Mozart’s Journeys in Italy

The Child Prodigy Mozart Earns his Spurs as a Composer of Operas

The fourteen-year-old Mozart plays the harpsichord in Verona (detail)

Oil painting by Saverio dalla Rosa (1745–1821) 1770 (Private Collection, Lausanne) Source: Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
1770
Italy
The fourteen-year-old Mozart plays the harpsichord in Verona (detail)

The fourteen-year-old Mozart plays the harpsichord in Verona (detail)

Oil painting by Saverio dalla Rosa (1745–1821) 1770 (Private Collection, Lausanne) Source: Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Italy is considered the cradle of opera. The opera houses in Milan, Venice and Naples were world renowned in Mozart's time. Only those whose works were acknowledged there could truly consider themselves famous. Nobody was more conscious of this fact than Leopold Mozart. With a clear goal in mind he travelled to Italy with his fourteen-year-old son Wolfgang. Unshakably convinced of his son's talent, he envisioned the child genius as a widely renowned and well-paid composer of an Italian opera.

But first the Mozarts had to overcome the snow-covered mountain passes of the Alps - at that time, a daunting endeavour. Via Innsbruck and the Brenner Pass a carriage would take travellers to Verona and Milan, where the Mozarts were cordially welcomed. Finally, Wolfgang acquired his first important commission for an opera: Mitridate, Re di Ponto.

Bravissimo: the Italian Nobility Rave about Mitridate

The weeks spent travelling through Italy proved to be very successful for the Mozarts. Wherever Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave a concert, he was met with exuberant enthusiasm. In Bologna he enjoyed the privilege of being taught by the famous Franciscan monk Giambattista Martini in counterpoint. In Rome Wolfgang put down a score from Allegri’s Misere from memory. His fame as a musical genius grew continuously. Father Leopold Mozart was content.

Leopold Mozart’s plan to build up his son’s fame as an opera composer seems to have been a success. This was especially remarkable considering Wolfgang’s age of just fourteen years. For this very reason it is impossible not to wholeheartedly appreciate Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s efforts during his time in Italy, culminating in the world premiere of Mitridate, Re di Ponto. Father and son returned to their hometown Salzburg after fifteen months, looking back at a very successful endeavour…