Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Richard Strauss: Before He Was Famous


Tonight’s concert – the third and last of Market Square Concerts’ Summermusic 2012 programs – includes another work by a world-famous composer before he was famous. Never a composer to lack self-confidence, nonetheless at the age of 83, he told the orchestra he was rehearsing, “I may not be a first-class composer but I am a first-rate second-class composer.”

The Piano Quartet that concludes this concert was completed when the composer was 19 or 20, but if you’d never known who the composer was, would you be able to figure out from listening to this music?

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Well, of course the video’s introduction kind of gives it away, doesn't it, if the post's title hasn't already, but hey…

(You can read a similar post about Beethoven, Poulenc and Britten from earlier Summermusic concerts, here.)

Back in the days one had needles one could drop onto a record, before there were CDs and MP3s, I loved taking something like this and playing it for my students and ask them to name the composer, a game that Karl Haas used to play on certain programs of his “Adventures in Good Music.” Of course, for him, he might begin with something like this before getting into things that might be less obscure, saving a representative familiar piece for last.

Listening to melodic and harmonic patterns, textures, certain patterns of notes and its overall emotional sweep, most people hearing this for the first time might guess Johannes Brahms – and that would be a good guess if you weren’t familiar with everything he wrote. More likely, someone who was heavily influenced by Brahms, imitating one of the most influential composers of the decade – as many German composers were, if they weren’t instead being heavily influenced by Richard Wagner, the other polarity in New Music.

Richard Strauss in 1886
That clip is the first movement of the Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 13 by Richard Strauss. Written at some point between 1883 and 1885, he would've been 18 to 20 years old.

You can hear it tonight (if you're reading this in time...) with Market Square Concerts' directors Ya-Ting Chang and Peter Sirotin, joined by violist Michael Stepniak and cellist Fiona Thompson. Again, that's at 6pm at Market Square Church.

Here are the remaining three movements: the performance is by Ensemble Raro and features violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, whose uncle is the violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky and whose grandmother is the pianist Bella Davidovich.

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2nd Mvmt – Scherzo

3rd Mvmt – Andante

4th Mvmt – Finale

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Normally, we don’t think of Richard Strauss as a prodigy, at least not along the lines of Mozart and Mendelssohn though he began composing when he was 6 and when he was 9, wrote a 33-page overture which he orchestrated himself. The year he was 10 wrote six piano sonatas. There are two piano trios written around the age of 13.

Yet at the time he was considered “a promising musical talent,” no more remarkable than any other “gifted child.” Music was, after all, the heart of most Germans domestic life – their home entertainment – and nearly everyone with an education could read music and have at least some elementary skill with an instrument. The family’s Munich apartment had a grand piano in what we would call the living room, surrounded by spacious windows, cherry-wood furniture and austere family portraits. This was where one family musicale took place, in his father’s absence, which Richard – then 14 – organized for his maternal grandparents, writing to him:

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“Enghausen’s C Major Sonata played by Robert [a cousin], then the Tirolean folk-song Hans und Lise sung very prettily by Johanna [his little sister]… and very well accompanied by Robert. Then August [perhaps another cousin] played one of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s ‘Songs Without Words’ with – I am sorry to say – very little style and finesse. Then August and I played [a four-hand duet by Mendelssohn] in which we both pleased greatly. Then I played Weber’s ‘Rondo in E-flat’ to loud applause.”
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He then conducted a “most successful performance” of Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony. Whatever may have happened to young Robert and August as they grew up, no one at the time assumed Richard was destined for greatness.

Unlike Leopold Mozart and his son, Franz Strauss – the pre-eminent horn player in Munich’s orchestra – had nothing directly to do with his son’s training, nor did he promote him as a child prodigy in any similarly theatrical way. But he did give him advice and contact his friends and colleagues like any proud father. He had some of his friends perform a polka his son had written which was well received. He would later, of course, use his connections with famous musicians to advance his son’s career: what father wouldn’t?

But he also insisted his son not go to a conservatory: by taking a ‘normal’ course of study, he could decide what he might become, being “able to take advantage of every opportunity. Whether your talent will last is yet to be seen,” he wrote to his son, knowing about too many prodigies whose careers fail to survive the transition to adulthood. “Even good musicians find it hard to earn a crust. You’d be better off as a shoemaker or a tailor.”

Strauss would grow up to become one of the few modern-day composers with an international career who never attended a music school.

He was 16 when he began his first concerto – the Violin Concerto in D Minor later published as op. 8. In March, 1881, no less than four of his works were premiered in Munich: a string quartet (later, Op. 2), a set of three songs, the Festive Overture by his father’s amateur orchestra, Wilde Gung’l – Gung’l, alas, is only the name of its bandmaster who composed music in the vein of Johann Strauss Sr. – and four days later, his 1st Symphony, also in D Minor, by the Munich Court Orchestra conducted by the famous Hermann Levi, an associate of Richard Wagner’s. In return for Levi’s performance, Franz agreed to play first horn at the 1882 Bayreuth Festival, the very center of Wagner’s influence, for the premiere of his latest opera, Parsifal.

Franz Strauss, himself illegitimate, had been born in poverty, his father abandoning him when he was 5 after which he was taken in by an authoritarian uncle, a man in charge of the small town’s musical events who believed in “an unenviable mixture of violent discipline and vigorous tuition.” He studied several instruments, filling in with the town band as needed, before settling on the horn. At 15, it was obvious he would become a musician. Shortly afterward, some uncles went to Munich to play in the court orchestra and Franz eventually joined them. A cousin would later become the orchestra’s concertmaster.

Franz Strauss eventually became one of the best known if not well-liked musicians in Munich.

And he detested Wagner’s music (not, though, as much as he detested the man), even though he was regarded by everyone as one of its finest performers. He considered Tristan und Isolde “an affront to the classical spirit of Mozart and Haydn.” But no one played Wagner’s epic horn solos like Franz Strauss.

This, from a man who considered everything from the finale of Beethoven’s 7th on to be the end of “pure music.”

So you can imagine the sacrifice it must have been for Franz to agree to become Bayreuth’s first horn in order to get his son’s symphony played. Proud father, indeed!

Perhaps that explains why Richard wrote a horn concerto for his father the next year.

When you listen to his Horn Concerto No. 1, it is clear his musical models – instilled from his father’s very specific tastes – were predominantly Schumann, but also Mozart, Mendelssohn and Spohr. Not Beethoven and, frankly, nothing more modern than the early-1850s.

By this time, Strauss had graduated from school with average grades – “very good” in history but in math and science “middling” – and a semester at the Munich University was quietly dropped when he realized he had learned more from reading about art and history on his own than “listening to some professor droning on and on for three-quarters of an hour.”

The following year, the 19-year-old Strauss was described as “over six foot tall with a long and beautiful face and a flowing head of thick, light-brown hair” who, despite having composed nothing out of the ordinary, had already written two concertos and a symphony and had a few works published.

