an excerpt from the book
“Most painfully affected of all by Mozart’s fatal illness
From Joseph Deiner’s Memoirs, related at Vienna, 1856
“Mozart, Ich liebe dich. I love you. Love you.”
“Come here, Nanina Nightingale. Come and give your poor old Maestro some of your ‘specially sugary sugar.”
My mouth on his‑‑the friction produced warmth and sweetness, with a decided undertone of the expensive brandy he liked, flowing from his tongue to mine. I slid my arms across the brocade of his jacket, none too clean these days, and swayed a slender dancer’s body against him.
Let me assure you that my sophistication was assumed. It really doesn’t matter - then, or now. I was young, foolish, and drowning in love. I was seventeen. He was thirty five.
He had once been boyishly agile, doing handsprings over chairs, turning cartwheels of joy at a prima donna’s kiss or a perfect performance of his own celestial music. He was never tall, and was, like most men of his age, working on a bit of a belly. Still, he kept more or less in shape by a daily regimen which included running from bailiffs, dashing out the back doors of taverns to avoid payment, and climbing in and out of the bedroom windows of adventurous (and talented) musical gentlewomen.
I believed he knew everything--that he could see right through me with those bright blue eyes. He probably could. He’d been my music master--and, more--my deity, ever since I’d met him, in my ninth year.
His jacket, now spotted and stained, must have been fine enough to wear in the presence of the Emperor. Bright blue, it perfectly matched his eyes. I can still feel the fabric sliding under my fingers as my arms passed over his shoulders and around his neck.
I can still see him‑‑a woolly frizz of blonde hair, long, aquiline nose--a ram that had once been an angel. Sometimes, when he was loving me in some exquisitely naughty way and joyfully smiling as he did it, I could almost see horns.
So you will understand exactly how I loved him, so that you will know that it was a real passion, I’ll tell you that I adored the feel of him, the smell of him, the taste of him. They’ve tried to turn him into a tinkling porcelain angel, but I’m here to tell you, here and now--he was not.
Mozart’s eyes were big, slightly protuberant, and as I’ve said, so blue. Alarming, those eyes! Once they’d shone with the pure light of genius, radiant and blissful as a summer noonday. Lately, they were simply wasted. My adored Maestro was mostly either drunk or hung over.
He’d fallen from grace. Everyone knew it. Creditors hounded him. There were too many wild parties, not enough money. His wife had given up coping, had gone back to the Baden spa where she had an on-going romance with a big, handsome Major.
And who could blame her? Pretty Constance, in the last ungainly stages of yet another pregnancy, fleeing Vienna after a winter of freezing and begging for handouts...
Even a seventeen year old idolater could recognize her defection for simple self‑preservation. I didn’t judge her. I didn’t judge myself. I was simply glad to have her out of the way. When she was gone, he was restless, at loose ends, spending most of his time hanging around our theater. Of course, nothing could have suited me better.
Oh, I can still hear my painted Mama lecturing, telling me all about Wolfgang’s debts, his drinking, and his wife. If I must go whoring, why couldn’t I be sensible, make it pay?
Naturally, I knew that the lady who filled his mind was one of his damned piano pupils. She was struggling with a very real fear of her husband and with her own natural chastity. Dear Mozart always imagined that if a lady played his music with “taste and feeling”, she belonged to him in a deeper and more complete sense than she could ever belong to a mere husband. The notion proved in every case disappointing, and, in the final exercise, fatal.
He often held forth upon “acting like a Kapellmeister/ dressing like a Kapellmeister”, long after he’d been ejected both from the court and the wider world of gentlemanly convention. When sufficiently drunk, he used to amuse everyone at The Serpent, clowning with a violin like some impoverished, itinerant musiker.
One night, a pair of Englishmen who’d been dining there dropped a handful of kreutzers and asked in broken German if he knew the way to “the house of Kapellmeister Mozart.” As the regulars roared, Mozart answered with the filthiest English curse he knew and haughtily stalked away, leaving the money on the floor. The waiter, Joseph Deiner, God bless him, scooped it up and applied it to Mozart’s perennial bill.
* * *
It’s hard to tell how you will like a true story, but to my mind, all the best tales grow. Have patience. This, I assure you, is a love story.
* * *
I was born a musiker, a poor, pretty, talented girl who could have become an actress or a singer, a dancer or a prostitute. When I was seventeen, with no parents and working for Emmanual Schikaneder, I’m afraid the latter was the fate most likely.
Today my beauty and voice are gone. Memories are all that remain. Except for my old friend Joseph, it was lonely for a very long time, but lately troops of well meaning Volk have been knocking on my door, bringing little presents and asking questions about the old days.
“Fraulein Gottlieb,” they say, “you were the Magic Flute’s first Pamina. Tell us about the way it was. Tell us about the great genius, Mozart.”
I hardly dare speak. Once well begun, this old woman might ramble straight through from beginning to end. My adored, long dead Maestro has become famous, a kind of Martyr to Art. I have no wish to stain the marble purity of the image that his wife, with so much skill and determination, has spent the last thirty years creating. I understand the theater of life, this proscenium beneath the arching sky. Sometimes--paradoxically--honor requires a lie.
So, to such visitors, I say the obvious, about how poorly his talent served him while he lived. Then they reply, as if this makes up for the pain: “His music survives.”
For a performer like me, it’s the opposite. In that most present of present moments, we are the lark of song, the erotic geometry of dance, the drum beat of declamation. For a performer there’s nothing beyond the flashing now, and when we grow old all that is left for us is the rusty rumination of some aged member of a long ago audience.
This being so, I’ll tell you who I am, or rather who I was: Fraulein Anna Gottlieb, Nanina to my long dead friends. I was a performer once admired, first as a dancer, then as a singer, and last, when I grew older, as a comedienne who had learned all about getting belly laughs from those two great clowns of the Volksoper stage, Barbara Gerl and Emmanuel-The-Devil-In-Human-Form Schikaneder. I was the darling of the fickle Viennese for years . . .
* * *