Mozart and I by Alex Braverman

You think Mozart had problems? Mozart had genius. They say genius is a problem. Genius, they say, is a cause of hypersensitivity, or maybe a result. When a genius creates something, like an opera or a minuet, or for example a painting, he relies on his hypersensitivity. But when he doesn’t create but simply lives, then this
hypersensitivity is his plague and ruin. Then he suffers from it. Or more accurately, then he suffers for it.

Nothing is free. There’s no creating, there’s only refashioning. If something of value comes out one end -- something gets defective at the other. That’s preservation of energy for you: the sum total of energy is a constant. Same with happiness. Ask anyone, ask me for example. Or ask Mozart. When someone is happy -- someone else is upset. Mozart made many people happy, so he suffered for it.

When Mozart was young, fifteen months maybe, he was already a genius. This is because his father Leopold made him so. Everything Mozart had he got from his father Leopold, who taught him everything and took him everywhere. And Mozart never disappointed. This is not to say Leopold was not disappointed. Leopold was always disappointed, for that was his nature. There are generally cheerful people, and there are generally morbid people, like Dostoyevsky, and there are disappointed people, such as Leopold.

So when Mozart was fifteen months old, Leopold took him to the Emperor’s Palace where Mozart performed for the Emperor a Concerto for Ukulele and a Very Small Orchestra. The Very Small Orchestra was performed by Leopold himself. All his life Leopold performed the part of a Very Small Orchestra, and I think this made him disappointed. A Very Small Orchestra consists of a small number of parts, all important, but none significant. The function of a Very Small Orchestra is to provide for the genius Ukulele soloist, such as Mozart. This was not a very gratifying position for Leopold, who raised genius Mozart and taught him everything and took him everywhere, while maybe, quite possibly, coveting Mozart’s genius. They say Salieri coveted Mozart’s genius. I think Leopold did. I think Leopold did him in.

It all started on that memorable night when Leopold took Mozart to the Emperor’s Palace for the Ukulele soirée. Mozart played beautifully, with both his eyes and ears shut and two fingers tied behind his back. Everyone smiled. Leopold smiled and played violin on cembalo. The Emperor smiled and drummed with his fingers on the white polished top of the harpsichord. He also wanted to play in the Very Small Orchestra. Leopold was pleased that the Emperor aspired to do what Leopold was already doing with ease and in comfort, so Leopold smiled more vigorously.

Then Mozart stopped playing and picked his nose. Leopold untied him and Mozart jumped into the arms of Golda Meir and asked her to marry him. Now everyone laughed out loud, except Leopold, who instantly became disappointed.

“How can you shame me like this in front of strangers?" asked Leopold when they got home. Mozart ran up to his mother Pertl and buried his face in her skirts. He wanted to cry, but crying only fueled Leopold’s disappointment, at times sparking opera inspiring rage. Pertl picked the boy up.

“Why don’t you ever commend him? Performing for the Emperor is no small feat," she said to Leopold.

He made a sour face which meant, “Not in front of the child." She continued in Yiddish, so that Mozart would not understand: “Why can’t you tell him, @well done!’ or 'I’m proud of you! ’? -- “And what good would that do him? Huh?" asked Leopold the pedagogue. “If I scold him, he will have something to strive for," and he immersed himself in The Punishment ofthe Brothers Karamazov.

“Leopold!" implored Pertl. “At least kiss the boy."

“He shamed me," replied Leopold, “in front of strangers."

This is what Mozart told me after the second Maccabee beer while we were sitting at a table in a sidewalk café on Dizego f Street.

“I can’t remember the time when I did not shame him," said Mozart.

“This cannot be true, Ze’ ev' , --said I. “I know for a fact he is very proud of you."
“My name is Wolfgang Mozart," said Mozart.

“In Tel Aviv your name is Ze’ ev' Moritz," said I.

“What’s in the name," said Mozart. “But tell me about his pride."

