Saturday, October 31, 2009

Operas that Go Bump in the Night

Considering it's Hallowe'en, perhaps a post about “Gothic Horror Opera” is in order (you can also read this post about Paganini's visit to Stravinsky's Tavern).

Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz (since it's usually translated literally as “The Free Shooter” which doesn't make a lot of sense, or even “The Marksman,” I've often referred to it less literally as “The Magic Bullets,” since the plot revolves around the use of bullets directed by The Dark Side to win a prize, the hand of a young lady - well, actually, her whole body but the thing is the winner gets to marry her: given the ending, one could also call it "The Bullet's Surprise") is certainly the best known of these early Romantic operas – a tale of ghostly goings-on in the German woods on a dark and stormy night, especially with its famous Wolf's Glen Scene. I found a video with Achim Freyer's production which premiered in October, 1980 at the Wüttemberg Staatstheater in Stuttgart (now Staatsoper Stuttgart), conducted by Dennis Russell Davies with tenor Toni Krämer as Max the hero and baritone Wolfgang Probst as Kaspar the villain.

Its disembodied diminished chords were enough to make nice young ladies faint and the music relies on an old musical trick, the tritone – an unstable interval of a diminished fifth or augmented fourth (say, from C to F-sharp) which had long been forbidden in music because it represented “the Devil in Music!”

While I have no idea how a German opera house would've been able to represent some of the apparitions that occur with the casting of the “magic bullets” - from the wild crashing boar (so to speak) to the fiery wheels riding across the sky – perhaps this production will give you an idea. Today, with all our “modern technology,” this may seem campy and almost comical but I'm sure, in 1821, this “modern technology” was quite sufficient to scare the audience as much as any blood-soaked monster flick today. On the other hand, some of the characters in the opening scene, especially the jack rabbit and the guy in the "Scream" mask, may undermine some of the scene's original horror, its attempt at creating relevance through pop-culture references aside.
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As an encore, here is a pseudo-video of baritone Thomas Hampson singing Lord Ruthven's Aria Ha! Noch einen ganzen Tag (which I usually translate as Blood! given its line, "Blood, I must have blood!") with Fabio Luisi conducting the Munich Radio Orchestra – from a once famous “horror opera,” this one by the now almost completely forgotten Heinrich Marschner whose Der Vampyr (does this need translation?) was one of the Greatest Hits of 1829 and was a major influence on Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman which was first produced in 1843. You can read Der Vampyr's plot synopsis here.
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Marschner's opera was so successful, there were actually “Vampire Opera Spin-offs” cashing in on the whole craze. While the 1820s may not have been as roaring as the 1920s, it was an age of more than Beethoven's 9th Symphony and his late quartets. Ludwig Spohr, violinist and composer of nine (really, ten) symphonies, wrote a setting of the Faust story – not inspired by Goethe's – in 1816, the same year a young girl named Mary Wollestonecraft who later married the poet Shelley, spent an evening reading ghost stories with some friends, including Lord Byron and her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. As part of some friendly competition, she wrote a little story you might have heard of called “Frankenstein” (or at least the original version of it). John Polidori, Lord Byron's physician, wrote something he later turned into "The Vampyr," published without his permission in 1819, the first Vampire Story written in English. It became wildly popular and was often attributed to Byron himself. You can download Polidori's story for free at Project Gutenberg. It was this story that became the basis for Marschner's opera.

With an up-dated plot sung in English, Der Vampyr was broadcast by the BBC as The Vampyr: A Soap Opera with Ruthven's name changed to Ripley, believe it or not. Well, I always loved pointing out it was appropriately released on the Virgin Classics label...

Here is another aria from Marschner's Der Vampyr, “Wie ein schöner frühlingsmorgen,” sung by tenor Adam Kirkpatrick as the hero, Aubry, Lord Ruthven's friend who has sworn not to reveal his dirty little secret (that Ruthven is, in fact, a vampire) – that is, until Aubry learns his beloved Malwina is going to marry some mysterious Count who is, in reality, Ruthven. What to do, what to do... In the 2nd Act, Aubry threatens to reveal Ruthven's identity but the vampire warns him that to do so will turn him into a vampire as well: left alone (at least according to the stage directions in the libretto), Aubry sings this nostalgiac aria, longing for a beautiful spring morning, back before all this nasty vampire business was afoot. 
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Perhaps I should also write about a totally forgotten “Gothic Horror Opera” called Il Vampiro by Johann Nepomuck Sauerbraten (1797-1803) which received its modern premiere at the University of Connecticut in 1979 with Thomas Tomasiewicz as Don Dracolo, a personable young vampire, Mary Collier as Lola Poluzza, a sweet young thing, and Timothy Lang as Leccierello, her fairy godfather, and yours truly as the Orchestra.

Dr. Dick

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Car Also Rises

Following the auto accident, now over two weeks ago, I have been dealing with the usual issues though my insurance company, Liberty Mutual, has been really great in handling everything. I didn't need a rental car to get back and forth to work, having no job to go back and forth to – and my one-night-stand class at Harrisburg Area Community College on Aĭda last week was canceled for lack of interest – so I didn't bother getting a rental until I knew for certain what the settlement would be and what I would have to spend when buying a new (read “used”) car.

The guy from Enterprise came over and picked me up in this deep red 2009 Toyota Camry. On the way back to their office to do the paperwork, we were almost in two separate accidents while sitting at the same traffic light! It was around 5:15pm on a rainy Friday afternoon, at an intersection that shouldn't be blocked, so we left the requisite amount of space open in front of us. Two small cars pulled around us to get in front of us so they could be that much closer to the intersection when the light would change, the one's butt sticking out into the right lane. Their impatience now meant a car turning in from Rt. 22 was unable to make the left-hand turn into the side-street so traffic now was backed up across the west-bound lane on Rt. 22 and south-bound traffic turning left onto Rt. 22. I think the guy obstructed by these drivers' impatience decided to move on, and almost colliding with a car who was trying to sneak around him in this idiotic impasse. Only one car made it through that change-of-light. And as soon as the right lane could make its turn onto Rt. 22, someone coming out of the side-road tried sneaking across into the left-turn lane which my driver allowed him to do but the guy was very nearly broadsided by someone going too fast in the right lane hurrying to make the light who chose to step on his horn rather than his brake.

Two near-hits happening within seconds of each other! I was about to tell the guy to turn around and take me back home, forget the rental...

After being shocked to find a customer standing at the Enterprise place who looked exactly like the guy who totaled my car on the 12th - was it a coincidence or just too small a world? - finishing the paperwork and driving home, I was annoyed to realize how much I disliked this Toyota Camry. Sitting at the wheel, I couldn't see the front end or back end of the car, not knowing how much hood or trunk there might have been to judge distance: it was longer than I was used to (in fact, it barely fit in my garage: you couldn't walk around it once the door was shut) and it felt much wider. I had difficulty judging where I was on the road and given the downpour and the idiots with their high beams on, it was a long five mile ride home. Later, I discovered I could adjust the seat, raising it an inch or so which allowed me to see – aha! – the front end of the car. At 5'7", I didn't think I should feel like Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann character, sitting in her oversized rocking chair, here, perhaps, looking at the world through the rim of the steering wheel. But of course, now I kept hitting my head on the door-frame when I'd get out of the car, but hey...

On Monday, I began checking on-line for cars, seeing what might be available and how much it might cost. Whatever it would cost would certainly be outside my post-employment, pre-retirement budget, thanks to a guy who couldn't focus enough to see a red light (by the way, it's official: I got the police report - he did not have insurance). Given the damage to my car and what could've happened after being “T-Boned” at about 50mph, I was determined I would get another Subaru. Several people told me, including the adjuster from the insurance company who examined my wrecked car (and he should know, given his line of work), that Subarus are one of the better-built brands, right up there with the older Volvos.

The problem is, not many people seem to trade them in. I found nothing at a couple of places I'd looked at, so far.

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

Years ago, because a friend had good luck with a Subaru and recommended the salesman he'd worked with at Cumberland Valley Motors, I bought my first used car there in 1990. Now, I'd owned a Corvair in the '70s which did everything Ralph Nader said it would do (if only it could've run as long as Nader'd been running for President...) followed by a Toyota Corona (or was it a Corolla? Some cigar...) which I nicknamed “Hiroshima's Revenge” and got rid of when it was no longer drivable shortly after I moved back to Harrisburg in 1980. Most of the intervening time, I lived in town where I could either walk to work or rely on public transportation or friends for most everything else. But in 1990, I got a job that required a 4 mile drive through the worst parts of town, coming home at 1am.

When I told the salesman at CVM what I was looking for, he showed me this bronze box of a Honda Civic station wagon. It had just been traded in by an older couple who wanted something smaller now that they were retired. But it had a/c and a radio which was all I cared about and it was an affordable price. Since I had not been driving much at the time, I asked my friend who'd driven me out there to give it a test spin. He said it was okay. I said “okay, I'll take it.” Elapsed time was about 15 minutes.

The salesman looked at me in disbelief. “My wife spends more time thinking about which pair of shoes she's going to buy than you did to buy a car!”

I drove that car for the next 16 years, until it would finally no longer pass inspection. So I went back to CVM and the same salesman and said “I need a new car.” He showed me a list of things, nothing that caught my eye (mostly because of the prices).

Then he said, “you see that woman over there? She's thinking of trading in her 2001 Subaru for a new model.” It was her second or third day back, looking over this one or that one, not making up her mind. My salesman had sold her the car, CVM had done all the maintenance on it, I could trust them that it was a good car. “If she goes into that office,” he continued, “that means she's made up her mind.”

A minute later, she did.

So we hurried out to the parking lot and he pointed out her car. Now, obviously, we couldn't take it out for a test drive but if I was interested in it, we could check it out later, maybe the next day. I walked around it. It looked pretty sharp: a 2001, sleek and black with black leather interior. It also had a CD player, something I hadn't thought about with the old Honda. In fact the only thing I didn't like about it, I remember, was the faux leopard-skin cover she had around the steering wheel.

“Okay,” I said, “I'll take it.”

“Don't you want to test drive it?”

I put a down-payment on it to hold the car and we finished the paperwork long before she'd finished everything she needed to buy her new one. Two days later, after she'd picked up hers and the trade-in had gone through the shop, I picked it up and drove it off. Yeah, I really liked it (except in the summer, a black car with black leather interior was like driving a microwave).

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

Then, two weeks ago, a guy with the initials D.J. – how I'd hated that term when I was working at the radio station – decided it was time for me to buy a new car.

So this past Monday, around 2:15, I saw this 2004 Subaru Outback listed at CVM. I called to make an appointment – the salesman I had worked for had recently left the company, however – and got over to see it before 3:30.

By 4:00, it was mine.

