Eduard Mörike: Mozart’s Journey to Prague – Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag (1855)

This is one of those books that I had meant to read since years. Now that I have read it, just after reading Kleist, I must say, I couldn’t imagine another classic as far from Kleist as Mörike. Mozart’s Journey to Prague is a truly lovely piece of writing. Sunny, cheerful but still profound, thoughtful and with a melancholic undertone. All in all one could say the sunniness is deceptive.

It’s the year 1787 and Mozart and his wife Konstanze are on a journey to Prague for the opening of Don Giovanni. They are cheerful but not without worries. Money is a big issue in Mozart’s life. Money and his health. He never rests, never stops running from one invitation to the next, working till the early morning, hardly sleeping.

His needs were various, above all his passion for all the pleasures of society were extraordinarily strong. Honoured and sought out as an incomparable talent by Vienna’s noblest families, he seldom or never declined invitations to dinners, parties and soirées. In addition he would entertain his own circle of friends with befitting hospitality. The Sunday musical evening, a long-established tradition in his house, or the informal luncheon at his well-furnished table with a few friends and acquaintances two or three times a week, were pleasures he refused to forgo. Sometimes, to his wife’s dismay, he would bring unannounced guests straight in off the streets, a very varied assortment of people, dilettanti, artistic colleagues, singers and poets. The idle parasite whose sole merit lay in an untiring vivacity, ready wit and the coarser sort of humour was made as welcome as the learned connoisseur or the virtuoso musician.

They talk about a few of these things but they are enjoying themselves as well. Mozart steps out of the carriage in a forest and gets all enthusiastic about the trees, the beauty of nature of which he hardly sees anything in Vienna.

A little later they stop at a village and Konstanze rests in a guest house while Mozart goes for a walk in someone’s garden. Lost in his thoughts he carelessly snaps an orange from a little tree and halves it with his knife. He immediately gets arrested by the gardener and brought in front of the noble man whose park he has entered. Lucky for him they recognize him and are delighted to have him there.

The little tree is very dear to the daughter of the noble man. It has once been a gift from Mme de Sévigné herself. The little tree was about to die but thanks to a skillful gardener has recovered. His oranges were counted and the tree was meant as a gift for the daughters engagement.

Mozart and his wife are invited to spend the day and the evening of the engagement with the family. He plays the piano, sings, introduces them to Don Giovanni.

There is a lot of cheering, drinking and laughing but towards the end the daughter of the family feels a chill. She is convinced that Mozart is burning from an inner fire, that he consumes himself too fast and will not live much longer. The novella finishes with a sad poem by Mörike that ends the book on a melancholy note.

Mörike wrote this novella as an homage to Mozart whose music he adored. He tried to capture the beauty and the cheerfulness of his music and the man himself but did not omit the fact that Mozart wasn’t able to refrain himself. He couldn’t live in a moderate way, was excessive in everything, burned the candle on both sides and did, as we all know, not live very long.

Reading this novella felt at times like watching a painter paint a very colorful painting, drawing flowers and trees, a sunny blue sky but in the upper left corner of the painting we can see a dark cloud slowly starting to spread.

Mozart was without any doubt a genius and there is always a mystery surrounding them. One could wonder whether he was living and working so excessively, as the novella wants us to believe, because he knew deep inside he was going to die young or whether his excesses led to his untimely death.

It’s a very visual novella, lovely and enchanting but profound as well.

The review is part of German Literature Month – Week IV Kleist and the Classics