Saturday, September 19, 2015

“Sons of Janus,” a Novel About Tchaikovsky: A Reader's Report

There's a climactic scene in Henrik Ibsen's play, Ghosts, in which the widow Mrs. Alving argues with her family's long-time spiritual adviser, Pastor Manders, over the repressive advice he had given her in the past.

“It was then that I began to look into the seams of your doctrines,” she tells him. “I wanted only to pick at a single knot; but when I had got that undone, the whole thing unraveled. And then I understood that it was all machine-sewn.”

This is how I feel when I'm reading a book in which I find factual errors: if this is wrong, how can I trust anything else you write, now?

Reading Sheila Seymour's novel about Tchaikovsky, Sons of Janus, I was constantly being faced by the mindful ghost of Mrs. Alving.

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Usually I don't write reviews. But I received an e-mail from a publisher who wondered if I might be interested in reviewing a “novel about Tchaikovsky” which they'd published, one that, he said, was "a fictional retelling of Tchaikovsky’s life based on extensive research by Sheila Seymour" that uses “material unavailable during the Soviet Era.”

As a composer who also writes “classical music appreciation comedy-thrillers,” I was curious, wondering what that “material” might be, so I said “sure, send me a copy.”

The marketing blurb mentions the author uses this “material” to write “a vivid and lively account of Tchaikovsky and his turbulent, terrorist[-]plagued,[sic] world.” A novel is usually fiction and rarely comes with a bibliography, much less footnotes, but of the sources Ms. Seymour acknowledges, only two authors have Russian names even if the titles are given in English, and the footnotes generally seem to acknowledge quotations from reviews quoted in Anthony Holden's 1995 biography or from the usual collections of letters; those from the Russian authors are historical quotes regarding Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III.

But of the more controversial aspects of Tchaikovsky's life, nothing in the way of such documentation. Are all the suggestions of his character as a gay man in a repressive society fiction? What about all the comments regarding his infatuation with young boys? When the blurb says “material unavailable during the Soviet Era,” one assumes something salacious that has been guarded to protect the image of the hero.

I have not read Holden's biography “which,” one reviewer writes, “reads like a novel.” It also claims it makes use of previously unknown “material” that the composer's death was the result of his being ordered to commit suicide by a “Court of Honor,” powerful lawyers and fellow alumni from Tchaikovsky's law school, a plot detail that appears only in passing on the final two pages of the next-to-last chapter of Sons of Janus where it is dismissed along with numerous other pernicious rumors.

The idea Sheila Seymour's book is “a novel about Tchaikovsky” of course means the author is fully capable of creating whatever she wants because, after all, this is a novel and those curious frissons you the reader can experience occur because you never know whether this is true, possibly true, or completely the invention of the author.

(Disclaimer: as a writer of “classical music appreciation comedy-thrillers,” as both of you who follow my blog would know, I love bending the reader's mind by using facts as accurately as they exist or are perceived by a public raised on the mythology of, say, Beethoven, and then swirling off into the world of possibilities where facts end, often with some outrageous plot devices - most of which are parodies - that may involve time-travel or parallel universes or Tardis-like manipulations of transdimensionality. Much of what I write about Beethoven's Immortal Belovèd in The Lost Chord or The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben is based on fact, given the fact we have no idea about her identity from what does exist. So the “fact” that they had a child is a fiction (possible, who knows? – there were questions regarding one Belovèd candidate's daughter to suggest mine is not an original idea) but no one can wonder about the seriousness with which I propose her identity or how it is revealed. So, yes, as a writer, I'm used to the concept of “creative non-fiction” where non-fiction blends into fiction.)

The structure of Sons of Janus is a series of reminiscences about the composer told from the viewpoints of friends and family (and one non-friend which was a brilliant stroke to include). Like a scholar's Festschrift, the actual focus of the collection does not appear in his own words except through their viewpoints. The reader is often left to draw one's own conclusions.

Some of these are more successful than others: the most insightful is Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky's friend, boss and mentor (and for a time, roommate); the most humorous is Alexei Apukhtin, a poet and “known homosexual” from Tchaikovsky's early adulthood who gives a campy description of Gay Life in the 1860s; the saddest is a brief entry by Tchaikovsky's much put-upon wife, Antonina Miliukova; the snarkiest is by the oldest son of Nadezhda von Meck (Tchaikovsky's patron and famous correspondent; a woman he never met), a son bewailing the composer's true intentions behind accepting his mother's largesse especially when it means, in the light of financial reverses, less money for him to inherit. The weakest is Anton Rubinstein, the great pianist and composer who was also Tchaikovsky's teacher, who comes off as a guest lecturer on the historical background for those “Tchaikovsky and His Times” segments – and a not very compelling one, I feel.

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The first thing I noticed, paging through the book after I opened the envelope it arrived in, was that Ms. Seymour consistently spells Tchaikovsky's first name not as “Peter” (as it would be in English) or “Pyotr” (as it would be transliterated from the Russian Пётр, the “ё,” often “understood” by Russian speakers, pronounced “yo”) but as... “Petyor”?

Now, I've been reading about Russian music since I was 10 and reading Russian novels since I was 12, and though I never learned to speak the language, I could read the alphabet well enough to sing in a Russian Orthodox church choir for three years and teach a college course on the “Art and History of Russia and Eastern Europe” for the University of Connecticut's Slavic Center. And never have I seen the form “Petyor.”

So I asked a Russian-born friend of mine named Peter if he were familiar with it and he said no: his name might be spelled Peter, Petr, or Pyotr, but he'd never seen “Petyor.”

Russian, of course, is a language that uses an entirely different alphabet from the rest of Europe. One can, in fact, spell “Tchaikovsky” hundreds of different ways phonetically depending on the language it's being transliterated into. In fact, in Russian, it is spelled Чайковский which begins with a letter representing the “ch” sound in English, but yet we most often see it with a “Tch” in German or a “Tsch” in French, and also with a “v” or an “ff” or a “French w” which is why some people pronounce it “chai-COW-skee.”

But how you get “Petyor” out of Пётр, I couldn't tell you.

That said, two other names are consistently “mistransliterated” throughout Sons of Janus: Antonina Miliukova becomes Antonia Miliyukova; and Alexey (or Alexei) Apukhtin becomes Alexey Apukthin.

In the first case, Antonina and Antonia are two different names, though both are feminine forms of “Anton.” The “iu” in Miliukova is one syllable (a diphthong), but in Miliyukova, the “iyu” is two syllables. The “kh” in Apukhtin is a consonant pronounced in Russian like the Scottish “ch” in loch, but “kth” is not a Russian sound, perhaps just a dyslexic typo.

Tchaikovsky's brother-in-law Lev Davidov and his family live on an estate in Ukraine called Kamenka. On p.56, another of Davidov's estates is spelled Verovka; on p.57, it is Verbovka. The latter is correct.

On p.70, within 5 lines of text, the name “Vladimir” is spelled three different ways: Vladimyr, Vladymyr, and Vladymir – all three different men with different (and correctly spelled) last names, but yet it's the same first name (a little consistency, if you please). On p.148, Mme von Meck's son is Vladimir von Meck, so we have four different ways of spelling the same name. Similarly, Nikolai Rubinstein is always “Nikolai”, but on p.73, it's Nikolay Kondratiev.

On p.154 and p.162, the ancient city of Nizhny-Novgorod is spelled Ninzhy-Novgorod.

On p.74 and in the “Selected Obituaries” covering three pages at the end of the book, Klin, where Tchaikovsky made his own country home and where his museum would be founded, is spelled “KILN”! Seeing this before I started reading the book but already wondering who “Petyor” was, I admitted to thinking “Ah, perhaps this isn't a book about the composer, after all: it's about the potter, Ilyich Tchaikovsky!”

Oh, and about that “Ilyich” or Ильич (which even Russian friends of mine spell “Illyich”): this is a patronymic, not a middle name, and means literally “the son of Ilya.” So on p.33, introducing “Papa Illya Petrovich Tchaikovsky,” the composer's father (Ilya, son of Pyotr, meaning the composer was named for his grandfather – again, a Russian-speaker would know the “e” is really “ё” or “yo”), the caption for two photographs reads, “Papa Illych Tchaikovsky” which would mean Papa Ilya is his own son and however confusing the Russian alphabet may be to a Westerner, even that is impossible. (Just kidding: somebody named Ilya Ilyich would be like saying he's Ilya, Jr.)

In formal conversation, someone might be referred to as, say, Mikhail Gregorievich or Ekaterina Gregorievna – first name and patronymic – rather than just Mikhail or Ekaterina but there's also a collection of nicknames or “diminutives” available that could be used by friends and family who might call these two people Misha or Katya. Ms. Seymour chooses to avoid the use of the patronymic except in the composer's case. His brother Anatol (or Anatoli) is usually referred to familiarly as Tolya. Brother Modest, to whom Tchaikovsky was quite close, is never referred to as anything but Modest, yet if you read their letters, he is almost always “Modi”. And nobody in this novel, family or friends, ever calls the composer by his expected nickname, Petya.