On visits to Vienna and Dresden, he met some of his father’s acquaintances and heard his Serenade for 13 Winds, Op. 7, premiered – the great conductor Hans von Bülow was in the audience – and also his new Cello Sonata given two “premieres” ten days apart. Though Hans Wihan, the cellist for whom Dvořák would eventually compose his concerto, had performed it in Nuremberg at the end of November, Strauss convinced his Dresden host, Ferdinand Böckmann, he was giving the work its world premiere.

In addition to nearly destroying his host’s piano while composing or practicing, Strauss became interested in conducting, observing rehearsals and then practicing at home using a large wooden knitting needle for a baton.

It was then, on December 1st, 1883, that Strauss received a letter from his publisher informing him the conductor Hans von Bülow wished to perform his recently premiered serenade with his court orchestra in Meinigen (where Brahms frequently tried out his symphonies before performing them in Vienna) the day after Christmas before taking it on the road to Berlin. This caught the boy by surprise though it was primarily the result of Franz’s frequent nagging of the conductor. However, once Bülow heard the piece, he was secure in his own judgment, not just giving in to an annoying stage-father.

It was also during this time that the 19-year-old composer, away from home, began falling in love, apparently developing a preference for older women. One was the wife of a sculptor and another was the wife of the cellist Hans Wihan who later may well have obtained a divorce hoping to marry Strauss who, by 1890, was already engaged to his future wife, Pauline de Ahna.

Keeping this tidbit of personal trivia in mind, perhaps it’s not so surprising that this composer – one who would become so autobiographical as to describe his life as the hero of Ein Heldenleben (“A Hero’s Life) – would be attracted to a story about a young man, a teenager named Octavian, who must give up his love for an older woman, the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, over 25 years later.

And so, Strauss went off to become Hans von Bülow’s assistant in Meiningen at the age of 19, conducting his own Serenade there, performing Mozart’s C Minor Piano Concerto (writing his own cadenzas) and performing his Symphony No. 2 in F Minor (which, by a strange twist, had already received its world premiere in New York City under the direction of the German-American conductor, Theodore Thomas).

Johannes Brahms was in Meiningen to attend the world premiere of his new E Minor Symphony and Strauss had a chance to hear all the rehearsals. Brahms heard Strauss’ concert and remarked his symphony was “quite attractive,” as Strauss wrote in his memoirs, but “too full of musical irrelevances.” “Take a good look at Schubert’s dances, young man,” he continued, “and try your luck at the invention of simple eight-bar melodies.”

One thing can be said about Strauss’ symphony, in hindsight: it’s quite overwritten, “a reflection of someone trying hard to impress.”

His father was also concerned that he was spending too much time on contrapuntal affectations” rather than on “natural, wholesome invention and execution. Craftsmanship should not be discernible. You have enough talent for something better than affectation.”

Incidentally, of the other candidates for Bülow’s assistant was a Frenchman and a favorite of Bülow’s rival, while another had proven unpopular in his previous post. Gustav Mahler, contending with a series of small and disappointing conducting jobs, didn’t even make the short list primarily because he was Jewish.

And so, without any conducting experience at all, Richard Strauss got the job.

Three years earlier, Hans von Bülow, showed a stack of young Strauss’ music, had commented, “…immature and precocious… fail to find any signs of youth in his invention. Not a genius in my most sincere opinion but at best a talent with 60% aimed to shock.”

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It was during this time that Strauss composed his Piano Quartet in C Minor.

When I can find references to the work at all, it appears to have been written in 1885 (presumably before the summer he joined Bülow in Meiningen when he turned 21) but the Grove Dictionary lists the date of composition as 1883-1884 when he could have been between 18 and 20. It’s quite possible 1885 was when the work was first performed – many sources lists the date of pieces as the premiere rather than when they were actually composed.

Certainly, compared to the Classical Horn Concerto of 1882-83, this is a very Romantic work and a far cry from his father’s sense of what good music ought to be. If there’s any influence here, it is Johannes Brahms, first and foremost. Just because his father detested Wagner did not mean he would automatically be an advocate for the more conservative Brahms.

When composition students ask me how they “find their voice,” I usually tell them “as a student, your job is to be a sponge, to soak up everything you can hear, absorb what you like, dispose of what you don’t like, and take everything in to find a way of doing it ‘your way.’ By the time you’ve developed those ‘fingerprints’ we call a composer’s voice, you won’t even be aware of it.”

So, having grown up on Strauss tone-poems and operas, going back to hear some of these early works is often disappointing – at best, the “how did he get from here to there?”

Perhaps Strauss was checking out the New Music scene in Dresden and Berlin, out from under his father’s arch-conservative attitudes, and discovered new harmonies, new melodic and structural approaches previously “forbidden” which he decided to try on for size?

Having heard his Brahmsian Piano Quartet, now listen to at least the opening of his first major tone poem, his “break-out” piece, Don Juan:

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The Danish Radio Symphony conducted by Fabio Luisi
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(By the way, Strauss' Don Juan will open the Harrisburg Symphony's new season with Stuart Malina conducting, and the substantial violin solos will be played by the acting concertmaster, Peter Sirotin!)

This was begun in the fall of 1888 when Strauss was 24, about three or four years after the quartet. Conducting its premiere the following year, Strauss would immediately be hailed as a significant new composer – and conductor – on the international scene.

How does a composer make the leap from something clearly derivative – in the “sponge-absorbing” sense – like the Quartet to something like this which no other composer could have written?

What’s curious is that the Horn Concerto, for instance, sounds much more like the mature Strauss than the Piano Quartet written a year or two later. Had he consciously tried imitating Brahms then – considering Brahms’ rather cool rejection of his symphony – putting this aside for other things?

The Burleske for Piano and Orchestra, written between 1885-1886, the next large-scale work composed after the quartet, also sounds at points very Brahmsian but more on the way to being recognizable as the Richard Strauss we would later become familiar with. Add in the Violin Sonata of 1887 and the first of his tone-poems, Macbeth of 1888, the next work would be Don Juan.

It’s a very short route.

And from there, he composed his most famous works heard in concert halls today, all regarded as masterpieces:
Death & Transfiguration (1888-1889), sketched while he worked on Don Juan;
Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (1894-95)
Also Sprach Zarathistra (1895-96)
Don Quixote (1896-97)
Ein Heldenleben (1897-98)

But in 1892, Strauss began his first opera – Guntram – followed by Feuersnot in 1900-01, both failures. But in 1903 he began the opera that would so shock the world, he would never look back.

Strauss in 1905 (photo by Steichen)
After the 1905 premiere of Salome, he wrote primarily operas and songs, very rarely composing any more tone poems, certainly nothing that became regarded as a masterpiece.

One could argue for the string sextet that is the prelude to his last opera Capriccio in 1941 or the original string septet version of the tragic Metamorphosen for string orchestra following the bombing of Dresden in 1945, but basically, after the Violin Sonata of 1887, he wrote no more chamber music.

So while you could argue the Piano Quartet becomes a kind of dead end, stylistically and categorically (for lack of a better word, the category being ‘chamber music’), it is fascinating to hear it in this context of a composer’s musical development, picking and choosing, absorbing and rejecting various influences and ideas.

It stands, of course, on its own but at the same time it is also a piece that is part of the continuum that is Richard Strauss – or, for that matter, the development of music making the transition from one generation to the next, from the late-19th Century leading into the new 20th Century.

