It’s been a while since my last adventure. You might recall how my Genghis Khan interview ended with forced servitude in his army.
I miraculously escaped, returned to the 21st century, and prepared for my next interview. My next option was to fire up the ol’ Time Rocket and greet another historical figure. It was a clear tossup between Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791), two classical titans of western music. Mozart seemed the funner of the two, and a decision was made.
I brought my rocket in for a tune-up at the kind of derelict auto shop where they don’t ask questions. The portly, bearded mechanic slapped a rag against his greasy palm and studied me with steely gray eyes.
“Just what kinda crazy shit did ya’ bring me this time?”
“How’s she running?” I asked, feigning ignorance.
“Running fine, but that ain’t not car.”
“It’s top secret,” I said, pulling a twenty from my wallet. “Between you, me, and Mr. Andrew Jackson here.”
He glanced at the money, unimpressed. “You owe me $435 plus tax.”
“This is the cherry on top. Understand?”
“Sure….” he said, crossing his oil-stained arms. “I understand just fine.”
Later, I went home and started packing. Mozart records filled the room with his majestic sound. Most of what I knew about the young musical prodigy was from the historically inaccurate but equally entertaining 1984 film, Amadeus. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his death at the age of thirty-five still remain a mystery.
Of course, no interview across time periods would be possible without the inevitable language barrier. Mozart was born in Austria, composed his first symphony at eight years old, and went on to create some of the finest music in the world. Like many Europeans on the move, he knew several languages. His native tongue was German, but I had read that he also spoke English. What a relief!
I packed my electronic pocket translator and some pocket-sized language books on German, French, Dutch, and Italian just in case. I also filled my suitcase with various “haughty” attire. This consisted of ruffled, frilly shirts, stockings, a makeup kit, and a powdered wig. Apparently, wigs were a status symbol.
By nightfall, I was ready to go. The time rocket was gassed up with JP-8 jet fuel that I had purchased from an Army fueler. The most important thing was ensuring there was enough to return home.
I arrived on a Wednesday evening, according to my dashboard clock. Flying through traversable wormholes to the 18th century at super sonic speeds was every bit as disorienting as standard air travel. Fortunately, I landed in an open pasture and coasted to relative safety.
The vast, dark land glowed under the moonlight. Nary a candlelight could be seen. I parked the time rocket behind an abandoned-looking barn and covered it with camouflaged tarp. It was a safer time and place than 13th century Mongolia, but I still remained alert to my surroundings.
I was a stranger in a foreign land from a different time and without cell phone service. I reached the nearest road into town and ventured ahead, seeking a local pub. Someone there had to know where I could find Mozart. In a city of roughly 200,000, it wasn’t going to be easy.
I walked the darkened dirt streets of Vienna as the clomping of horses echoed in the distance. Elegant stone buildings, some three or four stories high, filled the early metropolitan landscape in all directions. With no street lights, the flickering flames of oil lamps and candles from passing windows illuminated my path.
Posh men in wigs strutted past me with pipes in hand, wearing coats with long tails that touched the ground. Buxom women wore long, frilly dresses that sprouted from their waists like mushroom tops. I glanced at my reflection from a nearby window and saw that my hodgepodge attire blended in adequately enough.
I, too, wore a long coat, a laced and distinguished white scarf tied around my neck, tights, and ill-fitting dress shoes. Seeing similar ensembles filled me with relief. Royalty were the purveyors of fashion. If some king donned an eyepatch, for instance, or a funny hat, the masses would follow.
An hour of wandering brought led me to the boisterous chatter of a dimly lit pub. A wooden sign above the door swayed in the breeze, reading, Sophie’s Schnitzels & Brühen. I was famished and stepped right inside.
Sophie’s Schnitzels & Brews
One step inside, and I knew I was out of place. Gone were the aristocratic cliques out for an evening stroll. Gruff commoners sat about, wearing drab clothing without a hint of sophistication. Not a single wig could be seen among the disheveled, unkempt men and their stubbled cheeks.
A dozen suspicious glances toward me followed. My hastily applied makeup left me feeling self-conscious. Perhaps I had went overboard on the white powder, and the bright-red lipstick wasn’t doing me any favors either.
Indifferent men turned away as the room grew quieter. They sat around small tables, playing cards and drinking from beer steins. Candlesticks burned from brackets on low-angled beams. I nodded politely and approached a heavyset women behind the bar, cleaning a glass with a rag.
“Sophie, I presume,” I said, in near perfect German.
“Yah?” she replied.
I leaned against the hardwood bar with the frill of my long sleeve exposed. “Your finest ale, please.”
Sophie filled the glass with foamy, dark brew from a barrel behind her. She handed it over, and I attempted a toast. Patrons grumbled in response. After one sip of 18th century ale, I already felt lightheaded.
“I wonder if any of you gentlemen can help me,” I began. “I’m looking for a musician by the name of Mozart. Do you know where I can find him?”
A shaggy, intoxicated man seated nearby with sunken eyes responded. “Mozart?” He raised his arm up and pointed toward a corner near the grimy windows. “He’s sittin’ right over there.”
The Mysterious Maestro
I approached the solitary fellow seated in the corner with his back toward me. His wig had a ponytail tied in a ribbon that ran down the back of his collar. He clutched his beer stein, head dropping, as he stared into the flame of a small candle in the middle of the table.
I circled in front of him with a bow. “Hello, sir. My name is Arthur… Arthur Hamilton.” It was a lazy name I made up on the spot. “I am obliged to make your acquaintance.”
