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Guido Reni, Sacred Painter

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Guido Reni, Sacred Painter

Since childhood I have loved Christian art, no doubt due to my Roman Catholic upbringing. One of my favorite artists is Guido Reni (November 4, 1575—August 18, 1642), an Italian painter of the baroque period, who painted primarily religious themes.

When I was a girl, everyone brought a missal with them to church on Sunday. This missal was a Mass book, and contained the liturgy, plus all the gospel and Old and New Testament readings for every day of the year. It had ribbon markers for holding your places, but many people also collected holy cards as additional markers.

A holy card was a rectangular bookmark that had a religious image on one side and a prayer on the other. I believe some of my holy cards had works by Guido Reni on them.

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St. Michael Archangel

Reni’s life was marked with drama that gave rise to legends about him. For example, in the painting St. Michael Archangel, Satan reportedly bears a resemblance to a cardinal (church official) whom Reni held a grudge against.

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St. Joseph and the Christ Child

Reni received some important commissions in Rome to paint frescos in the Chapel of Santa Maria Maggiore and the Vatican. He was also given an assignment to paint the papal Chapel of the Annunciation, but because of a dispute about payment he left Rome and the job defaulted to another artist.

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David with the Head of Goliath

In 1618, Reni traveled to Naples to paint a ceiling in a chapel of the cathedral of San Gennaro. However, the prominent local painters loathed competitors, and supposedly conspired to poison or otherwise harm him. Reni abandoned Naples as soon as he could.

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St. Cecilia

I’ve always had a special affinity for St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Cecilia was my mother-in-law’s middle name, and we passed it on to our youngest daughter as her middle name.

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Jesus Christ with the Cross

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The Baptism of Christ

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St. Matthew and the Angel

St. Matthew is the author of the gospel that bears his name, inspired by God. Perhaps God sent him an angel to tell him what to record.

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Saint James the Greater

St. James the Greater was one of the sons of Zebedee; his brother’s name was John. He is commonly called “the Greater” to distinguish him from two other Jameses in the Bible.

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Self-portrait

How to Attend a Writers Conference; Part II: Before, During, and After 

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On Tuesday, ARHtistic License posted suggestions on how to choose a writers conference to attend.

Now that you’ve registered for the conference of your dreams, what’s next?

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Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

Prepare.

  • Research the presenters. Some may have written books about the craft of writing, and/or some may be excellent speakers. Find out about the people running critique sessions. Are they published authors? Social media influencers? Are the agents and editors interested in the kinds of things you write? Who is the organizer of the event? Note the people you would like to meet.
  • Plan which presentations and events to attend. Often, there are many more you’re interested in than you could possibly work into your schedule. It’s alright to have a backup choice for each time slot just in case you know after five minutes that a class or workshop is not what you anticipated.
  • If you’re pitching a book, first of all, finish the manuscript. At least have a coherent, well-edited draft done, even if you suspect it needs more work.
  • Memorize your pitch. Know what comparable titles exist. (For example, one of my children’s books is similar to The Lion King—if Simba were his own worst enemy, no evil uncles involved.)

 

What to bring with you.