For that matter, you could listen to Gustav Mahler’s symphonies, the first begun around this same time period, in light of his own Piano Quartet, written around 1876, and even more surprisingly, perhaps, the evolution that was Arnold Schoenberg even before Verklärte Nacht led the way to the atonality of Pierrot Lunaire one hundred years ago and the serialism he developed in the 1920s – by hearing the very Brahmsian and often Dvořákian string quartet he composed in 1897.

But, as usual, I digress…

- Dick Strawser


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dvořák Finds His Voice

Dvořák in 1885
In all the years I’ve been blogging about up-coming repertoire on local concerts – these “up-close” essays about the background behind a composer’s music – I don’t think I’ve actually ever gone in depth with Antonín Dvořák. Maybe because it’s hard to add all those funny marks to his name.

I think mostly it’s because there are no in-depth biographies of him out there which have helped me get beyond the usual “and-then-I-wrote” summaries you usually find: checking at amazon.com, even the most recent one, one only about his years in America, is out-of-stock; the others are either 40-60 years old and, like the memoir by his son, Otakar, out-of-print. One I located through more assiduous searching – again, unavailable for sale – is Michael Beckerman’s “Dvořák and his World” (1993) with copies in the libraries at Messiah College, York College and Franklin & Marshall College.

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UPDATE (8-10-2012) - following a comment just received from author Michael Beckerman (see below), I can now add this link to locate his "New Worlds of Dvořák: Searching in America for the Composer's Inner Life" published in 2003. A different book than “Dvořák and his World” but, on further searching, I now find it is available for sale in paperback also through Barnes & Noble.

You can read earlier posts at my Harrisburg Symphony Blog about the "New World" Symphony, starting here.
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So let me put together a few observations about the Piano Quartet that’s on the program with Market Square Concerts’ Summermusic 2012 which Stuart Malina, Peter Sirotin, Michael Stepniak and Fiona Thompson will perform this Sunday afternoon at 4 at the Rose Lehrman Arts Center.

With early works by Beethoven on this summers’ programs, hearing Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds – and selections from the Op. 8 and 9 String Trios coming up on Wednesday night as well as Richard Strauss’ Piano Quartet written when he was 20 – makes me think of “where these composers come from,” what seeds in their early music germinated into the more familiar music they wrote in their maturity. With Dvořák, this is more of a challenge, but his biography – how he got started and became famous – is interesting in itself.

Here is a performance of Dvořák's Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 87, found on YouTube.
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The 1st Movement is performed by members of the American Chamber Players (which, despite the cover photo, does not include a flute in this selection):

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For the remaining movements, I found these selections. Though the poster doesn't bother to identify the recording, he does include a score you can follow.
2nd Movement: Largo

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3rd Movement

(a Brahmsian dance-like intermezzo with some folksy twinges at 0:29)
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4th Movement

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Unlike Beethoven who grew up in a musical family at a royal court in provincial Germany – even if that province is along the Rhine – and Brahms who grew up in a major city, the seaport of Hamburg, Antonín Dvořák was born in a small village not far from a small town several miles from the provincial capital of Prague. And like Beethoven whose big break was going to Vienna at 21 to study with Haydn and Brahms who met the Schumanns when he was 20, Dvořák’s big break came when Brahms saw some of his music and recommended him to his publisher – when Dvořák was 36.

If you consider that was really the start of Dvořák’s career, by that age Mozart was already dead one year and Schubert, five…

As Grove’s Dictionary puts it, “his music is characterized by a remarkable fertility of invention coupled with an apparent, yet deceptive, ease and spontaneity of expression.” It’s interesting to trace how this musical voice evolved over the years.

His father – like Beethoven’s and Brahms’ (both, curiously, bass-players) – has been described as a musician even if his abilities were limited to playing the zither and writing a few simple dance tunes for the village dance-band where his son, taught by the local schoolmaster, would eventually play the violin. As the local butcher, his father’s intention was, of course, his son should go into the family business as he had done with his father, and though there may be much in the way of embroidered story-telling in Dvořák’s mature memories, the fact was he dropped out of school at the age of 12 to become an apprentice butcher. It’s not clear whether he finished that apprenticeship but a year later, he went off to the nearby town of Zlonice where he could better learn German and where he found more opportunities for his musical interests.

This need to learn German is significant. Ethnically, Dvořák is Slavic, specifically Czech – whether we call his country Bohemia, Czechoslovakia or the Czech Republic – but it was a province of the Austrian Empire and a fairly backwards one, once you were beyond the city of Prague, despite its great historical past as a significant Central European kingdom (Good King Wenceslaus was, incidentally, just one of many good (and bad) Bohemian kings). This cultural memory was very strong even in the peasants who hated the Austrian rule. The only way anyone was going to get beyond the rural life was to learn the language of the “occupying nation,” in this case Austria.

Apparently acquiescing to his son’s wishes to pursue music as a living, his father sent him to another town in the north of Bohemia when he was 15 specifically to learn German, where he also began more serious studies of music, including harmony and playing the organ. A year later, he was accepted at the Prague Organ School – the city’s second-best conservatory – where he was preparing for a degree as a church musician. One of his teachers there was interested in “contemporary music” – in this case, Mendelssohn (who had died ten years earlier) and even that avant-garde composer, Franz Liszt who, by then, had already composed 12 tone poems, two piano concertos and his Faust and Dante Symphonies.

Dvořák had become a decent enough violist to play in the pit for performances of Wagner’s Tannhäuser and Lohengrin – at this time, Wagner, in the midst of writing The Ring had begun a new opera, Tristan und Isolde which would change the approach to traditional tonality if not the course of music history in general. He attended concerts and heard performers like Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann, though he couldn’t afford to buy scores – a senior student allowed him to borrow from his own library and also gave him access to use his piano. But he only won the 2nd Prize in the highly competitive graduation process, told he was excellent but better in practical work rather than, say, theory. It was not much of a recommendation for the real world.

So he made a living playing in the theater orchestra, in pick-up bands for restaurants and dances and the occasional student. When he was 21, he became the principal violist of the new “people’s equivalent” to the court orchestra. The next year, Wagner came to town and conducted the Tannhäuser Overture, excerpts from Meistersinger and Walküre plus the new TristanPrelude.

Dvořák at age 27
This was apparently the ignition he needed to start composing seriously and, not surprisingly, this early music imitated everything Wagner – his first two symphonies, a cello concerto, a song cycle (inspired by his love for one of his pupils: after she married someone else, Dvořák would marry her sister) and eventually his first attempts at opera which were almost produced.

It was a time of increasing nationalist cultural awareness – most recently ignited by revolutions and political uprisings around Europe in 1848-49 (the one in Dresden got Wagner, having just finished Lohengrin, in considerable hot water) and when Bedrich Smetana became the conductor, Dvořák found a strong inspiration in his music, especially his reliance on the folk music of their native Bohemia.

Dvořák was always having trouble making ends meet. At the age of 32, he was hired by a wealthy merchant to be the house musician – essentially the home-entertainment center, giving the children music lessons as well as accompanying the wife and daughters in their evening musicales. From this point on, Dvořák could rely more on teaching to earn a living which offered him more time to concentrate on composing.

A patriotic cantata was well-received but the theater again rejected his second opera, King and Charcoal Burner which he then completely rewrote from scratch. By now, he was abandoning his Wagnerian influences in light of Smetana’s, and heard Smetana conduct his 3rd Symphony not long after he’d completed his 4th. Finally, the new version of King and Charcoal Burner was produced. His music was being published by a small but limited Czech firm in Prague.

This gave Dvořák, now almost 33, the confidence to enter fifteen of his works, including these last two symphonies, for the Austrian State Prize, a major music competition in Vienna which was intended to help young but poor, struggling artists. The judges were the director of the Imperial Opera, the music critic Eduard Hanslick and Johannes Brahms. Dvořák won a prize of 400 gulden (I do not know what that might be worth today or how it compared to, say, an annual income in the 1870s). More confident, he began another symphony and a new opera. He competed for the prize several more times, winning two of them – in 1876 and 1877.

Those were the years Brahms had completed his 1st Symphony and then wrote his 2nd, still working on his Violin Concerto.

In November of 1877, Hanslick wrote to Dvořák informing him he’d just won a prize of 600 gulden and that Brahms had taken an interest in his music, suggesting to his own publisher, Simrock, they take on Dvořák’s vocal duets.

Two weeks later, Simrock took Brahms’ advice and commissioned their new client to write some piano duets inspired by Bohemian dances, considering Brahms’ Hungarian Dances had proven such a lucratively popular success. Published next year, his first volume of Slavonic Dances was well-reviewed and performed to great success in Berlin and London. His new String Sextet in A (op.48) was premiered in Berlin by Joachim’s quartet and the two Serenades (one for strings, the other for winds) also received successful premieres. In fact, his music was now being performed from Latvia to New York City.

This was also a time that makes Opus Numbers unreliable guides to the chronology of his works: not only was an early work given a higher number to make it seem more mature, because Dvořák was now having successes with several new works, he went through the pile of rejections and sent some of them out to new publishers. This time, they snapped them up.

(Incidentally, his earliest symphonies were never published in his lifetime and the latter ones not in their correct chronological order. When the other ones were brought to light, modern publishers back in the mid-20th Century decided to renumber them, leading to a generation’s confusion with “Symphony No. 7 [Old No. 2]” or “Symphony No. 9 [Old No. 5].” But I digress…)

However, when Hans Richter tried to program Dvořák’s new 6th Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic, the anti-Bohemian sentiment among the Viennese musicians strongly opposed the idea and so the work was withdrawn.

Though people loved his dances inspired by folk music, the fact he was a Bohemian (essentially a provincial hick, in cosmopolitan Vienna’s eyes) writing symphonies was similar to the American literary elite’s reaction to, say, a red-neck attempting to produce the Great American Novel. Long gone were the days when many of Mozart’s respected colleagues were Bohemians.

Hanslick and others had urged Dvořák to leave Prague and center his career – as Brahms and Beethoven had done before him – by moving to Vienna but his national pride made him refuse their offer, “acutely aware of the way his people suffered under the Hapsburgs and of the continuing animosity of the and condescension of the German-speaking people toward the Czech nation.”

His 6th Symphony, despite the reluctance in Vienna, was well received in Leipzig and his choral music – large-scale works like Stabat Mater – was all the rage in England. London commissioned him to write a new symphony – his 7th, in D Minor, resolving to make it “a work,” he wrote, “which would shake the world.”

Suggestions he write a German opera rather than a Czech one were met with a large-scale opera based on the incident of the False Dmitri of Boris Godunov fame, if not Czech, at least still a Slavic story. But it was still rejected by Vienna’s opera companies: this time he was told, “the people were rather tired of five-act tragedies.”

“What have we two to do with politics,” he wrote to Simrock when he was told he needed to spell his first name “Anton,” in the German style. “Let us ne glad that we can dedicate our services solely to the beautiful art. And let us hope that nations who represent and possess art will never perish, even though they may be small. …[A]n artist too has a fatherland in which he must also have a firm faith and which he must love.”

Three months after his 7th Symphony was such a success in London, Dvořák began work on his Piano Quintet in A Major (Op. 81). He was now touring as a conductor of his own music – Budapest, London, Dresden. He was invited to teach at the Prague Conservatory (he waited two years before he accepted their offer). In June, 1889, Dvořák (now pushing 50) was awarded Austria’s Order of the Iron Crown and received an audience with the Emperor as a result.

He had just finished a number of other works: his Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 87 and the Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88.

In 1891, invited by Mrs. Jeannette Thurber to become the Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, Dvořák made a kind of farewell tour with some of his latest works: the “Dumky” Piano Trio and the Carnival Overture.

At this point, I’ll leave the story – how he wrote his New World Symphony and the “American” Quartet, two of his most frequently performed works and then, before returning to Prague, starting his B Minor Cello Concerto (generally regarded as the cello concerto) which had been inspired by hearing a cello concerto by an Irish cellist-turned-composer/conductor named Victor Herbert, later conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony and winning more enduring fame as a composer of operettas.

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Listeners today tend to lump composers together into historic… well… lumps. Brahms and Wagner, though bitter rivals on the music scene in the late-19th Century, sound nearly identical to casual listeners a century later. We think of Romantic Composers as one group – Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler – and Classical Composers as another – Mozart, Haydn and the early Beethoven, at least. It would seem you need to be an expert to tell the difference between Mozart and Haydn.

Listening to Beethoven’s early Quintet for Piano and Winds, I’m reminded how strong Mozart’s influence still was, seven or eight years after his death – not so much his teacher, Haydn’s, at least in this work. The String Trios may have more of Haydn in them, but when you listen to the earlier string trios and serenades – and a work like the Septet Op. 20 which became Beethoven’s first big hit – you hear more of that lighter side both Mozart and Haydn knew to cultivate if they wanted popular success: the witty serenades and divertimentos written for courtly entertainments appealing to one audience, the operas and symphonies appealing to another, and chamber music, the most intimate of all, to yet another.

(Brahms’ financial comfort, by the way, was not the result of income from his symphonies and chamber music, but from his Hungarian Dances and a little thing called “Brahms’ Lullaby,” making him one of the richest composers of his time.)

Composers learned to compartmentalize themselves as needed: Beethoven could write grand music on a public scale like the symphonies, more private music for a more discerning audience for his late piano sonatas and string quartets (which had a difficult time finding anything close to “popularity”) but also arrangements of well over one hundred British folk songs because he was getting paid a good sum for them, or an obviously populist work like Wellington’s Victory (which he thought highly of) which, we tend to forget, dismissing it compared to his 7th Symphony, it’s contemporary, actually made Beethoven a popular composer at the time!

How else could a composer like Dmitri Shostakovich, writing in the Soviet Union, create something like his 5th or 10th Symphonies on one hand, what we dismiss as propaganda music (they considered it “patriotic music”) to appease the bureaucrats, jazzy musical comedies like Moscow Cheryomushky or the extremely personal string quartets he composed after being denounced by Stalin’s government for not writing music that uplifted the Soviet people?

