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OUR BOOKS > MINI–MAGS > MOZART

Mozart
Memoir (Mini-Mags)
Written by Chester Eagle
Design by Vane Lindesay, cover image by Rodney Manning, 2005
DTP work by Chris Giacomi and Karen Wilson
Circa 4,200 words
Electronic publication by Trojan Press, 2007
9,500 print copies distributed by Avant Card free postcards 2007, and another 500 by the author.
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Understanding is arrived at in a variety of ways; sometimes by groping forward, hoping something will make itself clear.  This is what most of us do, most of the time: how much easier, then, if we have a fixed point of reference, some cultural illumination, some point of belief, which we can use to guide us as sailors use the stars.  This story uses the composer Mozart as such a guide, and the great man’s music is threaded through a few moments in two lives, holding things together for some Australians in ways that might surprise the Austrian composer.


To read some extracts from the book click here:

The start
Symphony No. 39
The young Margaret
The older Margaret


To read about the writing of this memoir click here.

The start

To put the famous name at the head of a story seems a case of over-reaching: how could anyone do justice to the great composer?  How could anyone find events in their own lives, or imaginations, worthy to sit on the plane of The Magic Flute, the great concertos … everything that’s come down from those brief and blazing years?  It can’t be done, and I’m not trying to equal the works of that most perfectly formed creator, but rather, as simply as I can, to bring him to life again as an influence, a spectre, in some moments of my life.

Here goes!  (My overture is done.)

Enter a young man, being driven home by a garage proprietor, who’s apologising because the job on his car won’t be finished until after the weekend.  The mechanics have to play golf and footy.  Go fishing.  Drink.  Take their girlfriends dancing.  The garage man says he’ll pick up his client on Monday morning because he knows he has to get to work.  ‘We can’t let you walk all that way,’ he laughs, because it’s more than two miles, in the old measurement, from Reardon’s Folly, where the young man lives, to the school where he teaches.  ‘How’ll you fill the weekend?’ the garage man asks in a considerate sort of way, which causes the car-less young man to reassure his driver: ‘I’ll go for walks.  It’s rather nice along this stretch of the river.  I’ll read.  And listen to music.’

‘Music,’ says the older man, wondering, without asking, what sort of music this chap likes.  ‘My son,’ he says, ‘is getting married in a few weeks, and he and his wife-to-be have their biggest arguments about music.  At the church and at the reception.  The moment they start I get out of the room.  Music’s supposed to put everyone in a good mood, but it doesn’t always do that.’  The young man agrees, then he shows his driver where to let him out, and he goes inside.  A weekend without the car.

Things rapidly get worse, because when he reaches his room he discovers that his gramophone has packed up.  The turntable won’t revolve properly.  It needs a new drive belt, and he’s the best part of an hour’s walk from the shops.  A pity, because he’s got a new disc.  Mozart.  It’s supposed to be good but he thinks Mozart is a bit prissy beside Beethoven, who surpassed him, surely, in almost every way?  He goes to bed without music that night, and the next day he walks, when he isn’t reading, around the bend in the river which Reardon, whoever he was, chose as the site for his home on a slope, with rooms underneath which are rented out to boarders such as our young man, who doesn’t like spending his meagre income on rent.  Better to buy music, and let it take him to more interesting worlds, of which there are many, and he’s still exploring the great tradition which the Europeans have given his country.  Pity about that gramophone, pity about the car; we do depend on things, don’t we?

By Sunday morning he’s frustrated because all he wants to do is to listen to his new disc.  Then he remembers that there is a gramophone at the school where he works.  It’s only used to play God Save the Queen on Monday mornings, after which students salute the flag and mumble an oath of allegiance.  This is ceremony at its most dismal, but there is a gramophone, and it works.  He sets off.

