originally published September 13, 2014
The deeper I claw through the muck-pit of history, the more perverse and bizarre clumps of trivia get crammed beneath my fingernails. And just when I think I’ve scraped the scabby floorboards of curiosity, I stumble across the intensive breadth of study that academics have placed on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s apparent obsession with poop.
I’m not judging, mind you; it’s not like Mozart was passing off his digested lunch as foie gras at cocktail parties, and he certainly never pooped in a janitor’s mop bucket or anything – he simply had a penchant for scatological humor, that’s all. And don’t we all? Isn’t there an inherent absurdity in the most gastronomically magnificent entrée becoming the same wretched stink-pile you would have made had you snarfed a box of Pop Tarts? Just as a well-timed emission of flatulence can crumble even the most stoic of facades, every soul on the planet can share in a clever poop joke.
Not according to some historians and psychologists though; it’s not acceptable to assume that Mozart simply hit a few grounders for his fellow aficionados of the low-brow. No, a man who has crafted some of the greatest melodies in the history of sound must also possess a ribald wit and sophisticated gauge of appropriate merriment, right?
What some have interpreted as a slight defecatory obsession on Mozart’s part has been the subject of much debate and even some concealment by historians and scholars. In 1798, when a batch of his letters were posthumously sent to publishers Breitkopf & Härtel for a biography they were compiling, his wife Constanze expressed in her accompanying letter that while Mozart’s letters to his cousin were chock full of wit and wackiness, perhaps they should be somewhat downplayed in the finished book. You know – focus more on the music and less on the turd-gags.
The gags, such as they were, wafted into numerous letters – a total of 39 that have been released for scholarly consumption – as well as into snippets of his immensely respected musical oeuvre. To those who consider his masterful Classical-era pieces to be Serious (yes, with a capital ‘S’) music, in stark contrast to the crude and unaffected piffle of the 20th and 21st centuries, this is blasphemous drivel of little import. But to the rest of us, it’s something worth celebrating. The superlative fingers that first plunked the sacred Requiem into the world had a knack for the grotesque, just like we lesser people!
Perhaps we can blame this guy:
18th-century European theatre was heavily influenced by the Italian school of commedia dell’arte, a style which is packed to the wings with identifiable stock characters who represent the early tropes of mid-millennial European life. In Germany, one of the popular characters in theatre was Hanswurst, a merry doofus developed by Joseph Anton Stranitzky to play the low-brow buffoon for cheap laughs. Hanswurst’s gags were sexual or scatological in nature – the Steve Stifler of the 18th century. One of Hanswurst’s bits was demonstrating his insatiable appetite by devouring something massive, like a whole calf. Then he’d struggle with the other end of the digestive journey, much to the merriment and delight of the tasteless masses.
There is no specific link between Mozart and Hanswurst, though undoubtedly as a patron of the Viennese arts scene he would have been familiar with the character. And the political ramifications of this revered cretin probably did not escape Mozart’s anti-authoritarian tendencies. One of his letters pokes particular fun at the snobbish uppity-ups in his world, identifying a group of aristocratic audience members at one of his shows thusly: “the Duchess Smackarse, the Countess Pleasurepisser, the Princess Stinkmess and the two Princes Potbelly von Pigtail.”
I’m starting to like this guy.
His cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, was the fortunate recipient of many of Mozart’s finer scatological musings, as was his dad, his mom and his sister. This little verse, which will probably never end up in an anthology of great works, was forwarded to Maria on November 5, 1777:
Well I wish you good night
But first shit into your bed and make it burst.
Sleep soundly, my love
Into your mouth your arse you’ll shove.
The man knew how to touch the soul. His mother, Anna Maria Mozart, sent a similar slice of poetry to her husband about a month earlier, and even his straight-laced dad got in on the action in at least one letter, suggesting this was a family shtick. The Mozarts were regular Aristocrats, if you catch my (rather grotesque) meaning.
“…you demand, you desire, you wish, you want, you like, you command that I too, should could send you my Portrait. Eh bien, I shall mail fail it for sure. Oui, by the love of my skin, I shit on your nose, so it runs down your chin.”
That’s another excerpt from one of Mozart’s letters to Maria Anna, his beloved little cousin. Those who are familiar with the pretzel-prose of John Lennon in the mid-60’s may see a resemblance. But Mozart also stretched his love of sphincter sphunnies into his music.
He penned a number of rounds – songs where voices sing the same lyrics one bar apart, like that insipidly happy song about boat-rowing – with a scatological nature. Also, there’s the famous canon in B-flat major known as “Leck mich im Arsch”, which literally translates as “Like me in the ass.” Mozart’s posthumous publishers changed the title to “Let us be glad”, but the historical record clearly notes that yes, Mozart wrote this piece as an apparent invitation for analingus.
Well, sort of. The phrase translates colloquially as similar to “kiss my ass”, meaning that Mozart comes off as a little less creepy, and a little more like an R-rated version of Flo from the sitcom Alice.
Which makes it all the more hilarious that subsequent generations have attempted to pin some sort of psychological ailment upon Mozart, strictly based on this line of jokes. Austrian writer Stefan Zweig sent Mozart’s letters to Sigmund Freud for analysis. Freud was not particularly intrigued by suggestions of coprophilia in the great composer. But this still merits a discussion in some circles. At least four authors in the last 30 or so years have suggested that Mozart may have suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome.
Does the frequency of Mozart’s poopisms suggest a psychiatric condition in the composer? Or was he just the type who gardened for giggles among the unclean and vulgar? I’m leaning so heavily toward the latter I may fall out of my chair. These letters are clearly written by a man with a sense of humor, with a willingness to allow shock and potential offense to dance upon the page like some pre-modern Seth McFarlane. The fact that he also composed Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute just shows that even the most brilliant among us can get our kicks on the ground floor.
Plop Stephen Hawking down in front of some Three Stooges and see if he doesn’t emit a few robotic chuckles. Mozart was human; we should stop trying to psychoanalyze him and just be happy we have evidence of his inner goof.