As it turned out, it had just been traded in that morning and posted on-line around noon-time. The listing described it as beige with cloth interior but it was really a greenish-gold with beige leather interior. The paint on the side-view mirrors was a bit funky looking, like a road-salt skin-rash, the total mileage was about what I'd had on the 2001 Impreza, and it had a few things my old car didn't have, including a driver's seat you could raise or lower (good for my back but unnecessary to see the front of the car) and a defroster in the rear windshield. But considering how much I disliked the Camry, I decided I will take this one for a test drive, just to see how comfortable it would be. We got less than a ¼ mile down the road and I said “well, that's all I need to know, it's fine. I'll take it.”

We went back, finished filling out the paperwork and I made arrangements to come over and pick it up the next night. It's now sitting in my garage and with any luck, I'll be driving it for many years to come, knock on plastic laminated artificial wood-substitute.

And of course, depending on the Other Driver.

On my way home – at 7pm, it was again raining heavily – a tractor trailer decided to drift over into my lane because he probably couldn't see I was there. Fortunately nobody was behind me, so I could slow down considerably and give up the contested space without risking car or life. A little later, a car in front of me started swerving to the right, then the left - texting, no doubt. I was glad to get home again.

But this reminds me: I need to get out and buy a new pair of shoes, now...

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Schoenberg Code

Dick Strawser's "The Schoenberg Code" is a serial novel in twelve chapters. A musical parody of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," the chapters were posted on the blog in reverse numerical order, but you can begin the story at the beginning with Chapter One, here.

The Schoenberg Code: Chapter 12

With apologies for the delay, here is the twelfth and final chapter in the serial novel, "The Schoenberg Code." The story is set on June 24th, 2006, during the anniversary year of Mozart and Shostakovich, following clues that took us from a gruesome murder at Carnegie Hall to an empty stage at Eastman Theater and finally to a gift shop at Tanglewood.

= = = = = = =

Not only did he have a viola, it was a large white viola, glowing ominously in the dim stage lighting. I had read about modern instrument makers using white pine for some student violins, mostly a kind of novelty item, I thought, but I knew nothing about their sound quality.

Tony, catching a whiff of cheese in the air, remembered stories she had heard told around the campfires of the summer music camps she’d gone to as a kid, ghost stories about an old Strad with white varnish, the unlucky 13th viola that met with a lunch-time accident in Stradivari’s shop. She’d heard of its legendary reputation as a killer instrument. Literally. There was a wolf-tone on the lowest string, she knew, that, played just right, could prove lethal.

“Dr. Dick,” she hollered across the stage, “this is the murder weapon! Be careful! Be very careful!”

Nepomuck, climbing up through the trombone section and down over the risers, advanced steadily toward me as I stood near the podium. He was sawing away at the last movement of Hindemith’s “Der Schwanendreher,” the variations on an old medieval German folk-song “Are you not the swan-turner?” I could see myself on a spit over an open flame as he approached me with his piercingly malevolent eyes ablaze, just like many orchestra players might view a conductor or a living composer.

“No, Nepomuck,” squawked Leighton imploringly as he shuffled forward, “not yet, not yet! We must find it first! He must lead us to the treasure before you kill him!”

Nepomuck stopped on the lowest of the risers and stared back and forth between Leighton and me.

It was my turn.

Grabbing at straws, I began spieling off some stuff, the first things that came to my mind: that the Immoral Beloved is buried in a family crypt at an old German resort-town, and the letters are hidden in her coffin, next to her mummified remains.

Leighton started jumping up and down, screaming, “Show me the mummy, Dr. Dick, show me the mummy!!”

“You’re not going to fall for that, are you,” Teabag shouted back at him from the other side of the stage, “you overstuffed, bottom-feeding excuse of a charlatan?”

“Yes, Lance,” I turned to him to explain. “I found a clue on the next page of that folder we were looking at just before we were distracted by Buzz’s abduction – a letter with a pen-and-ink sketch of her grave... she’s buried in... Bad Spassstein ... her crypt is marked by... The Sign... and you already have the password to open the secret coded casket of letters that would reveal her identity: the Sower Arepo knows how to turn the wheels...”

Startled, Lance cried out triumphantly, “Setpa Aptes Toerr Oanao Rrrrrreeeeeot! Yes, I knew it,” raising his arms and flailing his shilllaleigh in triumph. “Ah! I knew it! I knew it!” He was practically in a state of delirium.

Leighton stopped cold in his tracks, sputtering, “Great heaving purple wombats, what the hell is that, Teabag: Egyptian? How Masonic! But I know where Bad Spassstein is, and I can get there faster than you, you dried-up sack of desiccated old body parts!”

I certainly hoped I was making this up.

Nepomuck began to tuck the viola back under what passed for his chin. “So now I can kill him?” he asked as he approached the podium.

Leighton waved his hand dismissively. “Yes,” he pouted, “kill them all.”

NO!” Teabag roared. Then realizing Nepomuck was implacable, pleaded, “Well, just a little?”

The music began again, but moving quickly from the Hindemith – especially after I told him that one note should’ve been an F-sharp – into something more frenzied and increasingly louder, progressing to what might have been a Berio Sequenza.

“Holy Hammerklavier, Dr. Dick” Buzz cried out, “we’ve got to get out of here!”

Believe me, I was looking for a way out, but with the pit behind me, Teabag closing in on the right – or was that left, stage left? – and Leighton barring the way on the... uhm, on the other side, there was no place to hide. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t a place to run. Soon he was chasing me around the podium, one lap after another – talk about Luposlipophobia! Then, on the fifth lap, I suddenly stepped to the right – no, the... well, to the first violin side.

“Look out for the...” Leighton squawked, but it was too late. Nepomuck tripped over the microphone cord. “Curse these conductors who have to explain everything to the audience!”

Losing his balance, Nepomuck threw the viola up into the air as he fell headlong into the pit.

“My precious! Aaaauuuugggghhhh,” he screamed into the black hole below him.

Rising in slow motion, the White Viola and its bow seemed suspended as they arced back over the podium. Tony made a great leap of faith to catch them. Our eyes followed her even as Nepomuck landed with a loud crackling splat on the floor of the pit far below us.

With the grace and dexterity of an Olympic gymnast, Tony yelled out “One! Three! TWO!” There was a flash of light as she jumped and caught both the viola and the bow in one smooth gesture.

“Bravo! Well done!” we clapped and cheered, but already Teabag was inching backward toward the exit. And with that, Leighton turned and shuffled off the stage, leaving for a jet plane to Bad Spassstein. “I’ll destroy it before you even know I’m gone,” he cackled, his voice trailing off as the stage door closed behind him.

“Ssssso, Dr. Dick, you think you’re clever, ssssending him off to Bad SpasssssssssStein like that?”

Where was this voice coming from, I wondered?

“Master... you are... here.” The broken voice of Nepomuck groaned from the pit. “But I... have failed... you... again.”

“It’sss very ssssimple, Nepomuck: if you sssseek to live by the viola, you will ccccertainly die... by the viola.”

Comforting thought. But the hissing voice wasn’t just coming from Teabag’s direction: it was coming from Teabag himself.

“I have killed... in vain... I can no longer do... The Ser...pent’s... bidding.” And with that, there was one soft thud, then silence.

“He killed Schnellenlauter,” Tony whispered. She held the viola out at arm’s length as if it would contaminate her.

“And you were controlling him,” I added, turning back to Teabag. “You’re behind all this... And I thought you were my... umm... er... uh oh...” The realization was not a pleasant one.

“That’s right, Dr. Dick. And now you’ve found the clue I’ve been looking for, the location of the box of letters that will reveal the identity of Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved and her daughter. They have tried to hide her and her offspring for almost 200 years, but it is time for them to be revealed at last. Setpa Aptes Toerr Oanao Rrrrrreeeeeot!”

“I don’t have the clue, Teabag, not yet. I’m still trying to work it out and I think it’s only going to get us one step closer. I need more time.” And then added, thoughtfully, “And... I need your help.”

“Darn right, you need my help, you haven’t figured any of this out on your own: it’s all been my knowledge and my research and my intuition that’s gotten you this far.”

“Only partly true, but I’ll let that pass.”

“They would’ve done better if they’d brought in Regis Philbin! Give me that clue or I will turn you to stone with the awesome power of my mighty shillaleigh.” Holding up his knobby cane with its elaborate brass dragon-head, he declared, “Prepare to meet Gorgo, Dr. Dick.”

The dragon’s eyes began to flash a brilliant red but faded almost immediately with a wilting sputter. Teabag shook it, pounded the tip on the floor to no avail. “Darn it,” he roared, “I must be using the wrong batteries!”

And with that, Tony put the viola under her chin and marched off the podium toward Teabag, yelling back over her shoulder, “Buzz, get the iPod – put it on Dr. Dick. Hurry – then go get me something to drink!”

She began noodling around on the lower strings of the viola till she found the wolf-tone. “So, Teabag, now it’s your turn to die by the viola...” Then she prepared to play the upper octave on the next string.

Just as I knew she had found the murderous wolf-tones, Buzz stuffed the nearly microscopic headphones of his iPod deep into my ears. Would it be enough? Would it be in time? He turned quickly and dove for the stage door.


The pain seared through my skull with the most hideous yowling, worse than a hundred screaming soccer-moms and all their toddlers combined, reverberating down the empty synapses of my brain as if it had been injected with molten lead laced with a dash of hydrofluoric acid. I fell to the ground, my hands scraping at my ears as if ripping them off my head would mean I would no longer have to suffer the inhuman torture of this malevolent racket. I writhed in agony and thought for sure that I was doomed – never to hear Beethoven again, never to see beautiful downtown Harrisburg again, in fact never even to grade multiple choice questions about 20th Century music ever again.

When she had stopped playing, Buzz hurried back on stage, carrying a can of soda. He rushed over to my side and quickly turned the iPod off, surveying the damage: there was Teabag, lying on the floor as silent as a stone, and Dr. Dick, lying on the floor writhing in pain, massaging his skull.

“G'AAH!” I spluttered, trying to dig the remaining sound out of my ears. “What the hell was that crap?!”

“This?” Buzz picked up his iPod and put it away. “It’s the latest album by the Screaming Dead Lawn Zombies – really cool, isn’t it!” He went to hand Tony the soda. “Sorry, the only thing they had was some high-energy drink called Phizzazz, so...”

Almost instantly, the entire stage sounded like it had started to breathe, heavy labored breathing coming from everywhere.

Tony stood near the apron of the stage, over Teabags’ prone body. A faint light began to play around her.

“Toooooo-nyyyy...” It was a distant, disembodied voice, deep and resonant, echoing through the space around us as if now the entire theater had come alive and taken on a decidedly evil personification. “Come to me, Tony....”

“Who are you?” She looked up overhead but could see no one.

I looked out into the theater but it sounded too much like someone above us, perhaps, I thought, in the catwalks over the theater’s perforated ceiling. One false step and he’d come crashing through the chandelier. Soon, I expected to hear someone singing “The Music of the Night.”

“Come to me, Tony... come over to... the Dark Side...”

“Who are you, where are you from?” she asked indignantly.

“I come from a galaxy far away,” he said. The breathing became more labored, the reverb more intense. “Philomel, it is I. I am your father.”