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Symphony No. 39

Powerful chords fill the room, then the sourest, fiercest dissonances, the strings making some of the sharpest noises he’s heard.  The introduction dies away, and Mozart is into his stride, and the conceptual quality of the music is apparent in every rushing scale.  He’s following with a score and he sees, and hears, that the violins, violas, et cetera are sweeping down in mighty gestures, again and again.  Eight times they do it, and he senses that Mozart has recognised that the power of what he’s doing requires that things be made to balance.  Two, four, eight!  In the shopping street that the young man has avoided there are any number of symmetrical buildings, but the symmetry of the music is on another level; there’s so much passion, and inventiveness, that symmetry’s called for so that listeners can understand without being swept away.  The music sweeps, while the listening mind is ravished, this being an expression for delight.  The music rushes to its thrilling conclusion, like, our young man thinks, a sprinter in a hundred yard dash.  Never a moment to look over the shoulder!  It’s hardly begun before it’s ended, yet look how much has happened.

The next movement’s an andante.  It’s not as slow, or psychological, as Beethoven would have made it, because it’s social, it’s meant to be played, and its feelings admitted, in a room full of people acutely aware of their status in a society that has rank and privilege at every turn.  There is a melody which falls, and when it’s repeated the young man stands, needing to do something but having nothing available.  The music’s changing him, though he doesn’t know it.  He can’t stay the same after this.  He sees why people say Mozart’s divine.  He looks around.  He’s in a room where mothers prepare the lunches they sell to (and sometimes give) the students; there are bowls and trays, there’s an oven, a large refrigerator, jugs and urns and paper napkins.  There are boxes full of who knows what.  It’s rather dark and the place is humble, for all the efficiency of the mothers who work there on weekday mornings.  It offers the young man no relief.  He has, quite literally, to face the music.  He’s never known anything so poised, so perfect, in his twenty-something years.  It has a burning intensity because it’s perfect, and it’s perfect because the intensity is so exquisitely expressed.  Manners, deferences, displays of respect, are so innate that they become something else.  Human feeling is the very breath that’s bringing the wind instruments to life.  Our young man has a feeling that when the flutes and oboes, the clarinets and bassoons blow, then the wisdom of the observing mind is at its sweetest.  The horns have a golden, glimmering effect, transforming the world they enter.  When the movement ends, the young man sits for a while before he plays the rest, and once that’s done, he plays the andante again, twice, before he’s absorbed as much as he can into his immature soul, and must now walk back to Reardon’s Folly; it will be a little later in the day, a little warmer, and the sunlight will be more forceful; people, if anybody stops to talk to him, will be a little bolder, and he must be ready for them, and he will, because he’s been set a higher standard than he’s allowed anything to demand of him before, and he wonders if he’ll ever be able to live on the plane, the level, that’s been shown to him.

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The young Margaret

He’d been given his appointment, he’d been to have a look at the town, and he’d gone back to the city to live it up for a few last weeks.  At a party he sees a girl he thinks is lovely.  She’s slim, fair, refined, he judges, and content to take her lead from others.  There’s a lot of singing, and also groups sitting around, talking quietly.  The young man who’s hosting the party, in the absence of his parents, puts on a new recording of Mozart, one of the minor key symphonies, number 25, and our young man listens closely, because the host, who’s talkative, says Mozart has the heart of a child.  Our fellow thinks the host is wrong.  The night is breathing outside, whispering their futures, holding a knowledge that the young people cannot know.  But they are aware, or at least the ones who aren’t making any noise.  He’s looking at Margaret – that’s her name, he’s found out by now – while the divinely gifted composer, in his late teens, brings the room to silence, with his andante once again.  Not as slow as the adagio Beethoven would have written, for Mozart thinks that life moves on all the time, always and forever.  Nothing stays the same, unless it’s arrested by a feeling, or the plangent expression someone gives it.  Those who can crystallise feeling are the most gifted of all, even beyond the surgeons who rescue lives from ending.  Nobody knows what life is until it’s been expressed, and in music it can be resurrected in a way that no religion can equal, let alone surpass.  He talks to Margaret, he tells her where he’s going in a few weeks, and asks her out to dinner the following Saturday; ‘But come in the middle of the afternoon, I’ve got something I want to share with you.  Music.  Mozart.  I think you’ll like it as much as I do.’

