If you read his Letters, Mozart will be your friend for life; his kind face will show itself in moments of trouble, and when you are miserable you will hear his merry boyish laugh and blush to give way to dark moods as you think of what he himself so courageously endured. Let us recall his memory; it is fast slipping into shadow…
He was a pleasant and cheerful soul. He had quick sympathies and the gentleness of a woman – or rather of a child, for he was given to tears and laughter, to teasing, and all the tricks of a warm-hearted boy. Usually he was very lively, and amused at nothing in particular; he had difficulty in keeping still and was always singing and jumping about, nearly killing himself with laughter over anything funny, or even over things that were not funny. He loved good jokes and bad ones, was without malice or arrière pensée. He loved those he knew – his father, his wife, his friends; he loved them tenderly and spoke of them with ardent affection, so that one’s heart is warmed by this as it is by his music. He had a splendid capacity for friendship, as only those who have been poor understand friendship. He himself says: “Our best and truest friends are those who are poor. Rich people know nothing of friendship“. His letters are full of loving affection and mad gaiety; and he seems unaffected by the illness, cares, and terrible distress that would make up the most cruel portion of his life. His words come from an irresistible desire to laugh, which he cannot conquer and which he had to satisfy even in the midst of the worst of his troubles. His laughter is very near to tears – those happy tears that well up from a loving nature. He was very happy though no life could have been harder than his. It was a perpetual fight against sickness and misery. Death put an end to it – when he was thirty-five years old. So where could his happiness come from?
A part of his being has remained in the Letters he wrote. One source for his happiness was his religion, which was sound and free from all superstition – a firm, strong kind of faith which doubt had never injured though it may have touched it. It was also a calm and peaceful faith, without passion or mysticism: Credo quia verum. To his dying father he wrote: “I am counting on good news although I make a practice of always imagining the worst. As death is the true purpose of life, I have, for many years, made myself familiar with that best friend of man; and his face has now no longer any terror for me, but is, if anything, calm and consoling to look upon. I thank God for this blessing . . . and I never go to bed without thinking that perhaps on the morrow I may no longer be alive. And yet no one who knows me could say that I am sad or discontented. I give thanks to my Creator for this happiness and hope with all my heart my fellow-creatures may share it” (April 4, 1787).
So he found happiness in the thought of eternity. And his happiness on earth was in the love of those about him and especially in his love for them.
But Mozart’s true happiness was in creation. For him creation never meant the bitter seeking after an elusive ideal, but a perfect joy and so natural that it seemed almost a physical enjoyment. Composing was as important for his health as eating, drinking and sleeping. It was a need, a necessity—a happy necessity, since he was continually able to satisfy it. “Composing is my one joy and passion“, he said on October 10th, 1777. This fortunate genius seemed born to create. His work was like a sweet scent in his life – like a beautiful flower whose only care is to live. So easy was creation to him that at times it poured from him in impetuous streams.
But let us put away his Letters for a while and let ourselves delight in the sublime river of Mozart’s music. Here we shall find his soul, and with it his characteristic gentleness and understanding. These two qualities seem to pervade his whole nature; they surround him and envelop him like a soft radiance. Mozart’s music is love, and that is why he has so many friends. And how well he returns their love! How tenderness and affection flow from his heart! As a child he had a terrible need of affection. He grew up, but his heart always remained that of a child; and beneath all his music we seem to hear a single demand: “I love you; please love me.”
His compositions constantly sing of Love.
Warmed by his own feeling, the conventional characters of lyric tragedy acquire a personal note and possess a lasting charm for all those who are themselves capable of love. There is nothing extravagant or romantic about Mozart’s love; he merely expresses the sweetness or the sadness of affection, and this gives his whole work a character of ineffable peace.
“Passions, whether violent or not, should never be expressed when they reach an unpleasant stage; and music, even in the most terrible situations, should never offend the ear, but should charm it and always remain music” (September 26, 1781).
