Wailing With Wolfie
As I said, I needed a break. I couldn’t wait around forty years, eating figs and punching out crocodiles. I could have headed back to 2542, taken a few days off, Quantum Regnum couldn’t have complained about that. But actually, there was something related to music I’d always wondered about. So I set my Geochronology Meter for Vienna, May 1st, 1786 A.D.
I arrived in Old Vienna under cover of dark and began cautiously exploring its streets. Eventually, I identified a clothiers and it was a simple matter (for me at least) to enter the establishment and abscond with attire more appropriate than my desert robes and leather pouch. Nothing fancy, just a dark coat and waistcoat, breeches, white stockings and shoes. I’ll admit I scoured the shop for cash and found enough Austrian thalers to finance a brief stay in the capital. Now, I was off to the opera – to be specific, the world premiere of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.
Ah, the Vienna Opera House, the gaiety, the high fashion, painted ladies and bewigged men arriving in ornate carriages, the exterior lit by torches and candles, and a clear, star-strewn 18th century sky overhead. It would have been even more enthralling if I actually liked opera, but I don’t. My idea of a superb operatic voice was Whitney Houston, back in the 20th century, but that’s another story, and not a pristine one.
Basically, I was just looking for Mozart, the ultimate icon of classical music. It wasn’t easy, as this was his big night. I hailed a parked carriage and paid the driver to wait there on one side of the plaza until the evening’s festivities were over. Mozart finally emerged sometime after midnight, descending the great stairs of the Opera, a celebrity surrounded by adoring hangers-on. I recognized him from the record albums. His fans finally surrendered him and his voluptuous young lady into a waiting carriage and off he went. “Folgen Sie diesem Wagen,” I barked to my driver, and we took off after the composer.
It must have been a couple of kilometers later when Mozart’s carriage turned down a dark, unlit street. Figuring he must be close to home, I quickly paid the driver and followed on foot. Indeed, the composer’s conveyance had stopped halfway down the street. I watched from a recessed alcove as they ascended some stairs and entered their shabby looking apartments.
After a decent interval, I approached his door. Be resolute, I thought, and knocked forcefully on it. I heard steps approaching and the woman opened the door. Mozart’s wife Constanze!
“Was wünschen Sie?”
Fortunately, I’d been forced to study German during the late 25th century when we had made an attempt, in 1921, to use the noted gay surrealist Franz Aufgenheiser to seduce Adolf Hitler into a life of artistic and sexual debauchery. Adolph resisted, however, probably due to shyness about his one ball. In the end, the only sign of his intense psychosexual struggle was the cute way he combed his hair over his forehead. Me, I felt we should have just wacked the motherfucker out when we had the chance, but the Grolnathians are pacifists and I would have lost my time-traveler status in a heartbeat.
Constanze wanted to know my errand. “Ich habe eine wichtige Mitteilung für Herrn Mozart!” I whispered.
“An important message?” she said, looking suspiciously at my soiled white stockings. But then Mozart himself, in a vermillion waistcoat, teetering slightly, came to the door. I should have been speechless before the great man but then, I’d just been eating fish with Moses so rarified heights were nothing new to me. “Herr Mozart,” I began, “let me be honest with you. I am a visitor from the future. I know, you must think I am crazy, but look at this!” From my pocket I pulled out my 26th century iPod 827. It has the expandable holo-screen and the levitating speakers that floated at various distances from the unit. Seeing it deploy, Mozart and Constanze staggered back in fear and tried to close their door.
“Ein Gespenst! Ein Gespenst!”
“No, no! I’m not a ghost! Hear me out,” I cried in my halting German. “In this machine are the musical secrets of the future! Please, give me your reactions. You are a great genius Herr Mozart. Your name will be honored down the centuries. But what about Chick Corea? He’s not chicken liver. You might be interested in his work!”
I have to hand it to Wolfgang, he hung in there. “Und wer ist dieses Tchich Koriya?”
“He’s a 20th century pianist, very accomplished. See, for us in the 26th century, his music is a kind of classical music. We still love yours, but…look, can I come in for a few minutes?”
Constanze shook her head, still terrified, but Mozart showed who wore the breeches in the family. “Ja Zukunftmann, können Sie hereinkommen.” That was nice. He’d called me “Future Man.” He showed me to the parlor where a magnificent white pianoforte stood. It reminded me of John Lennon’s, so on an impulse I strode over to it, flapped back the tails of my waistcoat, seated myself and began to play “Imagine.” After eight bars Mozart had it figured out, cleared his throat gutturally and spat into a flower pot. So much for peace and love.
“OK, I’m sorry about that, Herr Mozart.” I got up from the pianoforte and levitated the iPod 827 again, floating it against one wall of the little apartment. With a mental command, I brought up holographic footage of Jacques Loussier, a noted jazz interpreter of classical music, playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I saw Constanze peeking wide-eyed from behind a doorway, her face white as a sheet.
Loussier began playing, descending through these altered dominant chords, the drummer was sizzling on his high-hat, and the bass player was swinging hard. Mozart looked confused, then unimpressed.
