Wolfgang Amadeus grew up in a very musical household. His father, Johann Georg Leopold Mozart (Nov 14, 1719 – May 28, 1787) was a German composer, violinist and teacher. Born in Augsburg, Leopold sang as a choirboy at an early age. As a student, he acted in theatrical productions and later went on to become a skilled violinist and organist, although his parents had wished for him to pursue a future as a Catholic Priest.
In 1738, Leopold Mozart received a Bachelor of Philosophy. His professional career as a musician begun in 1740, at the age of 21, when he officially became a violinist and a canon’s valet. He also publicized the six Trio Sonatas, Opus 1 Sonate sei da chiesa e da camera and composed a series of German Passion cantatas. As the fourth violinist at the court of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, he composed and taught the choirboys of the cathedral. He was later promoted to second violinist. Leopold Mozart was especially fond of the Viola d’Amore, which he describes in his treatise as:
…a distinctive kind of fiddle which sounds especially charming in the stillness of the evening.
It is indicated by scholars that even though he had a hard time furthering his career, he was a successful pedagogue. He wrote a treatise setting forth his methods of teaching called Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, which was published in 1756, the year of Wolfgang’s birth. It was translated into Dutch and French. Leopold was further promoted to become court composer (1757) and later vice chapelmaster (1762).
Together with Anna Maria Pertl, whom he married in 1747, Leopold had seven children of which only two survived past infancy. Wolfgang’s older sister Maria Anna Wallburga Ignatia, was referred to as Nannerl. When she was seven, Leopold begun giving her keyboard lessons and he immediately noticed her musical talent. Little Wolfgang quickly imitated his older sister and made quick progress. By 1763, Leopold started taking his family on highly publicized concert tours around Europe, performing for both aristocracy and public. Nannerl was by then an accomplished clavierist and at the age of six, Wolfgang perfomed his and others’ difficult compositions on various instruments. Leopold is said to have referred to Wolfgang as:
The miracle which God let be born in Salzburg.
In his later days, Leopold focused all his attention on educating his children and no longer composed music of his own. He never manged to advance past his vice-kapellmeister position at Salzburg. Once Wolfgang left home, Leopold spent a lot of time assisting and supporting Nannerl. He encouraged and looked after her even after she married and moved away from home. Nannerl’s first son was raised by Leopold until his death in May 1787.
Wolfgang left home for Vienna in 1781, however, his father strongly opposed the move and wished for him to return to Salzburg. Over the years, the two had many disagreements, but a letter from Wolfgang to his friend Gottfried von Jacquin at the time of his death reads:
I inform you that on returning home today I received the sad news of my beloved father’s death. You can imagine the state I am in.
Some of Leopold’s work includes Cessation in G for orchestra and toys and Sacrament Litany in D.
To learn more about Mozart’s life, watch the documentary Mozart’s Decoded.