Thus music is a painting of life, but of a refined sort of life. And melodies, though they are the reflection of the spirit, must charm the spirit without wounding the flesh or “offending the ear.” According to Mozart, music is the harmonious expression of life. In his entire work this truth is self-evident: Mozart’s music addresses the heart, and is a treasure overfilled with feelings or passion. The poetry of Mozart’s music transfigures all it touches. He is the eternal friend of those who love in joy and peace. Although he knew sadness in every form, he rarely let it show in his music. His life was not easy, yet his spirit was always serene. His soul was youthful and gentle, suffering at times from an excess of affection, yet full of peace. Mozart sings his troubles in powerful phrases, in his own charming way, and ends by falling asleep in the midst of his tears with a smile on his face. It is the contrast between his flower-like soul and his supreme genius that forms the charm of his poems in music. A human being wonderfully endowed with joy and love for life, letting the essence of his soul speak in his music, nourishing himself of springs in which only him, the God-Given, was able to find the Divinity in Man.
There are times when Mozart’s soul soars higher still and attains sublime and quiet regions where the stirrings of human passion are unknown. At such times Mozart is above himself, deified human being expressing his greatness through God’s will. The Voice of God on earth.
In Mozart’s work such heights were but a few, and Mozart’s faith seems only to find such expression when he wishes to reassure himself. Mozart was a believer from the first; his faith is firm and calm and knows no disquietudes, so he does not talk about it; rather does he speak of the gracious and ephemeral world about him, which he loves so well and which he wishes to love him. But when a dramatic subject opens a way to the expression of religious feeling, or when grave cares and suffering or presentiments of death destroy the joy of life and turn his thoughts to God, then Mozart is himself no longer – that Mozart the world knows and loves. In such dramatic moments we can have a glimpse of what he might have become if death had not stopped him on the way! In three great works, particularly, has Mozart expressed the Divine: that is in the Requiem, in Don Giovanni and in DieZauberflöte. The Requiem breathes of Christian faith in all its purity. Mozart there put worldly pleasure away from him, and kept only his heart, which came fearfully and in humble repentance to speak with God. Sorrowful fear and gentle contrition united with a noble faith run through all that work. The touching sadness and personal accent of certain phrases suggest that Mozart was thinking of himself when he asked eternal repose for others.
In the two other works religious feeling also finds an outlet; and through the artist’s intuition it breaks away from the con-fines of an individual faith to show us the essence of all faith. The two works, apparently so different, complete each other. Don Giovanni gives us the burden of predestination, while Die Zauberflöte sings of the joyous freedom of the Virtuous. Both by their simple strength and calm beauty have a classic character. The fatality in Don Giovanni and the serenity of Die Zauberflöte form perhaps the nearest approach of modem art to Greek art. Mozart’s art is clear and full of light.
In the glow of this light Mozart died on December 5, 1791. The first performance of DieZauberflöte had taken place on September 30 in the same year, and Mozart wrote the Requiem during the two last months of his life. He had scarcely begun to unfold the secret of his being when death took him, at merely thirty-five years of age. Mozart had called it “his best friend”; and it was at death’s approach and under its inspiration that he first became conscious of the supreme power that had been captive within him – a power to which he yielded himself in his last and most powerful work. Death cut short the course of Mozart’s life, but his life has been to others a never-failing source of peace. We will forever seek refuge in the serenity of his music, as one might seek it upon the heights of Olympus. From there, from that quiet spot, an island of spirit, light and peace, looking down to the world we will only hear the murmur of ocean billows on a distant shore…
Detail from the portrait Familiebild – the Mozart Family painted by Johann Nepomuk della Croce in the years 1780-1781, in Salzburg. It is one of the few authenticated portraits.
The portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, painted by Joseph Lange (his brother in law) around 1789 in Vienna. Mozart was sitting at his piano, looking at the score – for reasons that have remained unknown, the portrait was never finished.
In the conversations that Vincent and Mary Novello had with Constanze in 1829 (conversations that would give life to the book “Mozart – A Pilgrimage“), Mozart’s widow, when asked which of his portraits was closest to his real looks, pointed to this one.
A beautiful essay floating freely in the Internet Ocean, adapted from
Romain Rolland’s Mozart
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