Mozart and Salieri

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Mozart and Salieri
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Genia Gurarie
Written in 1830, and translated from Russian.

Scene 1[edit]

(A room)

          Salieri
Some people say: there is no right on earth.
Not in the heavens, neither! This to me
Appears as clear as any simple scale.
I came into this world in love with art.
Yet on a childhood day, when in the heights
Of our old church the lofty pipes resounded,
I listened, and was lost in listening -- tears
Were pouring out, involuntary, sweet!
In early years I spurned all idle pastimes;
All sciences extraneous to music
Disgusted me; with obstinate disdain
I soon rejected them and gave myself
To music only. Hard the initial step,
And dull the initial path. I overcame
The first adversities. I put up craft
To constitute the pedestal of art.
I turned into a craftsman: to my fingers
I taught submissive, dry dexterity;
My ear, precision. Having stifled sounds,
I cut up music like a corpse. I measured
Harmony by arythmetics. Then only,
Well-versed in science, dared I give myself
To the sweet languor of creative fancy.
I started to compose, but still in silence,
Still secretly, not dreaming yet of glory.
Quite often, having sat in my mute cell
For two, three days - both sleep and food forgotten,
The thrill and tears of inspiration savored -
I burned my work, and frigidly observed
How my ideas, the sounds I had begotten,
Took flame and disappeared with the light smoke.
And what of that? When star-enchanted Gluck [1]
Arose and opened up to us new secrets
(What candidly profound, what charming secrets!),
Did I not leave all I had known before,
And loved so much, and trusted with such fervor,
To follow him, submissively and gaily,
Like one who has gone errant yet encounters
A man to set him on a different course?
By arduous, ever-earnest constancy
At last in the infinity of art
I reached a high degree. Now glory smiled
Upon me finally; in people's hearts
I found strings consonant to my creations.
I was content; at peace I took delight
In my own work, success and glory -- also
In works and in successes of my friends,
My gentle comrades in the wondrous art.
No, never did I know the sting of envy!
O, never! -- neither even when Piccini [2]
Knew how to charm the savage ears of Paris,
Nor when I got to hear for the first time
The initial harmonies of "Iphigenia"... [3]
Who'd say that proud Salieri would in life
Be a repellent envier, a serpent
Trampled by people, gnawing sand and dust
In impotence? No one! And now -- I'll say it --
I am an envier. I envy; sorely,
Profoundly now I envy. -- Pray, o Heaven!
Where, where is rightness? when the sacred gift,
Immortal genius, comes not in reward
For fervent love, for total self-rejection,
For work and for exertion and for prayers,
But casts its light upon a madman's head,
An idle loafer's brow... O Mozart, Mozart!

     (Enter Mozart.)

          Mozart
Aha! You saw me! Damn - and I was hoping
To treat you with an unexpected joke.

          Salieri
You here! -- since long?

          Mozart
                    Just now. I had
Something to show you; I was on my way,
But passing by an inn, all of a sudden
I heard a violin... My friend Salieri,
In your whole life you haven't heard anything
So funny: this blind fiddler in the inn
Was playing the "voi che sapete"[4]. Wondrous!
I couldn't keep myself from bringing him
To treat you to his art. Entrez, maestro!

     (Enter a blind old man with a violin.)

Some Mozart, now!

     (The old man plays an aria from Don Giovanni; Mozart
roars with laughter.)

          Salieri
                And you can laugh?

          Mozart
                              Ah, come,
Salieri, aren't you laughing?

          Salieri
                          No, I'm not!
How can I laugh when some inferior dauber
Stains in my view the great Raphael's Madonna;
How can I laugh when some repellent mummer
With tasteless parodies dishonors Dante.
Begone, old man!

          Mozart
                 Hold on a moment: here,
Take this to drink my health.

     (The old man leaves.)

                        You, my Salieri,
Seem squarely out of sorts. Well, I'll come back
Some other time.

          Salieri
                What did you bring me?

          Mozart
                              This?
No, just a trifle. Late the other night,
As my insomnia was full upon me,
Brought some two, three ideas into my head;
Today I jot them down... O well, I hoped
To hear what you may think of this, but now
You're in no mood for me.

          Salieri
                        Ah, Mozart, Mozart!
When am I ever in no mood for you?
Sit down; I'm listening.

          Mozart
            (at the piano)
                   Picture... well, whom should you?..
Say, even me -- a little younger, though;
In love -- not much, just lightly -- having fun
With a good-looking girl, or friend -- say, you;
I'm merry... All at once -- a deathly vision,
A sudden gloom, or something of that sort...
Well, listen.
     (He plays.)

          Salieri
          You were bringing this to me
And could just stop and listen at some inn
To a blind fiddler scraping! -- Oh, my goodness!
You, Mozart, are unworthy of yourself.

          Mozart
So, it is good then?

          Salieri
                    What profundity!
What symmetry and what audacity!
You, Mozart, are a god -- and you don't know it.
But I, I know.

          Mozart
           Well! rightly? well, perhaps...
But My Divinity has gotten hungry.

          Salieri
Then listen: how about we dine together,
Say, at the Golden Lion's Inn?

          Mozart
                       So be it;
I'm glad. But let me first drop in at home
And tell my wife not to expect me later
For dinner.
     (He leaves.)

          Salieri
             I am waiting; don't you fail me!
No, I cannot withstand it any longer,
Resist my destiny: I have been chosen
To stop him -- otherwise, all of us die!
All of us priests and votaries of music,
Not I alone with my faint-sounding glory...
What use is there in Mozart living on
And reaching yet to new and greater heights?
Will he thus lift up art? Not really: art
Will fall again as soon as he will vanish.
He will bequeath us no inheritor.
What use is he? Like some celestial cherub,
He came to bring us several tunes from heaven,
To rouse within us, creatures of the dust,
Wingless desire and fly away thereafter.
So fly away! the sooner now, the better.

