Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born 250 years ago today. By age 10, he was famous in Europe for his prodigious musical talent; his father, Leopold, profited significantly by parading the child genius around Europe. Young Wolfgang wowed courtesans by playing blindfolded, faultlessly improvising complex pieces, and transcribing difficult works by ear. In the intervening centuries, Mozart has become an iconic whiz kid, the go-to archetype for ambitious parents of clever children.
Last June, Ann Hulbert reconsidered Mozart as a model prodigy, arguing that the pressure on smart children to achieve Mozartlike feats of genius could be crippling: “Public demand and the clamor of competition can … be a distraction, eroding the near obsessive concentration that prodigious achievement of any kind seems to require.” But, she noted, Mozart himself may be a useful model of fortitude: “If Mozart is actually proof of anything, it may be that resilience cultivated in the face of overbearing influence and enforced dependence is one important secret to fulfilling rare genius.”