She comes, and they sit in a room where everything’s in boxes.  A week or two and the room will belong to someone else.  Next year’s students will be in, and those who’ve been toasted at the valedictory dinner will be no more.  Mozart sounds, and it’s easy to think that it’s the great man himself playing the piano because one can see so easily how he wrote his concertos.  There’s a tutti, then, when it’s gone quiet, having no more to say, the piano takes up one of its themes and starts to play … play with themes, make up new ones, invert the old ones, challenging the orchestra with inventions until a partnership forms, the many voices of the one with the two hands of the other, until there’s simply no more that can be done, and the movement ends.  ‘That is so beautiful!’ Margaret says, and our young man knows she’s as touched, uplifted, as he is.  Can they make a life together, or is a work by Mozart the beginning and the end of their closeness?  More music’s played, they talk and they walk, and they have dinner at a hotel in the city that’s long since been demolished.  Alas.  Their feelings and their conversation that evening are ephemeral, but something lingers: each is taking, with the other, those precious early steps which are remembered when maturity makes them common.  The concerto, he recalls in later years, is the one in B flat, K450, and he never hears it without remembering an afternoon when it’s possible for him and the young woman he finds so attractive – so Mozartean – to live two lives as one.

He doesn’t take this path.  He lets his life go off in a wide arc, away from the purity which is at the heart of his feelings for Margaret, not to speak of the composer whose music they’ve shared.  He listens to other music, reads turbulent books, and he learns to understand the people he’s living among, even the roughest and crudest of them.

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The older Margaret

Then an unexpected thing happens.  Our man gets a call from Margaret.  She’s back in his city.  Her father has died, she’s come around the world to be with her mother.  Yes, her mother still lives in the house he remembers from all those years before.  Nothing, Margaret tells him, has changed.  Well, everything’s changed, but Margaret means the house.  When can he come around?  He suggests the following night, and he goes to the house which he remembers well.  Nothing’s changed.  The Chinese dragon chairs he admired when he was young are still there, the reading lamp in the lounge has the same shade, and the photos of Margaret, her sister and her brother seem as young as they were, back in …

… whenever it was!  The houses across the road have escaped development.  The street looks as it always did.  He parks his car where, years before, he parked an earlier car which wouldn’t start when he tried to leave, and her late father got it going for him.  Father was a Commissioner for Trade with the Australian Government, but he seemed to know about cars.  He was charming, and our man wonders if he’s half as good; he hopes he is, because he’s had a feeling of being perfected by the great love that’s sweeping his life along, and he knows he’s happy with his son and daughter, so perhaps he has been lifted gently onto a plane that’s higher than he’s been before.

Margaret says she’ll make him tea, or would he like coffee?  He says tea.  She goes out to make it, and he thinks it’s silly to spend minutes in separate rooms out of a sense of duty, or politeness.  She smiles when he comes into the kitchen, and she opens the fridge to find milk.  When she turns to put it on the sink, something floods into him from the past.  He blurts out to her, to the world, really, ‘The Jupiter Symphony.’  She laughs.  ‘I was thinking about that!’  They look at each other, linked by an understanding that nobody else possesses.  Nobody else knows.  He says, ‘It was when we were camped down at Waratah Bay …’

‘… and we came back for some New Year’s party …’

‘… and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go …’

‘You were never all that sure about going out …’

‘I liked being alone with you.  We could be closer without others around …’

She diverts him, or is it bringing him back?  ‘You wanted to play some music …’

‘… but you read my mind, you went into that room, and put it on.’

‘I knew what music you wanted to hear.’

‘I didn’t have many records in those days.’

‘I didn’t have any, except the ones you lent me.’

‘You put it on, and then you came back in here, and you turned to do something at the sink, there.’

