Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy—a genius aware of his own greatness from a very early age. As he grew in age and ability, Mozart began developing a reputation as a great artist; and as a man consumed by pride, vanity, drink, and lust. He was both intensely loved and intensely hated by artists and patrons throughout Europe. Mozart, in many ways, is the first modern musician in that he made a point to have his music played before ordinary people. It is among the people that earned his reputation. And he set off a trend that would become the norm to the present day.
Hector Berlioz was born in the French town of La Cote-Saint-Andre near Grenoble. His father, a physician and high-ranking member of the local gentry, gave his son a thorough education in the liberal and fine arts, including music. Young Hector quickly mastered the guitar and the flageolet; and by the time he was preparing to depart for university in Paris he had already created several compositions. It was agreed that the young Berlioz would follow the elder into medicine. But this was not to be. Soon after Hector got to Paris he immediately immersed himself in the musical culture of the big city.
Berlioz would struggle for years—against the politics of Paris and his own family—before the piece that he is perhaps best known for made its first public appearance. The Symphonie Fantastique gave Berlioz the notoriety and acclaim he needed to pursue his artistic ambitions fully. He did so; but his promising start was complicated by the many enemies he made as a musical innovator and an insightful, honest, and sometimes scathing musical critic. His reputation since his death in 1869 has rested primarily on his many great literary works, including his memoirs and the brilliant and ever-satisfying Evenings with the Orchestra. Berlioz secured his legacy by his musical art and his strong and compelling voice as an observer of his time.
It is no exaggeration to credit Berlioz with shaping the musical mind of Richard Wagner. The great German composer showed an early appreciation for the Frenchmen during his first prolonged stay in Paris. Unlike Berlioz, Wagner was self-taught. He was also a persistent gambler and drunk in his early years. Wagner’s persistent poverty, his aggressive temperament and controversial politics made it difficult for him to get established. His early reputation was damaged by his megalomania and almost pathological immodesty. At that time, he had no money and there were no personal reputation management companies to hire anyway.
However, his genius as a dramatist, musician, and conductor soon gained him extraordinary fame. So much so that an entire artistic cult emerged around him and remained in force until the mid-20th century.
Hugo Wolf was a unique figure among later Romantics. He had extraordinary outbursts of creative activity—especially in the 1880s—but his work was interrupted by periods of deep depression. In his time, he has a reputation for being erratic, fiery, and extremely temperamental. His last years were his worst, as he slowly descended into mental collapse. Wolf’s reputation was later revived as the cult of Wagner, whom he adored and used as a model, took root in the early 20th century.