When Mozart’s Ass Was Burning
I am trying to recall the last time I received an actual, honest-to-goodness letter. Emails don’t count and neither does the reassuringly consistent correspondence I receive from the Canada Revenue Agency. (Don’t worry, I have paid my taxes.) No, I mean letters, on tree-derived paper, from friends, relatives or significant others; the kind with sentences, paragraphs and often even punctuation. It seems to be somewhat a lost art.
I’m not so seriously deluded as to think that this humble column will inspire a letter-writing renaissance, but just for a moment, consider the noticeable brightness you may add to someone’s day by penning a few thoughts and dropping it in the mail. Not sure what to write? Fortunately, I have inspiration for you from the unlikeliest of sources.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is remembered as one of the world’s most profound musical geniuses. But you may not know that Mozart was also a prolific—and colourful—writer of letters. Roughly 700 of these documents survive. They make fascinating reading, and they should provide you with a considerable number of points from which to start your next letter. I’m honour-bound here to mention that Mozart’s fondness for obscenities and lusty commentary makes a number of these missives inappropriate for the especially young or the easily offended reader.
About one of his patrons, Mozart wrote: “Stupidity oozes out of his eyes. He talks and carries on constantly and always in a high falsetto.” In a letter to his cousin, he wrote (among other things too colourful to print here!): “My ass burns like fire! What on earth is the meaning of this?” On the subject of winning favour with the public, he wrote to his father: “To win applause one must write stuff so simple that a coachman might sing it.” About his future wife, Constanze, he wrote: “She’s only pretty in that she has two small back eyes and a good figure.” And just days before the tragic end of his too-short life, he wrote to his sister-in-law, “I already have the taste of death on my tongue.”
These letters give us an astonishingly clear picture of who the real Mozart was. They reveal a flesh-and-blood humanness characterized by wild changes of mood and instantaneous shifts of disposition. Without question, this volatile personality also shines through in the music he wrote, endowing it with an undeniably arresting quality, even now, some 250 years after it was written.
Just one of hundreds of examples of this is his Symphony No. 40, the Great G Minor Symphony. It is a work of passion, of grief, and even of violence. Yet just like his unpredictable personality, against this backdrop of sometimes intense darkness, there are moments when the clouds part, and we are awestruck by sudden expressions of pure joy, as only Mozart could create.
Now that I have this off my chest, I will be checking my mailbox daily in keen anticipation of the long-overdue letters from all of you. If anyone from the Canada Revenue Agency is reading this, of course, it’s always lovely to hear from you too.