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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a prodigious and prolific composer (more than 600 works) who lived in Austria in the second half of the 18th century. This child prodigy played clavier at age 3 and composed his first piece, a minuet and trio for piano, at age 6. By that age, when his father took him on his first concert tour through the courts of Europe, he was accomplished on clavier, violin and organ, and in sight-reading music and improvising. He composed music for piano, string quartets, symphonies and orchestra.

Although he was not influenced as today’s musicians are, bombarded by music from around the world via technology, he was guided by a musical father, Leopold, traveled extensively throughout Europe, and was shaped by his peers and the musicians who preceded him.


Thus, although he was a complete original, Mozart’s work can also be viewed as a culmination of the art of the European renaissance.

Elites across Europe rediscovered Greek literature and Roman literature in the 12th century, eventually leading to the humanist movement in the 14th century. As they re-read and re-interpreted Greek and Roman ideas, social changes toppled emperors and supported secular rulers. As wealth accumulated in towns and economic-based class systems evolved, a broader public audience emerged and these scholars considered individuals’ significance within society. These changes, referred to generally as the Renaissance and roughly covering the period from 1400-1600, were reflected in the arts and sciences, as well.

Artists broke with medieval traditions and brought arts out of the churches and cathedrals. As Harris notes, Mozart was surprised when he visited Prague for the premiere of Don Giovanni to find people in the streets singing numbers from Figaro — a year and a half after that opera was performed there. The use of mathematics and geometry in art exemplified the new merging of art and science that was a major characteristic of the Renaissance. Renaissance musicians played with the musical form. At the beginning of the 14th century, the most popular music was French and secular. It spread across Europe and flourished in Italy.

The principle of polyphonic (multivoice) and contrapunctal music evolved. Composers played with pieces that hinged on the interplay of two melodic lines, often performed by a lute-violist and a singer. In his masses, chansons, and motets, French composer Josquin Desprez was one of the first to use repetition of melodies successfully in a composition. Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrinaalso used cantus firmus in primarily religious music, weaving melodies around a main melody.

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