Mozart: In Search of the Roots of Genius

On the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, the author scours Salzburg and Vienna for traces of the master’s mischievous spirit

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Which brings us back to Hellbrunn. Mozart once fantasized about creating a secret society in Vienna, one even more exclusive than the Masonic lodge he had joined; he was going to call it the Grotto. Could he have had the mythological grottoes of Hellbrunn in mind? Their creator, Sittikus, had also been a music lover. Hellbrunn may have hosted the first performances of opera north of the Alps, including Monteverdi’s Orfeo, which might have left its influence on the Orpheus grotto, with its tale of the musician who tries to lead his love out of Hades. In fact, the natural springs that feed Hellbrunn’s fountains were thought to connect literally to the underworld. That realm’s German god is named Hel; Brunn means well or fountain; hence, Hellbrunn. These were fountains linked to Hell and streaming into our world—watery versions of Mozart’s ghostly Commendatore, who drags Don Giovanni back down with him, in retribution. But Hellbrunn is not a celebration of Hell. After all, an archbishop built these fountains. Instead, many of its mythological statues and fountains deal with the crossing of realms, the negotiation of boundaries, the combination of opposites. The netherworld is not abolished or denied; it is, instead, acknowledged, incorporated, and thus, transcended—something that may have been Mozart’s dream as well.

Over the door in one room of Hellbrunn there is a painted Latin motto, numen vel dissita iungit (“a divine power unites even opposites”). But for Mozart it is not water that makes these connections. It is music.


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