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Mozart-Novelle by Louis Fürnberg


by Louis Fürnberg

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The poet Louis Fürnberg belonged to the German-speaking minority in Czechoslovakia. As a Jew and a dedicated communist activist, he was lucky to survive the Nazi period, which he spent partly in captivity and partly in exile in Jerusalem. After the war he returned to Prague, working as a journalist and diplomat, but the growing anti-semitism of the Czech communist party led him to move to the DDR in 1954. Amongst other things he was celebrated as the author of the anthem of the East German communist party (Refrain: Die Partei, die Partei, die hat immer Recht! ). Bizarrely, this best-forgotten song has recently been resurrected in German politics as the anthem of the satirical party, Die Partei...

As well as agit-prop and lyric poems, Fürnberg wrote a number of short prose works, in a style that obviously draws on Kleist's famous novellas. The most famous, Die Begegnung in Weimar (1952), deals with a meeting between Goethe and the Polish writer Adam Mickiewitz, whilst Mozart-Novelle (1948) has Mozart, in Prague on the eve of the 1787 premiere of Don Giovanni, spending an evening with the elderly Chevalier Casanova. There is some historical basis for this - Casanova was living in Bohemia at the time, and he is on record as meeting Lorenzo da Ponte, so a meeting with Mozart would not be so surprising.

There's a lot of nicely-handled period comedy revolving around jealousies in the opera company, the intervention of a reactionary Prussian Junker, Casanova's misapprehension that the opera is about him, Mozart's suspicion that Konstanze might be cheating on him, etc. There's also quite a bit of linguistic fun: Mozart's down-to-earth Austrian talk and the French-laced German of Prague high society are both teased mercilessly ("Antiquitäten embrassieren mich nicht", one lady says at the prospect that Casanova might want to kiss her). But the point of the story is the late-night dialogue between Casanova and Mozart as they wander through the streets of Prague discussing the role of the artist and the arts in a world which - as Fürnberg is only just able to resist telling us explicitly - is only a couple of years away from the French Revolution.

More fun than I expected, and the little seventies DDR hardback with illustrations by Karel Müller is a very nice object in its way too (...and it was fun to see that its previous owner had received it as a somewhat oddly-chosen confirmation present!). ( )
  thorold | Jul 11, 2017 |
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