13 Facts About Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Illustration by Mental Floss. Mozart, music: Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Background: iStock.
Illustration by Mental Floss. Mozart, music: Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Background: iStock.

A genius composer turned pop culture icon, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote more than 600 musical works and influenced other maestros like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. He continues to inspire everyone from film directors to computer scientists today. Here are some things you might not know about the famous child prodigy.

1. MOZART'S FATHER THRUST HIM INTO THE MUSIC BUSINESS.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria on January 27, 1756, to his mother Anna Maria and his father Leopold Mozart, who was a composer and music teacher at Salzburg Cathedral. Little Wolfgang and his older sister Maria Anna were taught to play the clavier (a stringed keyboard instrument) from a young age. Both children showed immense musical talent. By the time he was 4 years old, Mozart could learn a song on the clavier in just 30 minutes.

2. MOZART HUNG OUT WITH A YOUNG MARIE ANTOINETTE.

When he was 6, Mozart's family was performing at royal courts, and he began to perform concerts himself. At the Habsburg summer residence outside Vienna, Mozart met Archduchess Marie Antoinette, who was two months his senior. It’s said that she helped Mozart when he slipped on a polished floor. In return, he proposed marriage to the future queen of France. The experience in Vienna would lead to the beginning of a wildly successful tour across Europe that stopped at dozens of cities and royal courts between 1763 and 1766.

3. HE WROTE HIS FIRST OPERA AT 11.

Mozart took in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Versailles, and more as he traveled with his family. At one concert in Munich, Mozart and his sister played together for three straight hours, and they wowed audiences everywhere they went. While playing a series of concerts in Paris, Mozart published his first piece of music: a violin sonata in five parts. He was 8.

At age 11, he wrote his first true opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus. A series of tours of Italian cities beginning in December 1769 confirmed Mozart's preternatural talent. He was commissioned to write operas for Milan's carnival, was admitted to Bologna's prestigious Accademia Filarmonica, and directed the first three performances of his opera Mitridate, rè di Ponto. At 15, he wrote that he was hearing whole operas “at home in my head.” Mozart later admitted to feeling “as proud as a peacock” about his fame.

4. HIS EARLY TRIUMPHS DIDN'T LAST—AND THEN HIS FATHER BLAMED HIM FOR HIS MOTHER'S DEATH.

After the Italian tours, Mozart returned to Salzburg and began composing for the court of its new ruler, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo, but the work was unchallenging. In 1778, Mozart's ever-ambitious father sent him to Paris with an order to “put yourself in the company of the great.” But now, Mozart was 22 and no longer the boy wonder who hung out with Marie Antoinette on his three-year European tour. He was an adult musician with “a plain, pockmarked face” who could barely speak French.

Left out of high society and running out of money, Mozart and his mother, who was chaperoning him, holed up in a cold and dilapidated hotel in the 2nd arrondissement. His mother fell ill with a fever, and she died on July 3, 1778 at the age of 57. Mozart was all alone, and too scared to tell his father what had happened to his mother. Instead, he got his friend, Abbé Bullinger, to tell him the news. Leopold Mozart ended up blaming his son for her death, believing that if his mother hadn't accompanied him to Paris, things would have turned out differently.

5. HE KIND OF HATED WORKING IN SALZBURG.

Following the Paris stay, Mozart went back to Salzburg to live with his father and sister via Strasbourg (where he played three poorly attended concerts), Mannheim, Munich, and Augsburg. At home, he found a job as a court organist, but wasn't happy. He wanted more for himself, once writing, “to waste one’s life in inactivity in such a beggarly place is really very sad.” The worst part of staying in Salzburg was dealing with the stinginess of his patron, von Colloredo, who wanted him to compose only music meant for the local church. Despite his difficulties during this period, Mozart nevertheless wrote two important compositions, Symphony No. 32 in G Major (K318) and Symphony No. 33 in B Flat Major (K319).

