The Vatican is about to put on show a small document written in 1770. Not another piece of bigotry, you may wonder with a yawn. Well, no actually…or yes and no, at least.
The document in question is the conferment of a papal knighthood on a small fourteen year old boy who just happened to be one of the greatest of all musical geniuses.
When the great and glorious composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 -1791) was a boy of fourteen, he was already acknowledged across Europe as a musical genius – Europe wasn’t wrong. He had stunned the musical world with his harpsichord playing and his youthful compositions but his great music was yet to be written. The boy Mozart had all the properties of a genius even if the music he wrote in his youth was more a demonstration of his brilliance and knowledge than his depth of creative imagination – that was still to come. Other musical child prodigies wrote greater music – the phenomenal Felix Mendelssohn for one.
There did though seem to be no doubt about the bright future that lay ahead for the supreme genius of Mozart who suffered his famous and tragic fate more to do with 18th. Century economics than with his lack of recognition.
When he was fourteen, he went on a musical tour with his father, manager, teacher and, some would say, “svengali,” the unstoppable Leopold Mozart. Well, as they say, all roads end in Rome and the boy seems to have impressed someone near to the then wearer of the papal crown, Pope Clement XIV who was persuaded, maybe by Leopold, to confer on the lad the Chivalric Order of the Golden Spur – wow!
The long grandiose document was written on lambskin parchment and, in spite of a few factual errors, generally shows the magnificent condescension of princes:
….”To our Beloved son, Johann, Amadeus, Wolfgang, Mozart, Knight of the Silver Cross, Civil and Christian: Greetings…..
…It is appropirate to present honours from the Home of the Pontiff of Rome and the Seat of the Apostles………….
……Therefore WE…have agreed to Petitions in your name, because we understand that you have excelled from early youth in the sweetest sound of cymbals we Make and Create you a Golden Knight….etc. etc. etc……
…..You must wear it on all occasions, though the merit is in you, not the decoration.”
So arise Sir Wolfgang, Golden Knight! If you believe in a God who created the World and all that is in it, you should believe that it was that God who created the Golden Knight of music not the pompously patronising Archbishop of Rome.
This document puts into the context the value of “honours” – we don’t need to honour Mozart in any other way than to respond to his, always for me, inspiring music. We don’t remember him for his Golden Spur any more than we remember Benjamin Britten as Sir Benjamin Britten or, as he later became, Lord Britten. When honouring geniuses with medals and titles, the bestower not the receiver, is flattered…..maybe “honours” are best reserved for minor civil servants and retiring politicians.
Other documents being shown in this exhibition from the Vatican Archives, will be that letter forced from Galileo in 1633 where he had to admit his “heresy” in arguing that the Earth goes round the Sun.
I forgive these Popes and archbishops, mostly – they are just ordinary people like the rest of us and not many of us get things right. The extraordinary people, like Mozart and Galileo, well, they were just different – Deo Gratias.
The greatest Papal honour bestowed on Mozart is that the present Pope, Benedict XVI, gets pleasure and inspiration by sitting alone in his Vatican apartment playing Mozart’s music on the piano.
Here is the great Mozart and Chopin pianist Dinu Lipatti playing Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Minor – enough said: