Wien, wien, du allein


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When she recovered consciousness she found herself once more lying on a sofa in the hall of mirrors. Seated on each side of her were her father and mother, gazing at her with anxious concern. Her father had thrown a cover over her. In his right hand he held a fan with which he cooled her flushed and overheated face. Her mother was wringing out and applying vinegar soaked cloths to her temples. At the far end of the couch, by her feet, stood Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer, rocking back and forth on his heels, staring at his pocket watch and feeling her pulse.

" Where am I?" she whispered.

" You've always been here, little Marie - Therese. I've just used a bit of my notorious wizardry to carry you through dreams to the "salutary crisis”. It's absolutely necessary for any effective cure by Animal Magnetism. You should feel much better now."

She did in fact feel better. It may have only been an effect of her imagination, but she had the impression that her vision had also undergone some real if moderate improvement.

Franz Anton Mesmer and Marie-Therese saw her family off from the balustrade, watching them as they walked to the coach that awaited them beyond the hedges. Then Mesmer walked her back to the clinic. As they crossed the gardens, Marie-Therese couldn't help noticing that, although it was still the world of February inside the room, the climate, odors and appearance of the gardens were well advanced into the final weeks of April.

[1] Space and Sight: The Perception of space and shape in the congenitally blind before and after operation ; M. von Senden, 1932; translated by Peter Heath, The Free Press, Glencoe , Ill., 1960

[2] St John of the Cross, Alchemist of the Soul; Antonió de Nicolas , Paragon House, 1989

[3] The Geometry of Binocular Space Perception; Hardy, Rand, Rittler, Black, Boeder; Knapp Memorial Labs., Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1953

[4] Baroque Art and Music 1600-1750 WGBH “ The Western Tradition” Videocassette NX451B37 1986

[5] The 18th Century; Costumes Reference 4; Marion Sichel; Plays,Inc.1977

[6] Historical Costumes in Pictures ; Brian & Schneider, Dover, 1975

[7] Costumes and Settings for Staging Historical Plays, vol 4, the Georgian Period; Jack Cassin-Scott; Plays, Inc. 1979

[8] Costume and Fashion, a concise history; James Laver; Oxford, 1982

[9] The Historical Encyclopedia of Costumes; Albert Racinet; Facts on File, 1888

[10] The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th centuries, Vol I; Fernand Braudel; trans Sian Reynolds, Harper & Row, 1979

[11] The Mind Possessed; William Sargant; Lippincott, 1973

[12] Through the Looking-Glass; Lewis Carroll; Grosset & Dunlap, 1989

[13] The Looking-Glass in America 1700-1825; Helen Comstock;Viking, 1968

[14] Gardens in Central Europe; Text Patrick Bowe, Photo Nicolas Sapieha; MT Train/Scala, 1991

[15] La Symphonie Pastorale; Andre Gide; Gallimard, 1925

[16] Face to Face; Ved Mehta; Atlantic-Little Brown, 1957
Chapter 8

  1. The Music Lesson

Loved by the Muse was the bard; but she

Gave her of good and evil

Reft was the light of her eyes, but with

Sweetest song was she endowed


“There is a kind of virtue inherent in the world-soul

that is suffused throughout the universe”


Towards evening of a day near the beginning of April, 1777, Marie-Therese von Paradis was again taken over to the Mesmer mansion. During her stay in his clinic, the Mesmers frequently invited her and her parents over for dinner. Afterwards Marie-Therese would play for them on the piano set up in the ante-chamber adjacent to the dining-room. Tonight, because of the devotion that Frau von Colnbach-Paradis always invested in dressing, grooming, and fixing up her coiffure, mother and daughter were half an hour late in arriving. No matter; the presence of special guests had delayed the dinner.

To her amazement and delight, Marie-Therese found two of

her music teachers already seated at the dinner table and waiting for her:

Carl Friberth and the Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler.

Singer, pianist and composer, Friberth had only recently left the employ of Joseph Haydn to take up a post as musical director for all Jesuit church activities in Vienna. His work as Haydn’s collaborator in the production anf performance of opera at the Esterháza palace in Eisenstadt had given him a solid reputation as a many-talented musician.

The Abbé Vogler has a more prominent position in music history. Only age 29 at the time of this reunion, he was court chaplain and second kapellmeister at Mannheim, the most important center for musical innovation in Germany at that time. A few years earlier he’d established his school of music. It soon became famous (some would say infamous) for its radical innovations in teaching, instrumental design and musical form. Mozart has some unkind things to say about him, which means nothing: it appears to have been considered unprofessional in that period for anyone to say (at least for public consumption) anything good about anyone else in one’s own field. In fact, Vogler would soon be heading home to await the arrival, in a few months, of Mozart and his mother. xlvi

Mesmer’s dinner invitation had been extended to him after the Abbé Vogler had approached Mesmer with the request that he be allowed to meet Marie-Therese von Paradis and observe her at the piano. The passionate commitment to music education which would figure prominently all through his career, had arosed his curiosity: what could he learn about the way artistic understanding follows the period of mechanical study of a musical piece, from watching the painful process by which Marie-Therese von Paradis was struggling to translate a new world of unfamiliar sensations into full understanding of her surroundings?