6. HE MOVED TO VIENNA IN 1781, AND HIS LIFE CHANGED DRAMATICALLY.

In Vienna, the Age of Enlightenment was in full swing. Nights in the capital belonged to the wealthy, who attended the finest masked balls and operas. Starting off as a freelance musician with just one student, Mozart worked his way into the heart of Viennese social life, propelled by the popular appeal of his piano concertos and symphonies. One biographer noted that audiences for his piano concertos had the experience of “witnessing the transformation and perfection of a major musical genre.”

Soon, Mozart could be seen going about town in gold-trimmed hats and red coats with mother-of-pearl buttons. A year after moving to Vienna, he married the soprano Constanze Weber. They had their first child in 1783—a boy named Raimund Leopold.

7. HE INSISTED HIS CHILDREN SHOULDN'T BE BREAST-FED.

He wrote, “I was quite determined that even if she were able to do so, my wife was never to nurse her child. Yet I was equally determined that my child was never to take the milk of a stranger. I wanted the child to be brought up on water, like my sister and myself.”

Feeding infants on barley water instead of milk was common practice among the middle classes at the time. Mozart did eventually give in to his midwife's and mother-in-law's pleas to have a wet nurse breastfeed the child, but unfortunately, Raimund died two months after he was born. Only two of Mozart’s six children survived infancy.

8. MOZART HAD A PET STARLING.

Starlings are amazing mimics, and the one Mozart brought home from a Vienna pet shop on May 27, 1784 had been singing a movement from one of the composer’s pure, bright songs—the Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major (K453).

Mozart’s starling was his constant companion. It was there for the composer’s move to a ritzy Vienna apartment in the Domgasse, just steps from St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It was there for the birth of two more sons, Karl Thomas Mozart and Johann Thomas Leopold, and the subsequent death of Johann a month after he was born. It witnessed Mozart achieving real fame for his symphonies and arias.

9. HE DIDN'T ATTEND HIS FATHER'S FUNERAL.

Around a week after Mozart’s father died on May 28, 1787, his pet starling passed away. Mozart didn’t go back to Salzburg for his father’s funeral, but he did bury his starling in the grandest way. Mourners in heavy veils marched in procession, sang hymns, and listened to Mozart recite a poem he’d written for the occasion. By a tiny graveside, the world’s greatest composer spoke with love of his starling “gay and bright” who was “not naughty, quite” [PDF].

10. HIS MUSIC SPANNED EVERY FORM AND STYLE OF HIS TIME.

From chamber music like Serenade No. 13 in G Major (K525), a.k.a. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, to beloved operas such as The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and Così fan Tutte, Mozart's compositions redefined many forms of music: symphonies and concertos, harmonie-music for wind instruments, chamber music for string quartets, sonatas for the piano, masses, and choral and church music. All were parts of his oeuvre.

What makes Mozart’s work so revolutionary? Romantic composer Johannes Brahms noted the exceptional “purity” of his music. To the American composer Leonard Bernstein, Mozart’s works were “bathed in a glitter that could have come only from the 18th century, from that age of light, lightness, and enlightenment … over it all hovers the greater spirit that is Mozart’s—the spirit of compassion, of universal love, even of suffering—a spirit that knows no age, that belongs to all ages.”

Or, in the words of playwright Arthur Miller, “Mozart is happiness before it has gotten defined.”

11. MOZART'S LAST COMPOSITION REMAINED UNFINISHED.

His final commissioned piece was Requiem Mass In D Minor (K626). Mozart died before it was finished, but his student, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, completed the work and delivered it to Austria’s Count Franz von Walsegg, who had commissioned the piece to memorialize his deceased wife. It’s believed that von Walsegg intended to pass the mass off as his own. That plan was scuppered by Constanze, who let it be known that it was, in fact, Mozart who had received the commission and that she was due a fee for the work.

