Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.
“Happy the Man” by John Dryden. Public domain. (buy now)
On this day in 1302, the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri (books by this author) was exiled from Florence for his political sympathies. Dante was a leading supporter of the white Guelph party, which was opposed to extreme papal power. When the Black Guelph party seized power in Florence in 1302, they immediately expelled Dante from the city. He spent the next two decades wandering from place to place in northern and central Italy, estranged from his wife and kids and often living in poverty. His only solace during his exile was writing. He wrote his greatest work, The Divine Comedy, an epic poem about a journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Just before his death, his children visited him in Ravenna; it was the first time he had seen them since he left Florence almost 20 years before.
It's the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg, Austria (1756). He only lived for 35 years but he started his career early — a child prodigy from a family of musicians. He toured all over Europe, and wrote his first opera at age 11.
Mozart died at the age of 35 in mysterious circumstances. There is a popular image of him as poor and miserable, working on a funeral requiem as he was dying. But overall, his final year was a good and productive one. He was living in Vienna. He was still getting commissions. He didn't have a lot of money in the year 1791, but then again, he rarely did — he and his wife, Constanze, never seemed able to live on what Mozart made.
It was a busy year. In the first months of 1791, he wrote dance music for the winter balls at the court and the Piano Concerto No. 27. In the summer, a messenger came, asking Mozart to write a requiem for his patron, Count Franz von Walsegg who had lost his wife and wanted to commission a requiem in her honor.
He was working on the opera La Clemenza di Tito to celebrate the coronation of Emperor Leopold as King of Bohemia. It premiered in early September. Three weeks later, his opera The Magic Flute opened in Vienna, and was a big hit. In October, he finished Clarinet Concerto in A. Then a cantata for his Freemason lodge, which he directed himself on November 18th. Finally, he put all his energy toward the Requiem, but just after the performance of his cantata, he became extremely ill. He had a fever, and his whole body was swollen. He continued writing the Requiem right up until his death, which was only two weeks after he became sick. No one knows what Mozart's illness was, and there are dozens of theories: rheumatic fever, tuberculosis, endocarditis, syphilis, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and poisoning. He died on December 5th, 1791 and was buried in a mass, unmarked grave, a common practice for the middle-class of Vienna.
Mozart said, "Music, in even the most terrible situations, must never offend the ear but always remain a source of pleasure."