Later that evening, after seeing her parents and the other guests to the door, Mesmer had also arranged to take Marie-Therese over to the small private astronomical observatory he’d set up in an octagonal stone building on the grounds. The Astronomer Royal, the Jesuit priest Maximilian Hell, inventor of the magnetic therapies developed by Mesmer, had promised to drop by around 10 PM to confirm for himself the reports he’d been getting of the progress of Marie-Therese in the restoration of sight.

The dinner table was set off in an alcove next to a floor-to- ceiling French window. It was a charming place from which to look out onto the Viennese urban landscape. Spring had arrived early, the weather was warm; through the cautiously opened window circulated a slight breeze. Scarcely a cloud hovered above but the air was crisp; in a few hours once the sun had set, the temperature was expected to drop significantly.

Marie-Therese sat in a kind of rapture, absorbing her first encounter with the multi-colored pageant of twilight. Since going blind at age 3 she’d not experienced the series of changes that carry daylight into darkness, nor the many beautiful effects of weather, clouds and colors that play about the horizon. She’d been told what to expect; despite this, the spontaneous diminution of the natural daylight was frightening at first, much as a person may continue to experience fear of heights even when he knows that there is nothing to be afraid of.

But when the scarlet blush of the sunset spread itself over the basin of the Danube and beams of sunlight gleamed off the green patinaed cupolas of the Klosterneuberg monastery in the distance, her mood was transformed from acute anxiety to something akin to awe.

What an immense relief, Maman!” , she exclaimed, “ Nature has not totally abandoned us poor mortals after all. If I were doomed to endure the uninterrupted sunlight forever, I would surely go out of my mind. “

As the sun finally disappeared below the hills, she felt the tension and strain of the day’s hard labors, (due as much to her attempts to understand what she was seeing as the hypnotherapy itself), flow out of her system , giving way to a state of tenderness and comfort.

In the late 18th century people everywhere worked much harder than anyone does in the developed world today, and those who could afford to do so consumed what we would consider enormous meals. They were eaten rapidly, so that dinner of 15 dishes might be devoured in less than 45 minutes. Lacing every meal in the Austrian capital were many cups of thick black coffee. The Viennese had become addicted to coffee, heavy, syrupy and very black ever since the Ottoman Army had left behind their sacks of coffee after the failed siege of 1683.

The meal itself was something of a novelty. Carl Friberth had passed along to the Mesmers’ cook several recipes taken from the banquets at Esterháza palace. Following a hors d’oeuvres of sausages, patés and other snacks, the wine goblets were filled with sweet red Malaga wine and a big slab of boiled beef, heavily spiced, deposited on their plates. A ragout with dumplings was quickly devoured, followed by a brief pause.

Soon the silver serving plates, heaped with slices of pheasants imported from Bohemia were carried out from the kitchen. Following the instructions of Friberth, these had been garnished with salt, pepper and paprika, the fiery Hungarian spice that Haydn could never get enough of, then baked for over an hour. Not long afterwards, a new white wine made its appearance, the white frothy Bellingham Johannesberger.

Pastries, known as Mehlspeisen , croissants, tortes and other delicacies, appeared in cut glass bowls. These served as a kind of nasherei for occupying away the interlude before arrival of the desserts. While they waited, Franz Anton Mesmer asked Marie-Therese if she felt like playing something at the piano. She replied:

I’ve developed problems coordinating my movements at the keyboard. These new visual signals seem to interfere with my muscular training. I’ve never had to worry about that in the past, but then my arms and hands were used to responding to sound and touch only. For the moment I’m able to keep my eyes closed while playing; let us hope that this will not grow into a serious handicap! It will be dreadful, doctor, will it not, if I have to sacrifice my career as a musician to my ability to see?

“But right now I am overjoyed at the chance of playing for my two teachers! ”

Everyone welcomed the suggestion, although Carl Friberth cautioned her to avoid virtuoso pieces until her cure was complete.

Just a few pieces, professor Friberth, to get into shape. Then I hope you will recommend a piece from your days of working with Joseph Haydn.”

The Abbé Vogler encouraged her. “Go and play anything you wish, dear. This isn’t a formal concert. If you are like me, you just follow up on whatever catches your fancy! You can always learn from your mistakes. ”

Mesmer and Friberth stood up with her. Leading her by the hand, they walked her through the opened lace-curtained door to the piano in the adjoining antechamber. The piano was so placed that her audience could listen and watch from the dining-room. Friberth sat down beside her to the right .