On the one hand, “music that uplifted the people” might be what Dvořák found in works like his Slavonic Dances – written specifically to appeal to popular taste – or even the 8th Symphony with its medley of delightful tunes, “easy listening” compared to the more intellectual approach of his 7th Symphony, a dramatic symphony in the Beethoven-Brahms tradition. The 9th, perhaps, succeeds for being a bit of both: accessible tunes brilliantly presented within a structural framework of considerable craft.

All you need to do is listen to two piano trios back to back: the popular, dance-inspired “Dumky” and the F Minor Trio, otherwise generally considered his best trio and which clearly owes much to Brahms’ legacy.

Having tried Wagner and then finding more sympathy with Brahms, Dvořák finally found his natural voice in his native folk and popular music – perhaps even the dances he played with his father dance-band when he was a kid – then combining this with what he admired most in the Germanic tradition so that, by the time he was writing works like the Piano Quintet and the Piano Quartet, he created something that had both intellectual and emotional appeal, that blend of heart and mind that can be so elusive in art. We can enjoy much of his music without being aware how well written it is.

There’s one mystery that no composer and few musicians can ever solve: what is it that appeals to the public to turn one work into a success while another one is over-looked? As much as there can be justly neglected works as unjustly neglected ones, what is it about the Piano Quintet or the “Dumky” Trio that make them among the most over-played works in Dvořák’s catalogue and something like the Piano Quartet – which many musicians might prefer if only because they get to play it less often – is practically forgotten?

How many people in the audience will be thinking “Gee, I wish they were doing the Piano Quintet today…”?

Like songwriters from Tin Pan Alley and Broadway to MTV today, composers have always longed for some formula that would ensure success, like some magic pill that bring fame and fortune.

When I was teaching at the University of Connecticut back in the mid-70s, my students would ask me “What makes a masterpiece?”, and I would look at them and say, “if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be teaching at the University of Connecticut…”

- Dick Strawser


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beethoven: The Man Before the Myth

This post is a continuation of a post about Market Square Concert’s Summermusic 2012 series which opened last night with a performance of Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano & Winds, Op. 16. You can listen to a performance of the work and find out more about the music by reading “Beethoven Before He Became a God.”

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

After Beethoven composed his 3rd, 5th and especially his 9th Symphonies and produced such towering works of genius as his middle and late string quartets, the greatest of his piano sonatas, the Missa Solemnis, even his lone opera, Fidelio, contemporaries regarded the man, struggling with his deafness, as more than just a genius. He became an epic figure, The Titan – remember Brahms’ comment about hearing the tread of a giant behind him when he went to compose his own first symphony – the equivalent of such monumental cultural figures as Goethe and Shakespeare, a “Man for the Ages” with his wild eyes and wildly streaming hair looking out at us from paintings and busts and statues, a monumental man suitable for monuments.

Max Klinger's Beethoven Monument, 1902
By the time the German sculptor Max Klinger created his Beethoven monument for the Beethoven Exposition in Vienna in 1902, there had grown up around the composer such a mythology he had gone from being a man to becoming a god – or at least god-like: seated naked like a Greek god on a throne covered with religious symbolism and guarded by the heads of five angels with an eagle at his feet.

The face, though, was taken from the actual “death mask,” the one human touch in the whole statue.

It is difficult not to think of Beethoven as super-human, given the general reaction we mere humans have for much of his greatest music, that he “wonderfully embodied an ideal spiritual reality capable of transcending the base and often painful physical world,” to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson.

If a mortal, after all, can create such art, why are there not more Beethovens?

It took, essentially, two world wars to bring Beethoven’s reputation back to Earth: when the French and English dealt with Beethoven as a German composer, the epitome of their enemy’s art, they realized that, in the end, the man who created such art had been only a man.

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

Beethoven had visited Vienna as a 16-year-old in 1787 with the hope of arranging the chance to study with Mozart. There’s no direct indication he’d actually played for Mozart, there is that famous anecdote of Mozart, hearing him improvise, stepping back to tell friends, “Keep your eyes on that one: someday he will give the world plenty to talk about.”

Regardless of the impression he made on Mozart, Beethoven had only been in Vienna two weeks when he got news that his mother was gravely ill, barely making it home to be at her deathbed. Due to family finances and other circumstances, he was unable to return to Vienna. He needed official leave from the Court of Bonn’s Elector (the ruling prince) but it was not forthcoming.

Then Mozart died at the age of 35.

In 1792, Franz Josef Haydn stopped in Bonn on his return trip from London to Vienna and the court composer, Christian Gottlieb Neefe, urged the great composer to listen to young Beethoven (though, at 21, he was beyond being a prodigy). Haydn agreed to take him on as a student and so Beethoven left Bonn that November, concerned the wars in France would soon be spilling over into the German Rhineland. He was a few weeks shy of his 22nd birthday.

Not long after his arrival, Beethoven was described as short of stature with a large head and a thick mane of coal-black hair framing his pock-mocked and ruddy-complexioned face, a broad forehead and bushy eyebrows, “ugly” (even “repulsive”) by some contemporary reports, according to Maynard Solomon’s 1998 biography.

His eyes were animated and expressive (“now flashing and brilliant, at other times filled with an indefinable sadness”), his mouth was small and “delicately shaped” (he often rubbed his teeth with a napkin or handkerchief), his chin was broad “and divided by a deep cleft.” Powerfully built, he had broad shoulders; large, hairy hands with short, thick fingers.

He was also physically awkward, “lacking in physical grace,” clumsy, prone to knocking things over. His student Ferdinand Ries wondered how he ever managed to shave himself, his cheeks were so covered with cuts.

Despite the fact he written down the name of an expert dancing master someone had recommended to him, he was unable to dance in time to the music! Observers noted he “had no sign of exterior polish” and dressed in a slovenly manner. At a time when the knee-breeches and silk stockings of the 1780s were going out of style, there would be Haydn and Salieri, sitting in Prince Lichnowsky’s music room, impeccably dressed in a courtly manner, complete with wigs and buckled shoes and there was Beethoven, in “Rhenish garb, almost carelessly dressed.”

Beethoven - by C.F. Riedel (1801)
Considering this portrait, painted in 1801 when he was 30, apparently Beethoven cleaned up quite nicely. Or, as might possibly be, it’s one of those idealized official portraits done before the days of air-brushing.

As for his famously irascible personality, among strangers Beethoven appeared reserved, stiff, haughty with a “studied rudeness.” Haydn, his teacher, considered him arrogant and overbearing.

Among his close friends, he was exuberant, lively, talkative, “always merry, mischievous, full of jokes.” His letters were full of “zany metaphors,” jests and sometimes naughty wordplay. He might suddenly break out laughing (even “when listening to mediocre music”) without explaining why – or feeling the need to.

His moral standards, however, found life in carefree Vienna somewhat disturbing. A friend described his “rectitude of principle, high morality… virtues [that] reigned within himself and he required them at the hands of others.” If he was gullible and trusting – “nothing angered him more than a broken promise” – he was also “very childlike and certainly very sincere.” Perhaps the child in him emerges in these first years in the Imperial capital, a sense of play that had largely been suppressed by his severe childhood in Bonn.