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Then there are numerous misspellings or “wrong words” – substitutions like “canon” (a musical procedure) for “cannon” (p.103), “riskier” for what I presume should be “risque” (p.148) or the constant and annoying misuse of “premier” for “premiere” – too many to go into here.

I have to admit, before this, I have never read a book with a red pen in hand: there are 72 pages in my copy of Sons of Janus with red marks (sometimes several per page) out of a total of 187 pages, not counting the chronic use of “Petyor” or the misspelled names of his wife or the poet-friend used throughout.

On p.84, Nikolai Rubinstein is complaining about the composer's partying lifestyle when he needs to be working on a new opera, when “other guests brought back reports of the pleasures to be encountered there: fancy picnics, walks, late nights playing bezique, impromptu musical evenings – and lots of rowdy drinking sessions, seriously lots of rowdy dinking sessions.” Now, even with the repetition, someone not familiar with the hedonistic lifestyle of 19th-Century Russian homosexuals may wonder what exactly “rowdy dinking sessions” entail...

One of my pet peeves is the phrase “reached a crescendo” which I found on p.101-102. One does not simply “reach” a crescendo. In music, a crescendo is the gradual increase of volume over a period of time (a few beats, several measures). To use “reach a crescendo” means you still have to go through the crescendo itself, having reached the point where the crescendo begins, not ends. Instead, the expression could be “reached a fortissimo” or something, if you want to keep a musical allusion. “Reached a climax” would probably be better. Commonly misused, to most musicians and music-lovers reading it, it is cringeworthy.

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Speaking of which, now, Mrs. Alving, let's look at purely factual information.

On p.65, Nikolai Rubinstein is telling the story how Tchaikovsky was commissioned by his publisher to make piano arrangements of 50 Russian Folk Songs. The author writes, “The collection had already been worked over by Balakirev and so Tchaikovsky did the decent thing, dedicating his version, Fatum, to Balakirev and sending him a copy for comment.” Fatum, however, is a completely different piece, a dark orchestral tone poem called “Fate” which Tchaikovsky destroyed after its premiere (yes, someone was able to reconstruct it from a set of long-lost orchestral parts, so the piece does still exist). It has nothing to do with the 50 Russian Folk Songs other than the fact it was composed around the same time and Balakirev's name is associated with both of them.

On p.69, Ms. Seymour writes, “Tchaikovsky turned all his initial euphoria and subsequent grief and despair into the dominant themes of a new piece of work, a ballet based on the classic love story Romeo and Juliet...” One of his most famous works, Romeo and Juliet is an overture-fantasy and was never intended as a ballet. Yes, Prokofiev wrote a ballet based on Shakespeare's lovers in 1935, but that is outside the sphere of this novel.

On p.95, Antonia Miliyukova [sic] dates her entry, describing her delights as a social-climbing wife of a famous composer about to receive her husband's “boss” and closest friend into their new home, June, 1877. They were married on July 18th, 1877.

In the chapter supplied by Anton Rubinstein, historical facts about the Crimean War are glaringly inaccurate. On p. 107, the author writes “Tsar Nicholas died whilst on campaign in the Crimea in 1855.” In fact, Tsar Nicholas I, famous as a soldier in his training, his rule, and his role as a father, had not left the Imperial capital of St. Petersburg where he died of pneumonia after having caught a chill at a wedding.

On the same page, she writes about the peace conference “in Paris, the city Tsar Nicholas had entered in triumph after the defence of Moscow and fall of Napoleon” in 1812. Unfortunately, that was Nicholas' older brother, Tsar Alexander I. Nicholas didn't become tsar until 1825.

On p.130, Mme von Meck talks about the difficulty of being a mother trying to make advantageous matches for her sons. She writes, “Eleven of my eighteen children have survived infanthood.” That alone is remarkable, almost as remarkable as her having had eighteen children; but, astounding as that may seem, she actually had “only” thirteen children...! She married her husband when she was 16 and he died about 26 years later. Let's not make this any more difficult for the poor woman than it already was.

On p.137, Mme von Meck writes about Tchaikovsky's new opera, The Maid of New Orleans! This is an opera about the historical 15th Century Joan of Arc who never got near New Orleans. The opera is The Maid of Orleans. (Insert “LOL” here.)

On p.146, Mme von Meck describes events following the death of Nikolai Rubinstein, a.k.a. The Chief, writing about the occasion “when Anton Rubinstein performed Petyor's Second Piano Concerto which he had dedicated to the Chief. Rubinstein's delivery was exquisite – tender and poignant.” Actually, the pianist who performed Tchaikovsky's new concerto was his own student, Sergei Taneyev. The conductor was Anton Rubinstein. Now, granted, she doesn't say he was the pianist, but the implication seems to be the performer here was the soloist, not the conductor.

On pp.146-147, Mme von Meck also mentions that Nikolai Rubinstein had arranged for Tchaikovsky to write something for the Great Exhibition of 1883 – actually, that was scheduled for 1882 – either “a general Opening Overture, a piece to mark the Tsar's Silver Jubilee... and [or?] a cantata to mark the dedication of a cathedral commissioned in 1812 to mark the defeat of Napoleon. None of the choices had enthused Petyor, but he had opted for the third” (that would be the cantata, a choral work). She later mentions its title, The Year 1812 which is the original title of the Festival Overture we know simply as “The 1812 Overture.” A completely orchestral work with an added brass band and even a barrage of cannons but without chorus, it is not a cantata – though it quotes national anthems associated with both the French and the Russians, both of which are anachronistic but I digress. Regardless of the date Mme von Meck mentions, the overture was premiered in August of 1882.

On p.154, in the chapter supplied by Nadezhda von Meck's embittered son, Vladimir, he writes of the composer's niece who is going to marry one of his younger brothers, thus uniting the families which delighted Mme von Meck and infuriated her eldest son. He describes his future sister-in-law Anna, daughter of Lev and Alexandra Davidov, as “as pernicious and divisive as her brother” even though, clearly, since Anna was the daughter of the composer's sister, “Petyor” would've been her uncle. This relationship is mentioned again on p.158.

On p.155, the same embittered Vladimir von Meck complains – after the Tsar bestowed on Tchaikovsky an annual stipend of 3,000 rubles, making Mme von Meck's monetary gifts to him unnecessary – that Tchaikovsky then donated the money she'd given him to write a piece he premiered in Prague to a local musicians' charity: “it was just too much. We were not keeping only him... but now out-of-work Hungarians as well!” As astute a businessman in the railroad industry as Vladimir von Meck would have been, he would certainly have known that the people of Prague were not Hungarians.

On p.12, Ms. Seymour states she uses only “New Style” dates to avoid the confusion caused by Russia's not having adopted the modern calendar the rest of Europe was using until after the 1917 Revolution. But this creates a problem when guest history lecturer Anton Rubinstein returns for a post concerning Tsar Alexander III, dated “Christmas 1893,” beginning “Tchaikovsky is dead.” Now, according to the Russian Orthodox church calendar in the “Old Style,” Christmas is celebrated in January and even today, the Orthodox Church still officially observes its holidays according to the Old Calendar. So January of 1893 means Tchaikovsky would still be alive for another 11 months: he died November 6th, 1893. If she wrote, “December, 1893,” fine. But she didn't.

Well, I think that's enough.

Now, given all of this, I would say Ms. Seymour's novel might be more enjoyable to read with a little editing and fact-checking, in which case I might consider recommending it. As it is, as currently published by Austin Macauley of London (you can read more about them, here and here), what do you think I should suggest?

I mean, what would Mrs. Alving do?

- Dick Strawser

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Lost Chord: Conclusion

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, the unexpected reappearance of Peter Moonbeam, after hiding himself in a basement storage room where he inadvertently found Heidi Gedankgesang's body, proves a distraction following the death of Tr'iTone allowing N. Ron Steele to make an escape after he realizes the CD in his pocket isn't a copy of Rob Sullivan's completed opera, Faustus Inc, after all, but a porno DVD. This gives Kerr an idea where to look to find the CD-Rom of Rob's opera - back at the old castle. It turns out Widor, pinned to the stage floor by the collapse of Tr'iTone's corpse, starts telling the IMP everything he knows. There's not much left to do, now... except...

= = = = = = =
Chapter 62

Lionel followed the officers as they escorted him out of the room once he admitted seeing Tr'iTone snap Scarpia's neck – very careful to distinguish between what Tr'iTone did and what Dhabbodhú did. He was only a witness, he assured them, but they still wanted him back at the Festspielhaus for questioning.

When we didn't move from the computer, looking over a file Lionel had opened and started explaining to us, D'Arcy asked if we wanted to be dropped off at the hotel.