Acting on a strong recommendation from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself (a young man rarely known to praise anyone or anything beneath his own Olympian sphere) the Mesmers’ fortepiano had been purchased from the firm of Nanette Streicher. Daughter of piano maker Johann Andreas Stein of Augsburg, she’d recently opened her own shop in Vienna. It was very light, perhaps 1/10th the weight of a modern piano, shaped more like a harpsichord though already recognizable as the piano we are familiar with . The tone was beautiful and clear, but soft, rather pallid ,somewhat mechanical and with a relatively small carrying capacity. The sounding board was flat. There were only two thin strings (.012” in diameter) to each note, rather than the three one normally finds today. The feather-light hammerheads were covered with cloth or leather.

On the other hand the Viennese action was superb, better than that of the English piano, the rival that would eventually surpass it to become the standard instrument throughout Europe until the innovations of Erard in Paris, in the 1820’s, to meet the requirements of Chopin and Liszt.

Gripping the side of the piano for support, Marie-Therese felt her way around the bench. Once seated she experimented a bit with the keys, testing their size and shape, then roaming about the extent of the keyboard.

“Every instrument is slightly different .” she explained “ Five years have seen enormous changes in keyboard construction. Although I’ve played a few times on the Mesmers’ piano, it’s rather different from the one I use at home; it will take some getting used to. ”

For 10 minutes she played scraps of pieces and melodies, parts of fugues from the old masters and scale studies from contemporary manuals. Finally she announced that she was ready.

Just as she was preparing to play the gathering was interrupted by the sudden arrival of two new guests: Mariana de Martines and another Abbé , the eminent musician and historian Maximillian Stadler. The Mesmers had indicated that they might be coming, without being able to say when they could be expected.

Martines rushed into the dining alcove ahead of the butler:
”I hope we’re not late!”

Franz Mesmer smiled: “Musicians are always late for appointments.”

Friberth added, laughing: “Could that be because, my dear Anton, they have no sense of time?”

Stadler, coming up quickly behind Martines, and a more formal gait, nodded: ” Indeed! I make up all my tempi as I go along!”

“Come on; sit down!” Mesmer stood up and directed them to their chairs around the dinner table, “We can’t offer you much to eat, but dessert is on its way. ”

Although French fashions had (notably for women) been dominant in Europe for half a century, Mariana de Martines still adhered to many charming touches of the Spanish style of dress that had prevailed through the earlier period. There was an emphasis on black lace, her face partly veiled by an elaborately crocheted mantilla, an ivory fan and high shoes. The bodice was tight, the waist correspondingly slender, and she wore more jewelry than was then considered fashionable. At the same time she clearly had little patience for those hairdos that climbed more than half the height of their bearer, and which had, like the plague (and in compliance to the follies of the Emperor’s sister in Paris) been all the rage for the last 7 years. Instead, her hair was secured by a large broach of the sort that wasn’t being worn anymore, but served as an added adornment to the Spanish costume.

Rich, talented and well-connected – the daughter of the Papal nuncio to the Imperial court, no less! – she possessed at the same time a frank, benevolent nature that, in an age bristling with envy, disarmed the envious.

Only 33, Mariana de Martines was acknowledged everywhere as the most important woman composer in Vienna. The great librettist Metastasio lived with her family. Upon his death he would leave them his fortune. ( He must have been paid lavish sums for his libretti, as copyrights and royalties did not yet exist.) It was understood throughout all musical Vienna that the only reason Mariana de Martines had not be given a prominent post in the musical hierarchy was that she was a woman. xlvii
Neither blind nor financially dependent, with a solid reputation behind her as a composer of keyboard and church music, Mariana de Martines was blessed with a self-confidence that Marie-Therese, to whom Mariana was something of a role model, would never acquire. Warm-hearted and solicitous, she’d come that evening to watch the miracle of the restoration of Marie-Therese’s vision in that critical period in which mere seeing was turning into the understanding we call vision.

The Abbé Stadler was highly respected as a multi-talented musician, composer, historian and theorist. As a dinner companion he could be a bit tedious, even a bit of a bore, on account of his erudition. Certainly he was welcome, although the other guests could be excused for breathing a collective sigh of relief that there were not two of him present.

As soon as the new guests were seated and served, Marie-Therese von Paradis began to play. Inspired by the presence of so many celebrities of musical life, and despite the admonitions of her teacher, she could not resist the temptation to show off.

The first piece was a rapid Scarlatti piano sonata, in G major, tempo marking Presto, quanto sia possible. This was followed by another rapid baroque piece, the Prelude and Fugue of Padre Martini. Friberth applauded longer than the others. The Abbé Vogler commented:

I studied with Padre Martini for awhile, but didn’t stay very long. I was much happier with Valloti. He made me into the odd bird of a musician I am today!”