Forced to become the provider for his younger brothers, following their mother’s death and their father’s incapacity to avoid alcohol, it probably did not help Beethoven that Casper Carl would follow him to Vienna in 1794 (he would die in 1815, leaving behind the nephew that so tried Beethoven’s final years). Nikolaus Johann (the one he couldn’t even mention by name in the Heiligenstadt Testament) arrived the following year.

In 1794, he wrote to a friend in Bonn:

“We are having very hot weather here and the Viennese are afraid they will not be able to get more ice cream for as the winter was so mild, ice is scarce [in these days before refrigeration]. Here various important people have been locked up; it is said a revolution was about to break out. – But I believe as long the Viennese can get his brown ale and little sausages, he is not likely to revolt. …the gates to the suburbs are to be closed at 10pm. The soldiers have loaded their muskets with ball. You dare not raise your voice or the police will take you into custody.”

Of course, five years after the French Revolution, most crowned heads across Europe feared similar events in their own lands. In 1794, who knew that the continent would be embroiled in wars with the French for the next 21 years?

Professionally, he was regarded as a virtuoso in Vienna’s salons and concert halls and was launching his career as a composer, mastering (more on his own than at the hands of Haydn) the details of the Classical Style. But even so, there were those who were uncomfortable with Beethoven’s stylistic “advances” – and this is even before the first string quartets and the first symphony of 1800, works today we still largely regard as essentially “Haydn-esque.” Of course, who knew where these would go, even a few years later with his “Eroica” Symphony, much less the Late Quartets 25 years later?

At two centuries’ distance, we think of the music Beethoven composed after 1800 as breaking away from the traditions of Mozart and Haydn, but really, to critics and the average audience for whom Mozart and Haydn were the norm, Beethoven was already well beyond the pale. Critics pointed out his “clumsy, harsh modulations,” especially in his first violin sonatas written between the Quintet and the first string quartets, with their “forced attempt at strange modulations, an aversion to the conventional key relationships, a piling up of difficulty upon difficulty.” If these sound tame to us, atuned as we are to the music yet to be written, it must have been clear to his audience – and his teacher – that he was well on his way to some sort of ‘new path’ already.

It’s not that everybody was opposed to his music or that there weren’t champions who encouraged him – patrons like Prince Lichnowsky or Baron von Swieten, both of whom knew Mozart quite well. There was, in a sense, the thought that had Mozart lived, he might be headed in this same direction, a path Beethoven knew his teacher did not approve of: in his own day, Beethoven was more often regarded as the Heir to Mozart rather than the Heir to Haydn.

But yet, Baron von Swieten, for all his support, wrote an article for the leading German arts journal in 1799, writing about those composers “who tread firmly in the footsteps of the truly great and good” did not even mention Beethoven.

Considering his teacher was Haydn, the most famous composer in the world who’d just produced a dozen of the finest symphonies ever written, Beethoven wasn’t about to throw his hat in the ring with a symphony of his own without being really sure of himself (Beethoven would have a similar effect on Brahms a few generations later). Instead, he “practiced” by writing a great deal of chamber music – yet, not a string quartet since Haydn was also the producer of the finest string quartets in the repertoire, then.

If you consider this quintet and, say, the three string trios Op. 9 written at the same time as “study pieces,” mastering the formal and stylistic skills of the late-18th Century legacy of Mozart and Haydn, he would then be ready to tackle both the symphony and the string quartet, coming into direct competition with his teacher’s legacy.

Curiously, his sense of the “classical” was to use the standard ‘exterior models’ of his time but work within them to create something new. Even later, his sense of form – especially in the late sonatas and quartets – grew organically out of the past, gradually, rather than breaking with the past to find new forms. He started by bending the rules, playing with listeners’ expectations (something he did learn from Haydn) – the opening of the 1st Symphony is a good example – and then expanding the standard operating procedures.

(Even today, I think one of the biggest problems audiences have with much of the 20th Century’s music is this disconnect between recognizable structures and what we've come to expect in familiar music, with this new and unfamiliar music which seems to lack structure and for which we haven’t yet developed expectations, but I digress…)

Within two years, around the time he was working on his 2nd Symphony, itself a considerable advancement over the classical style of his 1st, Beethoven told Wenzel Krumpholz that he was dissatisfied with his works so far and was ready to take a “new path.” He had already begun sketching a new symphony that would soon become his Eroica, a work that shattered the traditions of the Old Century and opened up the new one to a completely different way of musical thinking.

Then, too, back in 1797, around the time he'd written this seemingly innocent quintet or the String Trios of Op. 8 and 9, he experienced the first symptoms of his impending deafness: he found himself missing words but if someone shouted, he wrote to a friend in Bonn, "I cannot bear it. What is to become of me?"

And so, Man gradually morphed into Myth.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 71 (The End)


In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Mahler's score has been safely deposited in the Posthumous Manuscript Collection, Klangfarben's plot was a total failure, and Victor Crevecoeur has been taken back to New Coalton where he has been successfully revived. The case would seem to be closed.


*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 71
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As we pulled into the farmhouse’s driveway, the sun was about to come up, that slight, pale light on the horizon letting us know the night was over and a new day was ready to begin.

There were some heavy clouds that looked like they could bring much needed rain except, in this heat, they’d likely produce strong thunderstorms.

I’d forgotten how hot and humid this mid-summer day had been after the time we’d spent in the cooler world of Harmonia-IV. Despite the humidity or thinking I should be exhausted, I was wide awake – “wired!”

Mary, already standing on the porch, ran down the walk to greet us when she saw Victor get out of the car. Words didn’t need to be spoken, then. We stood aside to let them embrace.

A moment later, Mary, threading her arm through Victor’s, invited everyone inside for breakfast. It seemed the thing to do, given the timing.

Dr. Portnoy and Dr. Highwater, sleeping on the parlor sofas, awoke slowly but quickly focused when they saw Victor in the archway. They both greeted the good news of everybody’s return, wanting to know about everything.

Mary shook her head, guiding everyone toward the kitchen. “Not now, not now – I’m sure everybody’s exhausted,” she said. “I know I am…”

The musicians were sleeping upstairs and Zoe went to wake them with the news.

Mary told her, “Make sure you invite them down for breakfast as soon as they feel they’re ready.” She knew something about artists.

Detective Ste.-Croix declined to stay, excusing herself to get back to the office and the business of somehow writing up her day’s report.

Mary, along with Dr. Portnoy, looking out the kitchen window, commented about the wind. It seemed to be getting stronger, maybe brewing up a storm, though now that everybody was home safely, it didn’t really matter.

It wasn’t long before the rain kicked in and winds began howling. Before long, lightning and thunder rocked the early morning skies.

As the musicians came downstairs, some of us stood at the windows and watched.

In no time, Mary and Dr. Portnoy had breakfast ready and on the table, all of us digging in like we were famished.

Soon, the storm stopped, the sun came out and almost instantly it felt cooler. There were deer playing in the yard, the calming effect of everything reminding us that, so in nature, so also in life.