"Actually," I said, looking up, "there's something Cameron and I need to wrap up here, if you don't mind, whatever it was Tr'iTone was looking for: give us half an hour?"

D'Arcy nodded and said he'd send somebody back to pick us up. "Watch where you step, though," he smiled.

And you'd better be very careful with that CD," I said, laughing. "It's the only copy we've got, you know. Plus Steele and his agents are still out there looking for it!"

D'Arcy patted his pocket as if checking on the disc and waved, then turned to disappear down the hall.

Cameron and I returned our attention to the realization Lionel made of the Knight's Tour map on Tr'iTone's computer and compared it to what we could read on the statue's base.

"I think this is where Lionel read it wrong – see?" I said, pointing to one of the numerous blocks. "So, the goal isn't where the Festspielhaus is, according to his map. If we start the knight's tour there – yes, see the small 'x'? That's where the old crypt was located."

"But if that was the starting point, where exactly was the goal?"

We followed the path across the screen.

"Look at that," Cameron said, "the goal's actually just outside the castle!"

"Yes! Just across the road from the castle's courtyard," I practically shouted, "opposite where the Beethoven statue originally stood!" I grabbed our priceless artifact, and we hurried outside into the courtyard.

"Remember how Mahler told them he was standing by a tombstone – there! – and looked into the face of Beethoven?"

"OMG," Cameron shouted, "look there!"


"The sun – it's already coming up!"

Our long night was coming to an end! Cameron climbed up onto the pedestal as far as he could go.

The sun's first rays already lit up a spot across the road, deep inside what looked like a cemetery.

According to the brochure this was the old Armenfriedhof: a burial ground for poor musicians associated with the academy. Odd there would be a Potter's Field so close to Schweinwald Castle.

"Who would be buried here, d'you think?" Cameron carefully scanned the horizon.

"More importantly, do you see a fountain?"

"What about a spring? There's a small stream running along the edge..."

He pointed and followed its course until it disappeared into the woods.

"Even in this light, it looks creepy."

The stream didn't strike me as that impressive and if there's no fountain, what was all the fuss about, then? If Harrison Harty kept this secret journal, they were looking for something. Considering the end of the journal's missing, maybe they actually found it? And did Mahler keep the missing part?

"I wish I were taller," Cameron complained. "Those bushes block my view."

Those bushes probably weren't there in 1880.

"Of course! Wait – what is it Beethoven's statue would've been looking at?"

Cameron tried to maintain a line of sight between the statue's pedestal and a point he saw in the distance as we hurried through the bushes and brambles toward who knew what. Looking back toward the barely visible pedestal, I tried imagining how tall the statue was, over 130 years ago.

These first tombstones were from the 1600s but those farther away were relatively more recent, added later in time, the undergrowth unmanageably dense after having not been maintained for several generations.

The birds began to sing in the pale dawn light, reminding me how Beethoven once walked around Heiligenstadt's countryside, translating sounds of nature he no longer heard into his Pastoral Symphony. Perhaps this peaceful view and rural beauty was the inspiration he sought? Was that all there'd be to find?

There it was – a carefully inscribed tombstone, one relatively free of the bushes and brambles that covered everything else.

I parted the weedy grass and saw one line but nothing else:

O du der mein Brunnen des Gedankenblitz bist

a line from the artifact: "You who are my fountain of inspiration."

Had Sechter's society buried Beethoven's Immortal Belovèd here, then erected his statue so he could gaze on her forever? No one knew what bonds they'd broken once they removed that statue.

Brunnen, of course, could mean either flame or source but also fountain, the translation best determined by its general context, though in this case it was not a fountain of magic waters, the 'quick pill' Tr'iTone hoped to find and had willingly killed for, that mysterious unknown, unknowable force of creativity.

I placed the model for Beethoven's statue in front of the tombstone and covered it with grass for protection. Her identity, tantalizing the world since Beethoven's death, should remain a secret.

"Perhaps some things are best left unfound."

We walked back in silence toward the road, listening to the birds.

Climbing out from the brambles, I saw a car driving toward us. It was Harper and Fictitia, here to take us to the hotel.

"Harper says they do a smashing breakfast!"


It was late July when we returned to Germany for the premiere, ready to take in the last week's rehearsals, arriving refreshed but cautious after a brief chance to unwind at home. Cameron and I, bringing Dylan along, decided we'd meet LauraLynn in London and relax a while in the countryside.

At the height of tourist season, half our plane was filled with American college students on a concert tour, a lively if rowdy bunch always ready to break out into song.

D'Arcy met us at Munich's airport where I noticed several faces from Schweinwald Security in the crowds around us. None of them, I'm pleased to admit, looked even remotely like Dhabbodhú.

The train-ride to Kempten was also uneventful beyond our anticipation of seeing all Rob's hard work finally reach fruition.

The weather was often warmer than usual with heavier thunderstorms than expected, whatever arguments you believed about 'climate change' aside. If the storms didn't coincide with rehearsals, they dampened our free time. All in all, they seemed uncomfortably ominous with their frequently intense lightening: we often kept looking over our shoulders. It was not great weather to be rummaging around at the castle, a destination not high on my list, but then LauraLynn didn't care to walk through the Festspielhaus basement, either.

The damage from the bomb blast had all been repaired, D'Arcy explained, the outside wall's hole no longer visible and all the passageways and rooms downstairs returned to a reasonable functionality. Every rehearsal, now, took place on stage, so there was no reason we should have to visit the area. The only thing LauraLynn wanted to do was to leave a rose in one storage room in Heidi's memory, on the blood-stained divan once used in Rosbaud's Zurich premiere of Moses.

The IMP's Director Leahy-Hu, arriving for the dress rehearsal and opening night, kept D'Arcy informed of any developing news but it appeared the people at SHMRG were keeping a low profile. That Steele was prohibited from entering Germany under threat of arrest, though, wouldn't keep others from fulfilling his goals.

Watching rehearsals for the last act take shape was like a revelation, the reward for what we all had endured. It made us feel that whatever we had done was worth it. But it also drew us closer together knowing that Rob would not be there to share in its success. True, Garth Widor had been arrested and charged with committing Rob's murder but still there was no proof of Steele's involvement beyond his complicity in the plot, ordering it or not.

"Adrian Faust went up against Arachne Webb over Daisy's murder and barely escaped her wrath before she vaporized herself one step ahead of the police, leaving her company without an heir. When Adrian awoke to find himself consigned instead to a mail-room job, he was happy enough to be alive."

If there was any connection between the opera and Pansy Grunwald's murder, Rob wasn't one to put anything in writing: any similarities between Arachne Webb and N. Ron Steele were also conjecture. In fact, Rob did explain that Daisy was named 'Daisy' only because Gounod's heroine was Marguerite – French for daisy.

As we ended our dinner at the Festspielhaus Café on opening night, we raised a glass in Rob's memory and all those who'd died that horrible night, even the delusional Tr'iTone.

We left the café after D'Arcy spoke pleasantly with the restaurant's manager, and were about to cross the street to the Festspielhaus in time for a brief official reception before the curtain when I saw a familiar face in the crowd ahead of us – not, mercifully, Dhabbodhú: this was Arthur Lemm.

"What's he doing here," I asked D'Arcy, not sure what drew him other than his old rivalry with Rob. Lemm was surrounded by his usual entourage and a few official-looking businessmen.

Just then, the recently elected Board President, Christopher Babbila, took D'Arcy aside, shook his hand, whispered something to him, then walked away quite seriously after a condescending pat on the shoulder. D'Arcy, looking glum, shrugged his shoulders as he walked back toward us, as if he'd just received bad news.

"Well," he said very matter-of-factly, "the Board's once again passed over me in selecting a new executive director for Schweinwald, thinking it's time for a different direction, looking ahead to the future. Now that it will be a year-round, full-time international center," he nodded, "they've decided to appoint – Mr. Arthur Lemm."

"So that's what he's doing here," I said, "and that's how SHMRG's going to take care of matters, now. With their man in charge, they can control everything. I should've known..."

It was well known that Art Lemm was SHMRG's current Golden Boy, bringing in millions with his flashy, trashy works. One could only imagine the 'new direction' Schweinwald would be taking, now.

"I never thought Lemm had a chance with this board," D'Arcy mumbled. "SHMRG's influence is deeper than I imagined."

Given Lemm's attitude toward traditional conservatory training, it's clear the new Academy would never open as Rob envisioned it. Had his appointment happened earlier, he'd no doubt have canceled Rob's premiere.

"He doesn't take over till the new fall season begins, but I see dark days ahead," D'Arcy said, sadly. "I imagine next year the Academy's space will become SHMRG's international headquarters."

As we walked slowly toward the Festspielhaus, I tried sounding more upbeat.

"One day, the pendulum will swing back."

Not that I didn't imagine for a moment what damage could be done before the cycle would come around again, but yes: it might take a long time but it will happen.

