2/24/09 - mozart

In today's excerpt - the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), death and happiness:

"Order is imperiled [in Mozart's works] but ultimately prevails: it is this sense of form that allows us in large measure to account for Karl Barth's profound observation that whereas 'darkness, chaos, death, and hell do appear [in Mozart's music] ... not for a moment are they allowed to prevail.' Barth continues his meditation: '.

" '... What occurs in Mozart is rather a glorious upsetting of balance, a turning in which the light rises and the shadows fall, though without disappearing, in which joy overtakes sorrow without extinguishing it. ... This feature is enough to mark Mozart's church music as truly sacred.' ...

"Barth was right to suspect that the sense of life finding its embodiment in musical form had a religious dimension too. In a famous letter of April 4, 1787, addressed to his gravely ill father (Leopold died on 28 May) Mozart wrote:

" 'As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind, that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling! And I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity (you know what I mean) of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. I never lie down at night without reflecting that—young as I am—I may not live to see another day. Yet no one of all my acquaintances could say that in company I am morose or disgruntled. For this blessing I daily thank my Creator.'

"Too urbane and civilized to be morose or disgruntled in company, [Mozart] was yet no stranger to life's shadows. And while he wrote to offer his father encouragement, there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of a faith that allowed him to consider death to be the true goal of our existence and the final consoling turn. Nor is there any reason to believe that this faith was formed only during Mozart's last years. Our most profound convictions are formed and reformed over an entire lifetime. The same conviction of 1787 is present, albeit inchoate and naively expressed, in a letter the fourteen-year-old [Mozart] wrote from Bologna to his mother in Salzburg on 29 September 1770:

"'I am sincerely sorry to hear of the long illness which poor Jungfrau Martha has to bear with patience, and I hope that with God's help she will recover. But, if she does not, we must not be unduly distressed, for God's will is always best and He certainly knows best whether it is better for us to be in this world or in the next. She should console herself, however, with the thought that after the rain she may enjoy the sunshine.' "


Karol Berger


Bach's Cycle Mozart's Arrow


University of California Press


Copyright 2007 by the Regents of the University of California


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