lviv: 2 posts

In Tribute to Lviv: Lonely Mozart in Lemberg and Reflections on Solitude

On Thursday, Russia launched a missile attack on Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, about 60 km from the Polish border. A jewel of Renaissance art, Lviv has a long history. Today it stands in mourning, grieving over the lives lost in the bombardment. Some of its beautiful buildings are in ruin. A few years ago, I spent a memorable time in Lviv with my mother and fell in love with the city. Below is my tribute to its fin-de-siècle allure–and the nostalgic beauty that unities Lviv with another gorgeous city on the other side of the border, Kraków.

In 1808 Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, the youngest son of the famous composer, traveled to Lemberg. Today it’s Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, but when the eighteen year old pianist was packing his sheet music and books and setting off on his journey, it was located in Galicia, an entity created by Joseph II after the partition of Poland in 1772. (It was the same Joseph that commented about the Marriage of Figaro, “too many notes, Mozart.”) While young Mozart was aware that he was trading Vienna for the provinces, he was in dire straits. Lemberg seemed like a promising place for a pianist to build his career and return to the capital. Mozart ended up staying for more than two decades.

Young Mozart’s early letters to his family were filled with mentions of his “loneliness [Einsamkeit].” He acutely felt the Galician isolation and complained that his inspiration was deserting him. He envisioned all of the brilliant conversations he could have experienced in Vienna society, the music, the books, the arts, and despaired of finding anything similar in Lemberg. Franz Mozart’s output over his lifetime was indeed small, yet, what becomes obvious is how much he drew on the local surroundings and how creatively he interpreted them.

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The Passion of Johann Georg Pinsel

It’s not often that a sculptor causes me to crisscross Europe in search of his traces. But Johann Georg Pinsel did just that. I took rickety marshrutka buses to distant Ukrainian villages to see his work at local churches. I visited many a palace where fragments of his sculptures were displayed–a wing of an angel, a headless saint, a saint motioning one to come closer and listen to the revelation. Finally, I made it to Lviv, a western Ukrainian city, and later to Vienna, the center that once exerted considerable political power over Lviv. These journeys spanned almost a year, intertwined as they were around other trips and exploration, but somehow, Pinsel, a mysterious 18th century master, was the leitmotif.

Very little is known about Pinsel. His name was only established with certainty in the 1990s. Where was he born? With whom he did study? The area where he chose to work was the Lviv region, at the time a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and after the first Partition of Poland in 1772, a part of the Habsburg Empire. After Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939, these territories once again exchanged hands and ended up in the Soviet Union. This bloody and brutal history had consequences for the master who has been dead for almost two centuries–he was forgotten.

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Latest Comments

  • Kim in One Summer Day in Our Ukrainian Village: Dear Victoria, I am so deeply saddened to read about the tragedy that struck your village. Distance is what makes the situation worse as it is times like these when… June 14, 2024 at 3:45pm

  • Maria Perry in One Summer Day in Our Ukrainian Village: Dear Victoria, What terrible news and I am so so sorry for your neighbor. It is devastating to hear about the war in Ukraine, but so important to have recounts… June 14, 2024 at 12:11pm

  • Victoria in What is a Rushnyk?: Thank you very much. You can try looking for a rushnyk on Etsy. A number of Ukrainian artisans have shops there. June 14, 2024 at 11:59am

  • Victoria in What is a Rushnyk?: It was such a lovely museum. A volunteer effort. June 14, 2024 at 11:58am

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