- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2006

PARIS — Try to imagine a world without Mozart. What a desolate place that would be, empty of the joyous, graceful melodies from piano sonatas to lullabies that have passed into our collective consciousness.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, as Europe’s feuding royal dynasties were about to embark on the Seven Years’ War, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg on Jan. 27, 1756.

By age 3, he was playing on a keyboard, and by 5, he had written his first composition. When this child prodigy died at 35 in Vienna, he left behind a prodigious body of some 630 works, including 41 symphonies and 27 piano concertos.

Despite more than two centuries of human scientific, intellectual and cultural achievements, Mozart has transcended the vagaries of changing tastes and fashions to remain perhaps the best-loved composer of classical music.

Even those who profess to be cultural ignoramuses can hum a Mozart tune — such as the nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (he wrote the tune; the words were added later) — while many unknowingly have a Mozart composition as a ring tone on their mobile phones.

Babies are played Mozart’s complex compositions to stimulate their intellectual development, and when Voyager 1 took off for the edge of the solar system in 1977, it was carrying in its time capsule a recording of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” among other examples of Earth music.

“Mozart’s music has a mysterious quality which speaks to everyone. It speaks as much to people who know nothing about music and seduces them, as well as to musicologists,” explains Genevieve Geffray, curator at the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation.

Mozart’s genius appears even to have been hinted from birth; his middle name, Amadeus, means “beloved of God.”

However, it was his father, Leopold, himself a musician with a court orchestra, who recognized and nurtured his son’s incredible talent from a very early age.

In 1761, Leopold decided it was time to introduce his young son and his talented elder daughter, Nannerl (Maria Anna), to the public, and they embarked on a series of tours to royal courts, including in Milan, Naples, Munich, Paris and Vienna.

Such tours were to become common later during the Romantic era, but in Mozart’s time, they were rare and grueling. Leopold and the two children traveled thousands of miles on bumpy roads in their coach and horses.

Mozart “went to meet some of the best musicians of his time, and in this he was one of the first great Europeans,” Miss Geffray says.

In 1781, Mozart, by then a young man, opted to settle in Vienna. Against his father’s wishes, he married Constanze Weber, with whom he had six children, two of whom survived.

He lived off teachings and commissions, and during the last 10 years of his life, he was to write some of his greatest works, including his operas “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Cosi Fan Tutte” and “The Magic Flute.”

“Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music,” Mozart once said.

He was to die in dire financial straits, with his last work “The Requiem,” commissioned by an anonymous stranger, unfinished. The family was forced to hire another composer to complete it.

Despite his musical legacy, the many unresolved questions surrounding Mozart make it hard to separate the man from the myth.

The 1984 box-office hit “Amadeus,” by Milos Forman, presented the world with an image of Mozart as a crude braggart with a puerile, sniggering sense of humor.

This has led to unconfirmed speculation that he may have suffered from the neurodevelopmental disorder Tourette’s syndrome.

“In the 19th century, he was considered a cherub; they made a saint out of him. And then with the Forman film, the public at large discovered a human being with all his impulses and his problems, rude-speaking and writing vulgarities to his cousin,” Miss Geffray says. “That was just one part of his personality, not the whole Mozart.”

Whatever the composer’s true nature, the world is preparing to honor and celebrate his musical legacy during the 250th anniversary of his birth this year, and many agree none can compare with him.

“Mozart’s music is so beautiful as to entice angels down to Earth,” the German poet Franz Alexander von Kleist, a Mozart contemporary, once wrote.

Even other renowned composers have bowed to Mozart’s outstanding talent.

“Mozart is the highest, the culminating point that beauty has attained in the sphere of music,” 19th-century Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchai-kovsky said.

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