Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I've thought about it, and I've come to ascribe Mozart's fainting to the impossible pressure of all that music on the inside of his skull. That flimsy chamber wasn't designed to house a fraction of what it did: the galloping tempos, the transparent woodwind and clarinet parts, the punchy D-minor trombone chords. The last act of Don Giovanni. The K. 626 Requiem. Those two sorrowing notes that begin "Masonic Funeral Music." Beauty, sublimity, and (this being Mozart) toilet humor. The overspill is what made him black out.Although some of the current issue is available online, my own piece, alas, is not. So interested readers may be obliged to fork over ten dollars (it's for a good cause, folks!). Meanwhile, I gave a reading from my novel, The Only I News I Know, last Thursday. I was in excellent company, sharing the bill with Joshua Ferris and John Burnham Schwartz, and the narrow subterranean chamber at the Cake Shop was packed. I went first. Initially I was a little concerned about the stage lighting, which consisted of white Christmas bulbs stapled to the low ceiling. But the curators of this excellent series soon brought out a kind of Klieg lamp, suitable to an operating theater or antiaircraft barrage, and the problem was solved. In the short clip below, you can see me (just barely) reading a couple of short bits. In order to cram a longish passage into my 15-minute allotment, I read pretty damn fast. In the beginning I sounded like one of those breathless men listing the side effects on the Nexium commercials. But eventually I slowed down to the brisk canter in the video, like so:
There's even a bit of corroborating evidence. As Mozart lay on his deathbed, roughing out the parts for the Requiem, he often summoned his friend Sussmayr to explain how the work should be performed. On one occasion he tried to clarify the role of the drums, "and was observed in doing this to blow out his cheeks, and express his meaning by a noise intelligible to the musician." Here is the very picture of music--highly pressurized music--escaping from the composer's skull, the way air might from a tire.