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Why we all love Mozart, 250 years on...

Even those who profess to be a cultural ignoramus can hum a Mozart tune -- such as the nursery rhyme "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star".

india Updated: Jan 18, 2006 13:36 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Music lovers across the globe are getting ready to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, one of the best-loved composers the world has ever known.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, with Europe's royal dynasties feuding on the eve of the Seven Years' War, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg on January 27, 1756.

By the age of three he was playing the keyboard, at five he wrote his first composition and when he died at 35, he left behind a prodigious body of some 630 works including 41 symphonies and 27 piano concertos.

Today, despite more than two centuries of human scientific, intellectual and cultural achievements, Mozart's work has transcended the vagaries of changing taste and fashion to remain as popular and alluring as ever.

Even those who profess to be a cultural ignoramus can hum a Mozart tune -- such as the nursery rhyme "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" (he wrote the music, the words were added later) -- while many a person unknowingly has a Mozart composition as a ringtone on their mobile phone.

Babies today are played Mozart's compositions to stimulate their intellectual development, and when Voyager 1 took off for the edge of the solar system in 1977, it was carrying a recording of Mozart's "Magic Flute" among other examples of music from Earth.

"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," says Genevieve Geffray, curator at the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation.

Mozart's genius showed itself early. His father Leopold, himself a musician and composer, nurtured his son's talent and took him on a series of tours to royal courts across Europe in 1761 when the child was only six.

Such tours became common during the Romantic era but in Mozart's time they were rare and gruelling, with Leopold and the two children travelling thousands of miles on bumpy roads in their horse-drawn coach.

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

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

He lived off teachings and commissions, and during the last ten years of his life he was to write some of his greatest works, including the 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 said.

He was to die in dire financial straits with the Requiem, his final work, left unfinished.

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 by Milos Forman "Amadeus" presented the world with an image of Mozart as a crude braggart with a puerile, sniggering sense of humour.

Today this has led to speculation that he may have suffered from the neurodevelopment 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," says Geffray.

"That was just one part of his personality, not the whole Mozart."

First Published: Jan 18, 2006 13:36 IST