A little night music

Out youngest son Tom was only a week or two old when he got his first taste of Bach. Hoping to cultivate in him an appetite for good music, I gave him, via recordings, heaping measures of the Brandenburg concertos and various suites while I took my turn at feeding him.

This same type of ploy also worked with Simon.

Simon was a cat, our daughter Susan's pet. He had three noteworthy characteristics. He was jet black. His disposition was unremittingly hostile. And he liked Mozart. Knowing how he got that way -- by constantly hearing records -- Susan proudly called him, in the high school slang of the day, one groovy cat.

Simon seemed to be indifferent to most other composers, although certain twentieth century music did affect him. I have seen him rouse himself from his sleep on the sofa when our loudspeakers erupted with some of the more frantic measures of, say, Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," or "Mathis der Maler" of Hindemith, and leave the room, often followed by my wife. But Mozart attracted and held him.

Usually it was late at night, when others in the house had retired, that the living room became a concert hall for Simon and me. The loudspeakers of our sound system sat directly behind my chair. More often than not Simon would be asleep on the blue plush ottoman in the den adjoining. There he would stay when I listened to Ravel or Dvorak. But let me place a Mozart symphony or concerto on the turntable, and after only a few bars, even at low volume, Simon would walk noiselessly into the living room and hunch down at my feet, his paws tucked into his silky chest, his tail stowed safely alongside his sleek body, his yellow eyes mere slits. Don't tell me it was companionship he wanted: he avoided me at all other times.

It seemed to me he was especially fond of the Piano Concerto No. 24 for during the playing of this work, and only this one, he would repeatedly open and close his eyes at me. But this concerto is a favorite of mine, too, one I frequently listen to, and maybe Simon was only signaling me to knock it off.

He was not as discriminating or perceptive as you might expect me to claim. Often he could not distinguish Mozart from Haydn or Clementi or Salieri, any one of whom could lure him to my feet. In this mistaken judgment he was not very different from many music lovers, myself included, who consider themselves well informed.

I have a theory about Simon. Something in Mozart's music may have told him here was a man who liked cats, and he could not withhold his respects. Anyone who knows cats can tell you they are almost infallible in detecting people who like them.

It is a fanciful hypothesis and probably without merit. I've read much about Mozart. I know he delighted in practical jokes, he was a whiz at billiards, and he had a thing for birds. They say he wrote an epitaph for a pet starling after this winged friend uttered its last note. But nowhere in all the trivia have I read Mozart was a cat lover. Is it possible Simon knew something that history did not?

My daughter and Simon moved away years ago, and in the meantime he has left for good. She has admitted she did not cater to his musical tastes as I did. But it so happens I have a way of making amends to Simon, even now, for my daughter's negligence.

When the mood comes upon me I can summon up things and people of the past and make them real in my mind. It is a romantic and sentimental business, perhaps even foolish, but it's an escape from the humdrum. For me, the Colossus still looks out across the blue Aegean. Cleopatra's barge sprung a leak on the Nile this afternoon. Shakespeare was relieved of his money by a cutpurse this evening as he hurried through the narrow streets of London to the Globe.

And tonight, in a small room somewhere in Vienna or Salzburg, Simon lolls, like a discarded black slipper with two golden buttons, at the feet of Mozart, listening to him improvise on the clavier. And every once in a while Wolfgang Amadeus reaches down and scratches Simon behind his velvety ears.

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