During breakfast, no one bothered asking anything about where we had been, what we had seen or how we had found Victor, though Dr. Highwater was extremely curious and Ms. Rowberson, on the verge of exploding.

Even after watching the deer and commenting about how calm everything felt, Mary said she was just happy to have her husband back.

Too wired just to sit down and rest, some of us strolled around the back yard while Xaq wanted to take his mom down to the pond which surprised Victor since Zoe never went there, willingly.

Once we’d gotten back inside, we heard a commotion coming from the parlor. Loni and Devon discovered they couldn’t find the parts for Sebastian’s quintet – it’s like they were all stolen right out of their folders. And when Dima went to check his computer files to see about getting another set printed, it turned out his laptop was fried.

Zoe thought maybe she should check her “new” violin – the one Bach had given her (how would she ever explain where she got it?) – afraid perhaps it too might have vanished. Was everything going to disappear?

But when she opened the case, not only was the violin there, there was another handful of white petals from the mock orange.

Where could they have come from, she wondered. How did they get in there? Did Bach put them there – or, more likely, Sebastian…?

She smiled as she closed the case, realizing the past is always with us.

-*-

As I drove home, Cameron was very quiet. I was going to drop him off at the train station near my place so he could catch a train into Philadelphia where he’d meet his best friend. After telling me about his plans to attend college with Dylan, he cautiously showed me the sealed envelope that Beethoven had given him.

“He didn’t say what it was,” Cameron elaborated, “except it would make my fortune. He even told me which library I should go to, pretending I found it there, then publish it in this particular magazine.”

I couldn’t imagine what it might contain – perhaps a letter identifying the Immortal Beloved?

“Don’t lose it or forget where you hid it.”

Sebastian had told me where I could find an envelope of my own, though I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone about it. It contained unmarked sketches for his Piano Quintet, surviving separately from the registered score.

He said I should realize them, turn them into my own work, since they were largely based on something I’d already written.

“Who would know, right?” he’d said, with a wink. “Dedicate it to my memory.”

It was his way of inspiring me, since I had helped inspire him – like a joint creation, a mutual tribute to our friendship.

“What if anybody remembered what they’d heard or played that night at the farmhouse?”

“Don’t worry about it,” he’d said with a shrug. “Tell them you’re trying to recreate what you’d heard, that night. They’d all understand.”

-*-

After dropping Cameron off at the train station, telling him to keep in touch, I stopped for groceries before going home where I was greeted at the door by a very hungry and highly incensed cat.

It was good to be home, maybe grabbing some sleep after checking the mailbox.

There was a letter – scented – with no return address.

It looked like a ransom note, cut-out letters.


That didn’t make much sense.

Who was Klavdia Klangfarben?

What was that all about?

-*-

Anyone standing near the woods outside New Coalton that afternoon would’ve seen Detective Jenna Ste.-Croix, dropped off by a cab, looking around. She took note of the clouds, some nearby deer, then located an old stump.

Then they would’ve seen her walk into the center of the field – and disappear.

They would wait a long time till she returned.


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THE END
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This turned out to be the first in a series of classical music appreciation comedy-thrillers I call The Klangfarben Trilogy. You can read the second novel, The Lost Chord, which beginning here. I completed the third novel, The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, in September of 2014, and it may well become available here in future posts. As of the Fall of 2014, I am toying with another novel that would not involve Ms. Klangfarben but would continue the adventures of Dr. Kerr and his sidekick, Cameron Pierce, at the moment entitled In Search of Tom Purdue. Stay tuned...

- Dick Strawser

The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 70


In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Rogers Kent-Clarke, once mild-mannered assistant conductor, has escaped from Harmonia-IV with the score of Mahler's new symphony but not if a posse of highly irritated but otherwise dead composers has anything to say about it: ever think you'd be head-butted by Arnold Schoenberg? But from the Other Side, Officer Tennant is witnessing a very different and extremely strange phenomenon because, don't forget, the dead who cross over from the parallel universe are invisible to the Living Eye... 

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Chapter 70
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With a mysterious air, Smighley led Zoe, happy to be reunited with her son, and the others toward the edge of the field, opening a door to a police transport, then motioning for them to enter.

Before he could explain anything to them, they found themselves hovering outside Stravinsky’s Tavern.

Zoe suddenly remembered her father who’d died here earlier.

With no idea how late it was or why they were here now, they silently got out of the miraculous police transport – possibly the coolest thing he’d experienced so far, Xaq thought – and entered the tavern.

The room was quiet with only a few patrons but ones she instantly recognized: Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven and, in the corner, Bach.

Stepping forward, Bach handed Zoe a beat-up violin case. Inside, he said, was his second-best violin. “It has a really magnificent sound, though.”

Beethoven handed Cameron an old envelope, whispering something in his ear. “Use it wisely.”

Xaq’s eyes widened just as Zoe’s narrowed when Wagner presented him with a Time-Device.

“Sir, I don’t think that’s a very good idea…”

“Relax, my dear, it no longer works,” he said with a twinkle, “They’ve been discontinued – like a plastic car model: you could never drive one. Trust me.”

Zoe’s arched eyebrow indicated that perhaps she did not.

“But the reason we’re here,” Smighley interrupted, “since we have no need for morgues on Harmonia-IV, we’ve kept your father, as it were, on ice. Igor,” he said, turning to the bartender, “will you do the honors?”

From the back kitchen, Stravinsky rolled out a buffet table piled high with chipped ice topped with large leaves of brilliantly green lettuce.

“We didn’t know how long he might have,” Smighley continued, “since we have so few trespassers who come here and then die. So there’s no scientific body of evidence, so to speak…”

Zoe looked puzzled, confused.

“The lettuce was Vera’s idea,” Stravinsky said, smiling broadly at Zoe, then the table. “Who knows how much time someone has between when they die here and when they can no longer return to the living.”

Smighley pulled away some lettuce leaves, revealing Victor’s body on top of the ice. He looked like he was lying there asleep.

“We assume he had a heart attack but we’re pretty sure he’s not dead.”

“If he were really dead,” Stravinsky added, “he’d appear, like us, to be alive.”

“What’s that,” Zoe asked, “about ‘returning to the living’?”

Smighley explained if they’d get Victor back to New Coalton’s side of the Time-Gate, he’d have maybe a 60-40 chance of reviving.

“Reviving?” Zoe was still confused.

“Yes,” Sebastian said, “before the body completely breaks down.”

“But only a 60-40 chance of rejuvenation?” She didn’t think those were good odds.

“Okay, maybe 65-35,” Smighley reconsidered, “but better than nothing.”

“No, it’s just I remembered somebody earlier saying we’d have maybe 12 hours and he’d be fine once we’d gotten him… across.”

She took a long look at her father, lying there, and felt very sad.

“Oh, Zoe, it’s all my fault,” Sebastian whined, wiping away a tear. “I should never have considered bringing him here, even briefly.”

“But if we can get him back and he might revive… that is possible?”

Zoe’s hopefulness started cutting away at the gloom and the others became more enthusiastic.

“Well then,” Mozart said, “let’s roll!”

They all agreed.