12. THE REASON FOR HIS EARLY DEATH PROBABLY WASN'T POISON.

Mozart died when was 35 years old, on December 5, 1791. The coroner reported the cause as “severe miliary fever,” but a rumor suggested he had been poisoned by Antonio Salieri—an influential opera composer and an exceptional musician who taught Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Liszt. The rumor became entrenched in pop culture largely due to Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play Amadeus and the subsequent Academy Award-winning 1984 film adaptation. But the gossip was seen as baseless back in the 18th century, having stemmed from a false report of poisoning in a Berlin newspaper a week after the composer passed away. The real cause behind Mozart’s early death is likely much less nefarious. It was probably a fatal strep infection.

13. HIS MUSIC AND LIFE ARE STILL WIDELY CELEBRATED.

Named one of the “Greatest People of the Millennium” by TIME, Mozart’s fame has only grown since his death 226 years ago. New York City hosts the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center for a month every summer; Salzburg celebrates with an 11-day birthday party for the composer every January. In fact, an impressive percentage of Salzburg’s economy is built on Mozart tourism, with everything from Mozart keychains to t-shirts to chocolate-marzipan Mozart balls for sale in the city’s historic Old Town.

21 Far Out Facts About Dazed and Confused

Criterion Collection
Criterion Collection

Since its 1993 release, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused has gone on to become a cultural landmark. On the 25th anniversary of the film's release, we encourage you to find the nearest paddle, toss on some Foghat, and enjoy these 21 Dazed and Confused facts you might not have known.

1. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE FLOP.

It might be hard to believe now, but Dazed and Confused was a turkey at the box office, making just short of $8 million (on a $6.9 million budget). Of course, the film has gone on to have lasting financial legs, selling big on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray. The soundtrack also eventually went double platinum (back when soundtracks did that kind of thing).

2. A HUGE CHUNK OF THE BUDGET WENT TOWARD SECURING RIGHTS TO TUNES.

Speaking of the film's soundtrack: What would Dazed and Confused be without timeless classic rock tunes like Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”? Knowing that music was absolutely vital to the film, Richard Linklater spent a whopping one-sixth of the film’s budget on securing the necessary music rights.

3. THE TITLE IS A REFERENCE TO THE LED ZEPPELIN SONG, BUT IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT BOOZE AND DRUGS.

According to Linklater via an interview with Dazed Magazine (no relation), while the title is lifted from the Led Zeppelin song of the same name, it’s actually meant to accompany the idea that “it takes a full decade to process your teenage years.” Unfortunately, Linklater wasn’t able to secure rights to any of Zeppelin’s music for the film, as the band wasn’t interested in licensing their music for movies at the time.

4. IT'S ONE OF QUENTIN TARANTINO'S ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIES.

In surveys conducted by Sight & Sound magazine in 2002 and 2012, Tarantino included Dazed and Confused alongside classics like Taxi Driver; The Great Escape; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; and Carrie as one of his 12 all-time favorite movies. Tarantino also spoke about the film when it was honored at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards in 2013, calling it “maybe the only movie that three different generations of college students have seen multiple times.”

5. LOTS OF FUTURE STARS WERE TURNED DOWN FOR ROLES.

According to casting director Don Phillips, “every actor in [Los Angeles] wanted to be in it.” Claire Danes, Elizabeth Berkley, Ashley Judd, Brendan Fraser, Jon Favreau, and Vince Vaughn were all considered for roles, but didn’t make the cut. (Vaughn was in the running for the role of Fred O'Bannion, who was ultimately played by Ben Affleck.)

6. A CHANCE MEETING LED TO MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY GETTING CAST.

Before he was an Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey was just another University of Texas graduate with a film degree aspiring to be a director, with small roles in a beer commercial and a music video on his acting resume. He landed the role of David Wooderson after a drunken chance meeting with casting director Don Phillips, which ended with the two getting kicked out of an Austin bar. He then nabbed the role following a now-infamous audition.

