It happens on January 27th.
In the dream, it’s 1777, and a Quaker minister named Scatterwell gets a burning concern to visit the decadent city of Vienna, to preach the gospel of love of God and neighbor. He’s particularly moved by reports of the tens of thousands of poor Austrians and others huddling there in the shadow of the luxuriant indifference of the imperial court.
When Scatterwell arrives in the bustling capital, he heads straight for the nearest low-life tavern, figuring to plunge into the depths and confront the Devil’s work head on.
In the crowded, dark tavern, he spies a young man leaning dejectedly over a big mug of ale, a crumpled sheaf of papers at his elbow. The youth is clearly trying to get drunk.
His clothes are out of place in the tavern — they are of a finer cut, though ragged and soiled.
Scatterwell sits at the same table, and tries out his Deutsch. “My friend,” he says gently, “whatever has brought thee to this dreadful place?”
The lad looks up at him. “Ach,” he says. “I’m lucky to be here, rather than in the ditch outside. I’m all alone. My mother just died, I’ve no work, and I’m down to my last few coins. I don’t know what I will do, so I thought I’d just drink and forget my problems.” He takes a big swig, and wipes his mouth. “It works. For awhile.”
“Oh, Friend,” Scatterwell declares, “thee doesn’t have to end it here, or in the mud outside. God has a wonderful plan for thy life, and for the many other unfortunates that thee can help”
And then, summoning all his earnest eloquence, Scatterwell preaches to the youth of the Universal Saving Light, of Christ’s gracious example and sacrificial life, and how God’s grace and Light can be spread today as it was in the early church, for this is, in the words of the great Friend William Penn, the day of Primitive Christianity Revived!
And as the young man listens, his eyes begin to shine, and Scatterwell knows his heart is being reached, his mind convinced. At length, he nods, and says, “Oh yes, my new Friend, your English accent is strange, but your words ring true. Show me how to join in this wonderful new life.”
And then Scatterwell shares the burden that he has carried all this way, of concrete help for the many desperate poor of Vienna. He plans to open eine kuchenzuppe, which is the closest he can come to “Soup Kitchen.” His monthly meeting will help them get started, he says, and they will find other supporters as they work.
Scatterwell emphasizes that just a small share of the value of the courtiers’ costly but useless baubles could underwrite their new work, and feed many thousands more.
“Yes,” says the young man, pushing the mug of ale away. “That is so true! Let’s get started right now.”
They both rise, and turn to head for the door. But then the lad spies the forgotten sheaf of papers on the table, and grabs them up, to toss into the fireplace as they pass.
Scatterwell sees musical notes on them as the flames light up and then consume the sheets. “So much for worldly vanity,” he says with grim satisfaction. “Thy new life will be much more fruitful — er, what did thee say thy name was, Friend?”
The lad replies, “It’s –
And that’s when I wake up screaming.
Because the youth’s name is Wolfgang. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Yes, January 27 is Mozart’s birthday. He would have been (and IS, in a real way) 260-plus years old today, give or take.
And the nightmare scenario just recounted haunts me because it brings home how drastically poorer my own life would be, had the musician by some miscarriage undergone the kind of conversion it imagines.
How much difference has it made? There was an underground comic strip back in the Sixties about several disreputable characters called the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. These fellows had a saying, that “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.”
For me, tho I enjoyed the Brothers in their time, a truer long-term motto would be, MOZART will get you through times of no money better than MONEY will get you through times of no Mozart!”
And let the church say, “AMEN!”
So while I am also dedicated to Quakerism, seek to achieve our vaunted “Simplicity,” and admire such missions as that of Friend Scatterwell, I’m sure grateful that neither he, nor any of the Catholic ascetic groups Mozart was more likely to have run into, found and deterred him from his musical course.
It’s also a great relief that Quakerism has finally outgrown (to a large extent), our opposition to such art. (To get a sense of this evolution, see this excellent compilation, “Beyond Uneasy Tolerance,” compiled by Friend Esther Greenleaf Murer.)
Not that fulfilling what seems to have been his destiny turned out much better. He kept composing, but his music never brought him much worldly success, and he was carried off before the age of forty, buried in a common pauper’s grave in Vienna.
And that’s My Recurring Quaker Nightmare — Every January 27th . . . .
Ah well, his genius was about as close to immortality as things human can get. If you’re also a Mozart fan, or just curious, have a listen to this short piece, the Credo from his “Great” mass , K. 427. This is the kind of “creed” even a liberal Quaker can get behind.”
And say farewell to him here; but give thanks that the music survived.