Here's poison -- late Isora's final gift.
For eighteen years I've carried it with me,
And life since then has seemed to me quite often
A wound unbearable; and oft I sat
At the same table with a carefree foe,
And never to the whisper of temptation
Have I inclined -- although I'm not a coward,
Though I can feel profoundly the offense,
Though small my love for life. I kept delaying,
As thirst of death excruciated me.
Why die? I mused: perhaps yet life will bring
Some sudden gifts before me from her treasures;
Perhaps, I will be visited by raptures
And a creative night and inspiration;
Perhaps, another Haydn will create
New greatnesses -- wherein I will delight...
As I was feasting with a hateful guest --
Perhaps, I mused, I'm yet to find a worse,
More vicious foe; perhaps, a worse offense
Will crash upon me from disdainful heights --
Then you shall not be lost, Isora's gift.
And I was right! and I have found at last
My greatest foe, and now the other Haydn
Has filled me wonderfully with my rapture!
The time has come! Prophetic gift of love,
Transfer today into the cup of friendship.[5]

Scene 2[edit]

(A special room at an inn; a piano. Mozart and Salieri at a table.)

          Salieri
You seem a little down today?

          Mozart
                              Me? No!

          Salieri
You surely are upset with something, Mozart?
Good dinner, glorious wine, but you keep quiet
And sit there looking gloomy.

          Mozart
                       I should own,
My Requiem's unsettling me.

          Salieri
                      Your Requiem!--
You've been composing one? Since long ago?

          Mozart
Long: some three weeks. A curious incident...
I haven't told you, have I?

          Salieri
                         No.

          Mozart
                            Then listen:
About three week ago, I came back home
Quite late at night. They told me that some person
Had called on me. And then, I don't know why,
The whole night through I thought: who could it be?
What does he need of me? Tomorrow also
The same man came and didn't find me in.
The third day, I was playing with my boy
Upon the floor. They hailed me; I came out
Into the hall. A man, all clad in black,
Bowed courteously in front of me, commissioned
A Requiem and vanished. I at once
Sat down and started writing it -- and since,
My man in black has not come by again.
Which makes me glad, because I would be sorry
To part with my endeavor, though the Requiem
Is nearly done. But meanwhile I am...

          Salieri
                             What?

          Mozart
I'm quite ashamed to own to this...

          Salieri
                         What is it?

          Mozart
By day and night my man in black would not
Leave me in peace. Wherever I might go,
He tails me like a shadow. Even now
It seems to me he's sitting here with us,
A third...

          Salieri
           Enough! what is this childish terror?
Dispel the empty fancies. Beaumarchais[6]
Used to instruct me: "Listen, old Salieri,
Whenever black thoughts come into your head,
Uncork yourself another Champagne bottle
Or reread 'Le mariage de Figaro.'"

          Mozart
Yes! I remember, you were boon companions
With Beaumarchais; you wrote "Tarare" for him --
A glorious thing. It has one melody...
I keep on singing it when I feel happy...
La la la la... Ah, is it right, Salieri,
That Beaumarchais could really poison someone?

          Salieri
I doubt he did: too laughable a fellow
For such a serious craft.

          Mozart
                   He was a genius,
Like you and me. While genius and evildoing
Are incompatibles. Is that not right?

          Salieri
You think so?
     (Throws the poison into Mozart's glass.)
          Well, now drink.

          Mozart
                          Here is a health
To you, my friend, and to the candid union
That ties together Mozart and Salieri,
Two sons of harmony.

          Salieri
                   But wait, hold on,
Hold on, hold on!.. You drank it!.. Without me?

          Mozart
     (throws his napkin on the table)
That's it, I'm full.
     (He goes to the piano.)
                And now, Salieri, listen:
My Requiem.
     (He plays.)
               You weep?

          Salieri
                         Such tears as these
I shed for the first time. It hurts, yet soothes,
As if I had fulfilled a heavy duty,
As if at last the healing knife had chopped
A suffering member off. These tears, o Mozart!..
Pay no respect to them; continue, hurry
To fill my soul with those celestial sounds...

          Mozart
If only all so quickly felt the power
Of harmony! But no, in that event
The world could not exist; all would abandon
The basic needs of ordinary life
And give themselves to unencumbered art.
We're few, the fortune's chosen, happy idlers,
Despising the repellent cares of use,
True votaries of one and only beauty.
Is that not right? But now I'm feeling sick
And kind of heavy. I should go and sleep.
Farewell then!

          Salieri
           See you later.
          (Alone.)
                    You will sleep
For long, Mozart! But what if he is right?
I am no genius? "Genius and evildoing
Are incompatibles." That is not true:
And Buonarotti[7]?.. Or is it a legend
Of the dull-witted, senseless crowd -- while really
The Vatican's creator was no murderer?

THE END

Footnotes[edit]

  1. An innovative 18th-century composer
  2. An 18th-century composer
  3. An opera by Gluck
  4. An aria from Le nozze de Figaro
  5. Russian idiom for "loving-cup"
  6. author of The Marriage of Figaro, Tarare and other celebrated plays
  7. Michelangelo: rumors say he murdered his model to
    portray the sufferings of Christ more realistically
This is a translation and has a separate copyright status from the original text. The license for the translation applies to this edition only.
Original:
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.
 
Translation:
This work is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.