The Beauties of Mozart

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 01, 2012

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIt was a good time to be away. While my good friend Louis Lee Sing was fighting down Brian Lara (a bad fight to pick: you just don’t dump on a national hero like that); and Penny Beckles, a woman I admire politically, was being chastised for cultivating her own group of supporters (I thought every politician had a right to develop his or her own political base); and my favorite publisher, Maxie Cuffie, was lambasting Lennox Grant for trying to compromise his journalistic ability (he says that Grant failed in his duty to advance the integrity of the press), I took time out to visit Wolfgang Mozart’s residence in Salzburg, Austria.

I do not want to sound elitist or a fervent fan of western classical music. I enjoy it but I can take it or leave it. I get as much pleasure listening to African-American classical music (the music of Coltrane and Miles Davis) and when they are at their best the music of Boogsie Sharp and his Phase Two Pan Groove steel orchestra. So that getting away from the kang-ka-tang at home all was not so much an attempt to demonstrate distance from my home or to signal a refined taste but a constant desire to explore and understand the best emanations of human genius in the arts, the sciences, in painting, in sports or in music.

Salzburg is only about two hours by train from Munich, Germany, where I spent about two weeks in January. Leaving Munich about ten in the morning I traveled to Salzburg, located a bit south east of Munich and nestled softly amidst the Alps. The weather, I am told, can be extraordinarily draconian (as in cold) at this time of the year especially for those of us in the Caribbean who are accustomed to perpetual summers. However, global warming is taking its toll and weather that was supposed to be close to zero degrees Fahrenheit during this time of the year was in its forties in Munich. In Salzburg it was raining as it seems to do quite a bit at this time of year.

I arrived in Salzburg about noon and headed for Markartplaza where Mozart’s residence is located. Mozart, a child prodigy, seems to have taken Europe by storm (well not literally) at the end of the eighteenth century. The first thing that struck me about Mozart’s residence was the immaculate manner in which this building was kept and the great deal of pride the country takes in its prodigy. One does not have to be a lover of classical music to understand that one measure of a people’s greatness is how they treat their achievers-or those who have contributed to the world’s store of knowledge and entertainment.

You may not care particularly for Mozart’s concertos or his symphonies. One may not even understand the fine point of his compositions (which is not necessary to enjoy his music) but each country needs its shrines and its great men and women at least to give the rest of us in the society heights to which they may aspire.

When I went to primary school our reading books were filled with phrases and bits of poetry that were meant to inspire us to reach beyond ourselves and to strive to realize our highest potential. We did not know who the authors were; where they came from; or what their politics were. We only knew we were supposed to aspire to reach for the stars even though most us never reached any higher than the tree tops.

And so it was that there in Salzburg, as I sat in Mozart’s residence, listening to his music, and looking at a documentary of his life, almost unbidden the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow came to me just as it was in our West Indian Readers: “The heights by great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

Mozart was born in 1756. At the age of five he was playing the keyboard and a year later he had traveled to Munich and Vienna with his father. On New Year’s 1764 he performed at Louis XV’s royal dinner for the royal family. At twelve he composed an opera for Emperor Joseph 11 of Vienna. In order to achieve the success that he did at a tender age he traveled to the various cities of Europe to practice his craft. Some of these were grueling trips taken in the depth of winter, in horse- drawn carriages (it was the only way of traveling) going from city to city.

Less we place too much emphasis on Mozart’s genius and picture someone writing for the sheer beauty of the art one has to think again. Mozart, like Charles Dickens, was a hustler. He had to compose and play music for a living; getting his commissions where he could and seeking out paid performances which he took willingly to keep up an extravagant life style. A genius he might have been but he had to work for his living.

Although his life was crowned with success, his end was not as auspicious as his beginning. In 1781, he travels to Vienna and decided to stay there. Because he disobeyed the Archbishop by not returning to Salzburg, he was given, as the literature says, “a kick in the arse.” Until his death in 1791 he resided permanently in Vienna. He fathered six children with his wife Constanze and wrote 626 pieces in his short life but experienced considerable financial problems during the last ten years of his life.

As I left Salzburg late that evening, I couldn’t help but think that we, in Trinidad and Tobago, should do much more to support and to promote our talented citizens and allow them much more scope to prosper. It might be that our Prime Minister may learn this lesson as she continues her trips as she seeks to understand what really matters in this world.