  • It used to be that you needed to bring copies of your manuscript. Now, most agents and editors don’t want to carry all that paper, so they’ll ask you to email it to them.
  • A way to snap pictures: either your phone or your camera. You may want to post on social media and have illustrations for a blog post about the conference. (Selfies with your favorite authors!)
  • Pens and notebook. You’ll want to take lots of notes, and especially write down contact info of agents and editors who are interested in your work and other writers who are interested in being a critique partner or a collaborator. Ideas flow like crazy at conferences—story ideas, marketing strategies, ways to improve—don’t think you’ll remember them all. Write down everything you hear and every epiphany you have.
  • Laptop and/or flash drive containing your manuscripts (optional). Some people prefer to take notes on their computers or on their phones. Or maybe someone asks you for an old-school hard copy and you don’t have one—you can run to an office-supply store and get one printed out.
  • Your prescription meds, plus any emergency meds you might need, like OTC painkillers, antidiarrheals, sleep meds, throat lozenges, or allergy pills.
  • Nutritious snacks, like apples or nuts. A water bottle you can refill as needed.
  • Clothes, mostly comfortable, “professional casual,” but maybe one or two nice things for meeting with important personages. Sometimes dinners or parties have a dress code.Books 2
  • A pre-determined sum of money or a credit card with your own spending limit, so you can buy a few well-chosen souvenirs, and books by some of your new favorite authors.
  • Your business card. You can print these out yourself, on blank perforated business card forms you can buy at the office supply store and separate after printing. Your card should reflect your brand with a logo or a photo of you, and include your preferred method of contact (email or phone number or snail mail address), the kind of writing you do, titles of published books, awards won, and the web addresses of your website, blog, and social media pages. (All that needs to fit on a 3.5 x 2 inch card. If it won’t, prioritize.)

Getting the most out of the conference.

  • Introduce yourself to other people you meet, and make intelligent conversation. Be kind to everyone. That’s a good policy in general, but at a writers conference even more so—you never know if the awkward woman you’re sitting next to is the beloved auntie of the agent you want to impress.
  • Ask questions. Of presenters, of agents, of other attendees. You’re there to learn.
  • Plan in advance which activities you want to take part in, but make room for serendipity. A chance conversation with another attendee can put you on a path you didn’t anticipate.
  • Go with the flow. If the person you came to see is a no-show, pick someone else. If things don’t go as you’d planned, look for those proverbial lemons and squeeze them.
  • Follow your body cues. If you’re exhausted, it might be a good idea to go back to your room for a quick nap.
  • If you have a 15 minute meeting, watch the clock. At 15 minutes, stand up, smile, thank the agent for her time and tell her you look forward to speaking with her again soon. She will appreciate your respect for her schedule and put your name in the maybe column instead of the not-in-a-million-years column.
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Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

After the conference.

  • Follow up. If an agent or editor asked to see your first three chapters, send them. As unbelievable as it seems, many writers neglect to take this step. You can’t get your baby published if you don’t send it in! The money you spent going to the conference is a significant investment in your career. You wouldn’t take out a mortgage and never move into your new house, would you? (By the way, if you didn’t follow up on a conference request in the past, I’m giving you an assignment: Locate that agent or editor and send in that manuscript this week. I’ll be checking.)
  • Reread your notes. Share what you learned with your writing friends. Write a blog post or a guest post or a magazine article about the conference.
  • Rewrite something in your files, improving it based on what you know now. Then submit it.
  • Write something new based on a brainstorm from the conference, and send it out.

A writers conference is a valuable experience for the growing writer. It’s an investment in your career, your professional development, and especially important if you don’t have a college degree in creative writing. Try to attend at least one small conference a year, and save up for some big ones every few years. Then put into practice what you’ve learned.

Now it’s your turn. Share some of your conference experiences in the comments below.

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Guest Post: Plot Backward to Move Forward with Your Novel by Janice Hardy

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Guest Post: Plot Backward to Move Forward with Your Novel by Janice Hardy

Thank you to Janice Hardy and to Writers in the Storm for this excellent article on plotting the novel.

Unless you’re playing with a non-chronological story structure, plot unfolds as time marches on in a novel. It starts when the problem is discovered (more or less), and ends when the problem is resolved. But just because the story is in chronological order, doesn’t mean we need to plot it that way.

I’m currently working on the outline for a novel a bit outside my normal genre. It’s still science fiction, but it’s a detective novel at heart, with all the twist and turns and plot requirements that entails. Information needs to be revealed in the right way, otherwise my plot might feel too rushed or too slow, and some of the logic leaps my detective has might not make sense. This holds true of most stories, regardless of their genres.

Luckily, there are pinch points I know I’m going to have, such as finding the body, uncovering the killer, revealing key secrets and clues. These clear moments are “destination points” for me to plot toward.

