THE STORY OF MOZART’S MASTERPIECE.
BY ARTHUR EUGEN SIMSON.
From the German by L. deV. Matthewman.
On a sultry September afternoon of the year 1791, a young married couple might have been seen walking slowly along the left bank of the Danube, in Leopoldshade, a suburb of Vienna. Although they were dressed very simply,—in fact, almost poorly,—the passers-by noticed them attentively.
Many stood still, and, having said “Good-morning,” turned to watch the pair, who occasionally stopped to exchange a few words with acquaintances. Others shook their heads sadly and murmured sympathetically, “A sin and a shame! A sin and a shame!” and some added, “He can not bear it much longer, poor fellow!” The appearance of the man, who was about thirty-five years old, fully justified the fear expressed. His face was pale and pinched; he walked slowly and evidently with difficulty, and had to lean heavily on his wife’s arm. Frequently he was brought to a complete standstill by a violent fit of coughing, which threatened to take his breath.
His wife’s tender sympathy beamed from her eyes as she gazed tenderly on the pale, thin face, reddened now and again with a hectic flush. Its pallor was rendered all the more striking by the sunken, dark eyes, in which the fire of genius burned brightly, still undimmed by suffering. As soon as a paroxysm of coughing was over, the husband stroked his wife’s hand, and tried to soothe her by saying: “Don’t worry about me, dear; don’t worry. It’s nothing—really nothing.”
At length the pair reached the gate of the Augarten, over which was the inscription placed there by the order of the Emperor Joseph II, “Devoted to the pleasure of his people by their well-wisher.”
“I hope there is no one in your favorite seat, dearie,” began the pretty wife. “You know it was there that you first struck me,” she added roguishly, as she laughed into her husband’s eyes.
“Struck you?” replied the man, amazed. “When I first struck you—did you say?”
“Yes, where you first struck me! You have a bad memory, and I shall have to jog it a little,” said the wife with comical earnestness. “You don’t mean to say you have really forgotten? You have no room in your head for anything but your notes, have you, dearie?” she continued, playfully tapping his forehead with her forefinger. “Do n’t you remember? We had been married barely three weeks, and we brought the dog with us into the Augarten, and I said that the animal cared more for me than for you, and that if you cared to prove it you had better strike me and see how he would fly at you. Then, for fun, you boxed my ears “
“Oh, yes; I remember it now,” said the husband, laughing; and just at that moment the Emperor passed and thought I was in earnest, and said: ‘This is a pretty bad beginning! Not married three weeks yet, and beating your wife already! For shame!’”
And they both laughed so long and so merrily that the tears stood in their eyes, until another attack of coughing put an end to the wife’s laughing.
“The good Emperor!” resumed the man, sadly, when the cough had spent itself. “We shall not find another like him; and yet, he was neither understood nor appreciated. May his soul rest in peace!”
By this time they had reached the bench, which was sheltered by a thick bush. There they sat down after the wife had carefully spread out her handkerchief on the paint, which appeared to be scarcely dry. The cool breeze and the tonic of the piny atmosphere was very grateful to the invalid, who breathed deeply, and said : “That’s good!”
“Try to rest, dear,” answered the wife, as she took her knitting out of her pocket. “We can stay here just as long as you like.”
“Constance, won’t you tell me a story?” began the man, after a short pause. “I love to hear your sweet voice—it is music to me, and my best inspirations come when I hear you talk or tell me a story; won’t you, dear? Do, there’s a good girl!”
His wife nodded to him lovingly, and began to tell him the story of “Red Riding Hood,” which story, she knew, her husband loved particularly to hear. Besides, she knew that the sound of her voice was more to him than the story itself. So, without any sign of weariness or unwillingness, she told the fairy tale to her suffering husband.
She told it cheerfully, but when she reached the point where Red Riding Hood was under the tree which she had planted on her mother’s grave, she noticed that her husband had fallen asleep. She did not, however, abruptly stop, for she knew that that would awaken him; but she gradually lowered her voice until it sank into a soft whisper, and then she ceased entirely.