“Well, just yesterday he told me how fabulously you were doing. He said, you were a little meshugener, but still a golden head and a clever boy and surely one day you will sit down and take life seriously and then you will amount to something."

“This you call pride?"
“He’s a strange man. It’s not easy for him to pay a compliment."

“He pays them to Salieri a dime a dozen. All I hear is Salieri. Ah! Salieri! Now that’s a talent! A real genius! You should learn gerunds from him and various idioms, you know. One day he will amount to something. He will be a professor. And you? Why can’t you be a schoolteacher like everyone else?’ That’s all I hear. A schoolteacher. He should have adopted Salieri, they seem to be so fond of each other."

At which point Salieri arrived. He sat at the table and ordered hummus and Maccabee beer.

Mozart and I didn’t mind, Salieri always paid for everyone.

“Some stay popular by the power of purse," said Mozart. Salieri twitched to make a sour face, but thought better of it and pretended he didn’t get it. Popularity of a genius is cheap.

Popularity by purse can be very expensive.

“My father … " Mozart kept riding his horse. “Whenever we talk, we always end up talking about his accomplishment and my shortcomings."

“Ze’ ev,' cut it out," said I. “Stop being so hypersensitive."

Mozart opened his mouth and I stopped listening; I started scribbling notes in F# on the paper napkin. Mozart and Salieri carried on the conversation without me.

“But what does he say to you?" asked Salieri.

“He says, Sobibor. He says, Bergen-Belsen. You can’t trump that."

“Yeah, that’s steep. That’s intense," said Salieri.

“Forgive me, Salieri. You’ re not all that bad."

“Don’t mention it, Mozart." Salieri bit on a pickle and mopped up with pita the remnants of the hummus. “Why don’t you give him what he wants, just once?"

“I don’t know what he wants."

“Write the Sobibor Requiem."

Maybe the suggestion was genuine. Maybe it turned out to be the devious intrigue without any ill design by Salieri. Or maybe Salieri had genius of his own, of a different nature, and this was his retribution for the earlier remark about the popularity and purse.

“He’s been writing the Sobibor Cantata all his life," said Mozart.

“Mozart! Mozart! He’s been writing it for you! He taught you everything and took you everywhere."

“Parents should not write for their children. It’s a mean trick. This is how they keep their grip on them from beyond the grave."

“You are right, Mozart! Children should write for parents, to be their source of pride and glory. Isn’t it what you want to be for Leopold?" Salieri took a sip of Pouilly-Fumé Sauvignon Blanc and delicately nibbled on the pheasant wishbone, while parting his pinky from the rest of his fingers, so that the posture of his hand also resembled a pheasant wishbone. Ah, so very graceful! I made a quick note of this pinky on the back of the paper napkin.

It was rather warm, but Salieri’s navy with golden thread coat was buttoned all the way up to the neck. His neck turned lively in color. He tugged on the white with the shade of ivory batiste collar but did not undo the top button. He was always proper, always composed, this Salieri.

Mozart had the urge to complain, he was warming up to Salieri’s friendliness, o fering more and more episodes from his childhood, unhappy under Leopold, and the episodes kept acquiring new details, the polyphony grew in volume and complexity, converging now and then in the glass of Sauvignon Blanc in Salieri’s elegant fingertips.

They kept chattering like this, but I’ d had enough. I left Salieri to pay for the feast and went home.

Father was squinting at the candles, biting the quill, occasionally making a mark on the page. “How’s the progress?" I asked, sticking my head in his study.

“Good, good. Do you want to lose a game of chess?"

“Not now, aba' I think I lost all I could lose in one day. Maybe later. Besides, mother is calling you to dinner."

“Leo, the soup is ready!" I heard ima' calling from the kitchen.

“I’m coming, I’m coming," said Leo. “Pesya Shifra, our son is terminally ill! He doesn’t want to lose a game of chess!" And he went to relish chicken soup.