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Pantsers just write their way there and see what happens, but I’m a plotter, and I need to have a solid outline in place before I begin a novel. When I can’t find my way forward, I skip to the end and go backward. Because of those destination points, I know exactly where I need to be.

With a genre as structured as a mystery, this is even easier. For example, I know my detective will discover the killer’s identity at a certain point. So I start there–what specifically reveals this? What clue leads him to this discovery? How does he find that clue? What is he doing when he discovers this clue? At each point, I figure out what had to have happened to get him there.

Let’s look a little closer.

To continue reading this article, click here.

How to Attend a Writers Conference; Part I: Choosing a Conference

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All over our country (indeed, all over the world) writers, agents, editors, and publishers come together periodically to share information, encourage one another, make connections, and discover the next literary star. If you write (or if you dream of writing), conferences can be an important aspect of your professional development.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Why to go to a writers conference:

  • To learn the craft
  • To see presentations by authors you admire
  • To hear about trends in publishing
  • To pitch your work to an agent or editor
  • To network with other writers

The first conference I ever attended was put on by American Christian Writers near my home.  It was an excellent opportunity for a beginning writer to quickly learn important information about the writing life. Over the decades I’ve gone to small local conferences and writers workshops as well as large national ones, such as the Mount Hermon Christian writers conference; Desert Nights, Rising Stars writers conference at Arizona State University; and the legendary Maui Writers Conference (now defunct). As many as I’ve attended, I’ve always learned something new, or been reminded of things I’d forgotten, or come away with new ideas and excitement about writing.

How to choose a writers conference

An online search for writers conferences will turn up thousands of results. The Poets and Writers website maintains a comprehensive database of conferences. Author Erica Verillo also keeps an updated list of writers conferences on her website.

Each conference offers one or more kinds of events: workshops, book signings, critique sessions, publisher roundtables, dinners, keynote speakers, agent panels, pitch opportunities, freelancing seminars, and/or more.

Determine what you want to get out of the conference, and then chose one that matches your needs. For example, if your dream is to write essays for periodicals, don’t go to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

Here are some other important factors to consider:

  • Cost. A small, local, one-day conference might cost as little as $50 for three workshops. A large, national, multiple-day conference will cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Generally, the bigger the conference, the greater the price. Add to that the cost of travel, meals (sometimes included), and lodging, and you’re talking major expenditure. Only you can decide whether it’s worth the investment.
  • Location. A nearby conference can reduce or eliminate the costs of travel and/or lodging. But the conference that features the author, agent, or editor you’d like to work with might be several states away. Maybe you have a friend in that city who’s been inviting you to come for a visit. Maybe it’s in a spot you’ve always wanted to vacation in.
  • Lodging. If you go to a local conference, you have the option of commuting from your own home. If you want to go farther away and can stay with friends, find a way to express your gratitude, whether it’s bringing a gift, taking them out to dinner, or staying an extra day and babysitting their kids so they can have some alone time together. If you must go to a hotel, remember that you are not usually required to stay at the hotel where the conference is; sometimes an alternative is a lot less expensive, but maybe not as convenient. When I went to Maui, I could have had free transportation between the airport and the host hotel; instead, I rented a car and stayed at a nice but less extravagant hotel and saved almost $200. But I also had a Mustang convertible to go to restaurants, stores, the beach, and other places I wanted to see while I was on the island.

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  • Presenters. Are you familiar with the authors who are giving talks? Do you admire their work? If agents will be there, do you know the authors they represent? Are they looking for manuscripts like yours? Will editors of your dream publications attend?
  • Classes and workshops. Some conferences offer all-day (or multi-day) tracks in specific genres, so you might be able to sign up for several workshops in the fiction track or the poetry track or the biography track and so on, some with “homework” assignments to be completed during class time or breaks. Be sure they’re offering what you want to learn about. Other conferences offer one-hour classes on many writing topics, such as freelancer bookkeeping, common grammar mistakes, futuristic world building, writing love scenes, or how to conduct an interview. Make sure there are at least as many offerings that interest you as there are sessions, so you don’t have big blocks of time with nothing to do.