Still the devoted wife sat at her husband’s side—a guardian angel watching over him. She went on with her knitting, and drove off a fly which threatened to disturb the sleeper. As she accomplished this, her face beamed with joy at having succeeded in prolonging the invalid’s much-needed sleep.
At the end of half an hour or so he awoke suddenly and smiled at her.
“Good-morning, Wolfgang,” cried his wife, merrily. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, very well,” was the answer;” and I had such a beautiful dream—the music was heavenly. Oh, Constance, dearie, all the music I ever wrote was nothing compared with that which I heard in my dream!” “What did you dream?” asked Constance, eagerly. ” Oh, it was sad—and yet so glorious,” said the man, clasping his hands as if in prayer. ” I dreamed I was dead and in my grave——-“
“Oh, darling,” cried his wife, whose eyes filled with tears, “how can you say that that was glorious!”
“Wait a minute, dear,” he said, putting his arm around the waist of his wife, who was leaning affectionately against him;” wait a minute and you’ll see that it was glorious. As I was saying, I was dead and in my grave, and around me there was a choir of angels singing ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine!’ It was so beautiful! I have never heard anything like it in my life. It was infinitely sweeter than any church music I ever composed—and then the cymbals and the magnificent ‘Tuba mirum’! Only angels could write and sing such music. It was heavenly, divine!”
And, as through his mind the music of his dream passed, the composer stared fixedly before him, while his fingers moved as if he were playing a piano.
“Wolfgang,” broke in Constance, whose eyes were still full of tears, ” that comes from thinking so much about that silly ‘Requiem.’ Goodness only knows who commissioned you to write it!”
“Sh ! sh ! ” answered the musician, warningly. “I have it! Yes, that’s it!”
And he hastily fumbled in his pockets for pencil and paper to jot down the notes; but neither pencil nor paper could he find. Then his eye rested on a piece of the red chalk which is so plentiful about Vienna, and which is often used for writing. He quickly seized the chalk and sharpened it, and then hastily began to scribble the music on the slats of the bench on which he had been sitting. In a short time the bench was almost covered with lines and notes.
His wife watched him in dumb amazement, and, through watching him, failed to observe the approach of the uniformed park-keeper, whose face showed the pride of authority and the indignation of the man whose authority has been treated with disrespect. He raised his silver-headed cane—his mark of office—and rushed toward the disfigured bench.
“Confound your impudence, you good-for-nothing loafer! So you are one of the gang which scratches all my benches, and I’ve caught you in the act! I’ll spoil your little game this time, you scoundrel! Stop that this minute and stand up! Do you hear me? What’s your name?”
“Just a second! Just wait a second, and I shall have done,” replied the composer, without stopping his writing.
“Oh, please Mr. Guardian,” began the wife, who was trembling with fear, “don’t interrupt him. He’s writing music.”
“What?” thundered the eye of the law; “he’s writing music and so I must n’t disturb him! Writing music, nothing. He ‘s scrawling all over the bench. I say, stop that, will you! Stop it, this instant!”
“Tuba mirum spargens sonum,” sang the composer softly to himself as he continued to write, and without paying the slightest attention to the infuriated park-keeper.
“Curse your impudence!” roared the latter, now thoroughly enraged by the cool indifference of the culprit, who paid not the slightest attention to him. “Get up, I tell you, for the last time. What’s your name? “
With these words, in spite of the pleading and ineffectual interference of the weeping wife, the park- watcher seized the musician by the shoulders and jerked him to his feet.
“What’s your name?” he again shouted.
The effect of the words on the burly park-keeper was wonderful. He dropped his superior official mien, and his face grew human and sympathetic. A smile even forced its way through his thick mustache.
It was now Mozart’s turn to smile. As is well known, he was not free from vanity, and, in spite of his brilliant triumphs, he did not disdain the approval of the unlettered park-watcher. For the first time he realized how popular he was. Deeply touched, he held out his hand, saying:
“Yes, my good man! I am the Mozart who wrote ‘The Magic Flute.’”
