficult to listen to, because it broke all the musical conventions of the time. For Mozart, imitation of others was for practice only. In his own music, he always tried to inject his own nuance, originally and personality: He didn’t want to do anything or be anything like anyone else- even though, had he just composed what was fashionable at the time, he would have been a much wealthier man!
Mozart did unfortunately have his own demons, especially in terms of addiction – alcohol and gambling. When you visit Mozart’s apartment in Domgasse 5, there is a list of his household expenses, which were outrageously extravagant and compare pretty well with Elton John’s lifestyle in the 1980s!
It’s also been suggested by musicologists, though, that Mozart needed to maintain a particular lifestyle in order to maintain the “appearances” that would enable him to maintain his patronages, connections and popularity: i.e.: he had to look like a confident “winner” and keep up with the “Jones’s” of his era to maintain his influence and visibility.
Either way, he died young, at 35. But his output was prodigious and changed the world of music forever.
If there are lessons from Mozart’s life that we can apply to the world of work in the 21st century, here are some thoughts:
- If you love what you do, and give your whole heart to it, it can be a joy and a not a prison. Despite the challenges he faced, Mozart was never a prisoner of his talent or his music – he loved it, was very social, had many friends (family members would complain that the house was too noisy when they came to visit!) and worked feverishly right up until the last day of his life;
- Talent does’t guarantee success. You still need supporters, connections and savvy. And there is a constant balancing act between doing what is easy/fashionable/popular and wanting to push yourself, your talent and your boundaries;
- Success takes WORK. Mozart was born with an unbelievable gift, but he still worked really hard at it- he studied all the composers of his day, learned to play most instruments- and learn learned the “rules” before he “broke” them;
- It’s important to be confident, but ego brings its own challenges and success – it’s important to find the right balance that propels you forward, but doesn’t drain your energy or tip you into the abyss of excess. That said, Vienna and Salzburg are DRENCHED in all things Mozart, and so much of it is kitsch of the highest order – from coffee tins, to chocolates to lego and everything else in between. Musicologists/Mozart enthusiasts that I have spoken to whilst I’ve been here say they think he would have LOVED it all;
- Recognition takes time, even if you’re supremely talented- sometimes you have to wait for the world to catch up.
And in closing, Mozart did also say “that to talk well and eloquently is a very great art, but…an equally great one is to know the right moment to stop”.
And so I shall! (At least for now).
Thank you for reading.