Marie-Therese returned to the piano and played the rapid, difficult D-major Prelude from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier of

J. S. Bach, followed by the Fugue. Friberth turned to address her audience:

“Little Marie likes to show off. She wants to make sure that you all know that she can play! But she’s also an extraordinary musician.” He opened up a briefcase standing beside him on a chair and pulled out a handwritten manuscript:

“This is my own arrangement of a movement for string quartet by Joseph Haydn. Marie, could you give us your analysis of the Adagio in E-major ?”

Frau Mesmer interjected: “Before you continue, Marie-Therese, the servants have told me that the dessert is ready. We should eat it before it melts. I suggest we all return to the table and finish the meal. Then we can come back here.”

The new dishes were quickly distributed to all the guests. Baskets of several new Mehlspeisen were put at the center of the table. Then came the oranges and other fruits, and a wooden tray holding Parmesan cheese and a knife. Glass containers shaped like inverted bluebells were placed in front of each of the guests, holding chocolate, vanilla and pineapple sherbets. Marie-Therese was about to play some more and abstained from alcohol, but the other guests regaled themselves liberally from a tun of Tokay freshly arrived from Hungary.

The dessert finished, they followed Marie-Therese with their chairs into the next room. Marie-Therese seated herself once more at the piano, with Friberth seated to her right and Vogler standing and leaning over the keyboard at her left. Placing her hands on the keyboard, Marie-Therese played a single chord:

and stopped.

“ Feel the power of that opening E-major chord in root position. So bright, so confident! You can just imagine the summer heat soaking into your face and arms and shoulders. You want to bathe in it forever, you never want it to go away. That’s why Haydn wrote Adagio : It is very slow, rich, and full of the sun’s heat.” She replayed the first chord, then went on to complete the first phrase:

Franz Anton Mesmer hazarded a question: “ My dear, I don’t wish to appear presumptuous in the presence of so many professionals, but I’ve been led to believe that musicians don’t approve of using pictorial images such as “sunlight” or “summer” or “arms and shoulders” when it comes to music. Isn’t it correct to say that you understand music entirely through abstract relationships of form and pattern?”

All of them broke into spontaneous laughter:

Not at all”, Marie-Therese chided, “We think in images all the time. Heaven help us that we should do otherwise!”

Thus encouraged, the Abbé Stadler commented: “This is a problem that has intrigued me for a long time. Purely abstract music is itself an abstraction, like ‘absolute beauty’ a kind of Platonic idea that doesn’t exist in the visible or audible world; while real music is made with real instruments propagating physical sound waves through real air.

“When I play a chord I hear something , that is to say, a sound combined with all the affective sensations, memories and associations that it conjure up. Nor could music, as an art, exist if it were otherwise.

“ Indeed, in the Baroque period, and to so extent even today, every key was assumed to have its specific affect or sympathy: C was joyous , E was associated with melancholy, G minor was only used for grim, even morbid music! Our ‘enlightened’ age (A cynical, though perhaps not entirely unsympathetic, chuckle went around the room) is more scientific. It considers excessive dramatisation in the baroque manner in bad taste, a kind of self-indulgence. We’re supposed to value ideas over emotions.

“That’s what got me into experimental music. I wanted to get as far away from personal involvement as possible, emphasizing the conceptual. I should tell you that, just recently, I’ve begun to experiment with writing music by tossing dice!”

“Tossing dice??” Joseph von Paradis’ bureaucrat’s cough was followed by a perplexed sigh. Mariana de Martines laughed outright, while Franz Mesmer’s face dropped with dismay:

My word, Johann !” he cried, “What about the music of the spheres? Are they ruled by chance? As a religious man, you should know that God doesn’t play dice with the universe!” xlviii

The Abbé Vogler smiled mischievously: “Oh-ho! Watch it, Franz! That’s what got Galileo in trouble with the Pope!”

All of the 4 invited artists were connected with the ecclesiastical establishment and could therefore afford, without fear of reprisal, to be as mordanly anti-clerical as their imaginatins allowed:

“You mean, of course”, the Abbé Stadler replied, “ that ill-conceived phrase at the end of his Dialogue pro and con Copernicus, in which a simpleton expresses the view that God can violate all scientific laws whenever He chooses.”

“Yes”, Friberth mused, “but isn’t that what the Pope told Galileo instructed him to do? Disobedience, reverend, disobedience!” , his words terminating in a facetious grin.

“My good man, you don’t understand at all!” Vogler chimed up, “The Pope was only instructing Galileo as to what God had instructed him to say the night before!”

“Dice?” de Martines quipped, “I don’t think the good Lord likes to play dice! Cheating at cards, perhaps – because he knows he can get away with it!”

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