I went to my room and took the crumpled paper napkin out of the pocket, looked at the sketch and saw that it was good. I turned it over and looked at the sketch of the detail, and saw that it was also good. I set up the easel and worked for two weeks, eating roast beef sandwiches and drinking Maccabee beer. Mozart sat on the shelf and played a piano concerto.

The photographic eye of God stared down through the smoke at the distressed Baba Yaga who no longer baked children in the oven because all the children were baked and put on the baker trays by someone else. The trays moved on the conveyor belts up to heaven, imps in black uniforms were glazing the baked children for the heavenly feast. The imps’ pinkies were held gracefully to the side. Hansel and Gretel and Pretzel and Boruch were dancing bolero around the Hut on the Chicken Legs, while their dog was nibbling at the Leg. The Leg’s pinky was held gracefully to the side, apart from the rest of the claws. The front wall of the Hut was blown o f and one could see the insides. The small intestine was trying to strangle the large intestine out of hunger, chasing the slice of the SS ersatz bread it didn’t have the time to digest. At the anus of the Hut sat Mozart, the sound of his Fender Stratocaster electric guitar ripping the canvass apart with the single shrill aquamarine lightning shooting upwards towards to the photographic eye of God.

“What is this?" asked Leo, his bottom jaw so low -- it rested on the expensive Persian rug hand knotted by child labor over the period of twelve years.

“This is the Sobibor Requiem, aba," said I.

“This … this … I worked on it all my life, I taught you everything and took you everywhere, and you give me … this? Who are you?"

“My name is Asher Lev."

“Your name is Ze’ ev Moritz," said Leo.

Leo was disappointed and I knew this was Salieri’s plot, the envious conniving bastard. He always stuck tongue and nose at Mozart and me, and somehow his every intrigue always worked out to our demise and his benefit. Salieri was our puppeteer, even Leopold’s. And now Salieri pulled the strings of the Sobibor Requiem and greatly disappointed, distressed Leo sat down to his last trick, to write his last will and testament.

“Son," he wrote. He has never addressed me as son before. I was lovingly known as pindgick or pimpernoter or schlimazl. But who can address the Last Will and Testament to pimpernoter? So he wrote, “Son." And then he dipped the quill in black ink and wrote the rest of the Last Will and Testament:

Your mother Pesya Shifra says, I never acknowledge you or praise you. So now I do, here it goes: I am very proud of you. I could never say this to your face. It would’ ve been bad for your development. But the truth is I just couldn’t say it. I don’t know why. But now that I am dead I can say it.

Now that I said it and you know how I am proud of you and love you and care for you and wish you only the best, it should be easier for you to talk one last time about your future.

Pertl says you’ re a genius. She’s the mother, every mother says that. But you are normal. And as a normal person you should remember who you are and do normal things. You should become a schoolteacher. It is a good job and will keep you in bread. And what can be better than raising children? I should know, I taught you everything and took you everywhere! The pension and the retirement fund of a schoolteacher are also good.

Become more serious and write the Sobibor Requiem the way it should be written. It should be exact, it should be believable, it should be authentic, just like a photograph or an affidavit.

This is my Last Will and Testament: you must promise me that you will do it. I am not here to check on you, and I am not here for you to argue with! In exchange I bequeath you my quill, my candelabra, my blessing and my permission.

Leo sealed the envelope.

“I am going to the park to play chess," he lied. He was going to his attorney to deliver Leopold’s Last Will and Testament.

I went downstairs to take the trash out. First I didn’t hear him backing out of the parking, then I didn’t hear the sirens. Then I didn’t hear anything at all.

Now I’ m here with my friend Mozart, sticking tongues and noses at Leo and Leopold. Now let them write the Requiem.


-- Ze’ev (Hebrew) Wolf
-- Aba (Hebrew) Dad
-- Ima (Hebrew) Mum

“My name is Asher Levi is a novel by Chaim Potok. A Jewish prodigy artist, born to an ultra orthodox family, depicts his mother as crucified Jesus -- a blasphemy in his religion and an affront to his family. For this he is shunned by all and expelled from his Brooklyn community.

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