Mastermind of a Ten-Year-Old – How does one explain the child prodigy Mozart?

Leopold's Catalogue

Leopold’s Catalogue of his small son’s work

by Stephanie Cowell

At the age of ten he was catching flies, making up silly songs for his music teacher father, performing before kings, stealing his older sister’s diary, and composing symphonies. He was expert on violin and piano.

What made the boy Mozart such a phenomenal prodigy as well as such a human kid?

To quote from Wikipedia, “Psychology professor Dr. Larry Vandervert in his studies of working memory and the cerebellum produce creative argues that when a child is confronted with a challenging new situation, visual-spatial working memory and speech-related and other notational system-related working memory are decomposed and re-composed (fractionated) by the cerebellum and then blended in the cerebral cortex in an attempt to deal with the new situation. In child prodigies, Vandervert believes this blending process is accelerated due to their unique emotional sensitivities…”

This does not entirely explain Mozart’s profound, delightful humanity, his humor, his depth. But then genius at any age is not explicable.

It began very young with Wolfgang Amadé Mozart. When he was three years old he began to pick out thirds on the clavier, when he was four he learned a minuet in half an hour, when five began to compose on a paper full of ink blotches. His father cried over it. Friends and neighbors were astonished. If left to himself, he would have played the clavier all night. Music was play for him, a delight; he was never forced. Neither did he ever go to school; his father taught him everything from harmony to mathematics. He loved his father Leopold who was a respected violin teacher, composer, and musical employee of the Salzburg Archbishop. Before sleeping each night, Wolfgang used to stand on a chair and kiss Leopold’s nose.

Mozart about the age of eight by Jean Baptise Greuze

Mozart about the age of eight by Jean Baptise Greuze

By the time the young Mozart was ten his parents had taken him and his older pianist sister Nannerl on a three-year tour, performing in the courts, theaters, private homes, inns and monasteries of Europe. They lived out of trunks and prayed for their luggage to arrive safely. Travel was difficult. Food was excellent or dreadful. Leather curtains on carriages did not keep out the rain and they were damp for days on end. Snow fell at the worse time. Likely they carried some saintly relics with them, being devout Catholics.

Mozart was little and thin and quick with a great deal of fair hair and large eyes; everything was of passionate interest to him. He was a sweet natured child, always wanting music and music, taking all of it in as they traveled, listening, learning from all he heard, and remembering everything. When he wasn’t climbing organ lofts on his short legs to play to the amazement of others or making up variations on a tune for the clavier, he created games and worlds. But by the age of seven was the principle family breadwinner.

“He had only one fault,” his older sister Nannerl remembered years later, “in that he was too kind and trusting.”

A musician reported: “This marvelous child has hardly grown but has made prodigious progress in music…he has composed symphonies for full orchestra which have been played and universally applauded here. But what is beyond comprehension is his profound grasp of harmony, and its most recondite progressions that he possesses to a supreme degree…to say that many Kappelmeisters who have attained the peak of their art will die without knowing what this boy knows.”

Stephanie Cowell's novel about Mozart's young courtship days

Stephanie Cowell’s novel about Mozart’s young courtship days

At the age of ten he returned to Salzburg. The new Archbishop who had heard many tales of the boy’s abilities, commissioned him to compose a sacred sung drama for the Salzburg Cathedral. Mozart’s creation turned into a score of 201 pages in his hand which is preserved today in the Royal Library of Windsor Castle. It is called Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes (K 35).By then he was eleven. Within a few years before fifteen the true depth of his genius would begin to emerge.

If he had died at ten, he might have been a remarkable footnote in musical history but he did not. He went on to the fullest imaginable maturity stopped only by death just before his 36th birthday. Who can truly explain what his father Leopold called “this miracle of nature which God allowed to be born in Salzburg?”


About the author: Historical novelist Stephanie Cowell is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet. She is the recipient of the American Book Award. Her work has been translated into nine languages. Her website is


  1. Jane Gray says

    The fantastic book “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin does an excellent job of answering this question with regards to not only Mozart but other prodigies/geniuses such as Tiger Woods and Warren Buffett.

  2. librarypat says

    It is amazing that in any era, such a young child could be so talented and able to create so very much.True genius is so difficult to understand.
    This should be a fascinating look at a part of Mozart’s life. Stephanie Cowell’s other books have been excellent and I am sure this one will be also. I look forward to reading it.

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