Mozart's music was 'key'

The combination to the lock on her brother's suitcase? The same number as the Kochel listing of a favorite concerto.

Until I purchased my soft-sided luggage with wheels, I used to travel with a hard, red Samsonite suitcase. To lock and open it, I used its silver key.

One time, however, I borrowed a suitcase that belonged to my older brother, Malcolm Frager. There was no need to know the combination code for his lock because my husband and I were driving directly to our destination. I didn't plan to turn the little numbered dials to secure the luggage, but somehow I engaged them and couldn't open the suitcase when we arrived. When I couldn't contact my brother, I began trying all of the three-digit possibilities, beginning with 000.

Fortunately, long before I got to 999, I was able to reach my mother, who came to the rescue. She remembered: 453, the same number as the Kochel catalog listing of the Mozart piano concerto Malcolm performed when he made his debut with an orchestra. He was 10 years old at the time.

My brother performed many Mozart concertos throughout his career, but Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453 remained special to him.

For a number of years, he'd been searching for the location of the "autograph" (original manuscript) of this concerto and others included in a stash of manuscripts by Mozart, Beethoven, and others that were last known to be in the Prussian State Library. These musical manuscripts (and many nonmusical ones) were secretly removed from eastern Berlin during World War II and stored in a remote Silesian monastery.

In 1978, while Malcolm was on a concert tour in Poland, he went to the Jagiellonian University Library in Krakow. From his research, he suspected that the manuscripts were there. In order not to appear presumptuous or greedy, he modestly asked the chief archivist to see only the K. 453 manuscript.

Because of Red (Soviet) tape, the man could not grant his request without approval from the Ministry of Culture in Warsaw. Although the Krakow Philharmonic phoned that department on Malcolm's behalf, the request was denied.

Since my brother was continuing his tour elsewhere the next afternoon, he asked the archivist if he could possibly check the original manuscript about some questionable passages in the published score. The librarian told my brother to return in the morning.

When he arrived, the archivist did not merely tell him what he found. Instead, he opened a drawer in his desk and actually handed my brother K. 453, as well as two other Mozart concertos that were bound with it.

Malcolm was in awe to be the first one from the outside in more than three decades to know for sure that the music was still intact. Actually holding it brought tears to his eyes. My brother was able to study Mozart's handwritten musical notation in those three concertos, as well as look at other manuscripts before he left the city.

Because of Malcolm's perseverance, Poland finally opened the collection to scholars on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The International Mozart Foundation in Salzburg, Austria, later awarded Malcolm its highest honor, the Mozart Gold Nadel (Pin), a memento he treasured.

Today, airline travelers like me who wish to lock checked luggage are advised to use special TSA-approved locks that officials can open and are supposed to relock. Recently, however, two of these red locks were no longer on my luggage when I picked it up from baggage claim.

Now my new approved locks are purple. Should these ever have to be replaced, I don't know what color the locks will be. But I do know the combination to set: 453, a Kochel number I will always remember.

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