"Think what Beethoven saw in his day," I considered, indicating his statue, "and look at everything that's happened since!"

My philosophizing didn't help D'Arcy who now had new set-backs to face, including no doubt looking for a job.

"And still Beethoven, dealing with his nephew, could compose those Late Quartets!"

It was odd, recalling then how Cameron and I made it home and figured Beethoven's letter was safe, again. Perhaps it was time to release the letter's contents to the world? We thought of announcing how he'd found it at the old castle, even if it was complicated to explain.

But now, if SHMRG controlled the Festival, they'd claim it's their property and that we had stolen it from them, seeking retribution and suing for its return under the International Antiquities Statutes. Such a letter would certainly be worth a great deal of money but what could we do about it?

Considering how Tr'iTone had come close to destroying it – and for what? – we had no idea what to expect. So it was with great curiosity we'd decided to read the thing.

It was addressed to Simon Sechter – later Director of the Schweinwald Academy – asking him to help Beethoven's 'special friend' with the income from a specific fund set up through a publisher, finding someplace to care for her if she became old and infirm, then, ultimately, a private final resting place. He asked some small, simple monument to him be set up nearby so he could gaze upon her grave, in particularly poignant words, that they could then be together through eternity.

Especially the haunting final line: "You, who are my fountain of inspiration – resonate within me – you, my Lost Chord."

"Zenn mentioned that," Cameron said. "We'd read it in the journal, too."

"Yes, and how, when we lose it, we're always searching for it." I knew Beethoven wasn't the only one.

News of Lemm's appointment certainly took the wind out of our sails, coming so suddenly after finishing our celebratory dinner, a direct slap at everything Rob and the festival's founders stood for. LauraLynn wondered if everything we'd been through, including losing Rob and his yet unwritten music, had been for nothing.

The world still got to hear Rob's opera as he'd completed it since SHMRG was unable to stop it. The question was, could they keep other interested companies from performing it?

Dylan tried not to be disappointed how little recognition we were receiving: we're the ones who'd saved the production and he was proud to have played some small part in it. The woman disguised as the old widow had been forgotten, I knew, but I was sorry Lionel couldn't attend.

Beneath the statue of a pensive Beethoven, brooding upon the world's inequities, stood Fictitia LaMouche and her boyfriend, Harper Roytt. They waved to get our attention as soon as they saw us. Harper, excited about playing in the orchestra, was dressed in a tux and Fictitia wore different layers of black.

"So, are you coming in to hear the performance?" I asked her.

"I wouldn't miss this for the world!"

Like seven happy wanderers reunited, we all linked arms and marched inside.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

posted by Dick Strawser

This is the conclusion of the second novel in The Klangfarben Trilogy. The first novel is The Doomsday Symphony which you can read here. I completed the third novel, The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, in September of 2014, and it may well be available here in future posts. As of the Fall of 2014, I'd already begun planning a fourth novel, though without Ms. Klangfarben, that will continue the adventures of Dr. Kerr and his sidekick, Cameron Pierce, tentatively entitled In Search of Tom Purdue.

= = = = = = =
The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 60 & 61

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Tr'iTone, exhilarated as if he were flying through the air, realized too late that, in fact, he was, his mind full of recollections as if his life were passing before him, discovering that to be an artist one might need to suffer but wasn't this overdoing it a bit? The man he met turned out not to be Beethoven, whose Fountain of Inspiration he'd hoped to find that would turn him into the Greatest Composer in the Universe, but a man who claimed to be his father, a man who said the woman pictured in this locket - the one with a wisp of hair - was his mother, the mother and father he never knew. he, born Luke van Rhiarden, was the last of the Falkensteins, his father was Garth Widor and his mother, the Countess Lisl von Falkenstein who later married some guy in New York named du Hicquè which rang one last tiny little bell with him as, having crashed onto the floor of the Schweinwald opera house, Tr'iTone gave up the ghost...

= = = = = = =
Chapter 60

For the first time in thirty-some years, Widor recalled his real name – Heinichen van Rhiarden, chief bodyguard to the Falkensteins – years melting away with the memory of his beloved, the Countess Lisl. And now, too late, Old Widor realizes he has found his son, the flesh-and-blood consequence of their mystical love.

It would have made a powerful operatic duet of the highest order, Widor examining the face of his son, a face so like his own, alas unsoftened by his Belovèd's beauty.

"All this," Widor said, turning,"everything – the grounds, the castle, the whole festival – was yours, the Last of the Falkensteins!"

There was a sudden jolt, sending a shiver through the shattered set, the pole impaling Tr'iTone's body listing precariously before it collapsed heavily, hitting Widor across his back, knocking him unconscious.

With the great thud echoing across the stage into the empty theater, everyone who had lurched forward to rescue him suddenly came to a halt realizing there was little they could do.

Widor, his arms sprawled, lay in a crumpled heap on the floor: could they manage to save him, now?

Everyone turned to peer into the shadows before they could see anything, hearing only this strange, pale, sing-songy voice that only gradually became the rotund figure of Peter Moonbeam, completely transformed.

"I gladly view the lovely world and dream beyond the wide horizon –
Shimmering in the east, the green horizon.
Grabbing the bald guy's collar, I will dreamily play upon his skull.
'Drat,' he thinks, 'a fleck of plaster!'
He goes, his pleasure ruined: the moon, that wicked mocker, mimics him.
He leisurely smokes his genuine Turkish tobacco, soaring boldly home to heaven,
Sun slowly sinking, a crimson royal crown.
She strangles him with it, his heart in bloody fingers – like eyes!
'Snowman of lyrics, Serene Highness of Moonlight,
They descend with beating wings, invisible monsters, into the hearts of men!'
He creeps, without thinking, to his beloved: 'Glances of Men avoid you.'
Her moonbeam-woven linens paint his face fashionably
Like in the secret fables – this wine we drink through the eyes."

Having found himself unexpectedly backstage, Peter Moonbeam first knocked against the platform trying to erase the memory of that body then started wiping the blood off his hands, leaving red smears everywhere.

At first he recoiled. "Two more bodies!" It was more than what was left of his mind could bear.

First of all, someone had tried to kill him, destroying his computer, then he overhead someone kill poor Schreiber. Whoever did that had threatened him again. Why was everybody after him?

The next thing he knew he was hiding in a room that already had a dead body in it: "What're the odds," he thought: "what kind of storage room is this?!" He didn't remember killing her, even accidentally. Why would anyone kill her, this Germanic blonde in the red dress?

While her agents pulled the still-breathing Widor out from under Tr'iTone's body, Leahy-Hu officially arrested him for Robertson Sullivan's murder, then announced SHMRG's plot to impede his opera's premiere had been foiled.

"Not quite, you interfering bitch," Steele shouted, holding up a CD case. "The only complete copy of Sullivan's opera!"

"Take a closer look at that label again, Mr. Steele," I shouted, clambering down from far above the stage."

"WTF," he screamed, "Kendra Does Carnegie Hall? A porno film? You scumbags!"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Klavdia Klangfarben – until only a few seconds ago, the Widow du Hicquè – ran through the alley behind what had been the only home she'd known since her second time through her childhood. How could the police have found her and, for that matter, why? (Not that they didn't have several reasons...) She barely had time to grab the bag-lady rags hidden in the hall closet for just such an occasion, so she could blend into the back streets of Manhattan – and wait.

A policeman had come out into the yard with a flashlight, looking for signs that someone had been there. Would they find her footprints or sic a dog on her scent? She thought she should just run down to the park and hide: she was well acquainted with the territory.

Somebody must have tipped them off, but who? Was it that sniveling little twit she'd just abducted who loved Beethoven? (The very idea was enough to make her spit on the ground.) Or had the original Widow du Hicquè recovered at the hospital and alerted the police to her true identity?

What if she couldn't return to the house and resume her life? Could she go back to the streets? How, she wondered, could she avenge herself on that dratted professor now?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

After throwing the disc at Widor's prone form, Steele, cursing the incompetence of his underlings, ran off into the shadows, aided by the confusion that Moonbeam managed to create with his lamentations.

"Do not let that man get away," Leahy-Hu screamed as her agents took off after the disappearing SHMRG contingent.

Cameron returned to the backstage area, assisting the now calmer Lionel Roth, while I helped untie the sobbing LauraLynn. D'Arcy helped Moonbeam, still confused, over to a seat in the wings.

"But the disc you'd seen in Rob's pocket before he was killed and which was missing after his murder...? If this wasn't it," D'Arcy wondered, "what happened to Rob's original disc?"

"Mr. D'Arcy, if you'll take us back to the castle," I said, "I think I know where to look."