‘I don’t remember what it was, but I knew you were looking at me …’

‘I was looking at your legs …’

‘Men!  Nothing ever changes!’

He smiles.  ‘Your legs were ever so brown because we’d been at the beach every day.  I wanted to touch them, I wanted to rub them …’

An impish smile comes to her face, inquiring if he’d wanted to have her legs apart.  He said, ‘It was enough to love you and see how brown you were.  It was something that had happened without our noticing.  I saw your legs every minute, while we were down at The Prom, but I took the tan for granted.  It was only when I saw it here …’

He points at the kitchen, and she finishes for him: ‘… that we realised that something had happened!’

Wistfully, tenderly, he adds, ‘And something hadn’t.  It seems so long ago, now.  Inaccessible.’

‘Except that we’ve just accessed it.’  She was at her loveliest when she looked helpless, he felt, then she said, ‘If we had the record, would we play it again, now?’

It made him think.  ‘You can’t make a thing happen twice.  Perhaps it’s best that we don’t have the record.  If we played it, it might disappoint us.’

‘You mean, I think, that we might disappoint ourselves?’

‘Ourselves, and each other.’

She says, with a tenderness that forgives the two of them for what they’d been, years before, ‘That would never do.  We didn’t know much about life, back then, did we?’

‘We didn’t.  No.  But what can people do, but do things, and learn?’

She pauses, thinking.  ‘I’ve got a life on the other side of the world.  Dieter, and three children.  And you?’

‘I’m in love, Margaret.  Like I’ve never been before.  Forgive me saying that, but it’s true.’

‘That’s beautiful,’ she says.  ‘I hope all goes well for you.  But we did have …’  They say it together: ‘Mozart.’

That’s all I can tell you about love and memory.  The art you must find for yourself.

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The writing of this memoir:

There are two aspects of this piece which I want to discuss: the meaning of the word ‘story’, and the style of the writing: Mozart was written when I was past seventy years of age, so it has to be said that it is a product of my maturity in its style.

‘Story’ is an ambivalent word.  ‘That’s only a story’ we say, whenever truth is a matter of urgency.  ‘Don’t tell stories’ we say, meaning lies.  Stories are told to entertain us, and if we are good listeners or readers we believe them for a while, then we return our thinking to the ‘real’ world.  Such distinctions don’t bear close examination.  We like to think there are ‘true’ stories, so what are the others?  ‘Just’ stories, we say.  So what are stories?

We can avoid the question tautologically by saying they are ‘narratives’ or ‘tales’.  We can say they are accounts of real or imagined events, or a mixture of the two, which have been shaped, wholly or in part, by the wish or need to hold the interest of the listener/reader.  For my part, I have a feeling that the human mind operates naturally and for most of the time by living in its stories, though it does have the capacity to slip away for reasonably lengthy stretches of time when analytical or otherwise disciplined and/or restrained modes of thought are necessary.  I think of myself, for instance, studying the stockmarket reports to discover the value of my shares.  Two whole pages of the newspaper present me with columns of statistics: objectivity looks to be in control!  But the figures are there to tell readers about the prices sellers were demanding and buyers willing to pay.  Why did the sellers want to sell?  Because … stories begin to come over the horizon, whole armies of them.  And the buyers’ willingness to pay?  They’ve formed a valuation of the shares a company has on issue and the valuation depends on estimates, and the estimates depend on reports, rumours, gossip …  The story is back in force!

