Playing Stories — Chapter 7: Rock Me Amadeus

Chapter 7: Rock Me Amadeus
from the 1985 album “Falco 3” by Falco
posted 09:19, 23 January 2019

Er war ein Virtuose, war ein Rockidol
Und alles ruft noch heute: “Come and rock me Amadeus!”
(He was a virtuoso, was a rock idol
And now they’re still screaming: come and rock me Amadeus!)

“And now, the wonder of Salzburg, the wunderkind of music: please welcome Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!”

A scattering of applause rang throughout the cold palace floor. Little Wolfgang sat there, his eyes scanning the smattering of royals and nobles gathered in the spacious palace. They were all now craning their necks to catch a glimpse of this musical genius. He was calm. He was smiling. And he had completely forgotten what his father wanted him to play.

He felt the gazes of dozens falling on him, so he bought time by slowly rising from his chair, making unnecessary flourishes. He was only eight, but he already knew more about adults than they ever would about children. He’d already noticed that they hung onto his every move, and doted on his wide-eyed, almost angelic face. They never really paid him any other attention. So he became adorable, and that hid his inadequacies.

After much delay — and much cooing from the people in front of the platform — he arrived at the harpsichord. The keys were still warm from the storm of notes that his sister had just played on it. Wolfgang looked back at Nannerl: she was the only way looking away. He chuckled despite himself. The pressure that came from performing, from having a dozen eyes fixed on you was immense —  and so they would always look away from each other’s performances when they played. As Nannerl always said, “it’s one less musical nincompoop trashing whatever crap you’re playing”. Fair enough: he was never distracted from the music by Nannerl’s gross, sweaty face. He already saw that enough.

But what was he to play? He cast his mind around, desperately looking for some masterpiece of Bach or Daquin’s he could play. It was not to be — everything had disappeared in that moment.

Then, out of nowhere, a tune. Something he’d heard while travelling through France. While everyone was dozing off or trying to fake a polite conversation with each other, he had gazed wide-eyed at the fields and the people running through the streets, trying to take in everything, trying to notice the vaguest differences within the scenery. And at the coaching inns, he’d heard beyond the confines of the four walls a song which the children had sung. Children his age, skipping past into the fields and the farms, without a care in the world. And so he played the tune, that simple tune which he could remember.

A ripple of hushed voices throughout the crowd. Wolfgang knew that very few of them had heard of this song, and so they were probably savouring the notes, imagining that this simple, catchy tune was just another innovation from the piano player. They weren’t taking him seriously and they never would. That was fine with him. But he also saw a few people in the assembly raising their eyebrows. They seemed to recognize where it came from, and this was not what they expected: a simple, rustic tune from the countryside, sung by mere children and a symbol of mere peasantry — completely unsuited to a performance at the seat of French power.

As he neared the end of the main theme, Wolfgang glanced at his father, standing off to one side. What he saw was not reassuring. Leopold’s hand was clamped over the lower half of his face. Wolfgang had seen him do it too many times to ignore what it meant: his father was trying, without any success whatsoever, his horror at Wolfgang. He’d seen it so many times: whenever he spent too much time asking girls questions, for instance, or made a joke about his toilet habits in front of the Duke of Venice. His father would cover his mouth, trying desperately to contain a mass of horrified screamings. For a moment, he hesitated, thinking of what to do next.

His eyes fell on Nannerl. She was looking at him, mouthing something. “Give it your own twist”, she was saying. Easy for her to say, now that she was down there, doing her own thing.

Then the words of the song came back to him. “Papa veut que je raisonne/ Comme une grande personne”. “Daddy wants me to think, to be an adult.” And it was then that it became clear to Mozart what he should be playing next. He looked at Leopold, and the feelings began rushing in.

