To A Young Man On His 254th Birthday

Wolferl, young friend, what about
all this fal-lal and hoorah?
Oh, you’d love the performances,
no doubt of that!
You wrote somebody once
that on taking a theater seat,
hearing the orchestra begin to tune,
immediately, you were beside yourself.

They’ve got a thing at Salzburg
involving the house where you were born.
Probably you felt about the place as fiercely
as anyone does about the place they were born.
It’s a place.

But we’re speaking of serenades—
And three companies recording the same opera
in the same hall, with different people,
in six weeks. Remarkable!
Too bad you won’t get any of the royalties.

It is bound to come to someone
before the year’s over, to dredge
Vienna’s Central Cemetery like a potato farm
Wanted: medium skull, with small cerphalic index,
probably Alpine; prominent nose, tracery upon
the brain pan in C clefs.

A useless labor, certainly, the climate and all.
They’d some to-do, a while ago,
to re-unite the lower Papa Haydn
with his wandering head-piece.
Probably it’s just as well you’ve lost.
Some enthusiastic zealot might bite off your finger,
as some idiot bit off St. Francis Xavier’s toe.
Rest your bones.

How? Rest? Well, possibly not.
Certainly they laid you out by force.
That and Papa’s religious prejudice about
vaccination. I doubt if you care to rest.
But it’s true you sang a bit of the requiem
there at the end.  Still, I think it was,
as always with you, the enjoyment of pathos.
Life as the dramatist!
Always the man standing behind the man
standing behind the mask.
You probably thought of death
as postlude-prelude; paying the price,
settling yourself in a cheap seat somewhere
to listen for the tuning of the orchestra.
On hearing it, you’d be
beside yourself at once.

© Andrew Glaze 2002, from the book Remembering Thunder

My father had an amazing memory for music.  In 2015, when he was 95, I happened to stumble across an old family scrapbook and notice a theater program for a 1948 Birmingham production of Romeo and Juliet.  According to the credits, my mother had a role, her mother made the costumes, and my father composed music for a song in the play.  Initially, when I showed him the program he claimed to have no memory of the production. Five minutes later he was humming the tune.

My grandmother once said my father blamed her for allowing him to drop out of piano lessons. “He really seemed to hate them, but later said I should have pushed him more and insisted.”  He mentioned the same regret to me.  And yet he was one of the most musical people I have ever known and music was second only to words and poetry in his world. As a child in a local boys’ choir, he was the only member able to hit high E above C and was rewarded with solos. At Harvard he became a member of the Glee Club. As a young man he joined the Hugh Thomas Choir at Birmingham-Southern College, just for the sheer joy of singing.  It was there that he met my mother. One day she was waiting for a bus, and he zoomed around the block so he could casually pull up beside her and offer a lift home.

For as long as I can remember, the first thing my father did every morning was turn the classical radio station on. From that point on, Mozart and company would entertain us all day long until my father climbed into bed at night and turned the radio off.  “Name that composer” was a favorite private hobby, and occasional shouts from his corner desk in the living room would announce that he’d accurately guessed the origin of a piece of music he’d never heard before.  At some point he remarked that as a boy he’d presented his father with a boxed set of Mozart recordings for his birthday, knowing full well that it was actually something he himself wanted.  Mozart remained a lifelong favorite.

In the early 70’s, a burgeoning friendship with classical composer Alan Hovhaness resulted in a collaboration for a Light opera-musical called, “The Most Engaged Girl”.  (Read the post “Life of a Gnat” if you’d like to learn more about this).  At the same time, my father had a play in the works titled, “Kleinhoff Demonstrates Tonight”.  As one of the lead characters was a singer, it was a natural progression for my father to write songs for him.  And they were GOOD!  The New York Public Theater did a Live Reading of it and asked the performer known as “Meatloaf” to play the role.

My father’s love of music proved to be an inheritable trait. However, when music entered my brain it evoked an irresistible urge for movement and I became a classical ballet dancer.  In my brother it evoked an urge to sing, play instruments, and compose. Entirely self-taught, at this point he has learned guitar, ukulele, banjo, mandolin, piano, and finds it difficult to sit still in free moments without an instrument in hand.

The New York City classical station was and still is WQXR. For my father, who later lived in Miami, and then returned to Birmingham, no other station could compete.  Near the end of my father’s life, when he was bedridden in Birmingham, my brother and I set up a laptop to livestream broadcasts from New York for him. He’d close his eyes in bliss and wave his hands in time with the music for what seemed like hours.

For 90 plus years, my father’s life, and our life as a family, had been accompanied by classical music.   Experts tell us that when we die, the very last sense to leave us is the gift of hearing.  So it seems incredibly appropriate that when my father finally took his last breath and slipped away into the next world, his exit was accompanied by WQXR.

Interesting Facts Mentioned in the Poem:
Yes,
as a child his name of Wolfgang was shortened to the nickname Wolferl”.
Yes
, Mozart’s father chose not to vaccinate his children for small pox. At age 11, Mozart
nearly died of the disease. He suffered through a long series of other serious illnesses over the course of his life and died at age 35.
Yes, it’s true that grave robbers managed to sever composer Josef Haydn’s head and steal it.  Ten years later the thieves were caught and gave authorities a skull that was placed in his grave, but kept the real thing to themselves. 145 years later, Haydn’s genuine skull was finally reunited with his body.  To this day, there are two skulls buried with Haydn’s body. One is genuine, and the other a mystery.
Yes, it’s true that a fan of St. Francis Xavier was so overcome by grief at his funeral that she bit off his big toe.  It was later rescued and encased as a relic.
Yes, it’s true that Mozart’s birthplace is now a museum in Salzburg, Austria.  The family lived on the 3rd floor from 1747 to 1773.  There is also a building in Innsbruck with a plaque stating that Mozart lived there as a child for a while. The one in Innsbruck currently houses a very subdued McDonalds fast food joint.  Truth is, Mozart traveled so much, from a very young age, that his trail resembles the American adage “George Washington slept here”.
Yes, the poem was published in 2002, and Mozart’s 254th Anniversary was not until 2010.
Yes, near the end of his life Mozart was visited by a mysterious masked man who commissioned him to compose a Requiem. As Mozart worked on the piece he became increasingly ill and began to feel that he was writing it for himself. Tragically, he died before it was finished.
Yes, Mozart was buried in an unmarked paupers grave and therefore is unlikely to suffer the same fate that Haydn did.

—-E. Glaze

Mozart

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