Chapter 61

While we gave the police our statements, security canvassed the crime scene and carefully extricated Tr'iTone's body from the set, throwing a tarp over him and the pole (the most likely COD), and D'Arcy helped the IMP set up an emergency interrogation room nearby since Widor almost immediately started regaining consciousness. As soon as he realized Steele left him for dead and hung him out to dry, so to speak, Widor began telling Leahy-Hu everything he knew – including some things he didn't.

On the drive back to the castle, D'Arcy filled us in on what he had learned in the interim and what Leahy-Hu discovered in the unfolding process of closing her case. It appears there were two simultaneous plots, but beyond that, she would call him later to fill him in.

When we pulled up to the castle courtyard, the crime scene guys and forensics were busy dealing with Scarpia's body and didn't notice that one of us slipped off toward the dungeon. Roth became the courteous host and led D'Arcy and me upstairs to the room where Tr'iTone kept his computer. Reaching into one of the desk drawers, Roth pulled out a CD and held it like a consecrated wafer before inserting it into the drive, waiting while it whirred to life.

There it was, its title page barely legible because Rob's software probably wasn't fully compatible with this computer's program, but enough to read "FAUSTUS INC. – music & libretto by Robertson Sullivan." I clicked through to the last page which included a double bar and the text, "completed at Benninghurst Colony."

Ominously, the date, barely visible beneath that, was the one which would be used in all Rob's biographical material, the day on which the composer died only hours after finishing it.

That was when D'Arcy's phone rang, Leahy-Hu calling him with an up-date.

"It seems Mr. Widor may be as gifted as any opera singer."

D'Arcy told me everything Leahy-Hu told him.

Yes, there were indeed two simultaneous plots: the one she was following and the one I was "looking into."

Months ago, Leahy-Hu and the IMP got wind Steele was concerned about the impact Sullivan's opera might have on SHMRG whether you called it "Art Imitating Life" or "Turning Art into Allegory," especially after Sullivan announced he's rewriting the ending of the opera so late it might jeopardize the opera's premiere.

Considering the tight-knit world of contemporary music knew Sullivan and SHMRG were on opposite sides of the musico-political spectrum, everyone would assume Rob's devil was a thinly veiled version of Steele.

When, in real life, Pansy Grunwald, who worked for Steele as he was building SHMRG into a world-wide corporation, died a rather sudden but not entirely accidental-looking death in her office, her boyfriend, a young composer working downstairs in the concert agency's office, was ready to go to the police.

While news of Pansy's and her boyfriend's suspicious deaths never became public, Barry Scarpia, now SHMRG's inside man at Schweinwald, heard that Sullivan was making some changes to his new opera's finale. This new plot-line, he reported, sounded uncomfortably too similar to Pansy's death – the character had even been named Daisy!

The whole idea was to get Robertson Sullivan to withdraw his opera or get Schweinwald to cancel its premiere: was that plot responsible for the murders of both Zeitgeist and Sullivan?

"Widor, Steele's point-man in this project," D'Arcy explained, "was only supposed to scare Rob with these different attacks, Leahy-Hu said – Zeitgeist, too, apparently – but something always seemed to go terribly, terribly wrong. When he broke into that wedding reception, he fired a warning shot but didn't mean to kill Rob's aunt."

Even when Rob found him that night ransacking his room at Benninghurst, there wasn't supposed to be a confrontation: the gun went off accidentally when Rob tried to take him down.

"Widor said Rob kept going on about some 'gizmo' he didn't have – both times – but it made no sense," D'Arcy went on, reporting what Leahy-Hu told him Widor had just confessed. "It was like Rob kept mistaking him for someone else," D'Arcy guessed, "like he confused one crime with another."

"But that would make complete sense," I said, "if SHMRG was after the opera and Tr'iTone's after Rob's mysterious artifact. So we're looking at two different crimes committed by two look-alike criminals? Look, even I kept confusing the two men when I'd see them. It's like I was seeing him everywhere! No doubt Tr'iTone or Dhabbodhú kept pestering Rob about this artifact's location – which Rob referred to as a 'gizmo' – and which is why Rob thought that's what Widor was after, too."

Ironically, considering these accidental deaths, the life Widor consciously chose to spare, bumping into him there in Benninghurst's driveway, was a man who would turn out to be his long-lost son.

Widor stole Rob's phone, then dropped it; Tr'iTone picked it up, then called me – we assumed he's the killer.

"So," I said, considering these new details, "Dhabbodhú left the dinner to become Tr'iTone and went to Rob's room, looking for some information about this fountain but found him already dead."

"Then Tr'iTone disfigured him in a rage, because, for all those years, he thought Rob told him nothing but lies?" Cameron had just entered, remembering the gruesome image confronting us that night.

"What exactly was Tr'iTone after? Could this Fountain of Inspiration be real?"

"There's only one way to find out..."

Even though most of the music was unreadable given the various incompatibility issues that existed between these different software programs, D'Arcy was too busy paging through the final pages of Rob's score to notice Cameron held an old letter, slightly singed around the edges, then carefully tucked it into his pocket.

"But at least now we know who Rob's murderer is," I said, "and we officially have the finished opera, if there's still time to prepare Act III for its scheduled premiere?"

"Oh, it'll be tight," D'Arcy said, looking up, "but I have to get a rush job on the vocal score for the singers and extract the instrumental parts for the orchestra. He already said there'd be no changes for the sets and costumes, so everything should still work on schedule."

When one of those annoyingly generic ringtones intruded, I was surprised Cameron was the one diving to retrieve a phone, eagerly reading a newly arrived text-message with a great sigh of relief.

Considering the phones we'd gone through tonight, I wondered how and where he might have gotten a new one.

"Good news – Harper and Fictitia texted me that Dylan's okay," he said. "They don't know why she'd abducted him, but the old woman escaped. Still, the good news is, Dylan's safe!"

That's when Roth looked up and spoke at length for the first time in a while – at least coherently. "That's probably the old Countess du Hicquè, one of Dr. Dhabbodhú's clients." He explained how she helped him secure some letter from Cameron's bank, after disguising herself as the family's lawyer.

"So that's how...?" Cameron looked over at him and scowled, checking the letter he'd just hidden in his pocket.

"Wait – didn't Widor say something that du Hicquè was Tr'iTone's real mother?"

Lionel was surprised how obsessed Dhabbodhú had become about Beethoven and about his following in The Master's own footsteps, plus this whole Fountain thing: perhaps he really did need a therapist.

He decided to forget the night Dhabbodhú and the widow got plastered and had celebratory sex on the couch.

Lionel busied himself with playing the affable host, making cups of tea for each of us, as he explained how, himself a master pick-pocket, he had seen this guy on the train who looked so much like Dr. Dhabbodhú – in fact, he thought it was another one of the doctor's disguises.

"When I saw him pull out and admire a CD jewel case, I decided to steal it as a prank, replacing it with some... well, another disc I had with me."

Unfortunately, Lionel realized too late it wasn't Dhabbodhú and he was upset to lose one of his favorite DVDs. "I couldn't go back and exchange the discs all over again, now. That's when you two noticed I was on the train," he shuddered, "before that maniac lit up his cigarette..."

When Security Officers Arabesk and LeVay arrived to arrest Lionel Roth as an accessory to the bombing of the Festspielhaus, D'Arcy explained that SHMRG's Agent Widor already confessed to that, as well. Technically, other than trespassing at the castle, there wasn't much to charge Lionel with beyond being an unwitting accomplice.

D'Arcy, still embarrassed by the apparent ease with which SHMRG managed to infiltrate Schweinwald's board and his security team, suggested instead they question Roth about the murders of Scarpia and Ritter.

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapters 58 & 59

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

While the previous installment was another excerpt from Harrison Harty's Journal from his stay at Schweinwald Academy in the summer of 1880, including he and his friends Gustav Mahler, Hans Rott and Ethel Smyth being inducted into the Friends of Beethoven's Immortal Society, the installment before that concerned Dr. Kerr and Cameron tracking down the villain Tr'iTone in his search for Beethoven's Fountain of Inspiration backstage at the Schweinwald Festspielhaus.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 58

Tr'iTone never felt anything so exhilarating before! Had he missed the moment? Had Beethoven's spirit descended upon him so unexpectedly? There was a sense of incredible ecstasy as if he were flying! It had seemed so sudden, not what he'd thought it would be, no secret portal, no challenges to surmount. And yet, without a flash of awareness, he found himself so overcome, he could barely comprehend what was happening except to know somehow something touched him and he was being transformed.

It was as if he were airborne yet somehow suspended in space, both moving and not moving through time, a burst of energy and cosmic bliss both alive and beyond life. He hovered outside the confines of Earth like a small weightless fleck freed from the limitations of mere humanity.

It must have been the Touch of Beethoven! He had not even had to drink from this Fountain of Inspiration, did not even have to find it or struggle to attain it. Beethoven, Greatest of All the Greatest Composers, accepted him as he was and would bestow on him his mantel.