“My father?” she gasped in disbelief. “My father is an alien? I don’t think so: my father’s from Indiana!”

“Hoosier Daddy... No, not the father you know, the one who married your mother... your real father, the one you never knew. Come to me, Philomel... bring me the White Viola and come with me. Join me on... the Dark Side.”

She stepped closer to the edge of the stage.

“It’s getting darker out here, Tony,” I said, “be careful. Don’t do it.”

“How do you know my name? What’s your name?” She looked out toward the ceiling as if she had discovered where the voice was coming from, but in a moment she turned back toward one corner of the stage.

“I know your name, I was there when it was given to you at conception. I’m your father.” The heavy breathing continued. “My name... is... Lex Luthier... the greatest criminal violin-maker... of all time.”

“He wants the White Viola, Tony, so he can create a whole line of killer fiddles for his one-man crime empire: he’s just sweet-talking you, Tony,” I urged her desperately. “Don’t listen to him.”

Buzz slipped back stage, following a hunch as well as a striking electrical smell coming from a not so distant corner. He pulled a curtain aside then shouted to us, “Hey guys, check this out!”

We arrived to see a small, sniveling bald-headed man of a certain age hunched over a control board with his hands cupped around a microphone. He continued speaking, ignoring our presence. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain... I am Lex Luthier. Philomel... I am...”

Not knowing what else to do, Buzz poured the can of Phizzazz down over the man’s bald head. It was as if the mighty-sounding Lex Luthier began to dissolve before our very eyes!

“I’m melting... melting... oh, curse you, Dr. Dick – and your little blog, too!” And with that, he evaporated into a puddle fizzing on the floor at our feet.

Buzz looked at the empty can in his hands. “Wow, rot-gut stuff: and it’s only fifty cents!” He turned to say something to Tony but she had disappeared.

“It’s a lighting board, Buzz! Bring up pot number 6.” I looked out onto the stage to find Tony – Philomel – standing near the apron facing the door that leads to the school’s main lobby. No. 6 brought up a general array of back-lighting for the stage.

“No, that’s not it, after all,” I interjected, trying not to sound too disappointed.”So much for the Magic Square.”

“Buzz – try the sum of the sum of all the numbers,” Tony suggested. “Each line and column – and diagonal – adds up to six: there are eight of them. Is there a Pot No. 48?”

Then I realized what she must be looking at. Of course, the bust just above the doorway.

There was indeed a Pot No. 48. He brought it up slowly. A thin ray of light highlighted the lunette over the door. I had forgotten there were two of these on opposite doorways: the left side of the auditorium (or is that stage right?) had a bust of Bach over it; this side, a bust of Beethoven.

Just then, a commotion erupted backstage: more villains? Chief Inpsector Hemiola and his men burst onto the stage with guns drawn. I put my hands up in the air while they surveyed the scene. Libitum checked Teabag for any vital signs and announced that he was out cold but could be coming to, momentarily. Sforzando found the body of Nepomuck in the pit. He had fallen face down, arms and legs splayed in a now familiar shape: his left side parallel to the inside wall, his right side stretched out just like a viola clef – the K-shaped one – just like Schnellenlauter had been found this morning. His head with its spiky whitish-blonde hair pointed directly to the bust of Beethoven.

“You guys okay?”

“I would be, if you could put that gun away. Honestly, I didn’t do it,” I protested.

Hemiola put the gun down. “We know that, now. We found evidence linking Teabag to the guy with the White Viola who’s the real murderer. And we arrested Charles Leighton-Quackerly as he was trying to hijack another plane, this one for Germany,” he added, shaking his head in disbelief. “And we know you’re searching for something very important. Have you found it?”

“Hey hey hey, what the freap is goin’ on out here? I gotta concert tonight, an' you guys’re messin’ up my stage?” A short wiry man with thinning, graying hair and wire-rim glasses, maybe weighing barely 100 pounds soaking wet, rushed out on stage like a banty rooster.

Agent Accelerando quickly pulled his gun on him and he came to a screeching halt.

“Hey, put dat t’ing away, dis is a thee-ater, not a drug dealership! My name’s Sonny – I’m the stage manager here.” He put his finger on the barrel of Accelerando’s pistol and pushed it away from him. “Sonny Arepo, pleased t’meetcha...”

“Sonny,” I said to him, “we need a ladder, then we’ll be out of what’s left of your hair.”

“OMG, bodies,” he squeaked. “You got bodies all over my stage! Get ‘em outta here!! If the Maestro sees we’ve got bodies on his stage, I’m dead meat! Sure sure, ladder...” and with that he was off, returning in moments with a tall section ladder. Buzz and I carried it down the steps and into the auditorium, placing it beside the doorway.

Cautiously, I clambered up to the lunette. Face to face with the bust of Beethoven, I realized how much dirt can accumulate over the years: the place really could use a bust duster. I lifted the bust carefully from its pedestal and there in the plinth was a piece of paper folded into a neat square.

I brought it down and handed it to Tony who opened it slowly, turn by turn. Would it reveal the name of Beethoven’s Beloved? Was it yet another clue? I felt her eyes should be the first to see it. She read it thoughtfully and then handed it to me without a word.

You seek:
A loved one
Waits beneath the Sign
To find a tangled family’s dream.

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

It all seemed obvious enough. With the loan of Teabag’s stealth-plane, we made it to the Berkshires in little more than half-an-hour. We arrived about an hour before three concerts in New York were scheduled to begin but the fact they’d all been canceled and the reason why – with proper accreditation now given to Lance Teabag – had already hit the evening news.

When Tony, Buzz and I had been contemplating this latest clue back at the theater, Teabag came to, muttering something that the police thought sounded remotely Egyptian. They had enough evidence against him, it wouldn’t matter if he tried to plead insanity now: there were not enough years left in his life, at this point, to serve that many consecutive life sentences, anyway. Tony felt badly that perhaps she had played too many of the wolf-tones: she hadn’t wanted to kill him outright, just eliminate him as a threat, but knowing that he was responsible for Schnellenlauter’s death made her lose control, understandably. It happens to the best of violists, sometimes.

They found Renfrew banging to get out of a backstage locker but when they tossed him into the back of the paddy wagon, after taking one look at the supremely ruffled Charles Leighton-Quackerly sitting indignantly in the corner, he began to scream, babbling incoherently about penguins, then passed out.

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

Agent Accelerando landed the Time Warp not far from the famous music shed, this time without any complications, not to mention flack from the local airports. He gave us however much time we’d need before the I.M.P. would take us and the plane back to New York. They were very much hoping to keep this plane a secret but they knew, once it was brought out at the trial, they would not be able to keep it for themselves very long.

How were we going to find... The Sign? It was a busy Saturday night, though the summer concert season wasn’t officially to open for a few more weeks: this season, James Levine, now recuperated after his fall, would conduct among other works Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, a concert I would love to hear. But the place was already bursting with the energy of students preparing for rehearsals, playing chamber music, studying and working with members of the Boston Symphony. I saw a poster for a student string quartet playing Shostakovich’s 14th Quartet earlier this afternoon but we’d missed it. Lots of Mozart and Shostakovich today – appropriately enough, considering today, Midsummer Day, marked the Golden Section of the span between their respective birthday anniversaries.

Then I noticed a sign. Well, a sign of sorts: made of polished wood suspended from a tree branch on one of the main walkways, it consisted of merely the dal segno symbol but no words, just an arrow pointing the way. We followed it to another one which led us down a side walkway, and then another.

There, set back among some trees and shrubs, was a simple gift shop, a pyramid of shiny pine and cedar with lots of glass, already brightly lit in the glow of evening. Lots of people were milling about. James Levine, a towel folded over his shoulder walked past smiling, surrounded by eager students, probably on his way from one rehearsal to another. We stood in front of the shop. It was called, simply, Dal Segno.

This must be the place. We walked in.

A note inside read "People always come back to Dal Segno." Over the cash register hung another of those wooden signs with the dal segno symbol and an arrow pointing down. There stood an elderly woman, probably the owner, her back to the register. She was crying, comforting a woman who leaned against her. They were watching the news on television which was just mentioning the three conductors found murdered in New York City that morning. There on the screen was a picture of the three of us – Buzz, Tony and myself – standing in front of the Eastman Theater talking to a reporter, being given credit for helping the International Music Police track down the killers. We figured they gave us this much, hoping we would not turn around and sue their badges off for having wrongly accused us in the first place.

When the women realized somebody was at the register, they turned around, surprised to see the same three people they had just seen on TV. They were probably almost as surprised to see us as we were to see them.

“Frieda!” I couldn’t believe my eyes: the older woman was Schnellenlauter’s wife, Frieda F. Erden. I thought she had died years ago!

“Mother!” Tony cried out, tears filling her eyes.

Yes, I recognized the younger woman, too, despite the passing of decades: the cellist I had known at Eastman, Fern Geliebter, Tony’s mother. Though we’d kept in touch, I had not seen her for maybe 30 years but that may not have seemed as long to her as the 10 years since Tony had walked out of their New Jersey house headed for Juilliard.

In the midst of this surprising reunion, Tony held her mother tightly and whispered in her ear, “Happy Birthday, Mom.” And there were more tears all around.

“Yes,” Frieda says, “yes, I remember that day all too well. There is much to be told: perhaps we should retire to the office and have a little something to drink.” Looking around, she caught the attention of a young girl stocking one of the shelves. “Minona,” she called to her, “would you keep an eye on the register, please?”

As we sat down around a cluttered desk, Tony wondered why Frieda would remember the day her mother was born?

“Because, my dear, I was there,” she said with a smile, pouring a few drinks. “I have nothing fancy, I’m afraid, just a little Bavarian wine I keep for special occasions.” She handed Tony her wine. “Oh yes, I was very much there, fifty-four years ago...”

“Mother, please! Be discreet,” Fern chuckled as she blushed.

“‘Mother’?” Tony looked from her mother to Frieda and saw a strong resemblance between the two tall, rather statuesque women. “You mean...?”

Fern took her daughter’s hand and held it out towards Frieda who clasped it between her own. “Philomel, meet your grandmother.” It was indeed a day of surprises and revelations.

Buzz and I both cleared our throats, wondering if perhaps we should leave the family to their reunion. I had wondered if Schnellenlauter’s clues would reveal something more personal than the location of letters that may have passed between Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved, but I had not counted on something quite on this scale. The night was indeed transfigured.

Frieda proceeded to explain. “No, Maestro Schnellenlauter was not your grandfather: he married me after your mother was conceived but before she was born. And I could not raise my own daughter not because of any shame or disapproval on his part – he loved you as his own child, Fern, you know that,” Frieda said turning to Tony’s mother.

“All those times he visited Eastman: he was there to see Fern.” It made sense to me, now.

“Not so much to see her: Fern didn’t know. He could only observe.” Frieda nodded as if this were perfectly acceptable.

“I found out only later that I was adopted. But my adoptive parents were friends of Hans and Frieda’s. And they had often come over to visit when I was growing up.” Fern was also very matter-of-fact about it.