“Ach, er ist Improvisieren auf Bach. Jeder kann es tun.”
“Anyone can do it? But not everyone can swing like that.”
“Schwingen? Waht ist diese Schwingen?”
“Swing is like…” Then I noticed one of his elegant 18th century slippers was tapping to the beat. It was time to transition to the next phase: a live performance of Chick Corea performing at the Tokyo Blue Note with an all-star band. I cued up a tune he’d written called “Bud Powell,” a lilting, accessible melody, to 21st century ears. Hearing the crisp piano intro, Mozart got the strangest look on his face. Chick’s hip chords and rhythms must have been the equivalent of seeing a fusion jet-cruiser hovering outside his window. Then the alto sax player stepped up to play the head. Wolfgang’s eyes bugged open. He started blinking and cocking his head to one side, then the other, like a pigeon in a powdered wig.
“Was ist das goldene Instrument gibt?”
“Yeah, that’s a saxophone, man. That will come around in another hundred years or so.”
“Und warum gibt es so viele Afrikaner?”
“Oh, those guys? Well, jazz combines African feeling and rhythms plus Western harmonies. The ancestors of the black guys were all American slaves.”
I looked down and saw he was tapping his foot again. But his eyebrows were clenched together in pain at the dissonant chords. When Kenny Garret took his solo, he cried out, “Aber er spielt all die falschen Noten!”
“No, Wolfgang – I can call you Wolfgang, right? – they’re not false notes, just extensions of basic dominant and minor chords. They got tired of that simple shit. See, Charlie Parker, he…”
“Schweigen! Seien Sie ruhig!”
He wanted me to shut up. I did. But when Roy Haynes went into a drum solo, he started to get upset, about to flip his wig – literally. So I switched to another piece, an elegant, meditative ballad featuring Joshua Redman on tenor. Mozart calmed down. He sensed Joshua’s virtuosity right away.
“Das Saxophon klingt wie ein betrunkener Fagott, aber Ich mag es.”
Great! He liked the tenor, even if he did describe it as a “drunken bassoon.” And when Chick took his solo, Mozart’s head actually began nodding in approval. Next came Christian McBride’s bass solo.
“Aber das Pizzicato Bass ist genial! Wundersame!”
“Brilliant, miraculous!” Christian McBride had a new fan, though one who had been dead for 756 years. Mozart was a fast learner, far more open-minded than I’d expected. Time to take him to the next level: “Trinkle, Trinkle,” with Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane. The Tokyo Blue Note dissolved from view and now we were ten rows back at the legendary Carnegie Hall concert in 1958, Trane and Monk looming before us as they took off on one of the craziest, arrhythmic, breakneck-speed riffs in jazz. This was the test, because Monk always sounds a little out of tune with his deliberate dissonances and strange melodic intervals. Mozart leaned back in his seat, scowled, pulled a lacey handkerchief from his embroidered left-sleeve and began to mop his brow. Trane was going nuts, running scales like a heat-seeking missile. Monk was plunking outer space note clusters every five and a half beats.
“It’s all 11ths and 13ths and altered scales, Wolfgang,” I shouted – “very advanced stuff!” Monk’s mouth was hanging open. Sweat was dripping off his chin onto the keys. Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass and the drummer Shadow Wilson were locked into the groove. Trane’s eyes were closed in fierce concentration.
Suddenly all hell broke loose. Someone began pounding on the wall next door, shouting “Stoppen mit Lärm, Herr Mozart! Stoppen mit Lärm!!” Constanze began whooping in terror in the bedroom. Meanwhile Mozart had leapt up and tried to enter the holograph, waving his arms, yelling “Afrikaner aus! Afrikaner aus!” I heard a whistle blowing outside. Someone had called the cops. It was time to get scarce. I grabbed my iPod 827, clicked it off and made for the door. As I headed outside I glanced back and saw Wolfgang Mozart standing in the middle of his room with a plaintive look on his face. I heard the clip-clop of a police wagon coming, so I took off down the block and then quickly around a corner and hid out behind some trash boxes. I heard voices shouting, “He went that way,” but the wagon sped past my hideout. Lucky break. I got out my hyper-flux wave reader, ready to hone in on the Locus Oil I’d rubbed on Moses before I left. That’s when I heard the soft tread of 18th century slippers approaching my hideout. When you’ve been in this business for 286 years, you can hear stuff like that. It was Mozart, of course.
“Vy are you leafing now FutureMan? Vy don’t you take me vith you? I can speak ze English a little! I vant to learn more about ziz… ziss…JassMusik!”
“Wolfgang, your place is here in Vienna. My advice is to focus more on your health, actually. Look, why don’t you work on a passage with some diminished 4ths and 7ths, a sort of serial chromaticism thing for one of your late symphonies?”
“Vat do you mean ‘late?’”
“Uh, nothing, nothing. You hang in there, man. It was great meeting you.”
And in a flash, he was gone. And so was I.