Coming Saturday: How to Attend a Writers Conference; Part II: Before, During, and After.

Hiking in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

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Hiking in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

My daughter Carly spent seven and a half weeks in Israel last year, six of those weeks in Hebron (I guess, technically, in Palestine) studying Arabic. She wants to go back this summer, and suggested I go, too. It’s been on my bucket list for thirty years.

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Carly warned me, “I don’t understand how this is possible, but I swear every street in Bethlehem is uphill.” I promised her I’d train. I’ve been walking the treadmill at an incline, and I will gradually increase my speed and my height. A friend who’s been to Israel recommended bringing a trekking pole for uneven ground and cobblestones.

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Working out on the treadmill is nice, but maybe it’s not realistic. I bought some hiking boots and a trekking pole and headed out to South Mountain Park.

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South Mountain Park/Preserve is one of the largest municipal parks in the United States. It encompasses more than 16,000 acres at the southern edge of Phoenix, Arizona.

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I used to drive up to the summit of the park with my children when they were young. There’s a cabin-like structure at the top where you can sit, eat a picnic lunch, and enjoy a panoramic view of the entire “Valley of the Sun.” But I’d never hiked there, except for one brief excursion with my kids when they begged to go home after 15 minutes.

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So, now I’m a sixty-six year old beginning hiker with two artificial hips. With the help of Hike Phoenix, I determined that the Kiwanis Trail would be a good place to start.

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Thursday late morning I parked my car at the trailhead and looked around. If you follow ARHtistic License, you may have caught on that I love the desert. It’s so much greener than I’d expected when we moved here from New Jersey. I love the rugged rockiness of the desert mountains.

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There’s a profound silence in the park, except for the chirping of birds. And the sounds of the jets en route to and from Sky Harbor International Airport, not too far away. And barrages of gunfire from a nearby shooting range. And the disconcerting buzzing of bees busy pollinating the yellow brittlebush and taking detours around my head.

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In the 1990s, Africanized honeybees invaded Arizona, and from time to time we heard reports of people and dogs being severely stung and even killed by swarms of the bees in Arizona, and at least one in South Mountain Park. Not so much lately, though.

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I discovered I really like the trekking pole. It helped stabilize me on the steeper sections of the trail, and even a gentle push on the pole helped boost me up a big step. I will definitely take it to Israel.

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Even though there were quite a few cars in the parking lot, I didn’t see many people on the trail. Part of that might be due to the fact I was there on a weekday; also, I brought my camera with me, and I stopped every few feet to take another picture. The desert looks different every time you change your perspective.

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At one point, all I could see ahead of me was a jumble of rocks. Uh oh, I’ve lost the trail. But a couple steps later, I saw it again. I guess my stature of five feet nothing was to blame for my limited vision.

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I never reached the end of the trail. After forty minutes, I decided I’d had enough for the day and turned around.

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I found coming down the trail more challenging than going up. Again, my trekking pole helped me keep my balance while stretching beyond my normal stride, and kept me from stumbling when my heel caught an outcropping or I landed on a lose rock and almost twisted my ankle. I made it back to the car in twenty-five minutes, taking few pictures on the way down because I needed to concentrate on my footing. (I ended up with a total of 95 shots!)

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I will definitely be going back, without my camera next time. I want to enjoy the hiking without any distractions. I am so blessed to be able to immerse myself in the beauty of the desert.

Guest Post: Focusing Your Novel with a Journalist’s Trick by Andrea Lundgren

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Guest Post: Focusing Your Novel with a Journalist’s Trick by Andrea Lundgren

Thank you to Andrea Lundgren and A Writer’s Path for this excellent article on writing the novel.