A story is an account, and the question for any writer in considering a story is not so much its ‘truth’ as its inherent resonances, the revelatory powers it does or doesn’t hold, its capacity to convince, to hold the attention, not to bore the reader and let his/her mind look for reasons to slip away.  To make someone read or listen is in part a conquest; it’s also a gift.  If your mind is empty and I fill it with a good account of something, you’re pleased and I’m pleased that you’re pleased.  This business of mutually satisfying each other can reach great heights.  In Mozart I introduce a young man at the start of the piece.  He’s me in my twenties, or he looks like me as he talks to the garage owner who’s got his car, and he plays Mozart’s 39th symphony in the very same circumstances that I did as a young man, but then again, as he gets his ideas of the music in order, as he walks to and from the school where there’s a gramophone to play his recording, he’s presented by a writer in his seventies, not a youth of twenty-five or six.  The events of the narrative are ‘true’, in that they happened, but truth is never absolute, it’s the outcome of various digestive processes, and these can and probably should be more sophisticated as the mind matures.  There’s a young woman called ‘Margaret’ in the story, and she too is presented both as she was and with an overlay, added many years later.  In the last page or so of the story – what’s a story? – the older Margaret, by then married with three children, reminds the young man, now many years older, of things that happened when they were young.  Their dialogue, I, as writer, wish to inform the reader, is made up.  This part of the story is when the story is most a story.  Strangely, it is for me the truest part of the whole piece.  Mozart moves with its greatest certainty when the music of the composer is controlling what’s being said and felt.  The last scene, as presented in my story, was created in the imagination because it needed to happen, and, in recollection, it seems to the writer that it did happen, in bits and pieces and at various times, so – the logic is utterly compelling to me, but then I’m a writer, aren’t I – so a greater amount of truth can be concentrated in the small space where it’s most needed, if the imagination is called in to create events, words, dialogue, understandings and feelings as they would have happened if everything in life had conspired to release as much truth as the two people were capable of achieving.

There!  I’ve said it.  Truth is an achievement, not an ever-present reality.  If you want it, you have to find it, and that may mean creating it, and creating it can only happen when the imagination is allowed into play.  Think about that!

Now style.  I’ve already referred in my notes on the writing of all the books on this website to the development and changes in style that have happened in my writing down the years.  In writing the long second part of my first book, Hail & Farewell; an evocation of Gippsland, I had to explore a considerable place and a heap of observations of it built up over twelve years.  Modified, highly-modified, Bernard Shaw was my answer at that time.  A few years later, as I have already described in relation to The Garden Gate, I couldn’t go on until I’d absorbed the stylistic lessons of Debussy’s only complete opera, Pelleas and Melisande.  What a teacher that was, and what a lengthy lesson (two years listening) was required to absorb the learning.  In my notes to At the window I’ve mentioned the way that I had to release my grip on actuality and let all manner of things that lay close to hand be absorbed by the book in its need to bring itself into being.  Many strong impressions with no apparent connection found themselves connected by the digestive processes of the book.

So far, so clear.  But this is an appropriate moment to talk about a further development of style that I notice has been taking place over quite a few years, the years when, since I’ve been growing older, I’ve wanted to simplify.  The moment is appropriate because it’s the influence of Mozart that I want to discuss, and in a way the very reason I wrote the story Mozart was that I wanted to explore, in my imagination – see above – the things I shall try to say now.

The process of simplifying, of Mozartification (!) began many years ago.  I have a moment in mind.  I had become interested in feminism and realised that I simply had to know what the movement was producing.  A very strong, indeed fierce, feminist who worked with me told me I had to read the work of X.  I did so.  I struggled.  I became angry.  This was not my chauvinism reasserting itself, it was a complaint by the writer in me at having to read such awful prose.  Polysyllables came the reader’s way like stones at an Islamic adultress.  Bong, bong, bong they crashed against my head.  Sitting in my back garden I read some of these sentences aloud.  I was amazed that anyone, no matter how determined they might be to force a change upon the world, could write so unmusically.  I thought initially of Heinrich Schutz, also discussed on this website, who had written music of ever-greater simplicity as he had grown older until his last works were miracles of austerity, of sparseness.  Less was more in the case of Schutz and so should it have been, I told myself angrily, in the case of X.

