“Gone Too Soon”: The First Pop Star Tragedy

Over the last half-century we have all heard the heartbreaking
stories of the popular musicians who fall prey to the fame and
fortune of their status as icons and too many times these accounts
often end the artists’ premature demise. We’ve seen
this played out in the lives of Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Janis
Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. However, these cautionary
tales are not relegated to the modern era. In a time when
today’s art music was the pop music of the day, Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart was perhaps the world’s first superstar
performer. His life and premature death at the age of 35 were the
original script for the clichéd saga.
These legends may have come full-circle with the death of Michael
Jackson. The similarities between the lives of Mozart and Jackson
are uncanny. Both displayed copious amounts of musical talent at a
precocious age. They were pressed by overbearing fathers and forced
to give-up their youths in exchange for fame and notoriety. This
loss of innocence at such an early age affected each psychologically
and in adulthood, neither was considered to be a well-balanced
individual; to put it mildly. Finally, after years in the
international spotlight, both perished due to the effects of
Johannes Christomos Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart was born on January
27, 1756 in Salzberg, Germany. Wolfgang was the youngest of Leopold
and Anna Marie Mozart’s seven children, but only Wolfgang and
his sister, Maria Anna – nicknamed Nannerl – lived past
infancy. It was because of her that Wolfgang’s talent made
itself known so early in the first place. Leopold, an accomplished
musician in his own right, was teaching Nannerl to play the
harpsichord. It was after her lessons one day that young Wolfgang
climbed up to the instrument and began to play. By the time he was
five, Wolfgang was composing his first concerto and just a year
later, Leopold took his two prodigious children on their first tour
to Munich and Vienna.
In June of 1763, the archbishop of Salzburg, Siegmund von
Schrattenbach allowed Leopold an extended leave from his position as
violinist in the archbishop’s orchestra. The entire Mozart
family went on tour this time travelling to France and England.
They played for King Louis XV of France and several other
dignitaries and nobles during the next three and a half years before
returning home to Salzburg in November of 1766.
“Wanna Be Starting Somethin’”
Wolfgang had developed a petulant demeanor as he approached
adolescence. He would throw wild tantrums, told offensive jokes,
and begged for affection from anyone who would give it to him. His
personality was overlooked by many because of his immense talent.
At twelve, Wolfgang began to pen his first attempt at an opera;
widely accepted at that time as the most difficult form of musical
expression. La Finta Semplice (The Pretend Simpleton) was first
performed while the family was on tour in Vienna in 1768. When the
Mozarts returned home in 1769, Wolfgang was rewarded with a position
alongside his father in the archbishop’s orchestra as
concertmaster. But, by December of that year, Leopold and Wolfgang
were already back on tour to Italy; this time without Nannerl who
had turned eighteen and was no longer able to be considered a child
Italy appealed to Wolfgang. He loved everything about the country.
He even began to sign letters with the Italian version of his
middle name. Gottlieb became Amadeo, which later became Amadeus;
meaning “Beloved of God”. While there, he was honored
by Pope Clement IV as a Knight of the Golden Spur. However, the
Mozarts time in Italy would be cut short upon the death of
archbishop von Schrattenbach. Count Hieronymus Colloredo was
appointed to replace von Schrattenbach and he was not willing to let
Leopold and Wolfgang continue their touring. He demanded they
return to Salzburg or face losing their positions in the orchestra.
The Mozarts resisted initially, but after exhausting all of their
options, they returned to Salzburg in 1773.
“You Are Not Alone”
For four years Wolfgang unhappily toiled for the archbishop. After
regularly visiting some of the most exciting cities in the world,
Salzburg seemed mundane. Finally, he could take no more. The
younger Mozart tendered his resignation and would seek his fortune
outside of the steady income of a paid position. He would give
piano lessons to teenage girls to pay his expenses and it was here
that Wolfgang would meet the love of his life, Aloysia Weber from
Mannheim. He fell head over heels for the girl, but his desire was
not returned. Aloysia was determined to make it as a singer and her
plans did not include a provision for love.
All this time Leopold had been writing his son to reconsider his
decision to leave and return to Salzburg. Love scorned and
penniless, Wolfgang returned to the archbishop’s orchestra as
court organist for a salary three times that of his concertmaster
earnings. His homecoming would be short lived, though. For
whatever reason, Count Colloredo was extremely malicious to Wolfgang
during his return. The archbishop even went as far as to seat the
great composer with the servants during the coronation of Emperor
Joseph II. It was all Wolfgang could stand and again he quit the
orchestra. He would never hold a position with a steady pay for the
rest of his life.
Wolfgang returned to Mannheim to seek his true love again, only to
find Aloysia had married another man. With Aloysia taken, Wolfgang
turned his sights upon her younger, less talented and less beautiful
sister, Constanze. They were married in December of 1781 and Mozart
was beginning his most prolific era as a composer. Because Wolfgang
had no means of a steady income, his family relied upon his works to
fulfill their needs. It was during this time that some of
Mozart’s finest works were completed. Operas such as Don
Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Magic Flute are considered
some of the greatest of all-time and they are still performed
frequently through the world. Mozart would also be heartbroken many
times during this era as four of his six children would die in
infancy. Just like his parents, only two of Wolfgang and
Constanze’s offspring would live to see adulthood.
The legend of Mozart’s demise is clouded in rumor and
conjecture. By all accounts, he was approached by a dark-cloaked
individual in September of 1791. The stranger grabbed Constanze by
the dress and directed a question at Wolfgang, “What shall
become of the Requiem?” It was a question that would haunt
Mozart until his dying day just over three months later. During
most of 1791, Mozart was literally working himself to death. He had
more projects than he could possibly keep up with. In July he was
offered another project that paid such an exorbitant amount of money
that there was no way he could pass it up. The Requiem Mass was to
be a piece based on the Catholic traditions for a funeral mass. It
was the last piece of music Mozart would work on. It was completed
posthumously by Franz Süssmyer and others under the directions
of Mozart. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart passed away in the arms of his
wife in the early hours of December 5th, 1791. He penned over 600
musical pieces in his 35 years on this earth, yet in the end he left
his wife without enough money to even give him a proper burial.
Mozart’s body was interred in a pauper’s grave.
“Remember the Time”
Whether it was Mozart’s frenetic writing pace during his
final years or Michael Jackson’s search for perfection in his
This Is It concert tour, each fell victim to their shared desire to
be loved. Both felt that the only was he could receive love was to
do what was forced upon them as children – to perform. Maybe
if they had been given unconditional love by their fathers during
their formative years, we could have enjoyed their amazing gifts for
longer. Of course, we must also accept that without their desire to
be loved we might never have known them in the first place.


About Richard Howk

Fiction author with my first novel, Pariah, available December 2nd.
This entry was posted in Academic Papers. Bookmark the permalink.

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