“Oh, that’s all right. No harm done,” said the composer, laughing. “You were in the right. I say, I’ve spoiled the whole bench! But, you see, I had n’t a scrap of paper with me. I hope you’ll excuse me. Don’t take it amiss, will you? “
“Don’t worry about that,” replied the park-keeper. “That’s of no consequence. So you had to write it on the bench because you had no paper. Is it as good as ‘The Magic Flute’?”
“A great deal finer,” answered Mozart, enthusiastically.
“And is it finished now?” asked the watcher, eagerly.
“Oh, dear, no,” answered Mozart, casting a regretful glance at the bescribbled bench, “only, unfortunately, there is no more room on the seat.”
“Just wait a minute,” said the watcher, who seemed to realize the importance of the moment; “I can help you some.”
He ran off, and in a few minutes returned, panting under a load. He had brought another newly painted bench, which he had carried a considerable distance.
“Now, then,” said he, contentedly, as he placed the bench in front of the composer, “there is another, and if that is n’t enough, there are others in the park.”
Mozart thanked the man and tried to decline to disfigure the bench, but the admirer of “The Magic Flute” insisted that he should write the rest of the “Requiem.”
When the whole was written, Mozart rose from his knees, and hummed through the composition from beginning to end, taking sometimes the melody, sometimes the accompanying instruments.
“Now, then,” he said, “that’s finished.”
“Shall I send the benches to your house so that you may copy the music, Herr von Mozart?” asked the keeper. “Or,” he added heartily, “if you care to step into my house, you are quite welcome to do so. I will stay here and take care of the bench.”
Mozart held out his hand and said: ” That’s not at all necessary, thank you. I have it here, and here,” pointing to his head and laying his hand on his heart. “But I’ll come back—won’t we, Constance? we’ll come here again, and I shall be very glad to see you. What is your name, my man?”
“Geppert,” was the answer.
“Well, Herr Geppert, I am ever so much obliged to you for your kindness, and when the music which I have written on the bench is in ship shape I’ll let you know. I hope you’ll come to see me then. I live at number 934 Rauhesteinstrasse. I’ll play the music for you, and then you’ll hear it as it ought to be played. It is a mass for the dead—a requiem.”
“Thank you, very much, Herr von Mozart. I’ll come, gladly, and won’t you play something from ‘The Magic Flute’ for me when I come there?”
“Certainly,” replied Mozart, laughing, “anything you like.”
Mozart and his wife set out for home, she tenderly helping him by letting him lean upon her, for he had little strength.
Over two months had passed since the incident recorded, and every day had Geppert made a pilgrimage to the bench where he had, in such a strange and unforeseen manner, met the composer of “The Magic Flute.” Hour after hour he sat on the bench, which still bore traces of the musician’s writing, and looked so wistfully along the avenue; but day after day he was disappointed, for Mozart did not put in an appearance.
“Well, it seems as if, after all, I had been neatly taken in,” he growled to himself one day. “Yes, I was taken in nicely. I was a fool to believe him so quickly.”
He rose angrily and went away; and the next day he again went to the same spot,—to the Mozart bench, as he called it, —“for,” said he to himself, “surely he will come here to-day.”
Weeks passed; the leaves fell, and winter came. A thick covering of snow lay over the deserted park. But from the watcher’s cottage to the Mozart bench there was a well-defined foot-path, for Geppert obstinately made his pilgrimage daily through ice and snow, and hoped against hope that he had not been tricked, and that Mozart would make his appearance. His daily walk became a habitude. He could not resist taking it.
One day—it was in the afternoon of the third of December—Geppert sat on the bench waiting. He noticed a figure clad in the priests’ secular dress approaching slowly through the deep snow from the entrance.
Geppert rose respectfully as the priest neared him, and took off his hat.
“Ugh,” groaned the new-comer, as he wiped the perspiration from his brow, “it’s been no easy thing to ferret some one out, I assure you. Can you tell me where Watcher Geppert lives?”
“My name is Geppert. What can I do for your Reverence?”