“And now he was ‘observing’ me... but why?” Tony’s couldn’t understand the secrecy.

“We share a common legacy, my child,” Frieda began to explain, “and when in the early-50's, my brother and his family were killed – oh, it looked like the fire was an accident, but we had heard there were people intent on destroying us and we knew we had to go into hiding. Fern was raised by friends of ours in New Jersey.”

“Not long after I graduated from Eastman, I fell in love – I thought – with a young man who, it turned out, shared this... this legacy. But even before I discovered I was pregnant with you,” Fern said as she patted her daughter’s hand, “I realized what an absolute schmuck he was, planning on using it for evil ends. That was when I met your father... well, your step-father, and...”

Tony interrupted her. The tingling she felt needed no explanation now, nor did this talk of ‘legacy,’ and it was clear that people like the Gatekeeper were friends who knew at least something about her and looked out for her, whether she knew it or not. She began to understand this ‘observing’ was also part of that legacy, just as Beethoven himself could never do anything but observe his beloved and their daughter.

But she did feel the need to ask about Lex Luthier.

“How do you know about him?” Fern was surprised. And after we explained what had happened on the Eastman Theater stage, Fern nodded and said, “Yeah, that’s sounds like your scumbag father. His real name is Earl King, and I’d heard he’d gone over to the dark side a long time ago. It’s just as well. I wonder if he had any other children?”

“And so,” Frieda said, turning to me, after explaining how they had faked her own death to protect her from their enemies, “what will you do with this knowledge now, Dr. Dick? You have come very close to discovering the true secret.” She was very disappointed in the increasingly desperate activities of people like Teabag who were determined to solve this puzzle. “It’s a sign of the culture of our times, I guess, when everybody is so obsessed with the private lives of ‘celebrities’ that we even have to go after long-dead ones, now.”

Fern sipped her wine, snickered, “Next they’ll be wanting to know if Beethoven wore boxers or briefs...”

Frieda poured another glass of wine. I noticed the label – ‘Geschichte aus dem Verstrickenwald’ (Tales from the Entangled Woods?), dark with a very sweet, fruity flavor. “Does it have any effect on his music or how we understand it? If it did, then it might be significant, but if it didn’t, what’s the point of having it become public knowledge?”

I wondered, though. “What if Beethoven’s writer’s block around the years his child had been born had its root in feelings of guilt and despondency over his being unable to acknowledge this, or to be able to enjoy openly the benefits of marriage and family life? We don’t know that, but look at the music that finally came out of that writer’s block: did his own inner turmoil, if that’s what it was and if that’s what it was fueled by, turn his music inward as well, becoming the touchstone of his Late Period style? Is that what's behind the grandeur of the Missa Solemnis – is it more an act of atonement and the Archduke’s becoming an Archbishop merely an excuse to write it?”

“We’ll never know, for sure,” she answered, “but if we did know – for sure – wouldn’t it take the mystery out of the music?

“Or would it help translate art to a level more approachable to those of us who cannot comprehend such genius? Does it really trivialize it? As for the Missa Solemnis, it’s still great art, whether it was inspired by friendship or guilt, but isn’t it more inspiring to have come from the deeper personal convictions of his inner self?”

I remembered having similar discussions, if not exactly arguments, with Schnellenlauter years ago during my grad school days. Sometimes we could slip back and forth from one side of the argument to the other and not feel we were contradicting ourselves, because, at bottom, we’re all full of contradictions, voiced or unvoiced. It used to drive our theorist-friends mad, our seeing both sides of black-and-white: to them, there was no gray. How can you listen to music and not realize there is never only one answer, one interpretation, one reason or cause?

“But often,” Fern said, finishing her glass, “it’s curiosity that comes down to people, prurient or not, who just want to know if Beethoven was having sex. As if a man with his strong personality would have been a 50-something virgin when he died! What’s the point?”

Frieda continued, “if you look back at some of the greatest stories of Western Civilization – from Oedipus Rex or Tristan and Isolde through the likes of Hedda Gabler or Madame Bovary – it’s all about sex, what is proper and what is not. That’s what interests people, and not just people today. It shocks them, but it sells.”

As Buzz and Tony talked with Fern, Frieda and I continued our own discussion. “I hope you will honor your friend and not pursue this quest any further. I cannot thank you enough for restoring Philomel – or rather, Tony – to our family, but I hope you would let the secret of the Immortal Beloved and the letters rest?”

“I have no idea where to look, Frieda – the clues led me to you. If you know that the secret still exists and didn’t vanish with Maestro Schnellenlauter’s death, then I have no reason to wonder.”

She held my hand and thanked me with a tear in her eye.

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

The place was filled with several hundred people suddenly applauding.

I snorted into consciousness as I realized I must have dozed off during the concert. Buzz had nudged me, telling me excitedly, “it's amazing to think he put the finishing touches on this the same summer he wrote to the Immortal Beloved: must have been a very happy time for him!” Buzz was in love, a new girlfriend – he seemed to relate well to such a scenario.

Buzz Blogster and I had gone to New York for a day of musical sight-seeing, shopping at Patelson's, going to the library at Lincoln Center, taking in this concert in Carnegie Hall by some touring orchestra from Eastern Europe. The young conductor was filling in at the last minute for the ailing maestro but all I could remember about him was that he needed to buy another vowel. The concert had ended with a lively but still rather lack-luster performance of Beethoven's 7th Symphony, a lot of energy signifying nothing. Still, I have no idea how I could have slept through that last movement. I remember telling Buzz as we'd walked into the hall what had been going on in Beethoven's life that year, the summer of the Immortal Beloved, wondering who she was, what kind of woman she must have been to inspire a grumpy, middle-aged man like Beethoven to write such sublimely happy music.

True, it had not been a very exciting evening and perhaps I'd eaten too much for dinner – we'd stopped at some greasy spoon down the street where I'd gotten the baked lasagna special and Buzz, a huge vat of chili. The program had opened with Mozart's Overture to “Don Giovanni” after which the principal violist was given a chance to play a charming yet otherwise forgettable fantasy for viola and orchestra by Johann Nepomuck Hummel which made use of one of Don Ottavio's arias in Mozart's opera about love, lust and retribution. The first half concluded with a rather aimless rendering of Arnold Schoenberg's “Verklärte Nacht” that left me feeling rather sleep-deprived.

So maybe it was all a dream and I never would’ve found out her true identity, this Immortal Beloved, or the location of her letters, if they even exist. But still, I kept thinking: even if it was only a dream, how could it be so life-like?

We talked about trying to find the Green Room but I'd thought better of the idea: what was the point? As we joined the crowd walking out into the night air along 57th Street, heading for Central Park West, I remembered leaving the gift shop – the one in my dream – noticing there had been a small wooden box in the glass display case directly beneath the cash-register under that last dal segno sign. It was made of cedar and white pine with a simple dal segno symbol engraved on its cover: the little white card next to it said “Not For Sale.” Hmmm... I wonder...

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

This marks the conclusion of my parody of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." Stay tuned for the imminent release of "The Lost Chord."

- Dr. Dick
© 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Remains of the Car

“Life comes at you fast,” they say: things happen when you least expect them.

There's also a commercial I've seen on TV – perhaps for an injury lawyer or maybe for a life insurance company - that shows a woman in a car's passenger seat, talking to someone off-camera, her back to the window, oblivious to the car suddenly speeding toward her to the imminent and unavoidable collision, the video clip cutting off dramatically at the point of impact.

That's pretty much what I saw on my way home Monday evening after dropping off a friend at his place. We'd been to the viewing for a former neighbor of ours when we'd lived in town, the victim of domestic violence. It was after 9:30 when I was heading south on Mushroom Hill Road, crossing Route 322 after waiting for the left-turn lane's light to change. It seemed to take forever: it was a long day – productive, since I was close to finishing the song, “Say 'Yes' Quickly,” with only three measures to go before the rough draft would be done – and I needed to stop at the store because I would be out of cat food by afternoon. Since the road crews might be working on paving Rt 83 that night and I wanted to avoid the hassle, I decided to take the back road and, once the light finally changed, pulled out across 322.

When I looked over at the passenger side window, I saw a red-and-white truck – higher-built and larger than a pick-up truck – barreling down on me. He clearly hadn't paid attention to the red light or to my pulling out into the intersection. There wasn't even time for an expletive, much less the decision to step on the gas when I felt and heard the impact, saw my windshield shatter and realized I was spinning.

I have no idea how much my car spun but I remember feeling nothing painful and how it all happened in slow motion. When I came to a stop with a thud, I was afraid I was going to be going down an embankment there and felt I needed to get out of the car as quickly as possible. Perhaps the gas tank would explode? I opened the car door, unclasped my seat-belt but then realized I didn't have the strength to move my legs. When I called out for help, I felt very weak and distant and thought “Maybe I'm having a heart attack?” or perhaps, in hindsight, “Is this what dying is like?” But after about 15-30 seconds, I was able to get out and stand up, getting my bearings despite the fact I had lost my glasses. I heard a woman shouting “don't let him get away, don't let him get away.” There was the red-and-white truck, pretty badly mangled, in the middle of the intersection.

If I was originally heading north - “toward 12:00” - then my car had stopped spinning, counter-clockwise (at least, that's what I thought at the time but as I've replayed this in my mind since then, I've realized I was spinning clockwise), I was pointed at 4:00. I was nowhere near the embankment. Then I realized what stopped me from spinning was the car behind me: I had slammed into her driver's-side door as she was headed north toward Mushroom Hill. She was the one who was yelling “Don't let him get away.” I figured his truck was so badly damaged, it didn't seem like he could.

Once I made sure she was all right and asked her if she could call the police, I went towards the truck which by this time had started to back up and turn down toward me. When I realized he was going to keep on going, I thought I'm not about to stand in front of him and just hope he stops. As he drifted past me, I saw a middle-aged man with a graying beard or goatee wearing what might have been a red flannel shirt and a work vest - though I'm not sure about that: the image conjured up a “hard-working man” - who was definitely not looking at me. His truck, its fender scraping against the wheel and parts of it dangling and clattering on the macadam, drifted slowly down the hill toward the Wal-Mart entrance. I ran after him trying to catch the license plate number but without my glasses, I couldn't see any of it clearly and figured he was moving faster than I could, anyway.

It had been a clear night but it looked like it had been raining, suddenly. No, not rain – maybe gasoline all over the intersection, all over my car? It didn't smell like gas, didn't look like antifreeze. Someone later said it was the truck's transmission fluid. I figured he wasn't going to get very far, not with all the damage to his truck. By the time I got around to see the passenger side of my car, I almost fainted: I'd already seen what it looked like from the inside, the empty seat scrunched into something barely a foot wide. If there had been someone with me, he would have been dead, most likely.

