Happy birthday Mozart

Mozart is the most performed, the most mythologised, the most deconstructed, and the most popular of composers. He excelled in opera and in abstract genres such as the symphony and string quartet. He was an entertainer from his early childhood. His teenage works are playful and untroubled, but even here there are richer, subtler shades. In the Romantic age, his mature music was either patronised for its prettiness or idealised as the emblem of a lost musical Eden. Yet at the same time we have an image of him as a demonically driven, tragic figure.

Mozart grew up in a musical family; his father Leopold was a composer and noted violin teacher, and his older sister Marianne ('Nannerl') a gifted pianist. Leopold was ambitious for his son, but Mozart was a true wunderkind. He composed his first works, for harpsichord, when barely out of his cradle. On an extended European concert tour he was hailed as a child touched with divine powers. He wrote his earliest symphonies before he turned ten, perhaps with a little help from his father.

In 1768 his Missa solemnis K.139 was performed in front of the imperial court in Vienna. Already Mozart had a command of the elevated church style. Two years later, on the first of three Italian journeys, he received a prestigious commission for a serious opera, Mitridate, for the Milan carnival. It was triumphantly received and confirmed the 14-year-old as a master of the operatic style of the day.