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Laurie O'brien

The 14-Year-Old Goethe Hears The Mozart Children in Court

Frankfurt, August 1763

Babies, really, improbable prodigies, powdered,
bewigged, trotted out, stiffened into court clothes, the boy
a tiny cavalier, perfect objet d'art,
"A little man with his wig and sword," Goethe says.
Munich, Augsburg, Ludwigsburg, Bruchsal, Schwetzingen,
Heidelberg, Mannheim, Worms, Mainz, Frankfurt-
wanderers over various bored principalities,
rattled in endless carriages, rheumy, arthritic,
but still, all earthly weight cast off, sweetness,
and even light, ringing from their hands, never sad,
rarely doubtful, the upwelling of the music being
the thing they mind most. Molleintrübung,
the darkening into the mirror, not yet important.
What Goethe sees is a boy of seven, a sister
a little older. They have the same serious
eyes and unpleasant noses. She is primo.
He sees how their hands cross, how there is a moment
when the wrists brush and time appears to stop.
Curiously no time is lost, no notes missed.
Only the young flesh which passes over
the keys is briefly aware of the small sting
of innocence vanishing. It is as if the music
dies on the air, but because they are young still,
they do not notice what is taking place.


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