Wednesday, June 30, 1971. I was 17 years old and had just graduated high school. I had a summer job at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. At lunch I took a walk to Sam Goody’s record store on Chestnut Street in center city Philadelphia and purchased a recording of the Mozart Symphonies nos. 40 and 41, Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra. In these works, Mozart created the crowning masterpieces of classical symphonic writing. Mozart composed his two final symphonies in the summer of 1788 for a series of subscription concerts, months before he died at age 36 in early 1789. In an enigmatic reference in a letter that he wrote to his friend and lodge brother, Michael Puchberg, Mozart said he composed the symphonies for the three “academies in the casino.”
I can recall that my sister, Zelda and brother-in-law, Eddie visited my parents’ house for dinner that night. We ate in the dining room because my mother was wallpapering the kitchen. Eddie was involved in one of his money-making schemes: selling correspondence law courses. You could become a lawyer by purchasing the books he was selling and get a job as a high-powered ambulance chaser, I suppose. Eddie said he was reading one of the law books and that it had whetted his interest in going to law school. You should have seen the look on my father’s face! He sneered. It was as if his son-in-law had said, “I’m thinking of applying to Harvard to work on a degree in advanced particle physics.” (You? Law school?)
Eddie was never an academic type, though he had a lot of potential; years later, in his thirties, he built a successful mortgage business through his own tireless efforts. He had a skilled gambler’s sure grasp of the odds and a talent for risk: resources for success in the business world. But in his early twenties, he worked as a sixth-grade teacher in Camden, New Jersey in a job his mother got for him through family connections despite his having a business degree that his well-to-do uncle had paid for. The irony was not lost on my father.
Anyway, that is the image inscribed in my mind. Every time I listen to these Mozart symphonies, thoughts of that evening flash through my consciousness.