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10 Child Prodigies


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart, age 7
Wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is depicted at age 7, in gala dress. Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

Perhaps the best-known of all child prodigies, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was wowing royal audiences across Europe when he was only 6 years old, the product of profound musical genius and a doting father with a knack for drumming up publicity.

Born in Salzburg, Austria in 1756, Mozart was the seventh child of Leopold Mozart, the province's court composer. But when Leopold became aware of his son's talent — Mozart not only played the piano at age 3, but taught himself the violin at age 4 — Leopold put aside his own career to nurture and promote his wunderkind (and also his musical sister Maria Anna) [source:].

Little Wolfgang's big break was a 1762 audience with the emperor and empress of Vienna, where 6-year-old Mozart mesmerized the crowd with his virtuoso piano playing and original compositions. He wrote his first piano concerto at 4 and several dances for keyboard when he was 6.

Success in Vienna led to more bookings across Europe, and the Mozart family spent the next several years touring, performing and expanding young Mozart's musical repertoire. In England, British naturalist Daines Barrington tested then 8-year-old Mozart by having him sight-read a newly composed orchestra manuscript.

To his astonishment, reported Barrington,

"The score was no sooner put upon his desk, than he began to play the symphony in a most masterly manner, as well as in the time and stile which corresponded with the intention of the composer" [source: Gammon].

In England, Mozart studied under Johann Christian Bach, son of German composer and Baroque musician Johann Sebastian Bach. He composed his first symphony, plus at least 40 more works, at the age of 9 [source:]. Touring in Italy, he wrote his first operas at 14. As an adult, he composed "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Magic Flute," among other famous works.

Mozart's life would be full of tragedy and triumph, the story of a rambunctious, perfectionist genius only partially appreciated before his sudden death in 1791 at the age of 35. History now judges him as one of, if not the greatest composer of all time.