4. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang was born in Salzburg, Austria, in 1756. By the time he was four, he was able to learn an entire piece of music in thirty minutes, and by age five, he was playing the clavier (a keyboard instrument; especially baroque-era instruments such as the harpsichord, the clavichord or the fortepiano) like a pro. We don’t just mean pro for professional; more like pro for the prodigy he was.
Even at the age of five, he was traveling a lot with his parents (so they could show him off). It was perfectly natural to then start composing at six and writing symphonies at the tender age of eight. I think most of us were reading thirty-page books at that point.
He must have enjoyed the stage, because he performed throughout Europe as a teenager. At 17, Mozart was appointed assistant concertmaster for the Royal Court of Salzburg, giving him the lifestyle he needed to focus solely on his music. Over his short life of 35 years, Mozart:
- is one of the only composers to write master works in every genre during his lifetime,
- did not only write for piano, but wrote a number of famous violin concertos,
- changed the way composers wrote operas after premiering his opera, “The Marriage of Figaro” in 1786,
- became known as “the finest keyboard player in Vienna” by people in high places, and
- accomplished more than any other composer or musician in his life.
Mozart died in Vienna, Austria December 5, 1791. His compositions have continued to bring beauty to people’s lives over the centuries, and will, no doubt, continue to do so forever.
3. Ludwig van Beethoven
Details about Beethoven’s life are scant, but we’ve uncovered a few things about his life that would make him a renowned pianist in our book.
Ludwig was probably born in 1770. He was advertising for and performing concerts when he was only eight years old, and articles were being written about how incredible he was at the age of 11.
In 1801, Beethoven acknowledged that he was slowly going deaf. He wrote a famous text explaining his fear and depression, and his contemplation of suicide. Fortunately for the music-loving world, he kept his passion alive and wrote music in spite of his disability. His music seems to appeal to everyone, no matter which genres of music they normally lean toward. The four notes in the opening of his Fifth Symphony have become known as possibly the four most popular notes of his career, and perhaps music’s history.
Beethoven died in 1827 of post-hepatitic cirrhosis of the liver – a possible cause of his deafness. An estimated 10,000 – 30,000 people attended his funeral. The value of Beethoven’s works keeps growing — a notebook was found in Greenwich, CT containing sheets of Beethoven’s works which sold for $100,000.
2. Frederic Chopin
Frederic was born in Zelazola, Poland, in 1810. He was playing piano by age six, and he published his first composition at the age of seven. Chopin was taught by professional pianist Wojciech Zywny, and was published on one of Mozart’s pieces when he was only 17 years old, garnering him national attention.
He became acquainted with the Rothschild family, which opened new doors for opportunity, and in 1830, Chopin settled down in Paris — where he composed several of his most popular works (Sonata in B Minor and Opus 55 Nocturnes). Many of his works even had corresponding dances, including several waltzes and mazurkas.
Chopin only gave 30 concerts in 30 years of performing, most likely preferring solitude to being in front of thousands of people. His playing was called refined, complex, turbulent, romantic, haunting, textured and seamless. It’s no wonder that he was the “it” piano teacher of Europe.
Chopin passed away in 1849 after a long fight against tuberculosis. Over the course of his life, Chopin wrote over 200 solo compositions, all of various styles. These days, Chopin’s written works can be found in museums around the world, and many people have heard one of his pieces at some point in their lives. Hear one of Chopin’s most famous works – “Nocturne.”
1. Franz Liszt
Franz was born in Raiding, Austria, in 1811, and his dad gave him his first few years of piano lessons. He first performed when he was nine years old. He was a composer as well as teacher, and has been called the “greatest piano forte virtuoso of all time” due to his ability to add structure and form to his harmonies and play them in a then-unheard-of way on the piano.
He wrote romantic western music, and invented his own style of teaching that is used today. At the age of 37, he accepted a position at the court of the Grand Duke of Weimar, where he composed and performed some of his greatest works. At 59 he was appointed president of the Hungarian Royal Academy of Music, where he developed its curriculum, but he never charged his students for his classes because his love of passing on his musical knowledge was greater than his love of money.
Liszt’s last performance was in 1886. He died of pneumonia later that year having left the world with his legacy. “As Liszt biographer Alan Walker so succinctly phrased it, ‘[as] pianist, composer, teacher, conductor, writer and musical administrator, [Liszt] enlarged everything that he touched.'”