Okay, perhaps it’s more of a tool than a trick, but journalists have been using the “Who-What-Where-When-Why-and-How” format on hard news pieces for well over a century (to judge by the sort of articles they write, where each of these items are addressed), and I’ve found the six questions are equally useful when writing a novel.

Because, like journalists, we’re writing a story about something that happened…it’s just that it happened in our imagination. The standard six questions can be used when brainstorming your next story, focusing your editing, or trying to come up with a blurb (which is rather like a very short news article about your novel, without the ending disclosed).

  • Who. This may seem obvious, but a lot of times, authors need to clarify whose story they are telling. Is it the young lad who’s just learning to swing a sword? The hardened veteran? The king? The spy for the other side? The woman who’s hiding her identity so she can fight alongside her countrymen? If you use first person narration, it should be very obvious who the story belongs to, but when you’re using third person omniscient or third person close, with many different character points-of-view, this will become critical and a bit more of a puzzle for you, the author, to solve. The novel can’t belong to everyone or the reader will get confused, so you have to latch onto a “Who.”

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Now, you might have a story that features multiple characters as the “Who,” like The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, but picking out a Who, even if it’s only on a scene-by-scene basis, will help ensure you don’t head-hop. And you might try writing a “group story” from one character’s POV just to see how it feels. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from Edmund’s POV would be a deep, heart-felt story of redemption while the same plot from Lucy’s POV would highlight the agony of losing Aslan. (And you wouldn’t have to shut the other characters out of your tale; you’d just focus on one or the other as the main character of the story.)

  • What. This is the sentence or two that is the heart of the story (and should probably appear, in some form or another, in your book’s description/blurb). In the case of The Lord of the Rings,  it’s the journey to destroy the ring of power despite the evil forces that lurk in every corner of the realm. In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, it’s about discovering a world where it’s always winter, never Christmas…or perhaps the struggle against the temptation of being a king when it means betraying your family and friends.

The “What” can be the hardest question for an author to answer because, for us, the story is made up of so many scenes. It’s about the bath at Frodo’s house, the betrayal of Gandalf, the chase by the ring wraiths…and we can get bogged down in the details until we can’t see the big picture of what 0ur novel is about. But, if we don’t answer the “What” question, our story can spiral into a long, wandering tale without any focus, and writing a blurb can be well nigh impossible (save for something vague about “A tale of friends as they walk through the joys and sorrows of Middle Earth).

To continue reading this article, click here.

Mozart, the Boy Wonder

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Mozart, the Boy Wonder

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756. He was the youngest of seven children, five of whom died in infancy. His elder sister was Maria Anna Mozart, nicknamed “Nannerl”.

When Nannerl was 7, she began keyboard lessons with her father, Leopold, who was a composer and musician, while her three-year-old brother looked on. Though she was very talented, it was soon apparent that Wolfgang was even more so. Wolfgang quickly learned how to play and by the age of five was making up his own pieces, which his father wrote down for him. When he was eight years old, Mozart wrote his first symphony, most of which was probably transcribed by his father.

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Young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The Mozarts spent several years traveling around Europe. The child prodigies, Wolfgang and Nannerl, performed at multiple royal courts. During this trip, Wolfgang met a number of musicians and acquainted himself with the works of other composers. A particularly important influence was Johann Christian Bach, whom he visited in London in 1764 and 1765.

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The Mozarts on Tour

After returning with his father from Italy in March of 1773, Mozart acquired a position as a court musician by the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. The composer had a great number of friends and admirers in Salzburg, and had opportunities to work in many genres, including symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, masses, serenades, and a few minor operas. Between April and December, 1775, Mozart developed an enthusiasm for violin concertos, producing a series of five (the only ones he ever wrote).

In August 1777, Mozart resigned his position at Salzburg and in September ventured out once more in search of employment, with visits to Augsburg, Mannheim, Paris, and Munich. While Mozart was in Paris, he wrote his A minor piano sonata and the “Paris” Symphony (No. 31). Meanwhile, his father hunted for new opportunities of employment for him in Salzburg. Mozart reluctantly returned to Salzburg in January 1779 and took up his new appointment.

