Last Friday marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Being somewhat partial to his music, it seemed appropriate to come up with something positive and Jewish about him.
One thing we share is that the Church hated both of us. Mozart was on the Vatican’s list of banned music, and remained unheard within its official walls till 1985. (The Church has since come around, and moved closer to my tastes. The present Pope has spoken out against the primitiveness of rock in a way that would get many yeshiva mashgichim to nod approvingly.) Another is our longevity. Two hundred and fifty years from now, we will still be around. Unless the Caliphate triumphs, so will Mozart, which is more than I can say for Numa Numa or even MBD.
That didn’t seem enough. Then I remembered a wonderful essay written years ago by Rabbi Natan Lopes-Cardozo, albeit about Bach, rather than Mozart. He contrasted Bach to Beethoven, showing that the latter broke all the previous rules concerning composition, while Bach (and Mozart) worked within the traditional protocols. It reminded him of the frequent charge leveled against observant Jews – living within set, defined rules must be stultifying, restrictive, and utterly damaging to creativity. Here is a choice quote from the essay:
To work within constraints and then to be utterly novel is the ultimate sign of unprecedented greatness. This is what Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) the great German poet and philosopher meant when he said:
In der Beschraenkung zeigt sich erst der Meister, Und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben. (Sonnet: “Was wir bringen”)
(In limitation does the master really prove himself And it is (only) the law which can provide us with freedom)