Issue 54, Summer 1972
I would like to tell you a story.
My little wife suggested that I tell you this story
because she received such pleasure from it,
and I such pleasure in the telling.
Once there was a musical note.
It had a thin black stem, a black bulbous dot
on its side at the bottom, and on top a
single line jetting back. The note
lived in a universe whose time was equal
to its space: one could move through
this world by staying put and waiting
until enough time had passed to be somewhere
There was also in this world
a metronome which served as overseer
of the time-space continuum, a regulator
of the so to speak basso continuo of existence.
The metronome was unaware that he in turn
was overseen by a higher power, a man
named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart
was a child who had the physical appearance
of a genius, so that when he appeared
in public great sheets of light ripped
from his presence and flew away. One such
sheet wrapped itself around a bird so
that the bird was shot through with
The villagers noticed a bright
object in the sky at night, moving about
unlike stars or moon or other celestial bodies,
and soon they created stories to explain
this phenomenon. You see, they were unable
to see Mozart: he had been dead
for over 200 years. But his death was the kind
that remains over the years that pass,
not under them. He was buried in the sky,
and if you’ll recall what I told you
about the time-space continuum you'll understand
just what I mean. Anyway,
one explanation of the gliding brightness
in the night sky was that some electricity
from a bolt of lightning had been captured
inside an idea which had lost the mind
it came from. Others felt that some sticks
had caught fire.
Neither of these theories was true, although
the sticks idea is interesting: the bird
could die, decompose, fertilize a small tree
and go into the limbs which then
would fall or be torn from the tree,
set alight and cast into the air.
The second movement of the arm that cast them,
the downward movement, the arm
attached to the body of Mozart
as he composed his Serenade No. II,
the downward movement, I say, terminates
in a delicate flutter of the wrist and fingers,
and the cuckoo bird alights on a branch.
It sits there for a moment, sensing.
Once again the arm rises. The bird pours forth
a song which the Japanese felt sounded
like hototogisu, which is Japanese
for “cuckoo,” whereas we think it sounds
like “cuckoo.” The fact that both cultures
are correct illustrates my point
about the time-space continuum.
Actually the hototogisu and cuckoo are
different birds, but I equate them
to demonstrate a point. But back to our story.
First let me explain that the villagers’
first explanation, of electricity trapped
inside an idea which had lost the mind it came from,
would have been true had they not carelessly
sought to explain everything by electricity.
“Electricity” was a word they used
at random, a catch-all meaning virtually nothing.
Electrical concepts had permeated their religion
the way atoms permeated matter in the twentieth century:
so small as to be everything
once you got the idea. The idea
the villagers had was correct insofar
as they linked the mysterious nocturnal illumination
to a mental being, to, of course,
none other than Mozart. He is in
this room with me right now, not
figuratively speaking: he quite
literally is in this room, his real physical person.
He is signing a contract which will
grant me all rights to his works past,
present and future. Actually this is a part
of the story I should have reserved for later,
and about how he is deaf, dumb, blind and paralyzed
from the toes up. Yes, time has taken
its dreadful toll of the great composer, even.
Think of the men who dragged great stones
over vast deserts, only to hurl them
into deep chasms! Great stones
which diminish in size as they fall,
clattering like small hailstones
as they hit the canyon floor, where Handel
scoops them into a basket. Back
in his cave he affixes stems to them;
if only he had a staff to place them on!
Instead he must fling them into the air
and watch them increase in size, only
to fall back. Of course some notes did
continue to rise from time to time:
The Harmonious Blacksmith is one example,
notes that go so high up they become planets.
Incidentally, the planets of the solar system,
arranged on a circular staff around the sun,
form the basis of Couperin's Pièces
de Clavecin, but perceived as
the “music of the spheres” not in two dimensions
but in three: this “natural” music being
more complete than “written” music,
which is flat, pardon the pun. The great beauty
of man's “written” music consists in its complete removal
from anything we think of as “real,” in fact
it is very much like the word “real” itself:
once said it becomes utterly without meaning.
But this digression goes on too long: my story
concerns the single and remarkable meeting of
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and George
Frideric Handel (1685-1759).
You will notice that Mozart was three when Handel died,
"or so musical history tells us. The truth
of the matter is that Handel did not die
until the autumn of 1786, when he not only
met the young Mozart but actually
collaborated with him on an operetta in one act,
Bastien und Bastienne, K. 50, a piece commissioned
by Dr. Anton Mesmer, the discoverer of animal magnetism.
Mesmer was a perverted homosexual who attempted
to use his discovery for evil ends:
he tried to hypnotize pretty young Viennese boys.
He was successful in the case of Mozart, in fact
Mozart wrote his part of Bastien und Bastienne
under hypnosis. Handel was of course a notorious
homosexual in his own time, but was well
beyond his prime by 1768. He refused to submit
to hypnotic suggestion and in fact was unaware
that the young Mozart was “in Mesmer's power.”
The premiere of Bastien und Bastienne took place
in the open-air theater of Mesmer's house
in the suburbs of Vienna, with Mesmer directing
the production and playing Bastienne. In
his perversity he cast the by then ancient
Anna Maria Strada del Po, the exceptionally ugly
opera star whom Londoners had nicknamed “The Pig,”
in the role of Bastien. Colas was played
by a someone who drifted back
into the forever mists of the Unknown.
Mesmer, an insanely jealous man, suspecting
that Handel was about to steal his young lover,
devised a monstrous plan which culminated
in having Handel bound and gagged, carted
onto the stage near the end of the sixth scene,
and as Bastienne sang
O Lust, o Lust
Fur die entflammte Brust!
O Joy! O Joy!
For the burning breast!
he set fire to the venerable composer.
The light-hearted pastoral continued
with no one taking notice: Mozart under
hypnosis, Anna Maria Strada del Po a hopeless
senile and opium addict, and the audience
a bizarre group of statuary assembled
by Mesmer from all over the world.