When thinking about prodigies such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, audiences tend to experience their genius and talent only in the most polished, perfect forms. It’s far rarer to see the sweat, blood, and tears that go into birthing such works of musical brilliance into the world.
The British Library, however, is trying to change that. It recently digitized and made available online Mozart’s musical diary, a 30-page record of compositions from the last seven years of the composer’s life.
The diary spans from February 1784 until December 1791, (three weeks before his untimely death at the age of 35) and is an illuminating document that gives a more complete (and human) picture of the virtuoso’s work and life.
During these last seven years, Mozart composed many of his best works, including five operas, several piano sonatas, three symphonies, and many other, shorter pieces.
In the journal, you can read entries in which Mozart was struggling, such as in his fifth “Haydn” quartet, String Quartet in A, which Mozart described as “the fruits of a long and laborious endeavour.” You can also read about his family’s health and financial difficulties, which led him to diversify his income (he composed pieces for glass harmonica, for instance) and how he grew to resent certain “trivial commissions.”
Organizationally, the British Library notes that Mozart arranged the entries “in the order in which they were completed. On the left-hand page he entered five compositions, each with its date, title, and often its instrumentation. He sometimes added further information such as the name of the singer, where it was composed, or who had commissioned the piece. He divided the right-hand page into five pairs of staves on which he wrote the opening bars of each work.”
You can read the musical journals in two ways: as a standard web browser with details, historical context, and stories; or you can see it as a flippable, magazine-esque entity, which feels somehow more intimate, as if reading over the composer’s shoulder. Both include options to listen to audio while reading.
Or, you can peruse while listening to Brooklyn Rider’s recent Strings session, which includes Mozart’s String Quartet No. 14, K. 387.
Anna Pulley is Strings’ associate editor. Follow her on Twitter.