The total experience could only be heightened by hearing the cheers and the rousing applause of his adoring audience, who, in the worshipful darkness, would discover the magnitude of his talent.

He felt the embrace of a million souls reaching out to him and watched the dancing daughters of Elysium all rushing to greet him, not just one but dozens of them! Heavenly instruments and celestial voices combined themselves into this most divine sound, becoming a kiss from all the world! Thousands of notes rose ever upward in a vast torrent of sound, engulfing him with Beethoven's most universal symphony: what other music would you expect to experience at such a moment?

The Ode to Joy seared his brain, the climax of the fugue where both of Beethoven's themes joined forces to bring joy to the universal brotherhood and glorify all of mankind. Music burst through his ears as the sopranos reached their high A: why did it sound like someone screaming?

Of course, if he wanted to become the World's Greatest Living Composer – and wasn't that every budding genius' ultimate goal? – he had to listen to every piece of music he possibly could. He especially liked listening to lots of the most recent contemporary music: so many different styles, simple or complex. What a liberating experience it had been to hear all this music and realize how much of it sucked! If these guys could get their music performed, certainly he could, too!

He started by bulking up on the greatest works written by Beethoven – especially his symphonies, sonatas and string quartets – then added the operas of Wagner and all the symphonies by Mahler. Very soon, after adding to it a strict diet and exercise plan, he turned himself into this formidable talent.

Looking back on his youth, it amazed him to consider the news, given the state of his mind and body, that he had ever been accepted into the sacred halls of Juilliard, an unlikely weakling both musically and physically, incapable of bench-pressing a dozen etudes much less of writing a symphony.

Over the years, he'd taken on so many names, such different identities, not just Tr'iTone or the agent Dhabbodhú, he'd forgotten he was ever once a boy named Luke van Rhiarden.

He had made it through that first year as one of Robertson Sullivan's handful of students at this prestigious conservatory where his hatred of Sullivan hadn't yet boiled over into physical violence. Sullivan had just laughed – laughed! – at his idea for an opera setting the Faust Story inside an American corporation! They were standing in the lobby of the school at the end of that year, posing for the photographer, saying good-bye to the graduating seniors, when Luke made up his mind.

It was almost as if his famous teacher had found him wanting, unworthy of induction into their secret organization, and therefore deciding to withhold from him the greatest knowledge art required. Without this endorsement, Luke admitted he'd failed, receiving neither understanding nor ritual, nor any legacy passed down through generations.

"You are a lazy composer, always looking for some shortcut to creativity," his teacher complained in one particularly debilitating tirade. "You think it's like unearthing some wizard's artifact with its hidden secret?" Sullivan paused as if concerned perhaps he'd revealed too much, then continued: "some totem found in an ancient temple?

"All you want is to take the magic pill, drink the dragon's blood or find the Fountain of Inspiration and solve all your problems – but, trust me, you must earn it!"

Such wisdom, Luke assumed, could be passed down from teacher to student only when all the circumstances were perfectly aligned, otherwise we'd all be overrun by geniuses capable of being Great Composers. As others have said, we all have talent somewhere deep within ourselves but not everyone succeeds in revealing it.

For now, Luke knew Sullivan himself hadn't yet realized his fullest potential but could he still reveal it, regardless? Could genius be increased after repeated visits to this Fountain of Inspiration?

Only later would Luke realize the source of this wisdom Sullivan withheld must somehow be kept hidden at Schweinwald. Why else would the man keep gravitating back there throughout his career?

Once he'd learned the fountain's true location, Luke knew he'd kill Sullivan – thus bringing the sacrificial ritual full circle.

His earliest memories from childhood were pleasant enough, remote from his later streaks of sadism and his all-consuming musical obsessions. Life was good, life was extremely comfortable and also full of music. Yet he learned, quite young, his parents were not really his parents which quite unhinged his sense of logic. They'd taken him into their family, naming him Anton Friedrich Himmelwandern III, only the first of his many aliases, before telling him his birth name on the day he turned twelve.

They gave him a beautiful silver locket containing a portrait of a not terribly attractive woman with blonde hair they said was his real mother though they didn't know her name. Because she was his mother, he considered her beautiful just the same. Something enclosed with it was another matter.

This wisp of hair, oddly gray and brittle-looking in its glass casing, always such a riddle to his growing curiosity, could not have been cut from his mother when he was born, unless her portrait had been painted when she had been much younger and she had aged considerably after that. His adoptive parents, those who raised him, could offer him no clues, unfamiliar with events leading to his birth. Left with him when adopted, the hair might've belonged to his grandmother.

Someday, he decided then, he'd run away but realized he'd never inherit their fortune if they couldn't find him. Instead, he killed them both – and no one ever suspected his crime. Rid of them but possessing their fortune, he now reverted back to his birth-name before acquiring more useful aliases. Eventually, he turned the Third Anton Himmelwandern into the struggling composer, Tr'iTone, but realized being parentless complicated his well-being: without the foundation of a family's love, what would he rebel against?

Tr'iTone found solace as well as torment in the music he loved to play and listen to – even compose – and read voraciously how his favorite composers worked and lived and suffered, about the poverty of Mozart, the constant illnesses of Beethoven, how both of these combined to afflict poor Schubert.

That was what it all boiled down to, Tr'iTone learned from years of reading and more years trying to compose – that if he were to be successful, he would have to suffer. But how, since he was extremely rich, his health, he knew, exemplary, his conscience lacking any pangs of guilt?

Truly, no one suffered more than Beethoven, not just with his deafness. He fought his demons to create the greatest music known to man even as they attacked his physical body.

His abdominal pains and debilitating intestinal issues, his rheumatism and the headaches, his gout and nosebleeds and frequent vomiting, pneumonia and what we now call edema, all culminating in liver failure – these were things Beethoven dealt with throughout his life, beyond his deafness: "it was all about how to suffer."

Composing, Tr'iTone had learned early, was ever a traumatic process for him from the moment he felt inspiration's beckoning call to that physical act of drawing the double bar at the end. It was to be a battle waged daily with his inner demons, one never meant to be taken lightly.

Only by outflanking his doubts and pummeling his mind-numbing fears into submission, would he ultimately conquer his latest piece. In order to be successful, he ultimately had to experience excruciating pain.

Chapter 59

If any of them knew what had happened at that precise moment, none of them were terribly sure of it. Accounts naturally differed among the various witnesses, each with their own impressions. The last anyone remembered was Tr'iTone yelling at the incompetent Lionel Roth, who then rushed at him, arms flailing. Roth had charged with such unexpected vehemence, he caught Tr'iTone off guard. Only Leahy-Hu had noticed the door behind him bursting open so forcefully, it must've knocked him off the landing.

Steele, given his vantage point, saw a man peering over the railing, a look of surprise on his face, but he had never met Dr. Kerr and thought nothing of it. No one saw Kerr's young assistant, Cameron, who with considerable effort led the thrashing Roth out into the hallway.

LauraLynn, already caught between well-armed agents on either side of the stage, watched as a large man dressed in black, his unmasked face the only thing visible, fell precipitously in her direction. Would he land on top of her or miss her by enough, she'd only be covered in blood spatter?

Widor, for his part, imagined the man was tumbling in slow motion, like those instant replays in Olympic diving. Was that silver he saw reflecting in the on-stage light's weak glow?

It was a long split-second, by any account, before the free-falling Tr'iTone, his cape flapping like a ruptured parachute, hit the towering set for either an office or a pent-house apartment, careening off the frame's steeply slanted edge before bouncing toward another set, this one for the infamous nightclub scene.

It was unlikely a man – especially one so large – plummeting from four floors up would survive such a fall. Even Steele breathed the quick hope something soft might break his descent.

There were three things on this set someone with a keen eye might take in at a quick glance: numerous tables – several bean-bag chairs – a stage with an extremely tall dance-pole.

Unfortunately, Tr'iTone slammed squarely onto the dance-pole, impaling himself through the chest, which left him suspended above the stage.

Once the scream of anguish faded from his lips, a long diminuendo – morendo al niente, ironically 'dying away to nothing' – Tr'iTone's body writhed on the pole, then slowly slid even further down. His arms and legs continued twitching involuntarily, then gradually stretched stiffly outwards before he went entirely and hopelessly limp.

Widor dashed onto the set, though he was too late to help.

Tr'iTone looked directly at him, thoroughly confused.

"Who are you," he asked in a fading whisper. "You're not... Beethoven..."

Widor saw the silver locket on the floor, snapped off its chain: it brought back a flood of memories. Opening it, he found inside a lock of hair and a portrait. Glancing up into the broken man's face, Widor shuddered in sudden recognition, seeing himself from half a life ago.

"Look... I'm your father," Widor said quietly with a chill of self-awareness.

Tr'iTone's eyebrows knitted in perplexity at this news, his life-blood seeping down the pole and pooling at the stranger's feet.

"But you know... my name...?" he sighed.

