Pilgrimage to Salzburg

BY KATE WEXELL (staff writer)

In the summer of 2019, I spent my days chasing the sun. As it stuttered west across the United States, I followed its eastern advances across the Atlantic Ocean. On a Tuesday, I found myself surrounded by the same Midwestern wildflowers that lived in my homeland of Illinois. The chicory was just as periwinkle blue in North America as they were in Austria.

My bus stumbled over green fields and rivers polluted with ancient civilizations. Eventually, I emerged in the pocket of Salzburg, consumed by mountains, tulips, and romantic love locks on bridges. The sky was crystalline, casting golden light across the city. As I stepped through the narrow streets and tunnels disguised with murals, I breathed in the soft aroma: bratwursts at corner snack shops, pink wine under cafe umbrellas, warm pretzel bread baking.

I was concealed in the shadows of white archways and five-story pastel buildings of aristocrats. Churches contained turquoise domes at the foot of their guardian fortress atop the Limestone Alps. Each street was locked together with cobblestone and a grid of rose and cream plaster. I watched women play elegant notes on the violin and people bustle through the markets. Then I saw a building that looked like a reflection of the sun, and my heart swelled. A plaque on the front read: Mozarts Geburtshaus.

When I was four, my parents bought a piano with ivory splitting from the keys and a dull finish. I would sit at the bench each day plunking out notes until eventually, they had a rhythm and pattern. At five, I was enrolled in piano lessons. I was told to imagine that music was a story. Each piece looks like the paintings in my art museum that are filled with color: yellow, spastic neon red, peach, blue. Symphonies would swoon within me and fall like snowflakes on frozen cheeks or bloom like ferns in sunlight.

Listening to Mozart, I always heard birds. He was a man of elegance, humility, and depression. As a child, he became my inspiration. I heard myself within the piccolo trills and piano sonatas. Some part of his music voiced freedom and muted joy. So I stood in Salzburg, gazing upon the place where he was born three centuries ago.

Many have stated that music is the only universal language—as natural as our own bodies and tongues. The chords stir up a religious feeling within our souls, ineffable and fleeting. It draws people to it like a beacon. For me, I was a believer of this permanent faith. Standing at the doors of this building was my pilgrimage.

As I walked inside, I stared at the harpsichords he played as a child and the original sheet music he scribbled with a quill that I played on my own piano. It was scribbled just like the handwriting of any man I’ve encountered. He was a human who produced messianic work, heightened to the idolatry of history textbooks and music played again and again in opera houses. I touched the floorboards he stepped on. I saw dioramas of his opera sets. Papagena and Papageno stood in their parrot costumes at center stage, and I could hear their duet ringing through my ears. I saw the clavichord where he composed The Magic Flute and stood in the very spot where Anna Mozart gave birth to a tiny Wolfgang.

All I could think was that the world was so beautiful. I could stand in this wondrous city that rested 4,000 miles from my own and be united with history and the millions of listeners who heard the same music as me and slept under the same skies.

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