Several people came over to help. I remember at least two groups of young people – kids, I'd called them, though maybe college-aged or in their early-20s. Four of them had been over at the Turkey Hill Mini-Mart and ran over to see if we were okay, if we needed them to call the police. I told them thanks, but the woman in the other car had already done that. Then he said, “Is there anyone else you need to call?” and I thought, yes, I should call N before he falls asleep – he may not answer the phone if I call him later. Besides, I'll need a ride home.

At one point, just as the Swatara Township police started to arrive – three or four cars' worth – another group of kids who'd witnessed the accident came over and said they'd followed the truck when they realized he was getting away. “We got the license plate number” they said proudly and she handed it to me though without my glasses I could barely read it. She said they'd followed him into the parking lot at Verdelli's where he'd pulled off the road, about a mile away from the accident. I asked her instead to give it to the policeman standing a few yards away. I hope I remembered to thank them for their kindness as well as courage, but I think in the commotion and all the distractions, I didn't and didn't see them again, either.

Following the routine, I got out my license and found my insurance card which took a little time to find in the mess – meanwhile, one of the guys there found my glasses neatly folded in the back seat – and I noticed that while neither of the air-bags had deployed (because it was a broadside collision?), the CD player was still playing and hadn't even skipped a cut! I had been listening to Elliott Carter's “Dialogues” for Piano & Orchestra – I never listen to the radio any more – and it was still playing as the police had arrived.

It turned out I was bleeding a little, a small cut on my forehead and in front of my right ear, just below the ear-piece of my glasses. Considering what could have happened, it wasn't much. In fact, it had stopped bleeding by then, barely noticeable. I kept pressing against my chest which felt tight – muscle-strain, nothing more? Nothing seemed to be broken or fractured, no pain – I hadn't hit the steering wheel because of the seat-belt. Other than feeling a little dazed and shook-up (I remember joking with one of the kids “well, I feel a little verklempt, you know?” and they laughed), I was fine. After N got there, one of firemen, who'd just gotten there, too, asked me if I wanted them to call an ambulance, if I should go into the Emergency Room for anything, no back pain or neck pain – no, no, I didn't feel anything like that, in fact nothing really at all, though we joked that I will feel differently in the morning. It would be impossible, being 60, now, not to feel something after the thrashing I'd gotten during the impact and then spinning around like that.

It was strange, too, to feel glass inside my left shoe and, even more strange, under my upper denture! How did it get there?!

The woman whose car I'd landed against – her driver's door was bashed in but I couldn't see any scratch on the back bumper of my car - had to crawl over the console to get out the passenger side: other than being shook up, she said she was okay, too, lighting a cigarette to calm herself down as we talked to the police. The officer went over the details, told us what we'd need to do, calling our insurance agents, how the police would prepare the reports they'd mail to us and which we'd then send in to the insurance companies. He gave us his card and told us the name of the officer who'd be handling the investigation with the hit-and-run driver who would now be facing, among other violations, “leaving the scene of an accident.” Then the policeman said “Oh, they found there were warrants out for his arrest, so they just took him straight to jail.” No wonder he didn't want to hang around...

The firemen cleaned up the place, sweeping up the debris from my car, spreading sand over the fluid on the road, then the tow-truck arrived and hauled what was left of my car up onto the flat-bed. It was then I realized, having been laid-off and unable to find work the past year, that now, with no income I was going to have to buy a car: the insurance wasn't likely to pay to replace it, especially since it was unlikely the guy who hit me even had insurance. Add to the muscle aches a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach: this is not what I needed, now. Whether the guy had been drinking or was on his cell-phone, maybe texting – I have no idea – but this was not going to be what he needed, either: things were going to be very different for both of us, but at least, speaking for myself, I was alive. And that was enough for me.

- - - - - - -

These photographs of my car were taken the next afternoon at the tow-truck's storage area. My car looked bad enough and I still marvel that I walked away from it with only a scratch or two – God and His angels looking after me, or what – but then I saw the burned-out skeleton of a car next to mine, one that had clearly rolled over, judging from the clumps of dirt and grass ground into its shattered roof-line, and was amazed that anyone could have survived that one at all. It all happens so quickly, doesn't it?

- Dr. Dick

The Schoenberg Code: Chapter 11

Following the antepenultimate installment in this musical parody of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," we have now reached the anteclimax, setting the scene for the final battle between good and evil in the rather limited if not terribly exciting world of musicillogical studies.

- - - - - - -
I.M.P. Agent Al Rovescio arrived at Chez Teabag only to find the place completely deserted. He had been assigned to examine the mysterious bust of Beethoven on the piano. It was apparently a cleverly designed computer server storing a great deal of information. As he doggedly worked his way through the different sound files, he heard several conversations between the man with the hissing voice and the viola player named Nepomuck who was in the video, the guy with the spiky whitish-blond hair. It was enough to prove who the murderer was as well as who the mastermind was, for that matter. What it was they were searching for, however, did not come to light, yet much of the other information that Rovescio could find involved Beethoven, the Immortal Beloved, a mysterious box of letters and numerous libraries and concert halls around the world. From one of the files, he was able to figure out the phone number the man with the hiss was dialing.

He called Agent Solfege with the number and she traced it to a certain Count Johann Nepomuck von Bratsche. He dialed the number but no one answered. Instead he got voice mail: “You have reached Nepomuck but I’m busy practicing the White Viola or otherwise tied up doing your bidding, master, and unable to...” but since he didn’t want to leave a message, he just hung up. That was when he decided to call Hemiola.

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

“Poor guy,” Renfrew thought, looking at Nepomuck all trussed up with duct tape. “Put a mailing label on you and I could ship you anywhere in the USA.”

Nepomuck looked at him cautiously, not knowing what was going to happen now. They had known each other only briefly back in their Glasgow days when both were students and Nepomuck had been teased for being the “Albino of Albion,” but either they failed to recognize each other or chose not to. He had put the tape back over his mouth and around his wrists fairly convincingly, he thought, after he alerted Leighton to the, errr... well, change of plans: at this point, he was wondering how slim the possibilities were of being rescued at all, especially since he still needed to finish the job, even though he still wasn’t quite sure what it was he was looking for. He had just missed a call from The Serpent and did not want to disappoint him again.

“Well, as Mr. Teabag’s servant, it’s my responsibility to see that his guests are looked after and since it is almost dinnertime and you had interrupted our little tea, perhaps I could scare up a little something for you to eat, hmmm?” Renfrew went back to the front of the plane and quickly returned with a china plate piled up with the last of the left-over haggis, apologizing for not having the necessary neeps and tatties to go with it, plus a wine glass of his best vintage Cabernet Sauvignon, though whiskey might be more authentic.

He set the dinner in front of Nepomuck before leaning forward and, with a quick jerk, yanking the duct tape off his mouth. Renfrew mistook the scream for one of agony and smiled, unaware that Nepomuck was thinking he would have to try that again on his own, especially after he hadn’t shaved for a day or two.

While his guest ate, Renfrew let loose with a stream of complaints about life under Teabag but now, he thought, perhaps that was about to end. This “thing” that Nepomuck was hoping to find, this silly box of letters, whatever it was, must be valuable, Renfrew assumed: if it wasn’t worth a lot of money, why would anyone be so interested in finding it? So he proposed a plan and if Nepomuck agreed to it, he would let him loose: then together they would find the letters and cash in on the discovery – together, of course.

Renfrew figured it would be no problem knocking this guy off once he’d served his purpose. Nepomuck agreed, thinking the same thing, since all he had to do was serenade Renfrew with the White Viola and then claim it all for his mentor, Charles Leighton-Quackerly, who this moment was winging his way to Rochester to help him.

One by one, Renfrew ripped off the duct-tape bonds. Nepomuck nearly swooned in ecstasy but knew there wasn’t time to have him tie him back up and do it again.

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

The pilot brought the plane in to Rochester without a hitch, the tank bouncing on empty. He saw the police beginning to swarm and knew that their hijacker would soon be behind bars.

As a music critic in London, Charles Leighton-Quackerly had been used to hijacking public opinion or burgeoning careers, but he’d never actually done a plane before and it was kind of exciting. He stood by the door waiting to deboard thinking he would just hale a cab and arrive at Eastman – where else would the clue be, he thought – in a matter of minutes.

But no sooner had they arrived in Rochester than someone else on the plane stood up and said “Who wants to be in Rochester? I want to go to... to the Virgin Islands! Yeah, take this plane to the Virgin Islands!”

Then a man in a business suit stood up and said “No, I want to go to Hawaii. Pilot, I demand you take this plane to Honolulu!”

It was getting ugly and soon everybody on the plane was standing and hollering, protesting where they would hijack the plane to. With a cabinful of wannabes, the flight attendants retreated into the cockpit just before the police opened the doors.

Seeing no airline personnel, the sergeant shouted and ordered everybody to sit down. “All right. Now... who’s the hijacker?”

Leighton stepped forward and said matter-of-factly, “I’m the hijacker.”

But no sooner had the police trained their guns on him than the man in the suit who wanted to go to Hawaii stood up and said, “I’m the hijacker.” Then another passenger stood up near the back, a young man wearing the pink Spartacus t-shirt, and said “I’m the hijacker.” In a matter of seconds, the entire cabin was again resounding with people standing up and waving their arms – even a 90-year-old woman who needed some assistance with her walker – all claiming to be the hijacker.

It gave Leighton the opportunity to sneak out behind the baffled policemen and stroll down the runway. At least this way, he figured, he’d have first dibs on a cab.

And in minutes, he was left off in front of the Eastman Theater. The question now was, where would Nepomuck be?

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

As they left the roof of the theater, Nepomuck checked his phone and saw a strange number on his message window. A hang-up. It wasn’t The Serpent’s phone that had called him, after all. Perhaps it was a telemarketer or just a haphazardly dialed wrong number. Or, he wondered, had the phone-line been breached? But if so, by whom?

Meanwhile, Renfrew was checking his own phone as they went through the back hallways of the theater. Years before he worked for Teabag, he had been an insider in Washington, walking through the halls of power but not as a lobbyist: he thought going in through the lobby was far too easy. He was more of a second storey kind of guy, himself, which came in handy for the various political parties’ dirty tricks projects he had worked on, planting false evidence in this office or complex bugging devices in that one. The most famous one he’d been involved with concerned a blue dress. So now he could return to the world of adventure, quickly figuring out how he could track down his boss and that annoying Dr. Dick, then eventually the fortune they were all searching for.

Thanks to Teabag’s health and the need to find him in that huge castle should he fall and couldn’t get up, Renfrew had installed a small tracking device on Teabag’s cell phone without his knowledge so he could locate him through the GPS. He smiled as he logged into the system on his own phone: aha, not surprisingly, he was in the library. A cinch. No doubt a cargo bay in the back would get him in without anyone knowing. After all, walking around with a near-albino over six feet tall, all cut and bloody wearing a tattered tuxedo, might be difficult to ignore. But they had to hurry: the surprise would be spoiled if left to simmer too long on the stove.

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

Hemiola barked into the phone. Reception, as usual, was very bad here. Not given clearance to fly Teabag’s helicopter, Accelerando had been forced to land at the nearest airport. The earliest available flight was a commuter plane from Muskrat Airlines that connected with Buffalo. Unfortunately, they had to make stops in Binghamton and Syracuse before they’d reach Rochester. Blame it on the austerity budget imposed on them at the end of the fiscal year.

But he had to admit what Rovescio had found some interesting information. Unfortunately he now had nothing but time on his hands to go back and forth over the possibilities.

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

We ran back to the rare documents reading room only to find it dark and empty. In the distance we heard the soft whoosh of an elevator, so we ran toward it. Teabag impatiently brought up the rear, hobbling along with his cane. I told him he should just meet us in the main lobby. At that point we saw the freight elevator had just reached the ground floor. We got into the other one and soon found ourselves in an open space on the street level of Eastman Place. Across the street we could see the theater.

And there was Buzz, smiling but dazed, as if he were waiting for us.

“What happened,” Tony asked breathlessly, “who grabbed you?” And then she looked at him standing there with his usual clueless grin and added somewhat caustically, “and how did you... uhm... escape?” (Me? I was just relieved we didn’t have to rescue him!)

Buzz tried to explain. “At first, I had no idea. He’d put this cloth over my mouth and I figured it was going to be some ether-like stuff that would knock me out but it smelled sweet and familiar and then I began hearing the Pachelbel Canon in my head which immediately began to relax me, you know? So then I realized I’m being dragged into this elevator but I could hear two men talking. One of them sounded familiar. And, well... by this time I was so relaxed listening to the Pachelbel I just... uhm, slipped into... So, d'you remember the chili?”

We looked at him blankly for a moment before it registered.

“Ewwww, gross!” she laughed.

“Buzz, I’m not sure chemical warfare is sanctioned in the Geneva Conventions, not that it matters any more,” I added, “but I’m glad you’re safe if not sound!”

“I think if I had eaten the whole bowl, they might’ve died. Well, they started gagging and gasping for air so when the elevator opened, they let go of me and went dashing out into the hallway so I was, like, able to slip away. It was... it was that big guy who broke through the window at Teabag’s place? And Renfrew, our pilot!” Looking around, he added, “Yeah, where is Ol’ Teabag, anyway?”

“Uh oh, I had a feeling something’s wrong here.” I felt for the latest post-it-note in my pocket.

I explained that we’re to meet him in the main lobby but I also voiced my reservations about his involvement: that he was in it for the greater glory of what little musicology would have to offer him for his discovery. Is this really what Schnellenlauter wanted us to do? His job was to preserve the Immortal Beloved’s identity, so I highly doubted he’d be telling us all this so we would reveal it to the world – or at least that part of the 3% of the classical CD-buying world who might freakin' care.

“But it seems something was going to be revealed tonight,” Tony said looking back and forth at us. “I mean, today is the Golden Section between the Mozart and Shostakovich anniversary birthdays, it’s Midsummer Day, it’s the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist... and, well... it’s also my mother’s birthday, but hey. Maybe these clues we're finding are meant to reveal something on this day.”

The question, of course, was what.

“Well, here’s something I did find in the library – the list may have been interesting, but I think I found what Schnellenlauter wanted us to find. Something he put into the file himself. I would certainly file this under long-range planning: he couldn’t’ve done this, last night!” I showed them the post-it note and we read it together.


“No coded gibberish to transpose!” Buzz was delighted.

“The magic square – you mean Sator Arepo again?”

“That was apparently a scratch pad Schoenberg was doodling on,” I said, “but I think Schnellenlauter may have slipped it into the Beethoven files years ago, maybe even back when he would visit the school when I was a student here, maybe in some attempt to protect it. But the post-it note is more recent.”

“How can you tell?”

“We didn’t have post-it notes when I was a student.” They looked at me in disbelief, as if I were trying to explain what a rotary-dial phone was.

“So what’s this reference to an identity crisis... you know, that stage of your life where you’re looking to find yourself? Is our next clue in California? Isn’t that where everybody went back in the ‘60s to find themselves?” Buzz thought back to our earlier discussion of the Sator Arepo Square. “How does that translate again? THE SOWER AREPO HOLDS THE WORKS OF THE WHEEL? What the heck does that mean!”

“It doesn’t translate well, no – everybody’s always assumed AREPO was a personal name, maybe some farmer. TENET can mean ‘understand’ as well as ‘hold’... OPERA is the plural of OPUS which we usually think of as ‘work’ but it also means ‘art’ as in ‘art-work.’ Now, ROTAS, for that matter, could be... uhm... accusative plural of ROTA or wheel... but it could also be the 2nd person form of the verb ROTO, to turn... Hey... it just occurred to me... if ‘you turn the works’ could be, like, turning a wheel to create something artistic, like fine pieces of pottery... and the ‘you’ here refers to an intelligent person who could follow such a riddle, maybe an artist... and if this farmer Arepo were maybe the lower-class equivalent of Joe Blow, could it be a statement to remind an artist that ‘The common man understands the art-works you turn out’? I mean, he comprehends them innately without having to be told how they’re put together, without needing to have them explained to him in order to appreciate them? I wonder... hmmmm...”

“Or...” Buzz began thoughtfully, “I dunno, Doc...” I hated it when he called me “Doc.”

“But this clue says ‘One Square’s Magic,’ not ‘THE Magic Square’ – just like he made the distinction between THE Immortal Beloved and AN Immortal Beloved before. He’s been leading us, bit by bit, to clues he’d planted long ago, figuring someday these would be needed to solve something... to answer some questions which might indirectly lead us to the location of the Immortal Beloved’s identity, but only indirectly...”

We thought for a moment. Then Buzz said, “Wait a minute! He’s been sowing the seeds for years so that at this very moment we would understand... the works or clues he’s been spinning along for us all day, now?” His tone of voice moved quickly from confidence to extreme doubt.

That’s when Tony discovered the group of numbers scribbled at the bottom of the note. They were almost too small for my middle-aged eyes to read.

“Look at this – a magic square. Okay, so it’s a very simple one, just three numbers, but look at the numbers! It only uses 1, 2 and 3.” She felt all tingly again as if she were on the verge of some important discovery. She pointed it out to us as we focused on the small piece of paper: there were the ‘dal segno’ signs in the usual pyramid shape and in the bottom center, a small square:

2 1 3
3 2 1
1 3 2

“If you read them in any direction – like your Sator Arepo palindrome – their sum is always 6.”

“And I don't think ‘stage’ is that ‘stage in life,’ I think he means a literal stage! And where around here do they perform operas?” Buzz pointed theatrically across the street: the Eastman Theater. “And on the stage, singers come down to the front – where you need to be careful about your lighting? To make things clearer to the audience?? Like an aside that the other characters can’t hear???” His dramatic over-acting increased exponentially with each question-mark.

“You’re saying ‘6' is a light cue?” Tony was skeptical but we had nothing else to go on.

“Hey, I’m on a roll! Work with me!” Buzz took off toward the front door. “Andale, andale, Arepo! Arepo! Yee-hah!” And in a flash he was speeding across the street.

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

Charles Leighton-Quackerly was not a man to be taken lightly, especially considering his ample girth. What was the point of having all this weight if he couldn’t throw it around a little? He delighted how, in London, artists quaked in their so-called fashionable boots awaiting his esteemed and knowledgeable opinions delivered in the morning paper like a personal edict from the Pope. A scathing review by Charles Leighton-Quackerly had had the power to put on hold if not actually destroy more than one promising career, especially if they were performing new music. He hated that term as much as he hated the music: what was so great about being “new”?

He had long arguments with people who complained that the world did not end in 1900, people he thought were simple-minded enough to be easily deluded by the Modern Music Guys into thinking their music had any relevance to Great Art. He blamed Arnold Schoenberg for destroying the beauty of music: to him, Beauty was everything. Oh, he could overlook the dissonance in Beethoven, maybe even in Mahler, because it always came back to something beautiful and thrilling as if to prove that this was the Right Stuff and all that ugliness that had gone before was the Wrong Stuff, losing out in the battle of Good versus Evil. With the exception of Rachmaninoff, anybody writing music after 1900 deserved to be forgotten and quickly, too. They were just a flash in the bedpan, as he often wrote: they would all disappear while Beethoven would survive and remain supreme. That, he felt, was his mission in life, spreading the Gospel of the Maestro. That was why he turned the Penguins of God onto a more activist path, seceding completely from the control of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. What was the point of having the musical equivalent of the Salvation Army if it didn’t actually behave like an army?

That was why he was in Rochester right now, this god-forsaken little town that had only two seasons – Winter and the 4th of July – with its piddly little music school that couldn’t hold a candle to any of the great schools of London: he was here to protect Beethoven. If he could find that stupid box of letters that had eluded Schindler’s grasp, he could destroy any proof that Beethoven had ever fallen to so human a level, this superhuman hero who had created the greatest music that had ever penetrated the ear of mere mortals.

Strutting into the front lobby of the Eastman Theater, he laughed his well-known high-pitched, nasal laugh, a braying outburst more than one musician thought sounded like the call of the Spheniscus demersus, more popularly known as the Jackass Penguin. He did not care for the reference, especially since he considered himself the Grand Emperor of the Penguins of God: “jackass” aside, he was more imposing than these popular little penguins that were, as far as he was concerned, just too cute for their own good.

The empty lobby reverberated as if he stood in the midst of a rookery full of penguins. But he had work to do. Surely Nepomuck must be around here somewhere! He sniffed the air with his beak-like nose, hoping to discover some tell-tale whiff of cheese, perhaps.

The concert hall was his favorite environment, the scene of many triumphs, squashing hopeful careers under the sharp-pointed foot of an impeccably turned phrase. The theater may have been empty but the stage was set up for a concert that evening – he had seen the lobby poster announcing the piano concerto of his despicable nemesis, Arnold Schoenberg. Perhaps he could manage to fit in a scathing review after all: who was this pianist named Klavdia Klangfarben that her career would not wither under his glare? And perhaps this young Russian conductor he’d been reading about, Samiel Skorishumnikov, too. Shostakovich and Schoenberg on the same program with just some token Mozart: how outrageous!

Perhaps there was still time to infiltrate the orchestra just like he had the Boston Symphony, where one of his most trusted agents surreptitiously tripped James Levine at the end of a concert – and they thought he fell, he added with a chortle. Though now it looked like Dear Jimmy would recover to conduct Elliott Carter another day. “Curses,” he thought: what was the first thing he was scheduled to perform after his recuperation? Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1! The same program from the night he “fell.” And the sacrilege of following it with Beethoven’s sublime Ninth! Next time, Leighton muttered, his agent will have to be more... thorough!

He shuffled through the empty theater and headed backstage. Pulling his black overcoat more tightly around him and straightening the mellifluous white cravat of his old-fashioned tuxedo, he hobbled up the steps and disappeared behind the curtain.

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

Running into the backstage hallways of the Eastman Theater, Nepomuck and Renfrew cursed their luck as they managed finally to get their breath.

“That was a close call!” Renfrew was still panting from his near-fatal experience. “The old man is around here somewhere... drat, the GPS is kind of vague in all this stone and marble. Can’t get a read on him. Let’s duck in here, shall we?”

Nepomuck hoisted the viola case down off his shoulder before pushing the door to the green room open. Standing in the middle of the room was a large ovoid figure in black. When he turned around, Nepomuck recognized him immediately.

“Ah, Nepomuck, welcome to my underground lair!”

“Master, it’s you! You made it!”

“AACK!” Renfrew’s blood ran cold. There, standing in front of him, was the largest, meanest, ugliest-looking penguin he had ever seen.

Leighton stuck his long pointy nose in Renfrew’s face. “What’s the matter with you, boy!?” He broke into a barrage of braying laughs. Renfrew stumbled back into the hallway.

All Renfrew could see was the starved gleam in the eyes and the gnashing of penguin teeth coming at him. “Don’t eat me, please don’t eat me,” he stammered over and over again as he slithered into unconsciousness.

“This one’s useless – truss him up with that gaffer’s tape there, will you, and stuff him into this locker.” Leighton didn’t want to get his tuxedo dirty. After all, he had more important work to do. Nepomuck looked like a little more dirt and sweat wouldn’t matter. “What happened to you, anyway?” he asked with little immediate sympathy.

“It has all gone very wrong, Master. I have failed you. But I think we may be very close to the end, soon.”

“God, I hope so, I don’t think I could stand another chapter!”

“No, no, I mean Dr. Dick is getting closer to finding the letters. I think they must be here”

“That would be good news, yes, and I think they are in the theater, now.” Leighton turned toward the stage.

“You can hear them?”

“I have the sharpest ears known to man, Nepomuck. That’s why I’m such a great critic. Now, get your viola ready. There’s dirty work afoot!”

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

The stage was ready for that evening’s concert. The piano had been pushed back to the side, the chairs and stands all in place following the rehearsal of the Shostakovich 10th. A microphone stood by the podium in readiness. Everything awaited the musicians’ arrival: it was a magical moment when the hall was silent, before music would fill the air with its beauty, its drama, its ability to speak through the ages to the depths of the modern soul.

I walked briskly out to the front of the stage and looked around in the near darkness. No one had said a word yet. I always relished moments like this, especially with a theater this beautiful, the enormous chandelier barely visible above me. There was an amazing system of catwalks and crannies above this ceiling with its rosettes, much more delicate in real life than it looked, so I was told by students who’d been up there – like the friend of mine who claimed to have been one of the feather dumpers during an 1812 Overture performance that had become legendary. A box of letters – how big are we talking, here, I wondered – it could be hidden anywhere up there: lights and shadows, it almost made me dizzy thinking about it.

“Found it,” Buzz hollered from the back.

“Hit it,” I shouted back to him, and with a whir, the floor beneath me started to shake. “No, no, that’s not it, that’s the hydraulic lift for the orchestra pit.” I jumped back onto the main part of the stage just in time. Luckily, that was where the piano would go for the Schoenberg, so the whole apron was empty. Quietly and quickly, in a matter of seconds, the stage floor had descended all the way to the basement. It was quite a precipice.

“But that was No. 6 on the panel.”

“Are you sure that’s the lighting board? I can’t see anything else back here.” Tony was on the other side and I heard her kick something, maybe a wastebasket. The light on stage was fairly dim, but enough to see where you were going. Behind the stage wall was another matter.

From the direction of stage left, I heard a door squeak open. In the light from the lobby I could see the silhouette of a tall craggy man leaning on a cane. It was Teabag.

“Dr. Dick,” he said, his voice whining with annoyance, “have you forgotten you were to meet me in the lobby? I’ve been waiting ever so long for you!” He slowly climbed the wooden steps that had been placed at the side of the stage. “Did you find Buzz?”

“Yes – yes, in fact, we did, Lance, but something came up suddenly and I, uhm... thought... there was something in here that... you know,” I said, lamely peering around, “would help us find the next clue.”

“Really?” By now he stood on the edge of the stage. “That is good news. Tell me where you think it is.”

“I’m not sure yet, it’s just a...” I was looking around trying to find some light but only found plenty of shadow.

Then there was a loud honking cackle from the opposite side of the stage. Charles Leighton-Quackerly waddled out into the pool of shadows on stage right. “Yes, Dr. Dick, tell us where it is, won’t you? We’d all love to know!”

I wheeled around. Who the hell was this?!

Other doors opened up as if on cue: Buzz appeared, back by the piano, and over on the opposite side, where the basses would be, I saw Tony steal on-stage. But then a door at the very back, behind the risers where the trombones would sit, opened slowly and I saw the big guy with the shredded tux, his whitish-blond hair glowing eerily in the half-light, creep out onto the stage, carrying a viola under his arm. Pausing a moment to tighten the hairs of his bow, he was getting ready to play.

Surely there must be an easier way to arrange an audition, I thought. I turned to face him as Tony, sounding alarmed, called out to me, “Look out, Dr. Dick – he’s got a viola!”

To be continued...

- - - - - - -
Dr. Dick
© 2009

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Schoenberg Code: Chapter 10

Continuing the saga of the search for information about Beethoven's Immortal Beloved, having successfully evaded the International Music Police, this latest installment of the serial novel The Schoenberg Code finds our heroes deep in the Eastman library with a haystackful of miscellaneous information about Beethoven, knowing that time is running out...

- - - - - - -

Renfrew sat on the roof of the Eastman Theater enjoying a cigarette when he heard a steady thumping from inside the Time Warp’s cargo bay. He didn’t mind staying behind since it was a much nicer day here than it had been in New York. Old Teabag hadn’t said anything but “watch” their guest; he didn’t say he couldn’t make things a little more comfortable for him. There were no plans about what to do with him, anyway: turn him over to the police? Hardly. Let him loose in Rochester and figure out his own way of getting home? That, at least, would be more fun. And by now, the big guy must be really hungry.

The mere mention of penguins had set his own nerves on edge. He decided to do the Samaritan thing and crawled into the back compartment.

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

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Inspector Hemiola called in to Agent Mimi Solfege, asking her to track down some information about the Penguins of God.

“Funny you should mention that,” she piped cheerily. “Someone from the FBI had just called in asking for some information.”

“You mean about the Penguins of God?”

“No, about some crazy Brit music critic who’s apparently hijacked a plane about to land in New York and then diverted it to – of all places – Rochester.”

“What about it?”

“Well, it seems this guy calls himself... uhm...” - she paused to check her notes - “the Grand Emperor of the Penguins of God.”

“Really!” Hemiola almost dropped the phone. “And he’s going to Rochester? Why would he risk hijacking a plane rather than just pick up a connecting flight once he landed?”

“Well, sir, you know penguins are not used to flying, sir. Oh, and I just saw this come down over the Homeland Security secret alert news-wire a few minutes ago: there was a suspicious UFO-like object seen hovering over Manhattan but... uhm... here comes an update... hang on...”

Thinking back to the glint in the sky he’d seen from the cliff-hangar, he found himself momentarily distracted. “Wait, you have access to the secret news-wire from Homeland Security?” Hemiola was impressed. Even Gutrune Gebich was having trouble getting that clearance.

“Yes, sir, my son showed me how to find it. OK, here it is – that UFO-like object has now been reported nearing... Rochester, NY? How odd. But the agent’s response was to have someone check it out first thing in the morning. So apparently it’s nothing serious.”

“Rochester, eh? And the Grand Emperor of the Penguins of God is in a hurry to get to Rochester, too. Verrrrry interesting.” Hemiola thought not only might Dr. Dick have been abducted by aliens but now he had this grand poohbah guy after him as well. It just kept getting stranger and stranger.

“What is the big deal about Rochester,” Hemiola wondered out loud as they hurried down the walkway to the gate. Fortunately, it was all downhill from here.

“Well, sir, it IS a major center near the mouth of a north-flowing river,” Accelerando mentioned.

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Sforzando sounded skeptical.

Libitum felt he may have been improvising on this one but remembered that other north-flowing rivers – the Nile, for example – were considered spiritual places, not unlike how people from around Boston considered the Concord River which also flowed north. There was a different kind of energy around rivers like that and, he pointed out to the gaping Hemiola, the Genesee River flowed north into Lake Ontario just beyond Rochester.

“Oh great, we’re going to run into a bunch of crystal-stroking New Age penguins celebrating Midsummer?”

“Hold on!” Fermata blurted out. “Look at that,” pointing ahead of them.

“What! I don’t see anything.” Hemiola peered toward the woods beyond the gate.

“Exactly.” Libitum was clearly bummed: the Ludwig Van was missing. Probably the three characters from the library had fled in it.

That left them with two options: the yellow taxi-like station wagon stuck off to the side of the road was deemed unreliable for a cross-country chase, so Hemiola decided the only thing they could do was to hot-wire Teabag’s helicopter. It would certainly be faster than the van and they needed to hurry. After they fueled up from the tank marked High Octave, and with Agent Accelerando placed in the pilot’s seat, they were off. Time was running out.

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

Time was indeed running out: as we approached the front desk to ask directions, the student warned us the library would be closing in about an hour. She looked at us cautiously until Teabag leaned over and whispered something to her which caused her to smile. She typed a few words into the computer, found a response, then typed a few more and then she printed it out for Lance, motioning us through without further concern. Soon, we were on our way to the rare manuscript collection.

“What was that sweet-talking the librarian all about,” Tony teased.

“Oh, just a little of the old British charm, you know.” He smiled back at her. “It got us in without setting off any alarms, didn’t it?”

“And no gatekeeper asking stupid stuff like what string quartet was based on an all-interval 12-tone row.” Buzz was still pretty miffed about that one.

“You mean Berg’s Lyric Suite?” Teabag asked flippantly as we headed toward the elevator. Buzz just scowled at him.

The “new” library had opened in 1989 but this was the first time I’d been back to the school since before then. This was a much grander affair built across the street from the main entrance, much more spacious than the dark and cramped warren of stacks and cubicles where I had spent so much of my grad-student life. Some people had complained the new facility was too spacious and too nice, not the image one always had of poor students and dusty old musicologists poring over poor and dusty old manuscripts and scores.

When we got to the section we were looking for, the man with the shaggy gray countenance seated at the desk, according to the name-plate, was Dr. Kerry Eliasson, whose name I had seen in various alumni magazines and who was noted for his research about late-18th Century Vienna, the city of Mozart, Haydn and a young man named Beethoven. His younger sister, Christine, had been a doctoral student here during my last year in residence and I remember meeting her in the old Swan Street library. How ironic to be meeting him the first time I’d be entering the “new” library.

“Ah, Dr. Eliasson, I presume,” Teabag began, jauntily proffering his hand, “allow me to introduce ourselves. I am musicologist Lance Teabag...” (he paused hoping for some sign of recognition that was not forthcoming) “...and this is Dr. Dick and...”

