A Short History of Long-Haired Music: Amadeus, Part 3


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I’m willing to wager that if you got your hands on a copy of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41—or “The Jupiter Symphony,” you might find yourself suddenly lost in the lilting beauty of the second movement—the Andante Cantabile[2]. You might even find yourself air-conducting your very own symphony orchestra. Oh, you say you already have a copy? Wonderful. Here’s what you do:

Find a quiet spot where you can be alone, someplace tranquil and remote. Once you have your spot, put on the aforementioned second movement, the Andante Cantabile[3]. Never mind that you still have no idea what Andante Cantabile means because you haven’t taken the time to read the footnote. Put it on anyway and then close your eyes. Okay, now you can’t read this because your eyes are closed, but whatever.

Let the strings in the beginning warm over you, lift you gently from your remote spot, and carry you to another spot—your Mozart spot. Your senses should suddenly come alive. You should feel as if a cool breeze is blowing through your hair—like you just bit into a York Peppermint Patty.

Notice how elegantly proportioned Mozart’s music is. Notice how it’s simple, but never simplistic. Logical, but never coldly so. Clean, but not so clean your mother isn’t still going to have a conniption.

Once you’ve listened through the entire seven- or eight-minute[4] movement, go back and listen to it again. This time, pay special attention to the opening theme. Notice the beautiful, luminous, almost ballad-like quality of the melody as it lifts off, soars upward, holds there suspended in mid-air a few seconds before gently falling back down into the harmony. Blissful, isn’t it? I’ve always imagined that if this theme were a love song by Elvis, the lyric would go something like this:

Love me dear, love me true

Love me dear, as I love you

Play the movement once more, this time singing my fake Elvis lyric to the opening theme every time you hear it recapitulated. Never mind if your voice sounds like a cross between a power drill and cat in heat. Never mind if you can’t carry a tune. You’re alone in your remote spot. Who can hear you? And even if someone can hear you, so what? It’s your chance to let the Elvis impersonator inside you run wild. To go a little meshuga. To let your hair down like Mozart did. Forget that his was a powdered wig, just do it.

Now, doesn’t the movement sound like a long-lost song by The King of Rock and Roll? The B-side to one of his hit singles? Eh?

Unfortunately for Mozart, the Jupiter Symphony didn’t become a hit until long after his death. While he was alive, it didn’t earn him a florin,[5] let alone see the published light of day.

The last years for Mozart were extremely arduous and sad. His opera, Don Giovanni had a successful production in Prague, but then failed in Vienna. The Viennese, in general, were hard-pressed to go out for a night at the theater because of the economic recession caused by the Austrian Empire’s new war with Turkey. As a result, the Mozarts were forced to move out of the center of town and into the suburbs, where the composer was at least able to boast, “I have greater leisure to work now since I am not troubled by so many visitors.”[6] Adding, “Plus, there’s a convenient 7-Eleven right down the road and a Blockbuster Video that stays open ‘til midnight.”

But the suburbs proved isolating and the Mozart’s income dropped considerably. Commissions dried up, his six-month old daughter, Theresia, died, and shortly after, his own health started to falter once again. But not before he received one last commission for a Requiem Mass from a source who wished to remain anonymous. It was to be composed entirely in secret—something that must have appealed to the Mason in Mozart. He set out working on it at once and completed about half of it before his latest illness confined him to bed.

There’s a great scene in the movie Amadeus where Mozart is dictating portions of the requiem from his bed to the composer Antonio Salieri. While about as accurate as George Bush’s command of the English language (Salieri had nothing to do with the commissioning or writing of Mozart’s requiem) it’s still worth viewing, if you haven’t already. And if you have, well go rent it again. The film certainly didn’t win the “Best Picture” Oscar for nothing you know.

Unlike Milos Forman, the director of Amadeus, Mozart died a very poor man on December 5th, 1791 of rheumatic inflammatory fever. Other diagnoses, taking into account Mozart’s illustrious medical history, came forth posthumously claiming he died of everything from poisoning (by Salieri himself if you believe Amadeus) to Schönlein–Henoch syndrome, which is something Mozart could have picked up as a child. Though the cause of this difficult-to-pronounce syndrome isn’t exactly known, it’s been associated with intense exposure to cold, insect bites, and, well-whaddaya-know, food reactions. So my little joke about the liver pâté he consumed in abundance while a guest at Buckingham Palace as a boy may not, indeed, be a laughing matter after all.

As for the his unfinished Requiem, Constanze Mozart, who was now poor beyond measure (Mozart was buried in a common, public pit of a grave), rounded up every composer she could find to pitch in and complete it in a timely fashion so she might collect the money due her family.

The anonymous commission, it would later be determined, was from one

Count von Walsegg-Stuppach. And no, I didn’t just make that name up—feel free to Google him if you don’t believe me. Turns out, Count von Walsegg-Stuppach wanted to pass the requiem off as his own, in memory of his late wife. (The Countess Ham-ikka-Schnim-ikka-Schnam-ikka-Schnoop, perhaps?)

[1] For more on instruments of the orchestra, hang on to your hat for a future post.

[2] Italian for “Slowly Singing”

[3] See previous footnote. Come on people! Just ‘cause they’re small and stuck at the bottom of the post doesn’t mean you don’t have to read ‘em.

[4] Depending on who conducted the recording you have, and how old he was at the time the recording was made. Leonard Bernstein, for instance, recorded Beethoven’s 9th Symphony three times during his career. First in ’64, then ’79, and then again in ’89. Each successive recording is longer by as much as two minutes.

[5] No, not the Viennese equivalent of a Grammy, but rather the currency used at the time.

[6] Source: The Letters of Mozart and his Family, W.W. Norton & Co., 1985

If you missed our previous installments, check out A Short History of Long-Haired Music archives