In March, 1781, Mozart was summoned to Vienna, where his new employer, Archbishop Colloredo, was attending the celebrations for the accession of Joseph II to the Austrian throne. Colloredo simply wanted his musical servant to be at hand; but Mozart had a different agenda. He wanted to audition for the Emperor.

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Archbishop Colloredo refused to permit Mozart to take on outside jobs. Mozart attempted to resign as the Archbishop’s musical director and was refused. The following month, permission was granted, but in a grossly insulting way: the composer was dismissed literally “with a kick in the arse”, administered by the archbishop’s steward. Mozart moved to Vienna as a freelance performer and composer.

His new career in Vienna began well. He performed often as a pianist, notably in a competition before the Emperor with Muzio Clementi on December 24, 1781, and he soon established himself as the foremost keyboard player in Vienna. He also prospered as a composer, and in 1782 completed The Abduction from the Seraglio, which was a huge success. Performed throughout German-speaking Europe, the opera established Mozart’s reputation as a composer.

Mozart fell in love with Constanza Weber, and they were married August 4, 1782. The couple had six children, of whom only two survived infancy.

In 1784, Mozart met Joseph Haydn in Vienna, and the two composers became friends. When Haydn visited Vienna, they sometimes played together in an impromptu string quartet. Mozart dedicated six quartets to Haydn.

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From 1782 to 1785 Mozart mounted concerts with himself as soloist, presenting three or four new piano concertos in each season. The concerts were very popular, and the concertos he premiered at them are still performed regularly.

With substantial returns from his concerts and elsewhere, Mozart and his wife adopted a rather extravagant lifestyle. They moved to an expensive apartment, and Mozart bought himself a fine fortepiano and a billiard table. The Mozarts sent their son Karl Thomas to an expensive boarding school and kept servants. They saved nothing.

Around the end of 1785, Mozart moved away from keyboard writing and began an operatic collaboration with the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. 1786 saw the successful premiere of The Marriage of Figaro in Vienna. The opera Don Giovanni premiered in October 1787 to acclaim in Prague. The two are among Mozart’s most important works and are mainstays of the operatic repertoire today.

In December 1787, Mozart finally obtained a steady post under aristocratic patronage. Emperor Joseph II appointed him as his “chamber composer.” It was a part-time appointment, and required Mozart only to compose dances for the annual balls. This modest income became important to Mozart when hard times arrived.

Toward the end of the decade, the Austro-Turkish War caused the general level of prosperity to decline and the aristocracy could no longer support music. Mozart and the other musicians in Vienna found fewer performance opportunities and commissions. The arts struggled.

Mozart’s last year (until his final illness) was a time of great productivity. He composed a great deal, including some of his most admired works: the opera The Magic Flute; his final piano concerto (K. 595 in B♭); the Clarinet Concerto; the last in his great series of string quintets (K. 614 in E♭); the motet Ave verum corpus; and the unfinished Requiem.

Mozart's Deathbed

Mozart fell ill while in Prague for the September 6, 1791, premiere of his opera La clemenza di Tito, written in that same year on commission for the Emperor’s coronation festivities. He continued his professional functions for some time and conducted the premiere of The Magic Flute on September 30. His health deteriorated in November, at which point he became bedridden, suffering from swelling, pain, and vomiting.

Mozart was nursed in his final illness by his wife and her youngest sister, and was attended by the family doctor. He was mentally occupied with the task of finishing his Requiem. (Tradition claims it was completed by his student Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Despite the story suggested in the movie Amadeus, no foul play was suspected, and Mozart did not dictate passages to Antonio Salieri.)

Mozart died in his home on December 5, 1791, at age 35. In his brief lifetime he composed more than 600 works, many of which are acknowledged masterpieces of symphonic, chamber, choral and operatic music.