7. TO HELP GET HIS ACTORS INTO CHARACTER, LINKLATER GAVE EACH ONE OF THEM HIS OR HER OWN MIXTAPE.

In Maxim's 2013 oral history of the film, actor Jason London (Randall "Pink" Floyd) recalled that, “'[Linklater] said, ‘Don’t listen to anything but this music.’ We had to morph into living as if we were in ’76.”

8. THE CASTING DIRECTOR WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER TEENAGE CLASSIC.

Dazed and Confused wasn’t the first time Phillips had been charged with discovering an ensemble of future stars. He was also the casting director for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which featured early-career appearances by Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, and Nicolas Cage, among others.

9. THE CAST INCLUDED ONE FUTURE STAR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED.

One of the reasons why Dazed and Confused has become near-mythic is in the amount of future Generation X acting successes it caught in its crosshairs. The massive cast includes pre-fame turns from Milla Jovovich, Anthony Rapp, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, and Parker Posey, alongside many more faces that are highly recognizable in 2018. One future Oscar-winner you might have missed, however, is Renée Zellweger, who pops up as an uncredited extra. (That's her in the blue and red striped tank top in the clip above; she walks by at the :45 mark.)

10. WOODERSON WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A MUCH SMALLER PART.

McConaughey's now-signature character was originally only supposed to have a few lines, but Wooderson got more screen time when one of the hired actors had some trouble fitting in with the rest of the cast. This resulted in Wooderson getting written into the scene on the football field, which is where he gave his “Just keep livin’” speech. The lines were inspired by a conversation between McConaughey and Linklater about the passing of McConaughey’s father during the first few days of filming.

11. UNBEKNOWNST TO RICHARD LINKLATER AND MCCONAUGHEY, THE TWO SHARED A SURPRISING BOND.

In a 2015 interview on WTF with Marc Maron, Linklater revealed that his dad and McConaughey's father played football together at the University of Houston, both competing at the defensive end position in the early 1950s. McConaughey's dad, Jim, would go on to be drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 27th round of the 1953 NFL draft (they were a bit longer back then), but never played in the league.

12. MCCONAUGHEY REPRISED THE ROLE OF WOODERSON FOR A 2012 MUSIC VIDEO.

The music video for Butch Walker and the Black Widows’s song “Synthesizers” features McConaughey lip-synching, air-trumpeting, slow-motion walking, drinking, and womanizing as his career-making character. For more proof that McConaughey hasn’t forgotten his first major role, look no further than his 2014 Oscar speech, where he dropped two of Wooderson’s best and most timeless lines: “Just keep livin’” and “alright, alright, alright.”

13. ONE OF THE YOUNG ACTORS BECAME SUCCESSFUL IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FIELD.

While many of the movie's cast members became recognizable Hollywood actors, Wiley Wiggins—who played Mitch Kramer—had a very quiet acting career after the film. It’s not because Wiggins couldn’t cut it as an actor, he just shifted his focus to designing and developing video games and running an independent gaming festival called Fantastic Arcade. He has popped up in a few more films, including Linklater’s trippy philosophical piece Waking Life in 2001 and in the Sundance Film Festival favorite Computer Chess in 2013.

14. LINKLATER WAS SUED BY SOME OF HIS REAL-LIFE CLASSMATES.

Linklater wasn’t especially creative when it came to making up character names with which to populate the fictional Lee High School. In fact, at least three of the characters' last names—Wooderson, Floyd, and Slater—were lifted directly from Linklater's own Huntsville High School, which became the basis of a defamation lawsuit for the real-life trio in 2004. According to the real Wooderson, Floyd, and Slater, the movie resulted in an onslaught of, well, mostly kids wanting to party with them all the time. The case was eventually tossed.

15. ORIGINALLY, LINKLATER IMAGINED IT AS A BEING A STRANGER, MUCH MORE EXPERIMENTAL MOVIE.

 Richard Linklater attends the Headline Gala Screening & International Premiere of 'Last Flag Flying' during the 61st BFI London Film Festival on October 8, 2017
Vittorio Zunino Celotto, Vittorio/Getty Images for BFI

According to Linklater, the plan for the movie was always to examine a single day in the life of a group of high schoolers in the '70s, but his original idea was a movie about “four guys in a Le Mans, listening to an eight-track tape of ZZ Top’s 'Fandango!'”

