A Piece for an Organ Inside of a Clock

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

By Kedrick Rue


Mozart’s Death Mask

When I was a child, I thought that everything in the house came to life the moment I left. That stuffed animal? Of course it did. But that broom, as well. That plate ran off with the spoon. The mice held parties. The rugs inched across the floor, slug-style. How could it be proven that it didn’t happen? It didn’t matter that it was unlikely; what mattered is that it was possible.

As I got a little older, these borders between the animate and the inanimate became even more ill-defined. When was the “moment of death?” Was it when the last spark of consciousness ceased or with the shutting down of the last bodily process? And what was consciousness? Were slime molds conscious? Viruses? Animal, vegetable, or mineral?

In late 1790 Mozart was secretly commissioned to compose a piece of music for the funeral of Field Marshal Gideon von Laudon, an Austrian Generalisimo who had died that summer. 

Later, the piece was rededicated to Count Joseph Deym’s Müllersche Kunstgalerie in Vienna. The piece was played by a mechanical organ inside a small mausoleum, which was a part of the general display of the museum. A wax effigy of the Field Marshal lay encased in a glass coffin, like a sleeping beauty waiting for his kiss, surrounded by statues of mourners.

Von Laudon Mausoleum

The museum contained other mechanical wonders: a canary automaton, two flute-playing boys made out of wax, and even a “Bedroom of the Graces,” a semi-erotic tableau of a nubile young girl sleeping on a bed, lit by alabaster lamps and watched over by a statue of Venus. The sculptures were not alive, but the people who visited them were. How many of them played the flute? How many of them had live canaries at home?

I can’t help but think about how this mausoleum is now gone, along with the people who visited. The Field Marshal is gone. The Count is gone. Mozart is gone. I can’t help but think about how the reconstruction has vanished, but the music lives on. I imagine the people drifting through, come to see the Baron’s waxen effigy, or the young girl’s nubile form. They are gone now. Memories, ghosts. Imaginings which I call them into being, using the spell of Mozart’s music.

What I think of most, in that liminal space between wakefulness and sleep, is the empty room, and the clockwork mechanism, spouting immortal music. Music playing into eternity, for no-one–not even me. I want to eavesdrop on nothing, as nothing creeps across the floor, and nothing caresses the body of the girl in the bed, and nothing peers at the waxen effigy in the mausoleum. I want to listen to it creep, when I am alone in my bed at night, and the clock-chimes of yesteryear drift up the stairs, with the creak of no-one’s step. With the sigh of no-one’s breath. The vacuum inside that mechanism, spouting music for no-one to listen to, until the last star dies.



A Piece for an Organ Inside of a Clock

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