World Music Network worked closely with the independent British classical label, Hyperion Records on this project. This Rough Guide features a concise overview of Mozart’s life works. The over-done ‘greatest hits’ approach is avoided and the listener is given a fresh insight into the composer’s myriad styles. The bonus album entitled, Mozart String Quintets, features two complete works and allows the listener to explore the composer’s expert string-writing up close and in depth.

In the distinguished and still highly recommended 1980 edition of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Mozart is rightly described as ‘the most universal composer in the history of Western music’. A hugely prolific creative force, he composed in every conceivable musical genre of his time.

He wrote everything from arias of sweet innocence to outrageously bawdy canons; chamber music, sacred music, song, opera, concerto and symphony all number among his accomplishments. He was entirely at home writing for full orchestra, a cappella choir, string ensemble, harpsichord, fortepiano or for vast church organs. Mozart also didn’t shy away from challenging instrumental line-ups, such as an aria for bass voice and solo double bass. Whatever he scored for, Mozart managed to achieve unequalled heights of quality and beauty. That fact that he had such an unbelievably productive career in a life that lasted less than thirty-six short years is nothing less than astonishing.

Mozart was born in 1756 in Salzburg. The composer’s illustrious career started from a young age; before he had celebrated his tenth birthday, he had performed in Germany, Paris, London, Brussels and The Netherlands. By the time he turned 25, Mozart had already spent ten years touring Europe professionally. On such excursions the young virtuoso would perform tricks to entertain his audience. One such musical feat involved playing the piano with the keyboard entirely covered up. These adventures deeply influenced his character and, in turn, his emergent musical voice. He successfully overcame the ephemeral fate of a child prodigy and grew into a well-respected and mature musician. 

By 1781, Mozart had settled in Vienna. In the bustling musical city he worked as one of the first freelance artists, and to finance his career he gave piano lessons, organized subscription concerts and worked on a commission basis. With each project he experimented and eagerly pushed his original musical ideas to innovative horizons.

Popular myth portrays Mozart as a poor, sickly and lonesome man who persistently burned the candle from both ends. Indeed, he was an intensely passionate professional who always refused to settle for mediocrity in his performances and in his compositions. But a more realistic view of Mozart is of a pragmatic man, who loved his family dearly and sought out a secure income to support them. His letters show a man who was entirely obsessed with music. He thought of melody, harmony, rhythm and instrumentation at every waking moment – whilst eating, celebrating, playing billiards and even rehearsing. He adored folk songs and drew ideas from the sounds he encountered daily. From the chants of his canary bird to the cries of street vendors to the music of his contemporaries, Mozart was entirely stimulated and inspired by the world around him. His innate ability to instantly notate music by ear is the stuff of legend. Mozart was a true genius who carved out of simple sounds, music so beautiful that it continues to capture the hearts and ears of music lovers everywhere.