Jacob Glatstein: Mozart (From Yiddish)

Written 1946 in the wake of WWII, and with intentionally offensive irony, "Mozart" depicts the Holocaust as not simply a Jewish tragedy, but a tragic immolation of European civilization, wherein the forces of barbarism -ignorant Goyish Europeans- demolish high European culture, in the person of a crucified Mozart, whilst the Jews act as custodians of this heritage, transmitting it even as the Christian Nazis turn their backs on the Christian-born composer who has created a new breakaway Faith of Music in his death at their hands. Yeah, when I said "intentionally offensive irony", I meant offensive not just to a goyisher, but to a Yiddish-reading (and therefore Jewish) audience. For this depiction of Christ-like Mozart might, after all, imply that Jesus was somehow Mozart-like.

Mozart, perhaps more than any other composer, seems to have given sustenance to those who had fled Germany and Eastern Europe as victims of Nazi oppression. The beauty of Mozart's work, and the perception of him as a representative of enlightenment, for many (including Albert Einstein, among others) provided a link to what they had left behind, a medium through which to reaffirm their identity with High European Culture (validated by the high reputation Mozart enjoyed in the countries German exiles fled to) even as that Culture was perverted against them.  

I don't know whether Glatstein was aware of the grotesque Nazi project to ideologically "Aryanize" and nationalize Mozart (whereas in point of fact Mozart was unusual for his time in not harboring anti-Jewish prejudice), or of the Nazi habit of using Mozart as background music in gas chambers (the latter especially really, really hurts to know.) But this poem can't fail to call such to my mind. 

I am by disposition suspicious of every authority, including what my own brain tells itself. For the human brain has an over-developed pattern-recognition capacity which often shades into pattern-manufacture, transforming random coincidences into signs of some grand scheme, (a condition whose symptoms may include conspiracy-theories, paranoia and religion.) Nonetheless, the fact that Auschwitz was liberated on Mozart's birthday does make me quite happy, albeit for no good reason. 

By Jacob Glatstein
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I had a dream:
The Reich of Goyim crucified Mozart
And buried him in Potter's Field
Where nobody kneeled
Save the Jews who saw the God in the man that died
And kept His memory sanctified.

And I roamed the world as His apostle
Accosting people left and right,
Converting every Christian that I caught
To a Mozartistic proselyte. 

Miraculous, the Evangelic
Music of this Man Divine,
The outspread arms, the song-nailed hands
That shine!
Out of the depths of His Passion
To the very last
Every finger
Of this crucified singer
Through terror of tears
More than Himself he loved
His neighbor's...ears.

The Sermon on the Mount:
How stingy, indigent
Next to the bounty
Of Mozart's testament.

The Original:

יעקב גלאַטשטיין

ס'האָט זיך מיר געחלומט,
גויים האָבן מאָצאַרטן געקרייציקט
און אים באַגראָבן אין אן אייזל–קבר. 
נאָר יידן האָבן אים געמאַכט פֿאַר גאָטס מענטש
און זײַן געדעכעניש געבענטשט.

זײַן אַפאָסטאָל בין איך איבער דער וועלט געלאָפֿן
און באָקערט יעדער איינעם וואָם כ'האָב געטראָפֿן.
אומעטום ווו כ'האָב געכאַפט א קריסט,
האָב איך אים געשמדט אויף אַ מאָצאַרטיסט.

ווי ווונדערלעך איז פֿון געטלעכן מענטש
זײַן מוזיקאַלישער טעסטאַמענט
ווי דורכגענאגלט מיט געזאנג
זײַנען זײַנע ליכטיקע הענט.
אין זײַן גרעסטער נויט,
האָבן בײַם געקרייציקטן זינגער
געלאַכט אַלע פינגער.
אין זײַן וויינענדיקסטן טרויער,
האָט ער נאָך מער ווי זיך אַליין
ליב געהאַט דעם שכנס...אויער.

ווי אָרעם און ווי קאַרג,
אַנטקעגן מאָצערטס פאָרבלייב,
איז די דרשה אויפן באַרג.

1 comment:

  1. I'm interested in this Aryanization of Mozart. I know the Nazis had a real boner for Wagner, but had never read about this before. I also can't find any sources on Mozart being played /in/ the gas chambers - in fact, I don't recall ever learning that they had sound systems in there, which wouldn't be too perverse but rather inefficient - but quite possibly he was played in the camps. Any sources on this?


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