Hear the Pieces Mozart Composed When He Was Only Five Years Old

A preter­nat­u­ral­ly tal­ent­ed, pre­co­cious child, bare­ly out of tod­dler­hood, in pow­dered wig and knee-breech­es, caper­ing around the great hous­es of 18th cen­tu­ry Europe between vir­tu­oso per­for­mances on the harp­si­chord. A young boy who can play any piece any­one puts in front of him, and com­pose sym­phonies extem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly with ease…. Few scenes bet­ter cap­ture the mythos of the child prodi­gy than those report­ed from the child­hood of Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart.

If Milos Forman’s Amadeus is any reli­able guide to his char­ac­ter, if not his his­to­ry, Mozart may nev­er have lost his boy­ish charm and exu­ber­ance, but his musi­cal abil­i­ty seemed to mature expo­nen­tial­ly as he com­posed hun­dreds of sonatas, quar­tets, con­cer­tos, and operas, end­ing with the Requiem, an aston­ish­ing piece of work by any mea­sure, despite remain­ing unfin­ished in the year of his death, 1791, at the age of 35.

While those fever­ish scenes of Requiem’s com­po­si­tion in Forman’s film may be ten­u­ous­ly attached to the truth, the sto­ries of Mozart the preschool and boy­hood genius are well attest­ed. Not only did he play with unbe­liev­able skill for “emper­ors and empress­es in the courts of Europe,” but “by the time he was six he had com­posed dozens of remark­able pieces for the key­board as well as for oth­er instru­ments,” notes Willard Palmer in an intro­duc­tion to Mozart’s most pop­u­lar works. “His first efforts at com­po­si­tion began when he was only four years old.”

He com­posed sev­er­al short pieces the fol­low­ing year, and you can hear them all per­formed above. At the Mor­gan Library’s site you can also see a scanned man­u­script image of four of those com­po­si­tions, writ­ten in Mozart’s father’s hand. Leopold Mozart—the dri­ving stage-parental force, as we know, behind Wolfgang’s child­hood career as a tour­ing marvel—notated these first attempts, cred­it­ing them to “Wolf­gangerl,” in what is known as the Nan­nerl Note­book, from the nick­name of Mozart’s old­er sis­ter, Maria Anna.

Leopold, Kapellmeis­ter of the Salzburg court orches­tra, rec­og­nized not only Wolfgang’s musi­cal tal­ents, but also those of Nan­nerl, and he devot­ed his time to over­see­ing both his children’s train­ing. For sad­ly obvi­ous rea­sons, the elder Mozart did not con­tin­ue to per­form, and the note­book named for her does not con­tain any of her com­po­si­tions, only Leopold’s exer­cis­es for the chil­dren and her broth­er’s first orig­i­nal work. In addi­tion to Mozart’s ear­li­est pieces, it may also con­tain music com­posed by him at 7 or 8 years old—more exten­sive works that might, says Mozar­teum researcher Ulrich Leisinger, bridge the short, sim­ple first pieces and his first major com­po­si­tions.

Nonethe­less, we have dozens of Mozart’s com­po­si­tions through­out his child­hood and teenage years. Sev­er­al of those ear­li­er pieces come from the so-called Lon­don Note­book, a sketch­book kept dur­ing Mozart’s time in Eng­land between 1764–65. Here, writes Ele­na Abend, we find him “extend­ing his musi­cal themes com­pared to his ear­li­er com­po­si­tions.” And yet the music “almost always has a play­ful­ness about it.” It’s a qual­i­ty that nev­er left Mozart’s work, exclud­ing the awe­some Requiem, of course, but then this final mas­ter­work was com­plet­ed by oth­er com­posers, none of them with Mozart’s light­ness of spir­it, which we can trace all the way back to that first piece, “a court­ly lit­tle com­po­si­tion.” Writes Abend, “grace­ful­ness is essen­tial in per­form­ing the piece.”

via Cmuse

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read an 18th-Cen­tu­ry Eye­wit­ness Account of 8‑Year-Old Mozart’s Extra­or­di­nary Musi­cal Skills

New­ly Dis­cov­ered Piece by Mozart Per­formed on His Own Fortepi­ano

Hear All of Mozart in a Free 127-Hour Playlist

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness


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  • JOSEP NEWELL says:

    How any­one could believe that stu­pid movie of Fore­man could
    describe near­ly close t life of Mozart t biggest musi­cal genius on his­to­ry it respond to t appe­tence of peo­ple to
    know t “human” I’d say t most vul­gar & ordi­nary side of t biggest human beings on his­to­ry maybe to feel in some way
    more equal to them Noth­ing on it is real­ly truth is built
    on assump­tions, t ones t peo­ple likes to hear

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