16. LINKLATER TRIED TO KEEP THE ATMOSPHERE PROFESSIONAL ... BUT OCCASIONALLY FAILED.

Linklater claims to have enforced a professional atmosphere on the set that included no drugs or alcohol, saying “People are surprised how militant I am about that kind of work ethic. I set a tone.” Although, by Linklater’s own admission, while the on-set marijuana wasn’t real, “the cast does admit to being stoned in several scenes, particularly at the very end."

17. THE FILM FEATURES A FREQUENT LINKLATER TROPE YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED.

One scene features Slater (Rory Cochrane) smoking a cigarette and hammering away at a 1972 Bally "Fireball" pinball machine. Linklater’s films Waking Life, Before Sunrise, and his little-seen 1988 debut It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books all feature scenes that include characters playing pinball.

18. SLATER'S LINE ABOUT GEORGE WASHINGTON GROWING WEED IS (KIND OF) TRUE.

Milla Jovovich, Shawn Andrews, Jason London, and Rory Cochrane in 'Dazed and Confused' (1993)
Criterion Collection

Slater, the pottiest of Lee High School's potheads, had some memorable theories about the goings-on at Mount Vernon, claiming “George toked weed, are you kiddin' me, man? He grew fields of that stuff, man.” While Washington did indeed grow hemp at Mount Vernon (fun fact: the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper), significantly less evidence exists to claim he ever grew or smoked a psychoactive strain of cannabis.

19. IT MADE ITS AT-HOME DEBUT ON A LONG-FORGOTTEN MEDIUM.

Dazed and Confused was released on September 24, 1993 and hit home video in March of 1994. But anyone up on their huge-discs-that-are-soon-to-be-defunct technologies could have grabbed it on LaserDisc two months earlier, which seems oddly appropriate for a movie that’s all about nostalgia. The movie became a formally-sanctioned cult classic in 2006, when it received a Criterion Collection DVD release. (It's also available on Blu-ray via Criterion.)

20. LINKLATER AND UNIVERSAL PICTURES WERE CONSTANTLY AT ODDS OVER THE MOVIE.

At first, Universal wanted the movie to be rated PG-13, with the belief that it would lead to better box office results, to which Linklater responded, “we have 78 'f***s' in the script, pot smoking all the way through, and teenagers drinking and driving." Later, the studio complained that Linklater hadn’t used the movie’s R-rating to its fullest extent, lamenting the film’s lack of nudity.

21. LINKLATER SAW IT AS AN "INVERSE" OF JOHN HUGHES'S TEEN MOVIES.

Unlike John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, which culminated in important kisses and life-changing revelations, Linklater designed Dazed and Confused to feel more true to the mild drama of real life, saying “I don’t remember teenage [years] being that dramatic. I remember just trying to go with the flow, socialize, fit in, and be cool. The stakes were really low. To get Aerosmith tickets or not? That’s a big thing.”

Can You Find the 30 Album Covers Referenced in This Picture?

Norman Records
Norman Records

Album covers were once a respected art form and representation of a band’s identity. Now, after more than a decade of music being readily available online, they can be more of an afterthought.

In tribute to this dying art form, online vinyl retailer Norman Records has created a fun visual quiz featuring some of the most iconic album covers of all time. (Hint: Most are classic rock albums, but there are a few that fall into different genres.)

Check out the interactive image below, and use your cursor to hover over any areas you’d like to enlarge. Once you give up, keep scrolling to reveal the answers.

How many did you get? Some, like David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and Led Zeppelin’s self-titled album, are fairly obvious. Other references are a little more obscure (any Neutral Milk Hotel fans?).

If this quiz has you feeling musically inspired, check out these stories behind 22 classic album covers, including Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and the Grateful Dead’s Skull and Roses.

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