On the street outside the window
someone is talking to someone else,
a baffling song, no words, only the music
of voices—low contralto of questions,
laughter’s plucked strings—voices in darkness
below stars where someone straddles a bike
up on the balls of his feet, and someone else
stands firm on a curb, her arms crossed, two
dogs. nearby listening to the human duet,
stars falling through a summer night
a sudden car passing, rap song thumping,
but the voices, unhurried, return, obligatos afloat
on the humid air, tiny votives wavering
as porch lights go out—not wanting it to stop—
and Mars rising over the flower shop, up
through the telephone wires
“Against Endings” by Dorianne Laux from Facts About the Moon. © W. W. Norton. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It's the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg, Austria (1756). He only lived for 35 years but he started his career early — a child prodigy from a family of musicians. He toured all over Europe, and wrote his first opera at age 11.
Mozart died at the age of 35 in mysterious circumstances. There is a popular image of him as poor and miserable, working on a funeral requiem as he was dying. But overall, his final year was a good and productive one. He was living in Vienna. He was still getting commissions. He didn't have a lot of money in the year 1791, but then again, he rarely did — he and his wife, Constanze, never seemed able to live on what Mozart made.
It was a busy year. In the first months of 1791, he wrote dance music for the winter balls at the court and the Piano Concerto No. 27. In the summer, a messenger came, asking Mozart to write a requiem for his patron, Count Franz von Walsegg who had lost his wife and wanted to commission a requiem in her honor.
He was working on the opera La Clemenza di Tito to celebrate the coronation of Emperor Leopold as King of Bohemia. It premiered in early September. Three weeks later, his opera The Magic Flute opened in Vienna, and was a big hit. In October, he finished Clarinet Concerto in A. Then a cantata for his Freemason lodge, which he directed himself on November 18th. Finally, he put all his energy toward the Requiem, but just after the performance of his cantata, he became extremely ill. He had a fever, and his whole body was swollen. He continued writing the Requiem right up until his death, which was only two weeks after he became sick. No one knows what Mozart's illness was, and there are dozens of theories: rheumatic fever, tuberculosis, endocarditis, syphilis, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and poisoning. He died on December 5th, 1791 and was buried in a mass, unmarked grave, a common practice for the middle-class of Vienna.
Mozart said, "Music, in even the most terrible situations, must never offend the ear but always remain a source of pleasure."