Thursday 17 October 2019

Mozart work brings dischord to Germany and Poland

When Mozart wrote his 27th piano concerto in his usual neat hand months before he died, he could never have imagined the manuscript's future journey.

The document survived bombs and escaped looters before eventually finding itself at the heart of a 21st century diplomatic dispute.

The manuscript on which Mozart wrote with a quill his Piano Concerto No 27 in B-flat is held, within green velvet covers, in a university library in Krakow, Poland. And that makes it, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the "last German prisoners-of-war".

As Allied bombs fell on Berlin in the Second World War, the Nazis took tens of thousands of culturally important papers from the national library towards the eastern fringes of the Third Reich for safekeeping.

About 500 boxes of artistic treasures, including not only Mozart's score but also manuscripts by Goethe, were hidden first in the Ksiaz fortress in the Sudety mountains, before being transferred to a Benedictine monastery at what is now Krzeszow. A handful of boxes were destroyed or stolen, but most survived.

When peace came, the documents found themselves on Polish rather than German territory. Eventually, most of the 100,000 items were moved to the Jagiellonian Library in Krakow.

In the Seventies, several treasures were handed back to the East German leader Erich Honecker by fellow communists in Poland. Among them was Mozart's handwritten sheet music for Die Zauberflöte. But the 27th piano concerto eluded the Germans' grasp.

Talks between Berlin and Warsaw have dragged on for more than a decade, but bubbled up again in the past month. The rumblings in the German press drew a swift response from the Polish foreign ministry last week. It said the claims were "entirely groundless".

For many Poles, keeping the collection in Krakow is poor recompense for their cultural losses over almost six years of German occupation. About 22 million books and hundreds of thousands of works of art were destroyed as the Nazis ravaged the country.

"Polish public opinion still remembers the artworks carted away, the burned libraries and archives, whose loss was never made up for," the ministry said.

Bitterness has raised its head in the political domain too. At a European summit earlier this year, Poland demanded EU voting powers disproportionate to its size, saying its population would be larger today if Germany had not killed six million of its people during the war.

But for the guardian of the Mozart work, these wranglings are background chatter. "These are things for governments to discuss and work out for themselves. I want nothing to do with it," said Zdzislaw Pietrzyk, head of the Jagiellonian.

For him, what matters is that the manuscript has been preserved in almost mint condition. Mozart's writing, small and neat, is perfectly clear. "It just takes your breath away," said Mr Pietrzyk.

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