"This portrait is your mother. We were lovers when we were young..."

Widor mentioned how she'd had their child, was forced to abandon him.

"And then, after marrying then divorcing Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist, she'd married some Manhattan industrialist named du Hicquè, and..."

"...du... Hicquè...?"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Det. Larson stood back as Det. Heimer, former high school football star, kicked in the door with a well-placed foot, the crack of wood resounding through the canyon of W. 86th Street. Like most old brownstones in New York, the house was sturdy enough but proved no match for Heimer's strength.

Guns drawn, they kicked down additional doors as they checked various rooms.

"NYPD, Ms. du Hicquè – drop your weapon and come out with your hands up," all four shouted in unison.

Hearing a commotion further inside, all four detectives immediately headed that way. Someone ran cursing and fumbling, things everywhere going bump in the night, toward the kitchen and the back door. The place was dark and their suspect could be lurking behind anything: in a closet, under the old-fashioned sink.

Had she run down into the basement, the old servants' quarters, and out what had once been the service entrance? How many rooms were there, Heimer wondered, not sure what they'd find. If this was anything like Dhabbodhú's place, there could be a wine cellar downstairs, perhaps a secret hiding place.

What if the old woman's not alone? How many were there in her gang, if she was the ring-leader? What kind of terrorist cell were they dealing with here, Noranik wondered.

After they realized the back door had been unlocked and the screen door left hanging open, they assumed she'd escaped. But how many others might there be and where was the hostage? Noranik called into the precinct for back-up, warning them to be on the look-out for their run-away old woman.

Perhaps in her disguise their suspect, the Fake Widow du Hicquè, wasn't as old as she appeared to be. Just maybe, Det. Noir wondered, she wasn't even a woman at all?

In the front parlor, Larson found a young man bound and gagged in an armchair beside the ornate fireplace. He was barely responsive but thoroughly frightened, shaking his head in fear.

She confirmed his name was Dylan Sprenkle and that he was okay.

His first words were, "She hates Beethoven!"

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

This was his father? He had a mother?

This news percolated gradually through what few brain cells continued to function. With so much to absorb, Tr'iTone thought the shock might kill him, his slowly ebbing life-force, once ready to conquer the world, now barely enough to show up on the chart. His ability to process everything, building toward some sort of redemptive recognition, was proving challenging, too difficult to grasp, suffusing his mind with warmth even as his body grew steadily colder.

It was so dark and growing dimmer. Tr'iTone looked at the man telling him this and couldn't recognize him, sighing because there was something about him he thought was vaguely familiar but, barely able to see the shape of the man or the details of his face, could only wonder.

He hung there, suspended above the stage floor like an insect stuck on a pin in a coleopterist's display case and looked down at the man who claimed to be his father. What could he possibly have in common with this man, he wondered, after Fate has knocked at his door?

His brain had become a split screen, on one side the glimmer of perception of reality happening before him, the other a series of nearly forgotten, once so important childhood memories.

It's difficult to remember one's earliest recollections, separated from third-person narratives one hears as part of the family history, unable to tell whether they were ever part of one's direct experience. In this way, there were these vague images of a beautiful woman who at one time cared for him. But those, they'd explained to him, had happened when he'd been born, impossible for him to remember so vividly. He'd suspected, even as a young child, his story had a secret.

He was 12 when his father gave him the locket and told him the tale of a beautiful woman, the aristocratic blonde whose portrait rested inside with a lock of hair.

He often dreamed of her, this woman who was a German countess.

"Perhaps," the boy thought, "she's my mother?"

Widor explained in hushed, hurried tones the story of Lisl von Falkenstein, his love for her, how their son was given to be raised by her maid, then adopted by the Himmelwanderns. Widor had been sent away after regaining consciousness, his memory mysteriously clouded, Lisl married to her father's middle-aged assistant.

It had all come flooding back to him, now, seeing her picture in the locket left with their baby, memories suppressed these dark and lonely years, followed vaguely from clandestine distances.

Tr'iTone – Luke van Rhiarden – had spent his life dreaming of this mother, wondering if she were really his mother. What might life have been? And was this then his real father?

Brushing this latter disappointment aside, for now, he figured this at least would explain his fascination for older women.

But that would mean he, Tr'iTone, was a son of the Falkensteins, the line's last male heir, bastard or otherwise. What bizarre twist of fate had brought him back to his birth-right? What a small world it was, he thought, that he should meet his birth-mother that night in New York.

What a stranger twist of Fate that he should recall that night of passion he'd spent with that woman...

With one last disconsolate groan, Tr'iTone yielded his spirit to the cosmos.

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 57

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

Previously, while Peter Moonbeam is making a gruesome discovery in the room he'd chosen to hide, the backstage area of the opera house is filling up: Kerr and his friends are trying to locate Tr'iTone who is busy confronting the bumbling Lionel Roth, in turn confronted by N. Ron Steele of SHMRG who is then confronted by the sudden appearance of Yoda Leahy-Hu and the IMP. Kerr locates the landing where Tr'iTone had thought he would find his goal only to see, once he'd pushed the door open, the villain sail over the railing. 

(You can read the previous installment of Harrison Harty's Journal here; the second installment, here; or begin from the beginning with the first installment, here.)

= = = = = = =
Chapter 57

...being the 4th installment of Master Harrison Harty's Journal, Summer of 1880

It was a miserable retreat, finding Grimgerde gone, pelted with rain and lightening under a thunderous cannonade the whole way. What could we do to rescue Ethel and get the statue back? We must report to Director Böhm immediately. Returning once again through the secret passage to arrive in Knussbaum's fireplace, we found them deep in a game, the much-improved Knussbaum holding up a hand, bidding us not to interrupt.

I had noticed the chess board before but not the individual pieces, each of them a small composer's bust. The white side's king was Johannes Brahms with Clara Schumann his queen. The black side was led by King Wagner, Bishops Liszt and Bruckner and, rather oddly as their queen, Tchaikovsky.

Before, I'd been unaware of two large portraits hanging on opposite walls: one of Beethoven looking sad, holding a letter; and Sechter with a bust of Beethoven, a letter in his pocket. While I wondered why they weren't hanging in the Academy's Great Hall, tonight they observed two friends playing chess.

Böhm looked up and awaited our report, then realized something was amiss when one more person failed to appear. Peering past our drenched forms, he counted and recounted to make sure.

Soaked from the raging storm, Mahler, Rott and I stood there meekly, not sure how best to explain this.

"No, you're right," I said, stepping forward. "You count correctly: someone's missing."

I became, in Ethel's absence, the spokesman for our band of friends now sadly reduced by her unfortunate disappearance.

Quickly I told the story, ending with how we eventually regained consciousness to the lingering stench of foul-smelling cigars.

"Yes," Rott immediately confirmed, "Wienerschwefel," – 'Viennese Brimstone' – "which Brahms was smoking earlier!"

"Whoever abducted her and stole the statue," Mahler said, "left us alive. That means they mightn't kill Fräulein Ethel."

We were quite hopeful they could, instead, be holding her for ransom.

"We don't know why they took her if they'd gotten the statue. She is," Rott added, "only a girl..."

"There are two rival factions," Böhm began, "that dominate our music today, telling you nothing that you don't already know, constantly intent on doing battle for our loyal audiences' hearts and minds. You've already witnessed the intense political flare-up following Maestro Liszt's recent recital and the difference of opinions it generated. Yet both sides find their natural roots in Beethoven, who," Böhm explained, "preserved the past while forging the new. The question is, which side here is claiming Beethoven's legacy for itself?"

"But what could be so important about some old things of Beethoven's?" Rott asked with his usual short-sighted reasoning. "If he died over fifty years ago, why are they so valuable?"

Knussbaum, squinting his eyes, looked as if he would suffer a relapse while Böhm quietly ignored my friend's irreverence.

We'd heard the story of Beethoven's hair before, how Knussbaum gave it to Beethoven's friend then how it was returned. But did this return signify, I wondered, the death of this friend? It was a part of The Master himself, a relic, after all, but was that enough to kill someone?

"Important clues are inscribed on the statue concerning the secret," Böhm explained, holding in his hands an imaginary object. "It's not the statue itself but what it will lead you to."

"Ever since The Master's death," Knussbaum said, "we have observed the proprieties, keeping alive the secret of Herr Sechter's promise. While we cannot reveal it, we also cannot let it be forgotten."

"The secrecy must be maintained" Böhm added; "the society must remain vigilant."

I wondered what secret was so important.

"The Beethoven Monument must never be removed," Knussbaum said emphatically, sitting up. "It is our duty to preserve this! If, at some future time, that happens, then we've broken Sechter's promise."

"But how can you keep that promise for generations yet to come? Monks who lived six hundred years ago would never believe," I said, "their monastery is no longer standing today."

Knussbaum and Böhm exchanged glances and appeared to reach a common decision. Böhm placed his hand on Knussbaum's shoulder.

