More than any other composer Mozart is surrounded by myth and legend, much of it put about, it has to be said, by the film Amadeus.
That is a shame because the facts surrounding classical music’s best-known child prodigy are amazing enough.
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From his precocious childhood wowing the courts of Europe to his tragically early death, Mozart’s life was a constant torrent of action, drama and music.
It was music of sparkle, grace and depth, blending formal precision with a huge emotional range.
Mozart’s music truly encompasses everything from joy to sorrow.
And living as he did in the second half of the 18th century, he was a key figure in the gradual transition away from the courtly formality of earlier times to the more dramatic and larger works to come.
He was equally important in the opera house, creating characters and setting plots to music which are perfectly poised between making sense and delighting the ear.
With more than 600 works to his name there is a lot to sift through, but here’s a selection of unquestionable masterpieces to begin with:
Symphony No.40: This opens with a very well-known and rather urgent, hurried theme. The unsettled opening leads into one of his grandest, most serious and most satisfying works for orchestra.
Piano Concerto No.20: This is a dark work steeped in the brooding world of the opera Don Giovanni he was working on at the time. It’s extremely dramatic and at times almost painfully beautiful with its sudden minor-key shifts.
The Marriage of Figaro: Quite simply, a perfect comic opera. Telling how the clever valet Figaro turns the tables on Count Almaviva who hopes to usurp his marital happiness by cheating on the Countess with her maid Susannah, the opera moves flawlessly from a comic, knockabout opening to the heart-wrenching grief of the Countess’ first aria. And there’s even a happy ending.
Cosi Fan Tutte: This opera does not have such a straightforward conclusion, but perfectly shows Mozart’s grasp of psychology. Four people agree to undergo a test of love and fidelity and reveal they know nothing of themselves in the process. The music is precise, intricate and beautiful.
Requiem: Commissioned anonymously in the last days of his life by someone who wanted to pass it off as his own, this is his final testimony and blends knowledge of Bach and Handel with some fiery passages of choral writing. The ominous opening is mesmerising too.
Clarinet Concerto: Few composers have written a better showpiece for woodwind instruments
than this autumnal work which wallows in the clarinet’s chocolatey low tones.