Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Famous Last Word

Legend has it that Gustav Mahler's last word was "Mozart", or rather: "Mozart!" I read somewhere that he opened his eyes, half rose from the bed, cried out the name of his compatriot composer, and passed on. some would say that this came a bit late, since Mahler's work shows so little Mozart influence.

This story came back to me over the final, Mozart-rich stages of the Rubinstein pianist competition, which I'm covering. I got ample time to reflect on how much I love Mozart, and how happy I am to have realized this early enough in life.

However, since I delve here so often over classical composers and how much I love them, let's let that go and concentrate on the other aspect of the Mahler anecdote. Mahler proved that a true artist knows how to be concise at a critical moment. Here are a few final utterings with three words or less. No experience was more morbid and delightful than seeking them out.

"I'm bored." (Gabriele d'annunzo)

"Such irrepairable loss!" (August Comte)

"I'm a pianist. (John Field to the priest's question: "Are you a Papist or a Calvinist?")

"Why not? Yeah." (Timothy Leary, a-propos nothing)

"Never felt better." (Douglas Fairbanks)

"Don't mourn. Organize!" (Joe Hill)

"Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur." (Marie Antoinette, upon accidently stepping on the executioner's foot.)

"Write! pencil! paper!" (Heinrich Heine)

"What's this?" (Leonard Bernstein)

"This is unbelievable" (Mata Hari before the firing squad)

"On the contrary." (Henrik Ibsen, upon overhearing the nurse remark to someone that he was feeling better.)

"O, holy simplicity!" (Jan Huss)

"Nothing but death." (Jane Austen. Her sister asked if there's anything she wanted.)

"Wait a second." (Madame de Pompadour, she then applied rouge to her cheeks and died.)

"Shakespeare, I come!" (Theodore Dreyser)

"Drink to me!" (Pablo Picasso)

"Yeah." (John Lennon, to the cops' question on whether he was John Lennon.)

"More light." (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe)

"This is funny." (gunslinger John Henry Holliday, presumably about the fact he found himself dying in bed.)

"I'm losing." (Frank Sinatra)

"Codeine... Bourbon." (Tallulah Bankhead)

"Good night." (Lord Byron)

1 comment:

Ariela said...

This is a glorious post Yuval! I love that you went on a hunt to bring these words back from the near-dead..I thought I might add some final words I heard once from a teacher in a Christian theology class spoken by the first female member of Parliament in Britain.

"Am I dying or is this my birthday?"- Lady Nancy Astor

(When she woke briefly during her last illness and found all her family around her bedside.)