He gazed upward and said nothing. I was both fascinated and curious by his appearance. He was short and stocky, with a round, pudgy face, bushy white eyebrows, and feet that barely touched the ground. His pursed lips held a deep frown amid the squashed folds of his neck. He also looked rather old.
“Are you Mozart?”
“I am,” he said, drinking from his stein.
I eagerly pulled a chair close and sat. “It’s an honor to meet you, sir.” Despite his appearance looking nothing like the paintings, I was in awe. “Mind if I ask you some questions?” I said, concealing my tape recorder inside my sleeve.
He set the stein onto the table and narrowed his eyes. “What questions? Who are you again?”
“Arthur Hamilton, but that’s not important. I’m just honored to be talking with the great Mozart.”
“Well…” he began, blushing.
“I love your music,” I continued. “The entire world does.”
Utter confusion spread across his face. “Music?”
“The music you create, “I said, excitedly. “Your symphonies, sonatas, and operas are divine.”
“Are you mad, sir?” he asked, genuinely perplexed. He tried to stand, but his stubby legs failed him. His noticeable irritation began to feel mutual.
“Aren’t you Mozart?” I asked.
“I am,” he said without pause.
“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the world-famous musician?”
He cleared his throat. “No, I’m Claudius Bartholomew Mozart III, Vienna’s finest candlemaker.”
I stared ahead blankly, unable to comprehend the clear case of mistaken identity. “Are you related to him?”
“I am not related to that silly, showboating musician you seem to be referring to,” he exclaimed. His face reddened with anger, and I began to think I wasn’t the first to make such an error.
“Do you know where I can find him?” I asked, desperate.
He touched his chin and thought to himself. “He’s about four blocks from here off Graben Street.”
I rose from my chair, thanking him, when he clutched my arm. “Get us another round, and I’ll take you to him myself.” If he was being sincere, such fortune would bring me one step closer to my goal.
The Real Mozart
Claudius was good to his word. He brought me to a lower level flat of an apartment-style building, where I heard the faint sound of piano playing from inside. A lantern glowed from inside through the window. Steps led to a modest door that mirrored other rooms along the street.
Approaching his door, I felt cautiously optimistic. Claudius had left me to contemplate a possible ruse. I knocked and waited. Piano playing continued from inside, sounding strangely familiar. If I hadn’t know any better, it sounded like Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 in A Major, K. 331, as you can listen to here:
I rapped against the door louder to make my presence known. I hadn’t travel two hundred and fifty years into the past to be stood up.
A startling slam came across the piano keys. Hasty footsteps followed, growing louder upon approach. The door swung open to reveal a youngish man, early-thirties, with hair that frayed in all directions.
The sleeves of his collared, untucked shirt were rolled up. His intense, dark eyes glared at me as he cursed in his native tongue. His nose was large, even for a German. I studied his pale face and finely stitched olive drab pants that ran over his ankles. Once his incessant cursing stopped, I introduced myself.
“I’m one of your biggest fans,” I continued in German.
His eyebrows arched curiously upon hearing the strangeness of my accent. Knowing Mozart to be a drinker, I displayed a bottle of red wine I swiped from the pub. “Might I come in and regale you?” The plan seemed to work, as he stepped aside and waved me in.
I walked through his darkened abode, confident I was in the right place. Sheet music covered the floor with a linty of musical notes scrawled across the bars. I was tempted to grab a couple to take back home.
Mozart opened the bottle of wine and filled himself a glass. He then sat behind a burgundy grand piano that took up the entire living room. There didn’t seem to be anyone around. His wife Constanze and children were nowhere to be seen.
“Might I ask you some questions in English?” I asked.
Mozart fumbled at the keys and then looked up in anger. “I was in the middle of my greatest sonata…” He took another hearty drink and slammed the glass onto the banister of his piano. “Now, I can’t remember a thing.” At least he was speaking in English.
I apologized and took a seat. “I know your time is valuable. I’m doing an interview for my blog and wanted to get to know the real Mozart.”
He stared at me, dumbfounded as he filled his glass. “I’m working on a very important piece for the Emperor. So, whatever you have, make it quick.”
I pressed record and began a series of baffling revelations. “Where I come from, your music is everywhere, TV shows, commercials, lingerie boutiques, you name it.”
“Where is this?” he asked, pointedly.
“Uh… England,” I replied.
He stood up, impassioned. “They are playing my music in England, and I don’t get a single gulden?” Guldens were the the currency back then.
“Better yet,” I continued, “they made a movie about you and Antonio Salieri.”
“Salieri?” Mozart said, pacing the room. “I know him. He’s a composer.”
“A composer who allegedly hates you,” I added. “Is it true?” I reached into my coat pocket and produced a DVD copy of Amadeus. Mozart took the strange, foreign object and studied it intensely. He then returned to his piano and held up the bottle of wine.
“What did you put in this wine?” he asked.
“I’m sorry to dump all of this on you at once. I’m a bit nervous.”
Mozart waved me off and told me he had to get back to music. He was on a deadline.
“One more question, if you please,” I said, leaning closer in my chair.
I glanced upon some of the greatest music ever written, tattered across the floor. “It may be hard for you to comprehend, but my country isn’t doing so well. How do you know if your culture is dying?”
Mozart fiddled around with the piano keys and offered his best answer. “As long as there is music, there’s culture.” With that, he attempted to continue his sonata in progress, slamming the keys in frustration.
I left that evening with the consideration that my work was half done. I knew Mozart was on borrowed time and that his famous unfinished requiem mass would soon follow. It saddened me to think that we only got thirty-five years of his genius. Fortunately, Sophie’s was still open for a nightcap.