“Now, that’s lucky,” answered the priest. “I am Abbot Stadler. Kapellmeister Mozart has sent you his kind regards———————————— “
The Abbot’s face grew very sad.
“I’m sorry to say he is ill—very ill,” he answered. “I fear that he has written his last work. He told me about having commenced it in the park here, and that he wrote it,” he said smilingly, ”with your help. Still, in spite of his illness, his work is so near completion that to-morrow afternoon, at two o’clock, we are going to run it over. He remembered his promise to come here again, but he has not been able to get out, so he sent me to ask you if you would do him the pleasure of coming to-morrow afternoon.”
“Did he really think of me?” cried Geppert, whose emotion was plainly visible. “Yes, I’d go if I had to run through the snow for three hours to get there. This waiting to see him has been hard to bear.”
“Well, good-bye, Herr Geppert. Don’t forget to be there in good time. Remember, Rauhesteinstrasse, number—”
“Nine thirty-four. Oh, yes, I remember the number all right. Herr von Mozart told me himself where he lived. Yes, I’ll be there promptly!”
At two o’clock on the following afternoon the door of Mozart’s chamber was opened, and, preceded by Frau Mozart, Geppert entered, walking carefully on tip-toe. But when he saw the altered face of the invalid he received a severe shock, and could scarcely repress a sob. Death had set his mark on the musician’s face. Mozart tried in vain to force a smile when he saw the face of his humble admirer, but the smile was stifled by pain. He turned his face away, but held out his hand, saying: “You see, I have kept my word. Sit down, Herr Geppert. We’ll begin at once.”
Geppert took the musician’s hand and pressed it to his lips, but was so overcome by emotion that he could not utter a word. Fortunately, the door again opened, and several people entered, so Geppert retreated into a corner, where he sat down. Those who had just entered were Abbot Stadler, the composer Süssmaier, who was a young friend and pupil of Mozart’s; Schack, the tenor; Hofer, the violinist; Mozart’s brother-in-law, and Gerl, the bass. They looked grief-stricken.
When they had greeted Mozart, Süssmaier sat down at the piano. Stadler acted as conductor and gave out the scores. Schack, as was customary, sang the air; Hofer, the tenor; Gerl, the bass, and, incredible as it may seem, Mozart himself took the contralto—sang, although dying.
Constance and the park-watcher composed the audience at that historical rehearsal.
In all its majestic fullness rose the magnificent song of the angels as Mozart had heard it in his dream, and the “Prayer for the Eternal Rest of the Dead.” When the cymbals announced the coming judgment, the souls of the singers were stirred to the utmost, and out of the depths of their hearts they sang and prayed, “Et lux perpetua luceat eis.”
Then followed the magnificent “Dies irae,” which so majestically describes the destruction of the world and the terror of judgment until the Lord appears as Judge and Mediator, and the clang of cymbals calls all creatures before the throne. At that point the baton fell from the hand of the Abbot, who, deeply moved, threw his arms around the dying musician and wept bitterly. From every hand fell the score. The singers were silent, their hands folded in prayer. Mozart himself was so deeply moved by his own work that, laying down the score, he buried his face in the pillow.
The park-watcher sank on his knees, saying: “He was right. It is finer than ‘The Magic Flute.’” And then, unable to restrain his sobbing, he rushed out without even saying good-bye to Mozart.
On the following day the musician was no more. On the sixth of December his remains were conveyed to the churchyard of Saint Marx. Most of the friends of Mozart were prevented by a violent snowstorm from following him to the grave, and even the few who went returned as soon as possible to the gayety of Vienna.
Only one waited while the grave-digger did his work, and then knelt down on the mound, and, with quivering voice prayed, “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine!” He did not notice the driving snow that thickly fell upon his back as he bent forward in prayer, but prayed for an hour. Then he laid a wreath on the grave and went his way—with head bowed in grief.
It was the park-watcher, Geppert.
Editor’s Note.—This story is used by permission of the ” Saturday Evening Post,” of Philadelphia, Pa.