Tuesday, May 3, 2011

On Mozart --- (You're Not a Genius Until You're Dead)

(This is a paper I wrote a few months ago.)

You're Not a Genius Until You're Dead

(Reflective Narration from The Arts by Hendrik Willem Van Loon)

Recognized today as one of the greatest Western composers of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived his short thirty-six years not only overworked and underfed but unappreciated. Music-lover that he was, perhaps as a young man it wouldn't have bothered Mozart too much to learn that his strenuous composer's lifestyle was to bring him quickly to the grave --- but chances are he would have the resented the fact that it was to be an unmarked pauper's grave.

Mozart's musical career began at the age of three, with his father, a violinist in the service of the Archbishop, as his private teacher. He was performing in public a year later, playing his own compositions. At six he went to Vienna to play for Maria Theresa. "How pretty you are!" he said to her young daughter Marie Antoinette on this occasion. "When I am grown up, I shall marry you." Did she perhaps remember these words as she stepped up to the guillotine thirty-one years later and prepared to breathe her last? Had this childish dream been realized, Marie Antoinette might have lived to see old age. But it would have been an old age without Mozart. By then he had already been dead two years.

When Mozart returned to Salzburg as an older teenager, the old Prince Archbishop had died and his successor was neither courteous nor an admirer of music. Mozart found his new master's superiority complex so frustrating that he resigned his position as honorary Kapellmeister. This action only further enraged the Archbishop who determined to do everything in his power to make the young man's life miserable. At that time in history, there was a great deal that such a power figure could do to a poor musician. Mozart's family fell into debt and he began traveling Europe in attempts to support himself. He fell in love with a penniless young German girl and this only made life more difficult. In response to his father's pleas not to allow his passion to ruin the girl, he wrote that he was hopelessly in love but too conscious of his duties toward God to do anything wrong. Shortly after this, he had to send news of a different sort. His mother had died in a Paris boarding-house after a long illness. It is apparent that the Mozart family's debts would not allow a doctor visit.

After his mother's death, Mozart acquired a position and was able to marry Constance Weber, the younger sister of the girl he'd so hopelessly pursued a few years before. Unfortunately, she was as bad a money manager as he was and the bills began to pile up. A poor man has to take what he is given, and while many exalted personages had commissions for Mozart, none of them paid well enough to enable him to live comfortable. When a Count Walsegg commissioned a requiem that he would later palm off as a composition of his own, Mozart, worn and stressed and in a constant fever, imagined that the valet sent to request the goods was a messenger from heaven, announcing his approaching end. The next day he died.

On the day of Mozart's burial it rained so hard that not even his wife was able to accompany him to the cemetery. The only one of Mozart's friends that was there to see his body dropped into a common grave was his faithful mongrel dog. Constance remarried and she and her new husband spent the rest of their lives organizing Mozart's compositions and preparing a biography for him. Since then dozens of biographies and monuments and memorials have been erected in his honor. Unfortunately no one even knows what exactly killed the composer, because his body, thrown into a grave reserved for the poorest of the poor, cannot be identified.

No comments: