Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 30

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's“The Lost Symbol") in which a discussion on the legacy of teachers and students leads to a startling realization, while Yoda Leahy-Hu leads V.C. D'Arcy to another, even more startling realization.

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” begin your adventure, here.)


= = = = = = =

Despite the hour, Howard Zendler appeared to be enjoying his late-night visitors. They were certainly entertaining, if nothing else.

“So, let me ask you, if you don't mind,” he said, running his hands up and down over the Mozart doll. “Why exactly did Robertson entrust this little box and its contents to you?”

“I'm not sure, really,” I said, trying not to sound impatient. “I had assumed it must be of some value but he never explained that to me or what the consequences would be if... well, how would anyone know to come to me to find it, much less steal it? I was nobody, not like some famous composer he knew or a student of his or even that close a friend, I guess – not a very likely suspect. But who would be after it? Who would want to steal something like this, in the first place? Who would even know what it is?”

“He had told me, back when we first got to know each other, that he had this very valuable... I don't know what he called it except trying to find a term for it, he referred to it as a gadget or thingamabob – no, more like a 'gizmo'...”

“That's what the guy who broke into our house on Christmas Eve was asking about,” LauraLynn blurted out: “he kept saying,'where's the GIZMO?' but Robertson said he had no idea what he was talking about!”

Zendler shook his head. “Ah, well... you may not have realized it then but sometimes it is important to keep secrets even from those closest to you. I'm sorry that your aunt was killed or that the intruder wasn't – no, no, I really can't say I'd wish anybody dead, but you know what I mean... I can't – it's just that this rather unassuming little trinket – gizmo, what-have-you – leads to something that composers must protect because in the wrong hands, it could be – or at least Robertson felt it could be – very dangerous.”

Buzz spoke up, wondering, if Dhabbodhú were a composer willing to kill for it, why was the International Composers Alliance after it? What did they hope to gain by getting it before Dhabbodhú got hold of it?

“Perhaps,” I added, “for the same reason automobile manufacturers years ago tried to buy up the patents of technologies that might ultimately put them out of business, if it became public...”

“This isn't rocket science, you know,” Zendler said, chuckling, “and you would think – wouldn't you? – that on the scale of state secrets or even commercial industrial secrets, those secrets passed down by generations of music teachers would be fairly small potatoes.”

“But we know who is after these old secrets you've mentioned – whatever his real name is, this Dhabbodhú guy. It's not like we need to identify who he is and is it really necessary to figure out why he wants this... this 'gizmo'?” LauraLynn was back to feeling anxious again.

“As I recall, Ms. Sullivan, Rob had told me you are a scientist with an interest in a very unscientific subject, speaking of old secrets.”

“Well, yes, I guess you could put it that way,” she blushed. “But my interest is in defining or at least identifying certain aspects of creativity – in this case, musical creativity – in order to help people reach their own creative potential – I mean, people who would not normally think of themselves as, say, composers.”

“And you would do this – how, exactly?” Zendler leaned forward in genuine curiosity.

“So far, the problem is dealing with something objectively that is purely subjective, primarily. It's not like I can apply inductive reasoning where scientific observation yields consistent facts over frequent repetitions to something more deductive where facts come from a series of existing statements, like...”

“The old Left Brain, Right Brain conundrum,” I said.

“Right. I mean, correct. I mean, I've spent the past several years accumulating lots of data in interviews with various composers from around the world, hoping eventually to distill some common patterns. My assistant and I...”

There was a sudden, strong twinge as LauraLynn recalled Haley and how she had last seen her going to let Dhabbodhú in to visit her lab: what had become of her? The likelihood she was still alive was slim, but maybe she had been able to run away to safety just as she herself had eventually done.

“I'm sorry, where was I...?” Pulling herself together, she continued, “oh, we had just started working on ways of filtering the data to discern certain thought-patterns and how these might be expanded into more specific ideas regardless of their specific implementation.”

“Are you talking about codifying inspiration?”

“In a sense, yes, but looking at it from a more abstract concept that wouldn't be quite so loaded with historical and emotional baggage as the term 'inspiration'...”

“Well, it sounds kind of contradictory to me, doesn't it, to be applying science to such a mystical thing as 'inspiration'?” Zendler looked at me with a twinkle in his eye but I knew better than to agree with him, at least immediately.

“That's one of the reasons we – or at least I – would prefer not using that particular term in the research. It's something we can all do, to some degree or another, but the talent for writing music is something only exhibited by a small percentage of the general public. What I'm curious about is, if we can replicate the process, can we somehow trigger creative results in someone who's...”

“Not inherently 'creative'? But if the person has not been trained in the set-skills that constitute the musical language – just like those for mathematics or physics – how can they create something without any knowledge of what they're supposedly creating? Aren't you just back to having 100 chimpanzees in a room with 100 typewriters hoping somehow between them they might come up with Hamlet?”

LauraLynn let out a deep sigh. “No, because these would be subjects – people – who would be given musical training, not just pulled off the street and told 'write a symphony.' It's not something they would be learning overnight...”

Raising the finger of his right hand to make his point, now, he continued, “If the difference between success or failure in such an experiment is a matter of craftsmanship or a matter of art, who determines what is good and what is not? Schoenberg pointed out that the main difference between an artist and a craftsman is that a craftsman creates because he 'can' and an artist creates because he 'must.'”

“It's not for me or any scientist to judge the success or failure of the result but merely to see how the result is brought about, to enable someone to unleash their creative potential which have never been realized because, as a child, they never learned anything about music: can someone who was not considered talented as a composer before come up with something that is beyond just being coincidentally gibberish.”

“Akin to a person handed a violin and given rudimentary training in how to hold and play it might, with some urging, play 'I'm a little hot dog' spontaneously without needing to compare the performance to someone who, with years of training and diligent practice behind them, however many thousands of hours they might've dedicated to it, play a Beethoven sonata?”

“For starters, yes – in a way. It's only a place to begin, not to see if, on the first try, someone previously untrained could compose something on par with Beethoven.”

“I see,” Zendler said, resting that index finger of his now thoughtfully under a pouted lower lip. “Kind of like the study of counterpoint without really doing anything 'original,' writing fugues to fit the rules but in the process absorbing what you learn from that into what you create on your own. That's what Simon Sechter taught,” he added, turning to me. “I mean, good God, they say the man wrote over 5,000 fugues in his lifetime – that's a fugue a day for almost fourteen years – but he never seemed to make the jump between being the student of fugues and the creator of his own original style – or at least one that endured. Perhaps composition itself wasn't really his thing, you know. But he was a damned good teacher!”

“But it's probably someone like that – someone who has not achieved the level of sophistication you're talking about, LauraLynn – who would be desperate to come up with some way of circumventing the hard work and their inherent lack of... well, shall we call it genius? – to be able to compose at that level, right?” I wasn't sure I was making sense but what I'd been listening to was not exactly making sense in the best sense of the word, either.

“But if it were someone like that who was looking for these secrets,” she countered, “wouldn't it still be easier to make use of my research – or at least what my research might reveal in a few more years' time if he hadn't destroyed my lab – than to kill people to obtain whatever it is that's buried in some secret location which this... this gizmo is supposedly leading him to?”

I shook my head, pointing at the doll. “Not if Dhabbodhú thought this was going to be instant gratification compared to his having to wait a few more years for you to complete your research, even if you did succeed in finding anything.”

“Perhaps it's not so much the level of accomplishment this... this person has achieved,” Zendler added, having trouble wrapping his tongue around the name, “as the level of recognition he has received that is goading him on.”

“He makes his living as a professional psychiatrist – and a fairly exclusive one, at that – but I saw a diploma on his wall – like you might see in some doctor's office? – from Cambridge University where he said he studied composition with Alexander Goehr.”

“Oh, Sandy – really? Very fine composer – don't hear much of his music in this country, though.” Zendler sounded impressed. “So this 'dabbler' you speak of is not exactly a composeur manquée , then, is he...?”

“Perhaps Mr. Zendler is right, LauraLynn, and it's his frustration over not being recognized as a great composer that's driving him. D'Arcy made the comment that led me to believe this guy was thinking this map would lead him to something that, by merely possessing it, would give him that edge automatically.”

“Like taking a pill, you mean?” Zendler chuckled again: how many would-be composers are disappointed when they realize how hard the work is and then, on top of all that, it's not just the hours of work put in on it?

Once again Buzz piped in, waving his fingers, “or like magic?”

“Well, Ms. Sullivan, if your research would be able to circumvent years of training by transferring brain-waves from a successful composer to one who is not, he would have done better to underwrite your lab, not blow it up.”

“That would be the answer,” I said, suddenly animated by an idea. “Hook my brain up to Mr. Zendler's by a series of wires and electrodes and see if suddenly I can upload his inspiration and suddenly start composing like him!”

Zzzzzzt! Zzzzzzt!”

We both held our arms out toward each other and, laughing the whole time, began bouncing around like we were being fried by some shared electrical current.

“Ugh... boys...” she said distastefully. Once again, she got up and walked over to the window.

“I don't think I would be able to help you much, there,” Zendler said as the laughter subsided. “You see, inspiration as such isn't a big part of how I start composing a new piece. It could happen when I'm out for a walk or something and I get this image – a sound image but vague, not specifically pitches like someone would come up with a melody or something – maybe a texture or a way I could treat a certain instrument or group of instruments. Then I try to figure out how best to realize that initial image. Later on, that's when inspiration comes in, the hard work of figuring out which of the possible solutions is the one I find most interesting at the moment, the one most likely to yield something that would hold that interest long enough for me to write a piece.”

LauraLynn sounded only mildly exasperated as she came back with a response I'm sure she had had to deal with before, when faced with skepticism from either her scientific colleagues or, for that matter, her own brother who was known to tweak even his best friends in the course of an argument when he would seem, for whatever reason, to be taking a contrarian view. “That's why it's so difficult trying to take all of these different ways composers create and find some kind of common denominator, some kind of pattern that might apply to someone else who...”

“Oh, I remember Rob talking about things like that but it's only scientific mumbo-jumbo to me,” Zendler continued, trying not to sound dismissive. Turning to me, he said, “People think because I write this incredibly complex-looking music that it's really a lot more complicated than it sounds. But there are things I want to somehow get across to the listener – in terms of the relationship between these planes of time or space, for instance – that one cannot do in a notation that doesn't go beyond our present limited capabilities. That's how notation evolved in the first place, from the simple lines of Gregorian Chant – not so simple, when you think about it, really – to include something else in a second voice. There were new things they wanted to express that couldn't be done with the system as it existed before. And so things adapted and changed. Things are constantly adapting and changing, you know, even today – at least I am.”

“Exactly,” she said, turning back to the desk. “And the technical advances that had been made between the 8th and the 14th Centuries and then through the Renaissance to the – “

“Like the Prolation Mass of Ockeghem, if you want to talk about complex music, compared to what other composers had been writing before the mid-1400s,” Zendler interjected.

“...Baroque and then compare that to the speed with which styles have evolved in complexities even within your own lifetime, Mr. Zendler...”

“Oh, don't use my lifetime as an example: I've got years of music left in me yet!”

“But how the growing complexity from Wagner to Mahler and Schoenberg turned around to Neo-Classicism in the 1920s before the Serialists took complexity in a whole different direction after World War II – and now, how the Minimalists have not only returned to a New Simplicity but a very direct tonal way of handling it – it's like three or four centuries of change and counter-change all condensed into 80 years or so.”

“Exactly,” Zendler said, practically rising out of his seat for emphasis. “You know, of course, that both Schoenberg and Stravinsky were doing the same thing in the 1920s, right? Turning from something completely flexible and spontaneous – whether it was some kind of pan-tonality or the complete free-for-all of atonality – and looking for some kind of order in all this chaos.”

“Sounds very syncretic of them,” Buzz added from his otherwise quiet corner.

“Not that they were aware of that, even at the time, no, but there's a lot of syncretism going on in music today. In our culture, today, in fact: it was a facet of ancient gnosticism, of course,” he said, nodding to LauraLynn who nodded back to him in agreement, “but in the rituals that make up our lives, our society – think of the preparation for the Thanksgiving feast with all its trimmings or for that matter the secularization of Christmas and Easter, all of which go back, syncretically speaking, to days when the new Christian church absorbed aspects of the pagan calendar in order to survive.”

He waved his hands around generally over the Mozart doll but taking in his desk as well. “Frankly I think that's where a lot of this” – he laid his hand on top of Mozart's head – “is leading us to, you know.” Then he gave the brass head a gentle flick of his hand to set it bobbling again. “See? Even Mozart seems to agree.”

You could almost hear the silence if it hadn't been for the traffic noise from the street below.

“Professor, if you will take my hand?” Zendler asked, reaching out and sounding tired for the first time this evening.

I assumed he needed help to stand up, perhaps to bid us good night before he toddled off to bed.

But instead, he guided my hand to the heavy cardboard box that had held Mozart's head, taking my index finger and pushing it into the box.

What kind of game is this?

“Do you see anything there – in the bottom of the box?”

See? You've got to be kidding me!

I obliged him and fumbled around a bit but then realized – yes, in fact, I did feel something, maybe a bit of dirt.

“Good. Now, press down on it – firmly.”

I did that, half expecting something to happen but not sure what. It was, after all, only a cardboard box – and one we'd almost thrown into the wastebasket in the tenor's dressing room if I hadn't thought to look for someplace where we could recycle it.

He pulled my hand back out and asked me to look at my finger tip.

There was an indentation, a tiny eighth note no more than an eighth of an inch long!

We all peered into the box to see it but it was barely visible.

“What's that doing there,” LauraLynn asked. “What's the significance?”

“Well, you know, many composers don't write something without a reason.” The twinkle had come back to his eye as he picked up the box and peered into it.

“But there's no context for it, just... just a single eighth note.”

“Yeah,” Buzz said somewhat mystified. “How fast would it go?”

“Oh, I don't think it's a question of tempo but one of... modulation.”

“You mean, like, metric modulation?”

I knew Zendler was a great fan of establishing a new tempo by connecting it to the old tempo with some common denominator. For instance, a new and faster tempo in 3/4 could be realized by taking one note of an eighth-note triplet in the previous 4/4 (♩=60 on the metronome) to become the new pulse (from ♪=180 to ♩=90). This sometimes led to quite complex-looking relationships where a tempo marking could end up reading ♩=72.5. It was, he'd point out, all a matter of keeping things proportional: the problem was setting the right tempo at the beginning so such a tempo indication as this, later on, would come out automatically, assuming you had observed all the correct relationships in between.

“You said you had Robertson's ear-cuff thingee, right?”

“Yes,” I said, digging into my pocket to get it out, separating it from the lint, loose change and numerous wads of cough drop wrappers that had found their home there.

He examined it closely, then tapped it.

“See? Here – after the text inscribed on it, there's a dash. Or it looks like a dash...”

That's right: I hadn't really paid attention to it before – a dash going nowhere.

recte et retro 

“Are you familiar with symbolon?”

“Yes, it's an orchestral work by Ellen Taaffe Zwillich written for the New York Philharmonic in 1988. Its world premiere was conducted by Zubin Mehta in what was then Leningrad.”

“Well, yes, there's that, but I meant more what the word means...”

“It's from the ancient Greek, symbállein, meaning 'to put together.'” Buzz had piped up again from his otherwise quiet corner by Zendler's desk. Each of us turned to look at him in surprise.

“Right – good! Yes, something is broken into two parts so that a secret message, say,” he said, nodding at the box in his hand, “couldn't be read until both parts had been reunited.”

“Yes, I get that – the head and the body of the doll.”

“But there's more, you see.” He placed the box back down on his desk. “Take the ear-cuff and hold it down to the bottom of the box, lining up that dash with the stem of the eighth note.”

I did that and finally was able to manage it – it was trickier than it seemed – when I felt it sort of “lock” into place.

“What is it, do you think?” I asked him, waiting for something to happen.

“A key can be a tonality – A Major, for instance – or it can be...?” He looked up at me questioningly.

“Something that unlocks a door!”

“So, turn it.”

“Wait – the A and E-flat on the bottom of the box, right? Which we thought was Arnold Schoenberg's monogram? It's directly on the opposite side of the eighth note!”

“So it is. A to E-flat. Now, where are they located on the Circle of Fifths, assuming you're starting from C?”

“Well, it's C – G – D – A – E – B – F-sharp or G-flat – D-flat – A-flat – E-flat... then B-flat – F and back to C.”

“Imagine if it were a clock with C at noon. Where would A and E-flat fall?”

Buzz counted out on his fingers. “At 3:00 and 9:00.”

“Correct again – a straight line across the diameter of a circle. So turn it from 3:00 to 9:00 and see what happens.”

I did that, too, after pushing down slightly with the ear-cuff, and surprisingly this time the eighth note gave way and began to turn.

But still nothing happened.

Zendler was disappointed.

Then it occurred to me. “Wait – RECTE et RETRO! First, you turn it recte or forward to E-flat Major or 9:00. Then you turn it retro – counter-clockwise back to A Major or 3:00 – right?”

It worked! And the result was so unexpected, it left us each in a state of shock and awe.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...
= = = = = = =
The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown'sThe Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Monday, October 4th.
©2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 29

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's“The Lost Symbol") in which our heroes met the Grand Old Man of American Music, Howard Zendler, as they tried figuring out what the clue "Crabs Golden Horn Rector Teeter" means and wait to see what happens when Mozart's head is reunited with the body of the bobble-head doll.

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” begin your adventure, here.)


= = = = = = = = =

After a while, the nodding stopped.

Nothing happened.

As if out of the blue, Zendler asked us, "Do you know who Robertson Sullivan studied with? Or I guess that's 'with whom...'"

His sister said, “Robertson always credited John Corigliano as being his most significant teacher.”

“Yes, that would make sense. John is a very good composer and teacher.” Looking specifically at me, Zendler then asked “And do you know who John studied with?”

“D'Arcy and I had started to go through this chronology of students and teachers. Corigliano studied with Otto Leuning who studied with Feruccio Busoni who studied with a guy best known by a pseudonym, W. A. Rémy. I can't remember his real name – a German guy born in Prague, I think, but beyond that, I'm afraid I'm lost.” No one on this list, however, studied with or taught Schoenberg.

“Well, very good, very good. Yes, as a good friend of Robertson's, you would, as I expected, know your stuff.”

“Sounds like something from the Old Testament,” Buzz spoke up brightly.

“Oh yes, it's very much like those long list of Begats in the Bible. I always thought they were so boring but they have so much tell us about the passing of time and the legacy of generations.”

“Who was W.A. Rémy?” Buzz continued. “I bet the W.A. stood for Wolfgang Amadeus!”

“His real name was Wilhelm Mayer – and if you look closer, you'll notice that 'W.A. Rémy' is an anagram of 'W. Mayer.' See?” he said, holding his hands up and fluttering his fingers around as if he were mixing the letters up before your eyes. “He's not exactly a well-known composer any more, that's true, but he was one of the most highly respected teachers in Austria in his day. He had no time for either Wagner OR Brahms, either of the major names in new music at the time. Everything he taught was based on Bach and Mozart and he considered the first four preludes and fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier the 'water, fire, earth and air' that were the basis of all music. You know, even in the 1880s, he was still teaching counterpoint from Cherubini and orchestration from Berlioz?”

I was worried if we didn't have much time, where exactly was all of this taking us.

“Busoni had said he was a very strict but very inspiring teacher, one whose – how did he word it? – 'universal erudition enabled him to elucidate, embellish and bring to life points in music and the history of music by drawing upon the entire history of civilization,' you know, 'giving character sketches of the masters where it was relevant and adding his own highly personal observations,'” he continued with a decided twinkle in his eye, now focused as if on some distant writing he was reading from, “'some factual, some joking, some poetic.' Something like that, anyway,” he added, coming back into focus before us there in his study.

After a pause during which I expected some form of enlightenment which was clearly not forthcoming unless induced by my own epiphany, I asked, “And do we know who Rémy studied with?”

“Oh, that was very tricky to find out. Robertson and I spent a long time tracking that down – it's become much easier since everything's on-line, now, of course, but Rémy studied with a man named either C. F. Pitsch or O. F. Pitsch.”

Again there was a pause while he awaited some sign of recognition.

“No? I didn't think so. Herr Pitsch, it seems, was a teacher at the Prague Organ School.”

“A teacher of Dvořák's, by any chance?”

“Bingo,” he said, tapping his index finger to the side of his nose. “Yes, though not regarded as a very significant one. But Mayer – or Rémy – was born in Prague and also studied at the school. We found a couple of references to their student-teacher relationship but no response about what he learned from him. I mean, you would think a man who gained the reputation Rémy had earned, who had students coming to study with him in Graz, might have at least left us a little something about what he'd learned from his own teacher. But not a word. So, now of course, the question is...”

“Who did Pitsch study with.” Buzz was getting the hang of it.

“That took even more digging. In one source Robertson found in the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center – only one source – a letter from somebody or other, I've forgotten who, now, mentioned Pitch was a fellow student of his with Simon Sechter.”

“Ah, I was getting worried there for a minute: back on familiar ground, finally.”

“It is?” LauraLynn was perplexed. “In all our conversations about creativity, Rob never once mentioned anybody beyond Busoni. He was very proud he was a great-grandstudent of his.”

“So, Dr. Dick, would you care to take it backwards from there?” Zendler, meanwhile, massaged his forehead. I could tell he was very tired: it was quite late for him and I dreaded his assistant's return any minute now.

“Simon Sechter was also one of the best known teachers in Austria in his day. In Vienna, he taught Bruckner in a kind of correspondence course...”

“Yes,” Zendler laughed, “long before they had the technology to offer you a course through some internet university. I always chuckle when I get e-mail from places offering me chances to advance my education with an on-line degree...”

“But Sechter is probably most famous today for having given only one lesson to Franz Schubert just a couple of weeks before Schubert died. In fact, the last music Schubert would have written were the counterpoint exercises Sechter had given him for a homework assignment.”

“And, Dr. Dick,” he said looking at me as if he obviously already knew the answer, “do you remember the date of that lesson?”

“Uh... well, sometime in early November, 1828... right?”

“Right.” He sat back and pulled himself straight up in his chair, resetting his posture with a satisfied look like a canary about to leave a cat out of its bag. “November 4th, 1828.”

“Oh my God,” Buzz blurted out, “that's today's date!”

“Hmmm, I wonder if there's some significance to that – it's no big anniversary: what, 181st, right?”

“Perhaps not,” Zendler responded, “but who knows if the date isn't a trigger here if not the year... Oh well, anyway, where were we, now? Right – who begat Sechter?”

LauraLynn had remained quiet but was becoming increasingly more agitated as our discussion continued on its not very direct course.

“This is all very interesting,” she said, “but meanwhile I'd like to rescue my brother while he's still alive and – you're right, sir – we don't have a lot of time.”

“True, true,” the old man said leaning forward confidentially, “but there are things you need to know that will help you solve these puzzles – you won't find the right answer without some of the background.”

“But we know of Schoenberg, maybe referring to something he wrote in 1946 – and all these other clues: surely, they must point to something fairly directly. Do you know the correct answer, Mr. Zendler?”

“Unfortunately, my dear, I am not a scientist but the matter we are dealing with is not scientific, you know: in fact, you see there's a reason why the technical study of music's language – harmony and the like – is called THEORY, you know...” He was trying to sound helpful but instead came off a bit sanctimonious, as far as LauraLynn's expression was concerned.

I understood what he was getting at – I think we had already covered that aspect of it in an earlier conversation but with whom, when and along what part of the path, I no longer remembered – but I also understood LauraLynn's anxiety was getting the better of her scientific curiosity. Whatever it was we had to find was not something that was just going to pop up in front of us and there was precious little time for research or to run experiments or to sit and “shoot the bull” (scientifically or otherwise) that was so far an enjoyable luxury – at least, for me...

“In a sense, you need to understand where your brother is coming from – I mean, as a composer, what his (what do you call it...?)... his legacy is. No, the legacy he received, I mean.”

“Pfffuh.” She didn't mean to sound rude but also didn't feel she needed to apologize. She knew damn well where her brother was coming from – it's where he was at at this moment that she needed to know more about. Instead, she stood up and quietly wandered over to the window behind Mr. Zendler and looked longingly out into the dark night. She didn't need to wonder where her brother was – he was probably in Dhabbodhú's house, somewhere, and it irritated her to think she had been there earlier in the day, so close and yet unable to sense he needed help. Whatever happened to sibling telepathy!?

“I have to ask, though, Mr. Zendler, what practical use all this has, for the moment? LauraLynn's right, we need to solve these puzzles tonight.”

“It takes time, you know, to get everything in place before you see the solution, just like composing.” He took a sip of tea, disappointed how cold it had gotten. “But for Robertson, it was a significant part of what this villain you're talking about is calling 'ancient mysteries.' Maybe not that ancient, you know, in the sense of Classical Greece or 'since the beginning of time' ancient, but I think, really, much of what is being passed on from teacher to student has been around quite a while – even longer than me, I'm afraid.”

“Is there something from Simon Sechter we should be looking for in our clues?”

“I read somewhere – I can't remember where, now, it's not like it's going to be on a doctoral exam, at this point in my life, but... Sechter studied with one of the Kozeluchs in Vienna, cousins who had the same name, initially, but the famous pianist changed his name to Leopold to distinguish himself from Johann Anton who was one of the most important Czech composers of the turn of the century – well, of that century. Sechter apparently studied with Leopold the pianist who was also a busy composer but it was Johann who was known as the more significant teacher, the 'Great Contrapuntist,' they called him. Maybe Sechter studied with both of them – it's possible, I guess. I mean, they were both in Vienna at the time...”

“This genealogical tree that you're constructing for Robertson, these 'Begats' – how important is that to what Robertson himself learned at the end of the 20th Century which he's transferring on to the next generation of students in the 21st Century?”

“Oh, I don't know, exactly: he seems to think it's very important, this idea and sense of connection with the past. I had felt something similar when I was a student examining old scores and performing, oh I don't know... Monteverdi madrigals and things. However we're aware of it and how we choose to make use of the past NOW – that's where our own originality comes into play. It's the basis from which we would... we would find our own voice, and so on...”

“If this doll, this... 'gizmo' as the villain refers to it – at least we think they're the same thing – is a map that points to a location where there's some treasure, how am I... are we to uncover this using what seems to be a very diverse collection of facts and ideas and...”

“Theories, you mean?” Zendler smiled again. “No, really, from what Robertson tells me, this really is a map. I'm not sure how it works but the place is real and the treasure is also... quite real.”

Buzz perked up as if something new and potentially disturbing had just occurred to him. “Is this something that has to be stolen? I mean, do we have to break in and steal it for him or do we just give him the map and say 'go for it'?”

“Ah! Well now, I can't really... I don't think I can answer that, myself. It was not a secret that Robertson specifically shared with me – it seems to be entirely his responsibility.”

“But the treasure – whatever it may be – is something that he received, handed down generation after generation from the teachers of his teachers going back to 1800?”

“Oh, back further than that, actually: you see Leopold Kozeluch who knew Mozart and Haydn and Beethoven officially studied with Franz Xaver Duschek who may not be as good or well remembered a composer as any of those three, but not every great composer is a good teacher. I mean, what did Beethoven really think of Haydn, now...?”

“He went to Albrechtsberger to study counterpoint behind his back because Haydn was missing a lot of the mistakes Beethoven was making in his homework assignments.” I felt like I was back at my doctoral dissertation defense examination, again, only this time, gnawing at the front of my brain was the realization that a friend's life depended on it.

“That's right – he said (Beethoven did) that 'patience, diligence, persistence and sincerity will lead to success,' which he learned not from Haydn but from a composer nobody really takes seriously today. Have you ever heard a piece by Albrechtsberger?” he asked, turning to Buzz. “I mean other than that silly Jew's Harp Concerto thing they dig out on the radio just to be funny, now and then. Okay, anyway – who studied with whom in those years is all pretty vague and sometimes people claimed to study with someone just for the commercial value of claiming so-and-so for their teacher. But even Haydn, whatever kind of teacher he became, was largely a self-taught composer aside from some lessons he'd had with the singer Porpora while he was his accompanist. He read everything he could get his hands on – mostly C.P.E. Bach, but he could hardly claim to be his student, could he? Perhaps, when you think about all these things, maybe the reason Haydn wasn't such a good teacher was he never really had a good one, himself?”

“And, considering the number of teachers there are today and how many of them are not very good – or at least successful – composers, their talent might be in teaching, just not in composing?”

“Exactly. Yes, I think that's very possible, don't you? And of course, the other side of that, considering the hundreds of students a composer may have over the years, how many of them become what you call successful composers, hmmm?”

“Uhm, yes... true...” I mumbled as if I'd been cornered.

“But what all this comes down to, you see, once we trace back from Sechter who taught more from Rameau than anyone composing in his own time, to his teachers to their teachers, we find ourselves, by way of Christoph George Wagenseil, to HIS teacher, Johann Jacob Fux who wrote a book in 1725 that not only Sechter or W. A. Rémy thought was very important but which Robertson himself said was still very much the basis of much of his own teaching, even though he didn't come right out and say he teaches from it...”

“You mean 'Gradus ad Parnassum'?” said LauraLynn who had appeared to be ignoring our conversation, intent on her own internal one.

“Yes, the very same!” Zendler turned to look at her, pointing a finger toward the heavens to punctuate the discovery.

“You've been talking a lot about counterpoint, Mr. Zendler,” Buzz added. “It's a very old and very old-fashioned technical study, writing fugues and stuff like that. Nobody writes fugues any more, do they?”

“Oh, my dear boy, it's much more than just writing fugues! Yes, of course, Sechter wrote thousands of fugues, they say, 'one-a-day' for most of his adult life, but my own music is full of counterpoint,” he said, waving the fingers of his right hand back and forth in front of him as if he were trying to separate strands of music in space as well as time, “and I didn't get it from writing fugues – in addition to really old-fashioned 'species counterpoint' and Palestrina, mostly I got it from listening to jazz, actually...”

“Jazz?” Buzz sounded incredulous, trying to imagine the composer of some of the most intellectualized music in America sitting in a smoky bar listening to a jazz combo improvising their way through the haze.

“But don't you see,” LauraLynn said, coming back to the desk and sitting down again. “GRADUS AD PARNASSUM means 'The Step to Parnassus,' ascending to the mountain that was sacred to Apollo and the home of the muses – that's the map!”

“What?” I'm sure I sounded skeptical because, basically, I was. “How can that be a map? Parnassus is in Greece – ANCIENT Greece, to be exact. Isn't it supposed to refer to something here in New York City? Ah, of course – a metaphorical map...? But I can hardly tell our villainous friend 'Go read Fux yourself!' And besides, so far, NONE of the actual clues we've been given point to Fux or his book. Do they?”

“But still, don't forget,” Zendler said, leaning forward, his finger now raised in a kind of mock-warning. “'Belief in technique as the only salvation has to be suppressed and the urge for truthfulness encouraged.'”

“Who said that? Debussy?” Buzz was always impressed that Debussy had flunked out of his harmony class.

“Actually,” said LauraLynn, “it was Arnold Schoenberg.”

Sitting back and shaking his head, this old man who has seen so much history himself said, “You must have the courage of your convictions to see this through to the end, now – this progression of events which must reach some kind of climax tonight since you have opened this seemingly harmless little box and unleashed old secrets,” he said, patting it gently with his hand. “It depends on how you play it, whether it will end up being this kind of cadence or that, this ending: a full one with a happy ending or perhaps a deceptive one or maybe one that modulates to no place you had initially expected? Or maybe, having played itself out, it will not really end at all but just... stop.”

“I can't imagine this cheap little plastic doll having ANY 'old secrets,' as you put it – it can't be that old, itself, especially since it's referring to someone in the past like Schoenberg who only died a little over 50 years ago.”

“'No new technique in the Arts is created that has not had its roots in the past.'”

Now I was beginning to understand Luke Skywalker's frustration on Dagobah in the course of his training as a Jedi Knight. No one said this was going to be easy...

Buzz tried to puzzle it out. “Who is... Beethoven?”

LauraLynn shook her head. “Another Schoenberg quote, Buzz.” She smiled for the first time this evening.

Holding the doll in my hand and staring at its back, I thought to myself this thing – gizmo, whatever – couldn't possibly set any kind of chord progression in motion.

“Perhaps,” Zendler said, patting my hand in a comforting gesture, “that is because you have not yet trained your ears to hear it.”

“What?” I hadn't said that outloud, had I?

He just smiled at me.

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

Whatever Director Leahy-Hu was about to pull out of her rumpled tote-bag, V.C. D'Arcy knew it was not going to be pleasant. Various permutations of “make you talk – make you talk – make you talk” swirled around inside his head, ricocheting from one side of his brain to the other until he thought he would pass out when she pulled out a thin, gun-metal case and popped open the lid.

Naturally, to increase his anxiety, she kept the back of the case toward him so he couldn't see what she was up to. Could this be something as barbaric as weapons of torture or hypodermic needles with truth serum? How many ways did her international secret agency know how to MAKE YOU TALK? As an international secret agency, was the ICA bound by the Geneva Convention even though he was pretty sure the United States government of the previous administration had flaunted them repeatedly in Iraq? Were they bound by the laws of the country they were at the moment located in and if so did it really matter, since many times it had this habit of doing first then asking forgiveness later?

A click, a flick, a bit of a whir, a flash of light – and then a crunch and sudden darkness and silence meant what she had opened was apparently some kind of wi-fi computer. She tried it again but this time it took longer to get to the flash of light. Each time, he could easily follow the grimaces on her face.

What the hell is she up to?

The box begun to produce chugging noises, a higher pitched whir and then the sudden descent of a whine that meant, once again she had lost power.

She got out her phone and punched in a number with exaggerated care, no doubt concerned in the heat of exasperation she would dial the wrong number.

“Yes, Hu here. No, Leahy-Hu. Look, I'm on the Portal Operations Security computer and I can't get past the log-in. No, there's nothing about a mistake, it just... Yes, I tried that and... No, it's slower than usual. What? Okay, wait a minute...”

She put the phone down, tried something that involved two hands and the computer reluctantly whirred back to life.

“Ah, okay, there it's... no, wait...”

The whirring stopped and slowly chugged to a halt with a clunk.

“Perhaps if I slam it up against the wall...?” The person on the other end of the phone line was probably not being terribly sympathetic. “Look, I know what P.O.S. stands for, it's Portal Oper... oh, that P.O.S., no... well, I realize you are dealing with budget cuts, so are we all, but that doesn't do me very much good at the moment, now, does it!”

Then, after a brief meditative pause, she apparently tried something different, the start-up music that followed indicating some level of success had been achieved.

They use the “transfiguration motive” from Strauss' 'Death and Transfiguration' for their sign-on music? What kind of software company would do that?It gave him a new appreciation, however, for the old Blue Screen of Death.

“Okay, now then,” she said more calmly, putting her phone away and turning the computer around to face D'Arcy, it's showtime...”

D'Arcy watched carefully as a video file finished downloading and began to open with considerable hesitation and frequent buffering. After nearly a minute, he still wasn't sure what it was supposed to be but gradually, second by second, he began to figure it out.

O.

M.

G.

“Well, Mr. D'Arcy,” she said with a sense of satisfaction in her voice, “I suspect you'd like to talk to me, now?”

The sweat was now flowing down the back of his neck like the Trevi Fountain and his heart beat had quickened until he felt like the sacrificial virgin in the final scene of Stravinsky's “Rite of Spring.” Unable to breathe, he felt strangely paralyzed but yet couldn't stop the spasmodic trembling in his arms. Maybe it would be better, now, just to go completely crazy or keel over and die rather than have to deal with the huge mistake he just realized he'd made.

One. HUGE. Freaking. Mistake.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...
= = = = = = =
The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown'sThe Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, September 30th.
©2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 28

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol") in which Tr'iTone continued his ritual preparation, laying out a pen, a vial of blood, a jar containing Mahler's dying breath, as he prepared his body to inscribe the one remaining tattoo that would make him Master of the Composers' Universe – the Lost Chord.

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” begin your adventure, here.)


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

The Grand Old Man of American Music, Howard Zendler led us across his living room floor, pointing to his work desk in the next room. In the past year, he had had to deal with dozens of interviews from journalists all asking him the same question: what was it like to be 100?

Our interview was a little different: V.C. D'Arcy had somehow set it up that Zendler should call me and tell me to come to his place – for answers?

He eased himself down in his chair, rearranging some papers and pushing aside a collection of mechanical pencils and a large electric eraser, one of those draftsman's gadgets from the '70s that probably took more energy to hold than it did to rub something out with an old-fashioned pencil. He apologized for having made it look like he was working on something.

“But I am, you know,” with a mischievous twinkle, pushing back the makeshift easel that held up large sheets of manuscript paper. “It's a piano quintet to be premiered in a couple of months, so I'd better get it done soon, don't you think?”

There was a moment of silence once we were all seated. As I went to introduce ourselves, he began.

“Yes, I'm sorry I don't have much time...”

It occurred to me a man of almost 101 might be concerned about dying before he finishes his next piece, and of course I figured at this hour of the night, he's no doubt quite tired as it was.

“...since my assistant is probably going to be back soon to check on me,” Zendler continued. “He went out to meet a friend for an after-concert drink, something about the St. Louis Symphony playing new works by Tan Dun and Bright Sheng at Carnegie Hall.” He chuckled. “They're also playing Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin which I guess is the old standard classic on the program, but I was 10 years old when Bartok began writing it, so...”

His voice trailed off and quickly refocused itself.

“My friend, Mr. D'Arcy, informs me that you are in some kind of serious trouble. How can I be of help?” He folded his hands over his right knee.

I introduced each of us quickly and told him what had happened so far – from Robertson's being kidnapped and having his ear cut off and put on display at the Lincoln Center fountain to the explosion at the Met and our being chased by agents from the International Composers' Alliance. I was afraid it might all be too weird and going by too fast for him to take in in such a short time.

“But why is it the ICA is chasing you? I don't understand that part...”

Then I mentioned the clues we'd followed, leading us to the discovery of the bobble-head doll and how I met D'Arcy rather unexpectedly in a room under the basement of the Met.

“But they should be helping you, especially in times when the Style Police are at their most aggressive.” He looked rather put out by the idea and voiced it only reluctantly. “Do you think they've gone rogue and switched over to the Dark Side to help this villain you mentioned, the one who's kidnapped Robertson?”

“So you know my brother personally?” LauraLynn asked.

“Well, only for a short time,” Zendler responded warmly, “we'd met back in the early-'80s but we didn't become good friends until maybe ten years ago, now.”

Of course, to a man who's seen a century, three decades was not a long time.

“D'Arcy seemed to think so. Something was set in motion that prompted the villain, this guy we know only as Iobba Dhabbodhú, to kidnap Robertson, bring me into the City and specifically bring a small package Robertson had entrusted with me long ago. Well, maybe 30 years ago, yes...” To me, three decades was a long time.

Zendler's eyebrows arched at the mention of the “small package.”

“And this Dhabbodhú guy is the same one who broke into our family home on Thanksgiving a few years ago when he killed our Aunt Katie, claiming he was looking for the 'gizmo' which neither of us could figure out.” LauraLynn was trying not to become agitated and could no longer recall whether it was Thanksgiving a few years ago or several, by now.

“So I take it, by now,” Zendler continued, “that you've opened this 'small package' and discovered its meaning?”

“Not exactly, sir. It's not what I expected – it's the head to the bobble-head doll, I'm sure, but it's made of brass, not plastic like the rest of the doll.”

“And there's a message on the back of the doll,” LauraLynn pointed out as she picked the tote bag up to put everything out on his work desk.

“D'Arcy figured that if Dhabbodhú is looking for it then perhaps Leahy-Hu is looking for it for the same reasons.”

“Who?”

“Yes.”

“No, I mean who did you say was also looking for it?”

“Oh, I meant the Director of Security for the ICA, Yoda Leahy-Hu.”

“Ah, yes, I've met her – annoying little bitch, isn't she? Oh, I'm sorry, that just sort of slipped out. Look, I should have offered you some tea – I asked my assistant to make a cup for me before he left but I was afraid it would look suspicious, you know, if I asked him to make a pot.”

LauraLynn patted his hand. “It's not necessary, thank you, but that's very kind of you.”

“I know it is,” he said sheepishly, “but at my age, sometimes you have to work at it a little harder, I'm afraid.” Turning back to me, he continued, “and why would anybody be looking for this bobble-head doll you're talking about?”

I had to admit my heart sank closer to my stomach with that one: here I was hoping he could tell me...

“I really don't know. D'Arcy mentioned some mumbo-jumbo about 'old secrets' and maps, yet all this thing is is a cheap souvenir with a musical puzzle on the back that doesn't lead us much of anywhere.”

I pulled out the sheet of paper we had been working on when LauraLynn and I were standing back in the Met basement's cleaning closet and carefully showed Zendler the scrap of music inscribed on Mozart's back, pointing out the string of numbers barely visible underneath each line of notes.

“Hmmm, it's much heavier than I would have expected, just looking at it.” He looked at the doll, front and back, now and then lifting his glasses up as if to get a closer look. “You're sure it's not the doll's serial number?”

“Uhm....” That, actually, hadn't occurred to us. Pointing to the sheet of manuscript paper Mozart held in his hand, I said “this, turned inside out, spells out B-A-C-H but transposed a tritone. Then the back is a musical line – well, two lines – that when you transpose them a tritone spell out CRABS GOLDEN HORN and RECTOR TEETER.”

“Ah ha, but not BEEBER.” He pointed at the specific notes – after all, B E E B – and chuckled again.

“No, because I saw that Rector Teeter – with B also equaling the solfege syllable 'Ti' – was probably not a person but an anagram for RECTE ET RETRO which is something Robertson had engraved on an ear-cuff he wore.”

“Yes, I remember that, too,” he said, taking a sip of his tea. “I thought it was very recherché of him when he got that.”

“I was thinking if we'd reorder the letters according to these numbers underneath the musical pitches, it would spell out something that might make more sense but we just haven't had the time. We've been on-the-run for most of the evening. I had hoped perhaps you might be able to... well, shed some light on this for us?”

He glanced back and forth between the numbers I'd written on the back of my notes and the scratchings on the back of the Mozart doll.

3 11 7 5 13 10 9 4 19 2

6 12 1 17 18 16 8 14 20 15

“But what do they mean?” I asked him. “They don't look like any standard kind of basso continuo notation so I'm assuming they must be something else – like a clue to the ordering of the pitches.”

Buzz blurted out, “you mean like a secret 12-tone row? But then why not an Arnold Schoenberg bobble-head doll?”

Zendler laughed. “Now, THERE's a big selling item...”

“And what's that little 'N' there?” There were two of them, LauraLynn pointed out.

“If Mozart's using Baroque continuo figures, could he be using Schoenberg's Nebenstimme symbol?” Buzz suggested, proud to have remembered the two letters often found in atonal or serial music to help performers balance a “lead melody” or Hauptstimme with an 'H' against another one marked 'N' that was a countermelody in the background.

Zendler wasn't so sure it was that complicated. “Given the fact there's no easy way to use certain letters in this musical notation code, I suspect it probably means 'N'...”

Buzz looked kind of crestfallen. “Well, that's cheap...”

“Ah, just as I thought.” I said, ignoring his last comment. “There are only twenty numbers, ten in each line, not twelve – and none of them repeat. So, let's see what order they're...”

“ORDER,” LauraLynn blurted out. “Everything will be found WITHIN THE ORDER!

Quickly scribbling things out, I drew a 4x5 matrix and in each block wrote each letter and its corresponding basso number.


Then, without any further explanation, I drew another 4x5 matrix and numbered each square in correct numerical order, then, pointing with my pen, went back to find what letter corresponded to that number in the first step of the solution.

“Ohhhhhh,” Buzz let out softly, nodding his head. “I got it.”

“What? What did you get?” LauraLynn looked at him expectantly.

“No, I mean 'I get it now,' see?” And he pointed to the solution that was beginning to form.


“Ohhhhhhh,” we all three went in unison.

But then our relief at having solved the puzzle – apparently – changed to doubt again as we tried to make sense of what it meant.

Meanwhile, Zendler, as if he'd lost interest in what we were doing, looked in the tote-bag and pulled out the small package that contained Mozart's head.

LauraLynn pointed at the tiny imprint on the back of the box, the pitches A-E♭, the interval of a tritone.

“Of course,” I said, slapping my forehead with the palm of my hand. “A-to-E♭ in German notation would be A–S – 'Es' being the German for E♭ ,” I added for Buzz's benefit though he smiled back at me that snarky grin I knew meant Yeah, you told me that a gazillion times. “The initials of Arnold Schoenberg! And the numbers 8.02.46. So what was Schoenberg writing in 1946?”

Zendler had now opened the box and held the head up to examine it.

“I feel a bit like Salome, at the moment. So tell me,” he said, turning the head around in his hand, “why have you come to see me?”

Uh oh, he's losing it... “Well, we're here because you asked me to come and because Mr. D'Arcy said we could trust you.”

“You trust me with this information you're showing me and here I am, holding something that people are chasing you for – and yet you give it to me, right into my hands, without any doubts?”

Uh oh, this is where he turns all evil and stuff, right?... “Er... I'm afraid I don't understand what's happening right about now...?”

“No, I just mean you've been told how important this 'secret' is and it's clear that Robertson is in danger from someone who clearly feels it's worth killing for, and yet you'll trust me but not Virgil D'Arcy. I was just wondering why, that's all...”

“That's really my fault, I'm afraid, Mr. Zendler,” LauraLynn interposed, not sure where this was going, either. “I want to rescue my brother and I was the one who opened the box in the first place. At the time, I hadn't been aware of what D'Arcy had said about it.”

He tapped the back of the head knowingly and mumbled, “hah... yes, il tutto sará trovato nell'ordine, yes...”

Then he did something quite unexpected: he took the head carefully and placed it gently on the small spike sticking out of Mozart's neck, then with a slight downward push secured the head to the body for the first time in who knew how many years. It bobbled up and down, gently nodding its head in agreement with his action. We sat back cautiously and looked at it, not knowing what to expect.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...

= = = = = = =

The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Monday, September 27th.
©2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 27

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol") in which our heroes discussed the scientific study of creativity; Vice Squad agent Wanda Menveaux helped track down Buzz's wayward coat as Dr. Dick & Co. connect with the mysterious composer referred by V.C. D'Arcy who turned out to be a 100-year-old man named Howard Zendler (well, it *is* fiction); and Yoda Leahy-Hu's interrogation of D'Arcy took a serious turn.

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” begin your adventure, here.)


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

Into the basement of his brownstone home on West 69th Street, Tr'iTone now descended, careful not to make a sound or unnecessary gesture lest he upset the karmic flow around him. The lighting was a warm pastel shade mixing tints of magenta and brown with the music's slow pulsation which had already begun its gradual increase in speed. This was his “holy of holies,” his shrine to the pale-skinned Sarasvati, Queen of Heaven, Mother of Waters, the Hindu goddess of sensual love, creativity, beauty, art and music, creator of poetry, inventor of music and science and also the beverage Amrita, the 'drink of bliss,' a glass of which he held in his left hand.

A large velvet painting of her – a crescent moon on her forehead, riding on a peacock against a starry sequin-studded background that flowed from the myriad eyes of the peacock's tail – hung at one end of a twelve foot square space, the floor a pattern of square-foot tiles of various colors – twelve across and twelve down. Twelve are the pitches of the chromatic scale, one for each hour of the day and one for each hour of the night. Within the center of the square was a smaller square of seven tiles across and seven down, these colors darker, more intense. Seven are the pitches of the diatonic scale. Seven are the days of the week. In the center of this central square stood a small five-foot square table. Five are the lines of the staff. Five are the... uhm... days of a normal work-week...

Directly over the table hung an old plastic color-wheel from the psychedelic '70s, twelve panels of rainbow hues blending one into the other, which Tr'iTone had devised to rotate slowly to the hour hand of a clock. When it was noon or midnight, the color was bright red; the panel gradually blended to orange, the color of 1:00, and then to yellow for 2:00 and so on through the spectrum of green, blue, purple, magenta and brown till it was back to red.

This clock was coordinated with a CD-player that played continuously one of his finest creations, a series of slow-moving chord progressions played on a synthesizer, pulsating chords around a central tonic that repeated various simple pitch and rhythmic patterns, expanding from the lowest registers until, in a gradual crescendo and accelerando, it climbed to the very highest registers where, during the last quarter of the hour, it gradually filled out to the full range of man's hearing before modulating climactically to the next hour, the new key.

He called this composition of La belle horloge de couleurs cèlestes, “The Beautiful Clock of Celestial Colors.” He had thought of hiring a symphony orchestra to record the piece for him in its entirety but union regulations precluded a twelve-hour service without breaks and he didn't want to have any edits that would minimize its spiritual impact. So while settling for a midi-version of it, he found it also made it easier to record and connect the different sections on his computer. Like all of his latest music, it still awaited its first public performance. He had even made a shortened version where, if you didn't take all the repeats, it would be only two hours long. He had sent the score to John Tesh but never heard back from him, not even the courtesy of “thank you for your wonderful score but at this time we are not looking for a twelve-hour-long work for full orchestra.” Still, Tr'iTone was convinced it would have been an epic presentation on a PBS fund-raising special.

Even though, like perfect pitch, Tr'iTone himself did not possess it, he understood the power of synesthesia, the ability some people had of seeing colors when they heard music. Each hour was associated with a different color and a different tonality, beginning with a darker shade of its color, the chord progression starting in the minor mode of its key. But halfway through the hour, the color would lighten and the music changed to the major mode. And so his clock reflected this. 12:00 was red which to many synesthetes was the key of C; 1:00 was orange and the key of G; 2:00 became yellow and the key of D. And so on through the entire span of time, the entire range of keys.

Now was the Hour of B-flat, still in the minor mode. Dressed in his ritual boxers with a pattern of crowns and stars and smiling suns, he took his glass of Amrita – the “drink of bliss” concocted from Sarasvati's recipe freshly and carefully prepared exactly a week ago and left to ferment in the refrigerator for the requisite seven days – and drank it slowly to begin his ritual.

On the table before him were a metal box, a little lantern, a small clay pot with a miniature rose bush growing in it, a small photograph in a black wooden frame, a piece of paper on a deep blue china plate and a small dark cup, like one you might use to wash your eye with, only a little larger. Next to that was a small glass bottle like one you might find in any old European apothecary shop, its glass stopper carefully held in place with a red ribbon. Last was a bowl, its exterior plated in gold and quite aged, possibly even cracked, but no matter: it was empty – for now.

He did not yet open the metal box. He did not need to, to admire its contents.

The pen.

After spending nearly a decade tracking it down, he had paid over $1 million for it at the black market arts fair held in Vienna last year. He wondered when the last time was that it had been used to write anything down?

He opened the box and took out the pen that had been carefully wrapped in a square of rich red velvet and a swatch of ermine, wiping it clean with a small scrap cut from a pair of lederhosen dipped in tap-water he had brought back from Vienna years ago and kept in a special air-sealed bottle in his refrigerator until this very moment in time.

Next, he examined the sheet of paper on the china plate. This, he sighed, was not just any piece of paper: it was an ancient manuscript written on vellum, hand-made by monks from the skin of a baby calf. In turn, he checked the other items, giving the eye-cup a careful look, swirling it and sniffing its bouquet as if it were a fine red wine.

But it wasn't a centuries old vintage of wine. When he was in Vienna, he'd thought of trying to buy the last remaining bottle from the collection Beethoven's publisher had sent the dying composer in March of 1827, but that was Mosel wine, Beethoven's favorite white wine, and Tr'iTone would have preferred a deep, hearty red, himself. No, in many ways, this was even better.

The cup he held before him contained 1/8th of a cup of blood. Robertson Sullivan's blood.

After lighting the little lantern, he touched each item in turn, from the box with the pen to the little apothecary jar, muttering unintelligible incantations, repeating them each three times as he took out three candles, lit them and carefully placed them one at the center back of the table, the other two in the center of either side, creating a triangle within the square.

He took the last bit of Sarasvati's beverage and let it drip onto the potted plant, a miniature rose that he had nurtured from a rose bush that grew on Robertson Sullivan's estate in Cornwall-on-Hudson. More a scrawny sapling than a true miniature rose, it was barely alive – just like Robertson Sullivan, now that he mentioned it – but alive enough to serve its purpose. He had cut a slip from it when he went back to sneak around the property, summer a year ago: no one had been home and he'd thought about breaking in again but figured, if the gizmo he'd been looking for were still there at all, it wouldn't be out in the open, now, would it? No, he probably kept it in a hidden wall safe, any way: besides, this was much more aesthetically pleasing than breaking and entering, an act of mere petty larceny.

He looked fondly at the photograph taken of him when he was a teen-ager with his faithful German shepherd, Fleck, his one truly understanding friend until the poor dog had gotten run over by a neighbor's truck backing out of the driveway.

The little apothecary bottle was a treasured item, too, purchased a few years ago on E-Bay: Gustav Mahler's dying breath, a steal at only $557.45, not including the shipping.

Lifting the feebly shining lantern, he spoke the lines he had planned for this ritual years ago. “This lantern represents the hornéd moon.” Holding it close to his face, he added “and I, the man in the moon. But soon, my goddess Sarasvati,” holding the lantern up toward the painting, “I will be like Lord Apollo, King of the Sun.” He hoped this meant no disrespect to her deityship.

He lifted the next two items – the potted rose and the photograph – and presented them lovingly to her.

“This thorn-bush is my thorn-bush; this dog, my dog...”

Then he reverently picked up the vellum on which an ancient monk had written in simple notation – very old, using a three-line staff – the chant for the DIES IRAE, the “Day of Wrath” from the Requiem liturgy for the Mass of the Dead that had been, for centuries, associated with the sounds of evil. After kissing it three times, he held it to his forehead and chanted the text's three lines in Latin, moving his lips as he recited it in his mind.

Dies irae! Dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.

Day of wrath, that day
Dissolves the world in ashes,
So spoke David and the Sibyl.


Then he rolled up the small piece of vellum like a spring roll and held it over the flame of the center candle, allowing it to burn into ashes – favilla, meaning “ashes of the dead, still glowing like embers” – and he had now placed the china plate in the center of the table.

Choosing a small branch from the rose bush and breaking it off, he used it to scrape the ashes into the golden bowl, and then poured in Robertson Sullivan's blood, mixing them gently with the sprig of rose. The resultant mixture was a thick, black ink that he would use when he'd take the pen – ah, the pen – to inscribe the one remaining chord on the remaining space of bare flesh on his body – the very top of his head – long reserved for a very special chord that would make him complete.

That special chord was “The Lost Chord.” Possessing it would make him Master of the Composers' Universe.

He held the bowl up before him, three times aloft to the heavens before the painting of Sarasvati, held it against the top of his head for three-times-seven seconds while three times chanting

Holy Triad,
Mighty Trichord,
Immortal Ternary Form.
Find me worthy...

Three, another sacred number found in most religions. The Trinity.

Three, the number of sharps in A Major, the number of flats in E-flat Major.

A and E-flat.

Together, they formed the interval of three whole steps – a tritone.

“I am Tr'iTone the Great, the Great, the Great – Tr'iTone Trismégistos!”

He raised the bowl aloft.

“I am the thrice-great DIABOLUS IN MUSICA,” he intoned with a roaring, indeed even diabolical laugh, and set down the bowl with a smile.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...

= = = = = = =

The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, September 16th.
©2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 26

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol") in which Zoose prepared for his transformation to Tr'iTone, on his way to becoming a musical devil - a parody of the scene where Dan Brown's villain Mal'akh covers himself with tattooed Masonic symbols but choosing instead to follow “The Artist's Way” and use Elliott Carter's “Harmony Book.”

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” begin your adventure, here.)


*** ***** ******** ***** *** CHAPTER XI *** ***** ******** ***** ***

Once we pulled away from Columbus Circle, I pulled out the paper LauraLynn and I had been scribbling on when we pulled into a subway station. “Somebody's got to keep an eye on where we are. Buzz, would you be our 'look out'? We don't want to miss our stop!”

Just as the doors opened, a tall, dark and threatening-looking man hobbled onto our car, plopping himself down at the far end, facing us. He wore a black trench coat stained with years of grime or perhaps with just a week of wild living, nearly shredded sneakers and a blue bandanna over his head. It was eerie that we could barely make out his face: in the weak lighting on the train, it was hard to tell but as we pulled back into the darkness, it seemed as if he had no face.

Look out,” LauraLynn whispered under her breath.

I slid the doll back into the tote-bag and continued quietly on the matrix. To any other on-looker, I could have been doing one of those Sudoku puzzles.

When the train pulled into the next stop, our fellow traveler quickly hauled himself upright and stumbled off the train, disappearing into the crowd. Luckily, no one else wanted to ride in our car and we pulled away, once again alone.

That's weird,” Buzz whispered, despite our having the car to ourselves.

Looking at the words CRABS GOLDEN HORN, I said, “Yes, but how does this get us to the next clue? Where does this one lead us?”

“No,” Buzz said, pointing to where the other passenger had recently been sitting, “I meant that guy. It's like I've been seeing him all over town. Creepy.”

“Oh, that's just typical street dress, Buzz. I doubt we're being followed by just one homeless wino.”

Buzz shook his head as if to say I dunno about that... and he shivered.

“So, somehow,” LauraLynn said, “Mozart is pointing us toward something about crabs and maybe referencing 'Recte et Retro' which is engraved on Robertson's ear-cuff.”

“Back to square one with the crab canons, again,” Buzz sighed, sitting back with a thud as the train started up again.

“While I'd like to know what all that means, the scientist in me would also like to know why Dr. Dhabbohdhú blew up my lab trying to find this... this gizmo...?”

“Or for that matter,” I added, “why the Director of Security for the International Composers Alliance is looking for it, too. D'Arcy was pretty keen on keeping the secret hidden, whatever it is. What possible bearing can this have that it would create an artistic crisis of international proportions?”

“Maybe there's some connection with the research you were doing in your lab, Dr. Sullivan.”

“Oh please, under the circumstances, call me Laura,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

Buzz blushed as I looked over at him, complete with a raised eyebrow.

“Well,” she continued, “basically, I'm working on some theories about an individual's natural propensity toward creativity, how each of us contains the capacity to be creative but some have more ability to realize it than others. I call it Demiurgics, from a Greek term for someone – or some power – that is the fashioner of the real, perceptible world as opposed to the imperceptible one - it was originally used for a 'public worker,' a craftsman or artisan before it was applied to an all-creating deity of some sort.”

“Oh, like in Plato's Timaeus? Where a Demiurge is supposed to be a benevolent creator and trying to create good in a world that remains imperfect because it's, like, created out of indeterminate and chaotic non-being, right?”

“That's one sense, exactly,” she responded. I, on the other hand, glanced over at Buzz with both eyebrows now raised. “In the old Platonic arguments, the creator of the material world is intrinsically malevolent, so the material world is regarded by nature as evil.”

“Right. But artistic creation is part of the non-material world – therefore good – and is the result of... what, re-ordering the existing universe rather than creating it, by recombining things that already exist?”

“Right,” she said, looking at him both intently and pleasurably. “In ancient Greek, there is no word for 'create' just as there is no word for 'art.' The closest thing they have to it is 'techne' which implied a set order of rules, a word that also gave us 'technique' and 'technology.' The idea of actually creating something as we might think of it was more like craftsmanship, the idea of taking something already existing – like a block of marble – and turning it into something that didn't exist before – a statue of the god Apollo, for instance. Centuries later, the early Christians reserved the term 'create' only for God and for divine creation.”

“So,” Buzz asked her, “what made you want to study how composers 'create'?”

“Robertson and I had always been intrigued by the fact that whenever scientists wrote about creativity, they interviewed a wide range of scientists but only a few artists – writers, painters, composers, poets or choreographers – but never seemed to draw any conclusions, specifically about composers. Most of them only related anecdotal material but not nearly as much or as in-depth as they did with scientists.”

“Well, that would make sense,” I interjected, feeling I was quickly losing control of the scene I was in, “because scientists only feel comfortable with facts they can quantify and prove...”

“...not to mention,” she added, turning to me, “re-create by running the experiment again on other subjects...”

“...where, with artists, it wouldn't come out with the same results,” Buzz suggested, “because every truly original artist is going to be different from another and the results would never be the same...”

“...thereby not proving their theory.” She folded her arms in imitation of a professor trying to intimidate a student into believing that was the end of the argument.

“Well, there's no coincidence, I imagine, in the 'fact' that the study of the language of music, on any level, is called 'theory.' Oh, and by the way,” I added, looking around, “does anybody know what stop that was, back there? I missed the sign...”

- - - - - - -

Director Leahy-Hu was trying to work quickly with the NYPD in hopes of retrieving Dr. Dick and the clues he had taken with him before he escaped but she could not risk trying to explain exactly why he was so important to her. How convenient, she chuckled, that he could be named a 'person-of-interest' in a possible terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Opera House which made it easier for the police to want to pursue him: if it had been related only to her primary interest, they would've just said “yeah, right” and gone on about their business.

Agent Lott informed Detective Heidi Ho who'd already been stationed in the 72nd and Broadway vicinity to be on the look-out for Buzz Blogster: the GPS device in his coat indicated he should be approaching the subway station shortly. They sent her the photograph Agent Manina had taken of him with her cell-phone shortly before they had planted the device.

Meanwhile, the train that had just left Columbus Circle heading north toward the American Academy of Arts and Letters was due to pull into the 72nd Street station in a matter of minutes, carrying Dr. Dick and two other fugitives (including the woman in the Belle Ennui dove-gray over-the-shoulder, knee-length cocktail dress), according to the police's contact, a cab-driver who'd picked them up behind Lincoln Center below 65th and Amsterdam.

Detective Ho called in for back-up and was quickly joined by two of her colleagues from the Vice Squad – Wanda Menveaux and DePuis LeJour (everybody called her “Toots” when she was working the street). The three of them dashed into the station to head off the train.

Just as it approached the station, they told the conductor to stop it before it had been able to pull all the way in.

“And do not – I repeat, NOT – open the doors until we have swept the entire train,” Detective Ho told him as she flashed him her badge.

“Ah, good, because this train could use a good sweeping, thanks.” And with that the train screeched to a halt.

People did not seem to notice an armed police officer and two hookers, each with a drawn pistol, scanning the crowd as they marched deliberately through the train, car by car.

They must be in the last car. It'll be like shootin' fish in a barrel...

When they got to the last car on the #1 Uptown Broadway Local, Detective Ho threw the door open, hoping to create an immediate affect of shock and awe.

But the car was empty.

The three detectives looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Heidi Ho called in the report and they marched back through the train, checking everybody again. One old drunk tried to pat Officer LeJour on her thigh but she grabbed him by the scruff of his ragged trenchcoat's collar and pulled him up out of his seat.

“Are you Dr. Dick?” she demanded in a very unlady-like tone, her pistol waving tauntingly in front of his face.

“No, sweetie,” he slurred, “not for the last two days.” He was smiling at her, but his eyes were focused somewhere miles beyond where she stood.

She let him drop back into his seat with a thud. And they left the train.

“Huh,” Detective Ho harrumphed indignantly to her colleagues. “There isn't another #1 train coming along for a while, yet. Where the hell did they get to?”

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

We hurried across the intersection, trying to get our bearings. Instead of taking the uptown train as we'd led the cab-driver to believe, we'd taken a downtown train and were now somewhere in an area north of Greenwich Village. As usual, I was disoriented and thought about asking directions.

LauraLynn shook her head. “No, I know where we are,” she said. “This way.” And off we went, following her as closely as possible so as not to get lost in the crowd.

Not for the first time that evening, I felt some maladroit could just come up and steal my tote-bag. I held it closer to me, hugging it to my chest, no doubt sending the signal to everyone around me “hey, I'm holding something really really valuable, here!”

Buzz mistook my actions for being cold since the night had turned chilly. He told me about how he'd been mugged across the street from Juilliard by a guy who just knocked him down and stole his coat. “Who knows where that coat is now, but I sure hope the guy's good and warm...”

In minutes, we arrived at the address I'd been given but I wasn't sure what to do next. LauraLynn located the apartment number on the key pad in the vestibule and pressed the button. Then I heard the familiar voice I had talked to on the phone, sounding a little frail and hesitant – an old man, perhaps 75 years old I would guess, who is getting visitors this late at night. It must be around 10:30 by now.

I stepped up to the intercom and said “Uhm, we're here to collect for the Mighty Widow's Benevolence Fund?”

There was a moment of silence and then a chuckle. “Oh, right – good. Yes, I've been waiting for you. Come on up. Let me see, here... yes... uhm, okay... er... there...” He buzzed us in and we were soon on the elevator going up to his floor. We positioned ourselves and took a collective deep breath as I went to ring the bell.

A moment of misgiving washed over me. What if this is a trap? What if this is someone else who's after Robertson's secret, intent on doing no good in the world? I could imagine, if the secret is as valuable as I've been thinking it must be, setting off such a chain of events as I've witnessed – been a part of – tonight, this could be just another composer wanna-be who might see, in this information (whatever it was), an answer to his life-long creative prayers.

We could hear the bell echoing from inside the apartment and then the shuffling steps of slippered feet heading toward the door. First one lock and then another clicked open and then slowly the door was pulled back to reveal a short man standing there, leaning on his cane, wearing a plaid shirt and bright green socks. He had a reassuringly beatific smile amidst a nebula of silver-white hair surrounding his thin face like a halo.

“Ah, finally. Yes, come in, come in... we haven't, you know, got much time, I'm afraid...”

And Howard Zendler, one of the leading composers of the last several generations, stepped aside to let us into the apartment he'd been living in for almost sixty years.

*** ***** ******** ***** *** CHAPTER XII *** ***** ******** ***** ***

Director of Security Leahy-Hu did not take the news kindly. As she listened intently on her cell-phone, D'Arcy could see her eyes begin to smolder, her lips puckering even more until her face took on an even wrinklier appearance as if she'd been forced to drink the world's sourest lemonade.

Then Agent Lott relayed the message from Detective Ho of the NYPD who said they had apprehended Buzz Blogster's coat but it was not being worn by the guy Agent Manina had photographed when they'd clipped the GPS unit into the pocket lining.

They had looked around at the milling crowd when Agent Lott told them the target was standing right on the northwest corner but they couldn't see anybody who matched that description. Keying in the GPS unit on Heidi Ho's phone with the one in Buzz Blogster's coat pocket, the ICA dispatcher told the detective she was standing right next to him. “I mean,” she whispered, “right freakin' next to you!”

The only guy there was dark-complected and clean-shaven. And shorter than the description she had been given. But at least the coat matched.

“Toots” and Wanda sidled up beside the man in the coat who backed away from them uncomfortably, bumping right into Detective Ho.

“Are you waiting for Dr. Dick,” she asked him with a menacing tone in her voice.

“Dr. Dick? Hell, I ain't never needed no stuff like that,” nervously pulling the coat collar tighter around his chest. He continued inching away while the detective tried to figure out exactly what he might have meant by his triple-negative but the other two quickly blocked any chance for him to run off except into the traffic.

Which he then proceeded to do.

Jumping aside to avoid getting hit by a cab trying to run the light, the thief swerved right into the arms of Wanda Menveaux. Detective Ho handcuffed him, leading him off to the police cruiser where they questioned him. His name was Damian Johnson who turned out to be a well known petty thief on the Upper West Side, targeting mostly musicians and music lovers around Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, especially targeting double bass players. It was even reported he'd recently stolen four basses in one night. But tonight, snatching the leather coat from a “person-of-interest” in a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Opera proved to be his undoing.

Leahy-Hu remained silent. It was bad enough Dr. Dick had somehow eluded them on the Uptown Broadway Local. And now, this.

“So,” Agent Lott added, trying to find something positive to say, “we could always put out an announcement that we'd found Blogster's coat and say we're holding it for him at the Lincoln Center Lost-and-Found desk so he can come and claim it?”

“I don't think so,” she said icily, “no, I don't really think so...” And she slapped her phone shut so hard, D'Arcy was sure it would snap in two.

It was bad enough before this call had come in that she had been talking with the NYPD detectives just assigned to the case, the famous Emil Tesoro y Tonto and his partner Dolly-Sue Apache, who, after scanning the TSA's database of known terrorist suspects, now theorized this must be the handiwork of Pierre Boulez who, years ago, was quoted as saying “the most elegant way to solve the opera problem would be to blow up the opera houses.”

Personally, Leahy-Hu thought the bomb was more likely courtesy of Luc Bondy's new production of 'Tosca' which she felt had done potentially more damage to the venerable institution, so she waved them off impatiently.

Tesoro and Apache were now badgering her for background information on the case and she had no time for their distractions.

And here she stood, trying to get what she could out of V.C. D'Arcy, who sat uncomfortably hand-cuffed to a chair in the recording studio at Juilliard and who was trying to remain stoical in his demeanor though greatly relieved both Dr. Dick and Buzz Blogster had so far managed to elude the some of the finest agents of the ICA.

“Now, Architect D'Arcy,” she said in a much more kindly voice, trying to smooth over her own amply ruffled feathers as well as his, “we know that about a half hour before you appeared on the plaza of Lincoln Center, you were having dinner at a Thai restaurant on Columbus Avenue with a... 'friend'... when you received a call from a man who claimed he had abducted Robertson Sullivan. Is that true?”

If it were possible for an African-American male the size of a star basketball player to blanch, he did just that. What the...? How could she know that...

“He also told you that he had summoned Dr. Dick to Lincoln Center to complete a certain task and that that task would need your assistance because if he failed on his own, as he very likely seems to be doing, your friend Robertson Sullivan would find his life coming to a very quick but very painful finale. Isn't that true, also?”

He stared straight ahead but felt the sweat trickling slowly down the back of his neck.

“You also tried calling two of Mr. Sullivan's phone numbers but there were no answers at either his home phone or his cell-phone, so you decided to leave your dinner unfinished – a rather warmer than usual pad thai chicken dish (I've never cared much for curry, myself) – making a quick visit to the men's room before you left. Oh, by the way, did you notice that your underwear is slightly soiled?”

Not half as badly as it is right now...

“We also know that Dr. Dick had received a call from the kidnapper – using Sullivan's phone and posing as his assistant – and that one of the points of discussion was his bringing something along to this so-called pre-concert talk. This was clearly a ruse: I mean, who in New York City would even consider going 160 miles out-of-town to find some know-it-all non-entity when New York City is full of them? Apparently, this was an item of great significance to Mr. Sullivan. Given Dr. Dick's not very subtle body language, I quickly figured out whatever that was, our esteemed professor was keeping it in his tote-bag. But then you, Mr. Architect, came along and whisked both Dr. Dick and his tote-bag off in a cloud of” – she waved her hands frantically in front of her scrunched-up nose at the unfortunate recollection – “roach spray.”

Leahy-Hu reached into her pocket and pulled out a cell phone which, after checking to make sure it was the right one, she handed to D'Arcy with an imperious gesture.

“Your phone, sir, and thank you for the information we were able to find on it. But just in case our mutual friend should try to contact you again, it would be best you answered it as if nothing were wrong.”

“Mutual friend? Who are you talking about?”

“Well,” she said, “there are two I am trying to find tonight, before it is too late. The one, obviously you know. The other, I'm afraid, you really do not seem to comprehend, just yet. Let me see if I can help the epiphanic process along, shall we?”

And with that she reached for an old rumpled looking tote bag of her own that D'Arcy noticed had been placed on a chair beside him.

“Well, if you won't tell me anything,” she said, “I guess it is time to make you talk...” She carefully reached in to pull out whatever she had inside it, looking at him with a withering glance and then smiled.

Uh oh...


- - - - - - -
to be continued...

= = = = = = =

The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, September 16th.
©2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Lost Chord: Installment 25

...continued from the previous installment of "The Lost Chord," (my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol") in which Yoda Leahy-Hu began her interrogation of V.C. D'Arcy. LauraLynn, realizing the cab driver has called the police, devised another plan of escape. Meanwhile, Tr'iTone began a flashback to the night he broke into the Sullivan Homestead, when was chased into the woods and shot by Robertson, then left for dead.

(If you are new to “The Lost Chord,” begin your adventure, here.)

= = = = = = =

It took years for Zoose – Tr'iTone, Dr. Dhabbodhú, whatever – to regroup after this, the whole time plotting how to succeed at his goal and in the process totally ruin the Sullivans. There must be another way. His beautiful body, expanded and hardened by years of dedication and discipline, had been badly damaged by the various cuts and bruises, by the weasel bites but most especially by the hole in his side that, like Amfortas' wound, had refused to heal.

He had stopped composing during this time, feeling if he sublimated his creativity into his obsession with Robertson Sullivan and his gizmo (so to speak), the sooner he would come up with a solution – one, this time, that would not fail.

But he felt empty inside so, after a year of isolation – very difficult to achieve, living on the Upper West Side – he began attending new music concerts, hoping he would hear something that might inspire him. Mostly what he heard was junk, no matter what side of the musico-political spectrum he would hear. But still, his “I-can-do-better-than-that” reactions failed to ignite any creative spark inside him.

Then one night, he went to a contemporary chamber music concert at the Symphony Space where he met a young composer whose latest work had been premiered on the program, the only piece he'd heard in recent years that even mildly interested him. The composer's name was Luke van Rhiarden and over a few post-concert beers they talked shop for about a half hour when he mentioned how he had only recently come out of a long creative slump, thanks to having taken a course on Julia Cameron's popular book for people undergoing artistic mid-life crises called “The Artist's Way.”

Zoose mentioned he'd heard of it.

The young composer then confessed that Luke van Rhiarden wasn't his real name but one he had created to “empower” his creative side.

This whole idea of “empowerment” struck Zoose as very trendy but he listened intently. He knew that was something he lacked but whether he could make it work for him was less a matter of taste than one of conviction. He certainly knew about recreating your identity in a name, but how did that affect your “creative side”?

“Oh, it's much more than just coming up with any old name,” Luke explained. “Mine, for instance, is an anagram.” He winked at his new-found friend and finished his beer.

“Anagram?” Zoose sneered. “You mean like turning Dmitri Shostakovich into 'Oh Christ, a kid vomits'?”

“But you turn it into a name and draw something from the original source. My name,” he said, starting in on his next beer, “is an anagram from the name Adrian Leverkühn – well, without the umlaut, unfortunately. Lüke's a bit pretentious, even for me...”

Adrian Leverkühn, the fictitious composer in Thomas Mann's “Doctor Faustus” who sells his soul to the devil in return for his genius. Fascinating.

“In fact, the piece you just heard? Called 'Adonai's Umbilical'?”

“Yes, I was wondering about that title.” He thought it had been the result of a game of chance inspired by John Cage – you go to the dictionary and open it to some random pages, slapping your finger down on a word on each page, then shaping a title out of them. Either that or playing with those do-it-yourself poetry kits you see on refrigerator doors.

“It, too, is an anagram,” he added mysteriously, taking a pregnant pause long enough it could go into labor any minute, now. But Zoose decided to wait.

Luke looked deeply into his eyes before he deemed his new friend worthy, then broke the anticipation. “It comes from DIABOLUS IN MUSICA.”

“Ha!” The Devil in Music – an old nickname for a harmonically unstable interval, the tritone or augmented fourth. Cute.

“The Devil and God – Adonai – in one thought, the perfect syllogism.”

“Hegel would be proud.” Zoose smiled but found it awkward sipping his beer at the same time.

“And, of course, the whole idea that God, who existed before creation, should have an umbilical cord...” Luke chuckled. “If God and the angels existed before the Creation, I mean, who created them, right? Who, in fact, takes credit for creating Lucifer in the first place, especially after things went... you know, all dysfunctional in Heaven?”

“So, ah... do you actually have an Umbilical Chord?”

“Of course, silly boy! And out of it, I create everything the piece needs – all its harmony, all its melodic ideas, in fact even its rhythms – even though I don't explain any of this in the program notes which are purely technical mumbo-jumbo, all terribly left-brained of me to appease the new music fanatics. The two contrasting motives – first and second theme, if you will – are really just different orderings of the same six pitches. One represents God, the other Lucifer – or Satan, if you prefer.”

Before they parted company, they both paid a visit to the men's room where inadvertently Zoose saw an unusual tattoo on Luke's groin, just below the navel but mostly above the elastic band of his underwear. It looked like the notes of a chord but what an odd thing to put there.

“Actually, that's my Umbilical Chord,” he said, turning to face Zoose as modestly as he could. “All six notes placed as a single harmony. It's there because I had a birthmark that left an ugly little scar when I had it removed, so I decided to – well, empower myself by covering it up with a musical motif – my musical motif.”

Zoose thought of his own ugly scars, the results of his fall up at Sullivan's house that disastrous Thanksgiving Day and decided he could “empower” himself by covering them up with some tattoos, too. But Luke explained that he shouldn't just go get any tattoo – he should think about it and design something himself, something that would have personal significance.

“Then, when you are ready, contact this guy – he's a true artist.” And with that, he handed him a small, tattered business card for a tattoo parlor in the Village.

So much to think about.

Zoose left the bar feeling both exhilarated and despondent but not sure which was the result of the beer or of all the information he'd learned from his new friend. He looked forward to meeting him again some time, though he'd forgotten to get his own phone number on the back of that business card. Well, it won't matter: I'm sure I'll run into him at some new music concert in the future.

But he never saw Luke van Rhiarden again, in fact never even heard of him again, either. After several months, he decided to start asking around, but no one seemed to know whom he meant. He contacted the tattoo parlor and no one had ever heard of him (perhaps he had been using his original name, back then). Finally, he contacted the violinist from the ensemble that had played Luke's piece. He told him Luke had wanted the parts back to make some corrections before publishing it but that was the last they'd ever heard from him. His phone had been disconnected; e-mail came back undeliverable. He just vanished like a butterfly on a breeze.

And Zoose had much he wanted to tell this new friend. He had started reading Cameron's “The Artist's Way,” working his way through the various exercises but looking at it in a slightly different spiritual way. It wasn't that he was becoming a Satanist but he scoffed at the idea of mentioning God or at least some god-like lower-case power in almost every breath. So he would replace the word with Lucifer or Satan or Moloch or even Neil Tobin.

When he started writing his “Morning Pages,” he became aware how obsessed he was with destroying Robertson Sullivan, finding the guide to the “Old Secrets” Sullivan's sorry-assed spoiled little nephew, Anthony, had been full of, how this would allow him, like a motivic theme by Franz Liszt, to transform himself into something new, a composer to be reckoned with. In fact, combining that information with the spiritual quest he was taking now, he could in fact become the Greatest Composer Who Ever Lived.

When it came to what Cameron calls “Artist Dates,” Zoose was meditating on what he should do, what would be a significant enough event planned during a time “especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist.”

Looking for some kind of divine – or rather demonic – intervention while he was getting his lunch ready, at that moment a ferret scrambled into his apartment through the open kitchen window, no doubt from his neighbor's apartment.

Terrified by the sight of the weaselly little creature, he was once again taken back to that Thanksgiving night he'd fallen over the cliff at Sullivan's estate, coming to to find his flesh ripped to tatters by creepy little rodents with nasty big pointy teeth. Instinctively, he grabbed the ferret in one hand and took a knife in the other and stabbed it. Blood spilled into a mixing bowl and splattered against his naked chest, warm and consoling to the touch.

Unaware of what he was doing, he suddenly realized the poor animal was gasping for its breath, choking on its own blood before expiring in his hand.

He took the blood and spread it over some of his scars, especially the one on his side, rubbing it in as he discovered how soothing it felt, sensing the tough, ugly skin had begun to soften and smooth itself out. After all the blood had drained out of the small creature, he realized he had been given his “Artist Date” and held up the bowl as if it were an offering before dabbing his face and neck, chest and abdomen with dollops of blood, smoothing it across the skin like a face cream, then massaging it gently with small upward swirls of motion, stroking upwards so as not pull the skin down and stretch it.

As odd as it seemed, it was like a beauty regimen that would prepare his skin and help heal his body. Feeling almost immediately rejuvenated, he knew it would help perfect him for the next step in the process of obtaining his ultimate goal.

And he knew what he had to do.

He went to a local pet store to purchase a pair of young ferrets and a couple of cages. He would mate them and raise their young to supply him with generation after generation of what he decided would become his weekly “artist date.”

He picked them out carefully, naming the female Lilith Boulanger and the male, a particularly satanic-looking albino, Wolfgang Asmodeus Mozart.

Until his Fibonacci Ferret Farm could be fully operational, Zoose decided he would alternate between various pet stores in the area, buying a couple of rats here, some hamsters there – “for my snakes,” he would explain if anybody ever asked him – so he could maintain his weekly regimen of Musical Blood Offerings

Following the precepts of “The Artist's Way” but, like all good extremists, perverting the original intent far beyond anything the author ever intended, Zoose devised a ritualized incantation as he applied the blood to his skin and massaged it deep into his muscles:

Arsin, thesin – cantillation.
Frottola, fauxbourdon – mensuration.
O angels of Lucifer, find me worthy:
Prepare me for my revelation.


Soon, his vitality – both physical and mental – increased considerably and his skin grew smoother and more resilient, darker in hue but glowing from within like amber, changes he could only ascribe to the weekly blood regimen. He could go for longer runs in the park, exercise at the gym longer, he was no longer afraid to show his once wounded body in public.

Then, while browsing through the book racks at Patelson's Music House, he discovered something else – a copy of Elliott Carter's “Harmony Book,” a compendium of every chord combination possible from simple intervals to massive constructions created out of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale: hundreds and hundreds of chords of all different sizes and shapes, all numbered and categorized according to the composer's own system.

At first, he thought it was going to be the Rosetta Stone, something that would lead him to be able to figure out how Carter himself composed. Would it be like unearthing Prospero's books that would reveal the secrets of creativity itself? Would this be the place where he would find that most elusive of musical symbols sought by composition students for generations, the infamous “Lost Chord”?

But Carter's “Harmony Book” wasn't a “how to” book, no collection of harmonic rules and regulations about how Carter wrote his music or even chose his chords. It's a reference work, pure and simple.

Well, 'simple' may be stretching it a bit...

Have a three-note chord and need to find out which six-note chords it could be a subset of? Look on page 124. Have a seven-note chord and you want to find out which sets of three notes it can be broken down into? Look on page 260. It was all there. Even if it didn't unlock ancient creative secrets that composers have discovered time and time again themselves, it was a powerful reference tool and could come in very handy with his own composing.

It was a way of putting things in order. Have a four-note chord but you want to move smoothly into a different chord's sound-world for the next section of your piece, one that emphasizes a different set of intervals? Well, find out which three-note chords are subsets of it and then, after choosing one, find other four-note chords it can be found in so you can modulate from one chord-group to the next just as smoothly as Schubert modulated from C-sharp Minor to F Major or Wagner modulated from A Minor to what could have been, at least momentarily, E-flat Major.

At first, he was disappointed it was not the answer he was looking for but the possibilities it offered astounded him, just the same. Before long, he was staying awake long into the night mapping out different collections of pitches he might use in future combinations, eventually realizing many of them would fit onto parts of his body, the way a struggling student might scribble a cheat-sheet onto his palm or forearm.

Soon he had mapped out many of the book's charts as tattoos to be engraved onto his skin until his body was covered from toe to head by his distillation of some 350 pages of Carter's chords.

Unfortunately, by then, the tattoo parlor Luke van Rhiarden recommended had closed its doors and no one had any idea where he could find the artist he'd suggested. After months of searching, Zoose found a parlor and an artist who called himself Adramalekh, someone he felt comfortable with, who he sensed would help him realize his plan. He took in his life-size map, his master plan, and unfurled it against the greasy wall of this little shop in the East Village. Adramalekh's eyes widened as the project was explained to him.

Here is the masterpiece of a lifetime. It will cost him a fortune!

And so Adramalakh agreed to work with him: once a week, Zoose would come to him for another session, what he called an “Artist's Date,” though Adramalekh didn't care much for the 'date' idea until Zoose explained what he meant by it.

Zoose was now on his way to making another modulation, this one a smooth transformation into becoming Tr'iTone.

And now, standing there in front of his mirror admiring his tattoos, listening to Carl Orff's hair-raising “De temporum fine comoedia – The Play for the End of Time,” he began the preparations for his greatest and final modulation. It was only a matter of a few hours before everything would be progressing to its ultimate, inevitable conclusion.

- - - - - - -
to be continued...

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The Lost Chord, a Music Appreciation Thriller, is a serial novel written by Dick Strawser and is a musical parody of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. It is being serialized on this blog: watch for the next segment on Thursday, September 16th.
©2010