At last. It took 220 years, but finally someone has told my story. I always said I was poisoned.
MOZART’S LAST ARIA came out this week in the UK. It’s a historical thriller by the British writer Matt Rees. I don’t mind that the Mozart of the title is my sister Nannerl – I always thought she deserved more recognition than she got. No, I don’t mind that at all, because Rees confirms for me what I felt sure of all along: I was poisoned.
I told my wife that I was sure of this six weeks before I died. It was October 1791. We were in the Prater Gardens in Vienna. I sat on a bench and said, “Constanze. I know I’ve been poisoned. I’m to be a sacrifice.”
She told me I was being a hypochondriac and that I ought to buck up from this melancholy. I pointed out that a hypochondriac thinks he’s ill. She couldn’t think of a word for someone who thinks he’s a murder victim.
I tried hard to cheer up. Tried so hard, even though I felt like I was shitting oranges every time I smiled (Readers of my collected letters will remember my penchant for naughty phrases like that. I haven’t grown out of them even after two centuries in the grave.) I did cheer up here and there, but soon enough I’d feel the pain in my kidneys and I knew they had done for me…
Who’re <em>they</em>? You’ll have to read MOZART’S LAST ARIA to find out. But Rees has taken advantage of all the new historical research which shows what I had been up to. And how dangerous it was.
You see, I wasn’t just a musician. Certainly I wasn’t the buffoon some people like to think I was, either. No, I was committed to the new ideas of equality and brotherhood promulgated by the Enlightenment. That was prettyrisky in Vienna back then. After all, the Enlightenment provided the ideas behind the French Revolution, and in Paris our Emperor’s sister Marie Antoinette was about to pay the price of equality.
I was a member of a lodge of Freemasons. The Emperor had made us more or less illegal. Lots of my brethren quit the Masons. I started writing songs for the lodge meetings and, well, I’m not giving away too much about Rees’s novel when I say that I had an idea for a new Masonic lodge, even though the Emperor had decreed there be no new lodges and the Imperial Secret Police was breathing down the Masons’ necks.
It’s also good to know that my sister is getting some attention at last. I traveled Europe with her when we were children. She was forgotten as soon as our father decided that I was the one with the bigger talent. If I’ve been thought of as a buffoon with an angelic musical talent, she has been portrayed as a prig and a cold fish.
Well, musicologists aren’t the first historians to have got the details right and yet completely missed the target when it comes to the characters of their subjects. For that, you have to go to a novel.
Read more about MOZART'S LAST ARIA and watch videos about the book on Matt's blog.