I read enough of X to know what she was saying and then I put her book down, determined that from that day on I would read nothing unless the writer had taken the reader into consideration in such a way as to give pleasure and clarity in equal measure.  By one of those decisions which reveal to us what we really are, I decided that this was not simply a matter of style, as in something applied, but it was a requirement of the inner being which would manifest itself to the reader, and to the writer too, via the elements of style: clarity, ease of movement, endless anticipation of what the reader might be requiring, now, then, or soon, and ultimately, above all else, poise.  Poise, in writing, and in music, was not only the supreme virtue, it was, like position in real estate, the only virtue.

Poise.

All good writers have it, all good composers have it, but Mozart had it supremely, and it seems to have been both innate and a part of his upbringing, as a child, in the presence of aristocratic people.  Feelings were not only forces with the strength that required them to be expressed – Beethoven’s position, later – they were the manner of their expression.  Manners were the man, in the case of Mozart: not a means, not a barrier, but the natural expression of the man.  His feelings, by being expressible, were both public and private.  This is an act of exquisite balance which gives his music its rarity.  Many works by Mozart’s contemporaries – Paisiello, Hummel, et cetera - are being recorded these days, allowing us to see how common was the musical language Mozart used; but what distinguished the great man’s music, his voice through his music, was and will always be its perfection, even when he was expressing unhappiness, anger or disquiet.  Always there is poise.  The music sounds like the most perfect expression of this world’s ideas and feelings when it seems to come from somewhere else.  I’ll say no more about Mozart’s music, as music; what does all this mean for prose?  For those of us who do our best to use the expressive power of words?

This is not easy to say.  I don’t know that I’ve ever said it to myself: it’s been simply an influence which has kept on keeping on, and for which I’m immensely grateful.  However, I must try.

Words are joined together in sentences, but they are chosen first.  Or are they?  Perhaps – perhaps – the first decision a writer makes is to try to sense what it is in his/her mind that wishes to be said.  It will take the form of words, of course, but it will also take the form of a sentence, one sentence in a sequence of sentences.  The sentences indicate the movement of ideas in much the same way as the course of a stream indicates the higher and lower levels of the land it crosses.  So the sentence should have the same shape as the thoughts it is accommodating.  But the shape of a sentence is partly a matter of the words it has to contain: do we choose simple ones, vernacular in feeling, or more learned ones?  A mixture, is generally my answer.  Where and how do we place these words?  Answer, in a connected sequence, beside other words that make them look well, and certainly never in a context  where they interfere with each other (my complaint against the writer X).  We should think of words as being rather like notes in music: pleasing only if they fit well into the sequence of which they are a part.  This means close attention to the sounds and syllables, the noises and the rhythms they give rise to in the ears and the mind attuned to the sonic qualities of ideas.  The words are made up of letters: they should be easy to say, as should the sentences of which they are a part.  Think of the speechwriter’s art, and learn from that.

What is it that a writer does?  Again, this is almost impossible to say, and again I am committed to trying!  I think the writer listens with the closest attention s/he can muster for the ideas forming in the mind, and then, sometimes instinctively, sometimes with conscious control, the necessary words are chosen and the sentences given shape, length, direction and form, all at once.  All at once!  This is the miracle and the difficulty of writing.  It’s hard to do well, and why shouldn’t it be hard?  Each of us with ambitions to be a writer has one lifetime to learn to do it well, and, once committed, there’s no excuse for not doing it well.  When we write, I think it can fairly be judged, against us if necessary, that what we produced was the best that we were capable of.  It may not be very much!  Or it may make us smile proudly when we re-read it.  That’s always possible, isn’t it?

Some writers have to struggle to do it well, and some composers too.  Some make it look easy, even when it’s not.  That’s why I’ve put these thoughts about writing under the heading of notes to a story called Mozart.  Wolfgang Amadeus made everything look simple, and easy, even when it wasn’t.  If we are writing well, our ideas will run, and ripple, the way his fingers did when he played his own concertos, in those wonderful years just before Europeans settled this country.  There’s an inheritance to be proud of, and to make us groan!

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