"You see," Böhm pointed out, "Sechter and the society's other original members never considered the Beethoven Monument might be removed because they assumed the Academy would always continue to operate in perpetuity. But, as you've pointed out, the monks undoubtedly once thought the same. Everything in this world is, alas, impermanent."

Mahler, thoroughly lost in thought, looked up and wondered what would happen if no one was left to remember: "Would anyone see any reason why they should not remove the statue?"

"That," Knussbaum said, raising his right hand, pointing it toward the ceiling, "is only one issue behind the Unsterblichesverein," explaining how they had just inducted Gutknaben the night of his death. "But who will carry on our legacy, protecting it for future generations? For we must look to the future..."

"I think it's time," Böhm said quietly, "that we invest these young men into our cause, suspending the rules."

"They must be trained in the secrets: they have much to learn!"

"But first, Rainer," Böhm interrupted, "isn't there another task to be done?"

Mahler and I stepped forward, heads bowed to receive a knight's blessing, Rott stumbling back before joining us reluctantly.

"They rescue Ethel and find the statue, then we've found Gutknaben's killer – hopefully, before it will be too late!"

Knussbaum continued to explain about this society forged among The Master's friends and wondered how they'd identify new members. "We must keep Sechter's promise from being 'cruelly misused' in the future."

"Who," Böhm asked, "will carry the Society's legacy into the next generation? You must be inducted into it – immediately."

I had to admit, The Immortal Society gave it a different ring, sounding more like a Union of Vampires with Professor Bezsmyertnikov the Critic draining away the blood of the past.

"Beethoven had no idea what paths music would follow after he died, nor, I should think, would he have cared. He wanted us to form this Society to protect only one thing. The Society does not exist," Knussbaum intoned, "to decide which of these factions is the true future of music."

"Now, Professor Fabbro," Böhm explained, "tells you you must control your emotions and that first you must learn your craft. Good, I would think, for teaching counterpoint," he added with a twinkle. "Hammerschlag teaches you harmony's rules as if they were carved in stone – and woe to those who break them. But Professor Riesenblut tells you how you must taste the 'Dragon's Blood,' as Siegfried does in Wagner's Ring Cycle, so you comprehend the Universe and unleash your creativity through God-granted inspiration."

Professor Knussbaum leaned forward with great effort as if to impart something which needed great reverence to impress us. "Beethoven himself told me this – I was a lad delivering his letters. 'Every one of us, boy,' he said, looking right into my eyes, 'has something inside us we cannot understand.' It was like a set of strings – 'invisible strings', he called them – stretched between the heart and the brain. They resonate each in their own way because we are all different."

Director Böhm nodded and coughed quietly when I looked over at him. He'd told me this only earlier today.

"It's what makes each of us different," Knussbaum continued, "this reverberant chord. It absorbs what we learn and vibrates to what beauty inspires us. Or to whatever challenges the mind sets.

"Apparently, from what he said, each of us could 'hear' these strings only when we felt ourselves sufficiently moved or when played closer to one end or balanced in the middle. It's what made Mozart sound like Mozart; it gave Beethoven his voice – while others never find their individual identity. What happens when these strings are out-of-tune, no longer able to resonate to what makes us who we are? What lengths would we take," Knussbaum wondered, "to retrieve our lost chord?"

"It won't be a matter of fate, something knocking at the door like Macbeth's being greeted by the Three Witches, a prophecy of uncommon power that could transform him into Beethoven's Heir. It's not a matter of proper training or even talent," Böhm said, "to make one think it's even possible."

"Ever since The Master died, we have waited for the Next Beethoven," Knussbaum said with growing impatience. "Who? Where – When...! No, it won't be through critical acclaim or being anointed, like Brahms."

"But in truth," Böhm whispered, "it will be through Beethoven's direct bloodline..."

"Beethoven had a son!?"

"No – a daughter!"

"And we believe," Knussbaum continued, pausing slightly, "it is through the daughters Beethoven's true heir will be made manifest."

"You mean," I gasped, "this great composer – he could be... a woman?"

Without warning, we were interrupted by an ominous knock at the door, whether it might be Fate or something otherwise. We froze and looked at each other: who knew we were here? Experiencing what we had tonight – beyond Ethel's disappearance and the statue's theft – Rott understandably stepped back into the fireplace.

"Herr Director Böhm," a thin voice whispered, "they said you'd be here. If you hear me, let me in." It was the voice of Dr. Porlock: what brought him here, now?

While Böhm went to answer the door, Knussbaum cleared away the chessboard, sweeping the pieces back into the box with the clandestine gestures of one caught sneaking a draught of opium. Before Mahler and I joined Rott in the security of the fireplace, Porlock pushed his way into the study.

"Have you heard any rumblings," he asked, before spotting us standing there, then immediately stopped and rose to full height. "Ah, you're here," he said, "I mean – why are there students here?"

"Knussbaum was feeling ill," Böhm said, "they'd come by to see him."

I felt like a child caught red-handed.

"At this time of night, before sunrise? But they look wet, too. You've been outside, caught in the rain...?" Porlock looked back and forth before turning his attention entirely on Böhm.

"I must report, Herr Director, that Professor Bezsmyertnikov along with Dr. Riesenblut are gathering their followers," Dr. Porlock explained, "for the defense of Schweinwald and to save the future of music. They explain that this is not an attack on you, Herr Director, but defending you against influences from evil-doers."

Director Böhm stepped forward indignantly, sputtering incoherently, too furious for any words, as Knussbaum reached out to calm him.

"That is preposterous," he muttered, "absolutely preposterous! They're going against the rules!"

"It seems," Porlock sneered with dripping irony, "it has something to do with these young students I find here, students who are not – speaking of rules – supposed to be here, true? Someone found their wet footprints disappearing into the wall by your portrait. They think you need to be... protected?"

There was no time to lose, clearly: we must first defend Schweinwald. The rest of it would have to wait. Battle plans were quickly devised with Porlock alerting the faculty, especially Fabbro. I admitted misgivings about Porlock which, shrugging his shoulders, Böhm brushed away: "Officious, maybe, but committed to the school."

He handed us a list of names, students he knew were loyal: we must gather them on the landing. With that, Director Böhm went to change into something more impressively appropriate.

It wasn't Schumann's 'David's Club' against the Goliaths who fought the new by tossing conventions at the slightest innovation. It wasn't just the comfortable older generation trying to deny the young. More the Classicists of Apollo called to confront the Romanticists of Dionysus: somehow, compromise must be reached between them!

"Fabbro?" I thought, knowing how reluctant Ethel would be to trust him, considering she was convinced he's the Evil One. What if his machine became the object that would destroy Beethoven's Legacy?

If Bezsmyertnikov was leading the attack, however, didn't that vindicate my fears? Didn't that make his the Dark Side?

But Rott still held out for Brahms, convinced by the cigar smoke but also his attitude toward the ladies – "would anyone else abduct Ethel?" – plus there's his interest in Fabbro's Machine.

We went our separate ways, rousing the students out of their beds, walking through the hallways and knocking on doors. Each one awakened continued spreading the alarm for the defense of Schweinwald. Several, we found, were missing, no doubt already gathered with Bezsmyertnikov's forces. Carmilla had also been hard at work. Turning a corner, I ran into Nokyablokhoff, barely escaping with my head before he set off an ear-shattering war-cry. It came as no surprise which side my erstwhile roommate was on!

In a moment, I joined Mahler and Rott with dozens more students forming a barrier against the insurrection's tide. Many faculty soon joined us, particularly Old Hammerschlag who looked simply furious.

Fabbro and Bezsmyertnikov stood facing each other, hurling imprecations in various languages.

Would this be the end of music?

Even on the Great Landing, it was impossible not to be amazed looking out on this sea of lantern-lit faces between the flashes of lightening and the constant thunder shaking the foundations.

Before I got my bearings, I'd managed to lose sight of Rott who must have disappeared into the shadows.

Looking up, wondering where he'd gotten to, I noticed Brahms' familiar silhouette descending from one of the castle's towers.

"Help me, fools," he squeaked, waving his lantern. "I'm late for my train!"

Brahms, I realized, scurrying down the staircase ever mindful of his balance, was tightly clutching a small wooden box which I thought might be large enough to hold the Beethoven statue.

Suddenly, Rott stepped out and confronted him, bringing Brahms to a halt. I noticed the man was not pleased.

"At long last, Dr. Brahms," Rott said, "I have your undivided attention! What do you have in that box? Where have you hidden Ethel? When will you look at my symphony?"

Running up the steps, I called out to Rott, "Let him go!" but Brahms pushed him out of the way.

Poor Rott stumbled over the stairway's railing and fell effortlessly until he...

(At this point, Harrison Harty's journal stops. Several missing pages have been ripped out – their present location remains unknown.)

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a classical music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014