Immediately, Dr. Eliasson began to beam. “Dr. Dick, as I live and barely breathe!” He quickly stood up to his full imposing height and energetically shook my hand. “My sister Christie talked about you a great deal when she was studying here, how helpful you had been to her when she was trying to get her bearings. Just the other week, before she took off for Vienna, she was wondering where you were and how you were doing. Wait till I tell her you walked into my very own ‘office.’ There just aren’t enough people to go around in the world!”

I explained that we were on a tight schedule with the library closing soon and that I’d love to chat with him, perhaps over dinner somewhere nearby, later on. He told us he was just off for a meeting which might last past closing-time, so we could manage to stay till he’d get back, if we needed to. I quickly introduced Tony and Buzz and told him what we were hoping to find: some information about Beethoven that might be contained probably in miscellaneous files of contemporary letters and articles. Teabag, now reduced to an adjunct member of Dr. Dick’s posse, fairly steamed as we followed Dr. Eliasson back into the stacks.

There were, he explained, tons of material. Previous librarians here had been given the mandate to “buy everything” which is how the collection seemed to be expanding in geometrical proportions. When I was there, it had already doubled once since it became part of the school, and by the time the new building was under construction, it had more than doubled again. There was still much to catalog but, as Eliasson pointed out with a smile, “that will always leave something for another musicologist to discover in the future.”

We had reached a series of crowded shelves which he indicated with a wave of his hand as “The Miscellaneous Beethoven Section, mostly uncatalogued.” I looked at shelves and shelves full of “miscellany” and thought we have an hour: this could take days or even weeks to be even mildly thorough. I wasn’t even sure what we were looking for. A very small needle, in all of this.

He left us to devise our own plan of attack. After a quick “walk-around,” I suggested Lance and I start at opposite ends on the one side and work towards the middle, with Buzz and Tony working together starting in the middle of the next shelf and then fanning out.

Much of everything had been bundled into manila folders or envelopes clearly marked with a topic. How lucky would it be to find one marked “IMMORTAL BELOVED” but that would be unlikely. Teabag had been through the collection a few years ago, he explained, but found nothing that had caught his attention. Given Schnellenlauter’s clues, however, it was worth revisiting.

We were thinking there might be folders that would say “Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde,” which would be helpful, perhaps, but then if no one knew what the Academy dal Segno or the Knights Tempo were, they might put them anywhere: there were several unmarked files and several just labeled “misc,” stuck here and there among the shelves. It looked tedious to have to sort through all of them. Gradually we worked our way along and I wondered if perhaps Schnellenlauter’s nickname for musicologists shouldn’t have been “shelf duster.”

Even though there was no one in ear-shot, we maintained the habitual silence one feels necessary in a library, occasionally grunting after something that had some remote promise turned out to be nothing. This was more difficult for Buzz whose concentration was less involved in the search.

He was curious about this group called the “Penguins of God,” and Teabag explained that even though it was a fairly recent group by comparison to the Academy, it was an off-shoot of the Gesellschaft and primarily an independent performers’ society based in London.

“But why would they be trying to destroy evidence that Beethoven may have had a child – okay, I mean other than the fact his having an illegitimate daughter might be considered a scandal at the time. But today?”

“For some people,” Teabag said trying not to sound pedantic, “the idea that a genius like Beethoven could have had – well, moral failings like any mortal was more than they could bear. Perhaps they feared the trivialization of his music if the great monolithic image they wanted to maintain became too human. Here was a man who had suffered to create great art – they didn’t want to see him turned into... well, into a PBS cartoon series that would offer ‘Tickle Me Ludwig’ dolls as enticements to membership. That sort of thing.”

“Ludwig wants you to be his fwiend,” Buzz squeaked in a high sing-song voice. Tony poked him in the stomach with her elbow. “Ouch! Ludwig thinks maybe that chili was not such a gweat idea...”

Just as the recorded announcement was played that the library would be closing in a few minutes and it seemed finding anything was hopeless, I found something unexpected. Well, not really unexpected because somehow, considering how many musicologists, including Lance Teabag, had probably riffled through these folders over the years, it didn’t seem likely we’d find anything like a second letter from Beethoven to his Immortal Beloved, but probably something inserted into the folder by a more recent scholar, possibly by a member of the Academy dal Segno, maybe even by Schnellenlauter himself who, after all, had spent a good deal of time at Eastman years ago. I was half expecting to find another post-it note.

I held it up to Teabag who stood only a few feet away. His eyes widened considerably and then narrowed with the look of a predator who had just located his prey and was about to pounce.

A single sheet of old yellowed music paper which had various scribblings and doodlings on it, but clearly three ornate versions of the symbol musicians call “dal segno” – The Sign – one at the top center and again in each of the lower two corners, just like it had appeared on the post-it note found in the Lincoln Center copy of Schoenberg’s Trio. But the handwriting looked vaguely familiar. There were several signatures of Beethoven’s but they looked more like someone practicing to forge his signature rather than Beethoven writing his own name over and over again, like a child might do in a notebook. The paper didn’t appear to be that old, either. Opposite these were a few small grids almost obliterated in pencil but one was fairly clear: any student would immediately recognize it, even though it goes back to the days of ancient Rome.


A kind of “magic square,” the bottom line is the top line reversed; the second line reversed becomes the fourth line. The middle line is its own mirror. But in addition to reading the words across, as you’d normally do, you could read them down the side, backwards from the bottom up as well as up the other side from right to left.

It’s an involved Latin palindrome that no one quite agrees how to translate. “Sower Arepo Holds Works Wheel,” which didn't make a lot of sense no matter how free you were with the translation. It fascinated Schoenberg – and especially his student Webern: it’s actually engraved on his tombstone – and it led to the development of his own magic squares, the method he used to determine all the different forms of his 12-tone rows that became the basis of what we call, for better or worse, “Serial Music.” On paper, it looks academic and artificial, like a cross-word puzzle (not that people don’t find hours of satisfaction trying to figure them out) but it gave the composer all the basic forms of his musical material in its regular (or prime) form, its mirrored (or inverted) form, its backward (or retrograde) form and then its backwards-mirrored (or retrograde inverted) form.

There were also two measures of music, scratched out like a sketch on three lines as if for violin, viola (with its alto clef) and cello. There were four notes on each line, only two per measure – 12 notes in all: in fact, all 12 notes of the chromatic scale! How very un-Beethoven-like!

“Are you thinking that Beethoven actually had sketched something that was that far ahead of his time?” Teabag sounded both incredulous and skeptical.

That was when I recognized the handwriting. I had seen it earlier this morning – the musical calligraphy was the same as Schoenberg’s String Trio – and the two measures quoted were from the same piece, the section that started off with its B-A-C-H-like motif: what significance the music may have had, at this point, I had no idea, but now I understood why we were to look at Schoenberg’s sketch for the piece, not the printed copy. Perhaps the music itself had no significance on its own. Did Schnellenlauter just want me to be able to recognize the handwriting?

But why?

What significance would “Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas” have for the Immortal Beloved? I quickly scratched down the application of Schnellenlauter’s 'Rule of 12' and found this:


I had to agree with Buzz that it made no sense, but Teabag wasn’t so quick to give up on it.

“Look,” he pointed out, “there are five more palindromes created out of this. SETPA - APTES... TOERR - RREOT... and OANAO is its own mirror, just like TENET.” He was disappointed to find out, however, it would not form its own Magic Square and you’d have to start with APTES to make it even similar to the set-up of the famous SATOR square.

“But would could it mean? It’s not any language I can recognize,“ I offered as a Socratic roadblock. “It’s not Greek or Hebrew...”

“Perhaps it’s Egyptian, but we’re dealing with a secret society, here – you know, secret passwords, secret handshakes, secret codes, the whole bit.” Teabag was glowing with the possibilities of the discovery.

“All we need,” Buzz said, returning to his own folder, “is the Academy’s secret decoder ring and we’re all set.”

“Perhaps if I can figure out what language it is or what their code is, I can find the treasure of the Immortal Beloved’s letters!” Teabag looked practically transfixed, now that victory was in his grasp. “SETPA APTES TOERR OANAO RREOT,” he intoned like an ancient priest.

That was when it occurred to me perhaps he was not in this to help us but rather using us to lead him to something that was going to make him famous, make up for having had fame snatched away from him by others who’d found the Lyric Suite before he did. I decided I needed to perhaps give him less information, now, rather than more. But how could I “disinvolve” him: without him, we’d still be at Lincoln Center, or rather in some jail cell awaiting trial for the murder of three conductors.

I heard a noise down the narrow hallway and figured Dr. Eliasson was coming to tell us it was time to leave. It was already past 5:00.

That was when Buzz piped up. “Hey, I found Schindler’s List!”

“No, Buzz, we’re not interested in the movie right now,” I said mindlessly as I glanced at the back of the sheet Teabag was now gloating over. There it was: a post-it note stuck to the back. I had to get it before Teabag saw it and before Eliasson showed up.

“No, I mean it’s a list of names with stuff in German on top – on your Geezer-shaft der Music-froid’s stationary and signed ‘Anton Felix Schindler.’ Schubert’s name is crossed off.”

“What?!” This created the desired distraction as Teabag scurried as fast as he could to the other side of the shelf: what had Buzz found?

I quickly pocketed the post-it note – clearly another ‘fib’ and clearly in Schnellenlauter’s familiar handwriting. This was the clue we were looking for, but what, I wondered, was this list?

There it was – a handwritten list of maybe seven names, submitted by Anton Felix Schindler “Friend of Beethoven.” The first name was Schubert’s and it was crossed off with bold pen-strokes. The next two names were familiar, also: Karl Holz had been the second violinist in Schuppanzig’s quartet that played Beethoven’s last quartets in Vienna and who essentially replaced Schindler as Beethoven’s “amanuensis” when he was on the outs with the annoying Schindler; and Anton Herzog who had once “rescued” a disheveled Beethoven from the police after they found him wandering around lost and confused, arresting him as a vagrant, unable to believe this bum could possibly be the great composer until Herzog was able to identify him.

“Maybe these were people Schindler wanted blackballed from the Gesellschaft because they knew too much about Beethoven’s human side?” Teabag’s finger skimmed the rest of the list. On quick glance, none of them meant anything to me.

“But Schubert wasn’t voted out of the society,” I mentioned. “After he died, they even gave him a memorial concert.”

Teabag stood back with an evil grin on his lips. “True, but he did die about a year-and-a-half after Beethoven died, you know...”

“That’s ominous,” Tony said, moving in for a closer look. “Check out the date.” The paper was dated September 11th, 1828, a little over two months before Schubert died.

I looked closer at the paper. “Could that mean that... that Schubert was murdered?”

“Poisoned by Schindler?” Teabag also leaned in closer. “Hmmm, I wonder...”

That’s when Tony saw something which by its very suddenness, seeing it out of the corner of her eye, peeled her attention away from the list: a large hand reached around from the stack behind us.

And in a flash, Buzz was gone.

To be... continued...

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Dr. Dick
The Schoenberg Code is a musical parody of Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code. The photo in the header is one of Schoenberg's more expressionistic self-portraits.
© 2009