He had been travelling ever since he was six. Leopold had dragged him and Nannerl on tour after tour, enduring harsh winters and cold receptions, people who didn’t really care about the arts unless their neighbours were slightly interested. And it was nice to see the world — Munich, London, Amsterdam — but he was only eight years old, and he missed someone his own age and home seemed especially far. He and Nannerl would sit by the fireside, when all the adults had gone off to do a bit of socializing and pretended not to notice their children slipping out of bed, and listen with glee to the finest collection of oaths they had ever heard their parents use. And that was the only fun he ever had with anyone else, going on tour. Listening to swear words and talking it out with his older sister — and sometimes, his mother would come in, ruffling their heads and telling him to go to bed before his father came back.

“But I don’t want to practice tomorrow, Mummy,” he’d say. “Can’t we just spend one day walking on Lake Geneva? I’m just so tired, playing the same pieces again and again. Can’t I just conduct that symphony I wrote?”

“Oh, we can do that someday, Wolfie,” his mother’d say. “And I know you’re tired, but we’ll have to leave the easy work for later. Tell you what,” she said, stroking her son’s disappointed face, “I’ll tell you a story, so that you and Nannerl can get to sleep…”

His mother and his sister: two-thirds of the people who really cared about him. What would he had done without them? He thought of his mother’s face, and he began to play the song again, throwing all his emotions into the keys. As he played, he thought of his mother and his sister, smiling at him, telling him that he mattered even when his father never told him the same thing. He could feel the lightness tripping down his fingers, flying into the keyboard. The muttering amongst the crowd suddenly died — suddenly tapered off. Wolfgang grinned. He knew he had their attention.

Now he imagined the loss of a mother. What if his mummy was gone? What if she never talked to him again? The thought of Leopold’s anguished face — of spending an eternity of his life with only him — it was too much. His fingertips felt heavy, the melody turned sad. A sigh, a collective sigh, came from the crowd. A feeling of pity, a gasp of empathy.

But then Wolfgang imagined her taking her place amongst the stars. He imagined looking up to see all of the twinkling on him from above. This variation flowed freely, flying straight up to the skies so many miles above him. His tune danced with Vivaldi, courted Handel, poured words of love out to Johann Sebastian Bach. He poured all his longing to lead a simpler life out to them. Then with a thunderous conclusion — a shuddering fall back to the reality of the palace — he slammed his hands on the keyboard as a flourish. He was done.

He waited for the silence or the polite applause that would come forth as he finished. It never came. Just as Wolfgang turned to face the room, it erupted immediately into raucous cries, a blur of unclear faces all jostling to give him approval. The ladies were beaming at him, some of them even squealing his name. The King was on his feet, his mouth slightly open, unable to comprehend what he had witnessed from this child, barely taller than the harpsichord next to him. And his sister — oh, what he would give, in later years, just to see that mixture of amazement and pride that Marianna Mozart had had on her face in that split second again. But all this was nothing compared to Leopold Mozart’s reaction. His father was crying, running forward, enveloping him in his arms. He had never hugged Wolfgang so hard. “My dear boy. My dear boy,” he said. It was the last time that Leopold would ever doubt his son’s abilities. He had seen what Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could do on his own. He had nothing left to teach the boy.

As Leopold leaped off the platform, shaking so many hands from so many nobles, Wolfgang stayed rooted to the chair. He had never heard applause this loud. It had all been half-enthusiastic claps, incoherent murmurs of appreciation before when he played others’ piano pieces. But this: this was something else entirely. People seemed to actually adore him, to clamour for more. He walked to the front of the platform and gingerly bowed.

As he closed his eyes, his arched back bared to the ceiling, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart felt a shiver passing through him. It felt like approval from the stars, from the masters he had just lauded and serenaded with his music. Slowly but surely, he broke into the widest smile anyone had ever seen on him.

— okay, I’ll get this one out of the way… and Jesus, Emily, what the hell did your parents do to you? Your last story was vicious.

When are you coming over? Think your records must be running pretty low. See you soon! — Q

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