“It’s not that I want to leave, no disrespect – you’ve all been wonderful and… well, it’s certainly been quite an experience, but if I can get my father home and maybe bring him back to life…?”

Smighley smiled, “and, no disrespect, since your presence here is technically illegal, being trespassers, we’d better hurry – or I’ll have to arrest you.”

Stravinsky and Mozart helped push the table out to the police transport as the others propped him up in the back seat.

After a group hug and one final farewell, they took off for the Gate.

Zoe felt a little cramped in the back seat of the car – what she thought of as a car since it looked like a car and felt like a car but didn’t drive like a car – sitting between her father who felt frozen but might still be alive and her grandfather whom she knew was dead but felt warm.

While they got Victor ready for the “crossing,” she figured it was time to say good-bye, the chance she never had before.

Zoe looked warmly at Sebastian.

“Will we ever be able to see you again?”

He decided he shouldn’t really make the crossing any more, since it’s frowned upon. “Besides, you won’t really see me,” he smiled.

“Hey, wait…” Xaq recalled a distant memory – at least for him, it was distant. “That summer, you… – in the woods – after Mom and Dad…?” Xaq smiled at him.

“Well,” Sebastian smiled back, “you didn’t really see me.”

“But can we come visit you, now that we know where you live – kinda…?” Hugging him, Xaq felt he couldn’t let go. The boy wanted to get to know him better. “Can’t we come visit, Mom?”

Zoe joined in the hug but said, “you know we can’t, Xaq – after all, it’s illegal, isn’t it…?” What else could she say?

By the time I got there, everybody was in tears, hugging and saying their good-byes, getting ready to carry Victor through the Time-Gate.

Arriving at the gate, I told them Mahler’d invited us to the symphony’s premiere.

When I went to say farewell to Sebastian, it occurred to me we’d never taken the time to talk about his quintet. True, we’d been kind of pre-occupied and now we didn’t have any more time.

“Imagine,” he laughed, “if there’d be no more time!”

Yet in the few remaining moments we had, I couldn’t find anything to say.

He admitted to “borrowing” a few things from that old string quartet of mine. (I wasn’t imagining it – that really was mine!)

“Well,” he said, poking me in the ribs, “you weren’t doing anything with it.”

“Would we ever have the chance to hear the rest of your quintet? I really want to know how it worked out.”

Sebastian shook his head. “No, I had Nepomuk register the score at the P.M.C., back while the trial was going on,” he figured.

This meant all copies and parts at the farmhouse would disappear.

Except one.

-*-

Three of us supported Victor’s body while Xaq clutched Bach’s violin to his chest. After entering the Time-Gate through a few seconds of swirling winds, we walked into the middle of the field in New Coalton.

It seemed so much easier to return than arrive.

Then someone shouted.

“Hey – look…!”

Soon everyone was running toward us from the cars.

Officer Tennant was the first to approach us.

“Okay, now… so, what – uhmm, where…?”

Zoe just smiled. “Look! We found my dad.”

“Yeah, but…” He looked at me as we gently placed Victor on the ground.

Cameron and I looked over at each other as Zoe tried patting her father’s cheeks – “Dad… hey, Daddy” – hoping to revive him.

So far, there’d been no response. Would it work? Maybe it took more time.

Ms. Rowberson hurried unsteadily over to Zoe’s side.

“Victor! You’re not dead, are you?”

Then she mentioned something about petals in Zoe’s pocket.

“Petals! Of course,” Zoe said, standing up. She remembered the handful of petals the mock orange had given her in the woods.

Zoe stared at her in loving disbelief. How could she have known about that?

What was it the flowers told her about them, all these magical talking flowers? Something about these petals helping to make everything right?

Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a fistful of delicate white petals, sifting them in amazement from one hand to the other. She sprinkled them over her father, scrunching up her face while making a wish.

In a few seconds that seemed like minutes, Victor sat up and opened his eyes, looking right into his daughter’s beaming face.

“ZuZu,” he said, raising his arms to hug her. “Where am I? What happened…?”

“ZuZu? You haven’t called me that since I was five!” It was just one of many nicknames Zoe had had during her life.

“What a strange dream!” Victor stood up and dusted himself off. “It was like I was actually sitting there talking to Mozart.”

“Oh,” Ms. Rowberson said, nodding, patting his arm, “I do that all the time.”

Maybe that was it, I said to myself, watching the happy reunion as we all shook Victor’s hand and welcomed him back.

Maybe it really was just all a dream, the play of stuff and shadows. How else could any of us possibly explain it?

But Xaq was holding Bach’s violin, an old Time-Device sticking out of his pocket…

“Well, he’ll survive,” Detective Ste.-Croix said, pointing back toward the disheveled and bewildered Kent-Clarke. He was still glancing furtively around him, distinctly paranoid, as if expecting to get struck by some invisible force from any direction.

“He may need years of therapy before he’ll ever be able to conduct again,” she said, “at least anything by a dead composer.”

In a way, watching him duck and weave like that, I felt a little sorry for Kent-Clarke. He thought it would make his career but now it looks like it destroyed him. Who would have thought…?

Ste.-Croix dusted off her hands, glancing at each of us with a smile or a wink.

“Since it looks like Victor Crevecoeur, former missing person, has been found, I’d say this case is pretty much closed.”

Everybody began moving back to the cars, divided up who would ride with whom.

Everything had to look pretty nonchalant, returning to normal.

Officer Tennant would take poor Kent-Clarke – raving now about becoming “SuperConductor” – into the Collierville Hospital. Somebody could come get his car, later.

Ste.-Croix would drop Victor and Zoe off at the farmhouse, along with Ms. Rowberson.

We agreed that I would follow them with Xaq and Cameron, coming back for a celebratory breakfast and an obligatory chance to unwind.

Zoe decided she’d call Galina Poulter, canceling her Chicago trip, and spend the rest of the summer at the farm with Victor.

Plus, there was something Sebastian hid back at the farmhouse I needed to find.

= = = = = = =

To be continued

- Dick Strawser

The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 69


In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, after a philosophical diversion about truth and mythology, it turns out Klavdia Klangfarben is having trouble figuring out what will happen to her, now that she's stuck in 1985. Man Kaye, meanwhile, is listening to the all-night classical radio station, waiting for confirmation that Klangfarben's plot has succeeded. 

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 69
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

By the clock, it was only a few seconds we were actually flying through the air, but it felt like several minutes, tumbling in slow motion, the reddish water going from floor to ceiling and back. There was a great roaring hiss, presumably from Fasolt the Squid, and a great rising scream, presumably from me, during these tense moments.

Within that brief span, I wondered if at any point in my life I ever thought I’d die being eaten by a giant squid or being dissolved in a polluted underground lake of foul-smelling mining residue.

So when I landed with a pain-searing thud without benefit of watery splash or crunch of squid mandibles, it took probably more seconds to figure out what had happened at the dynamic conclusion of that moment.

We had all landed on the shore, Fasolt’s leap having generated enough speed with sufficient trajectory to help us clear the water’s edge.

A few feet shorter, we would quickly become one with the toxic sludge that passed for a lake. A few feet further, numerous broken bones and serious concussions might have resulted in yet another fatal option.

And still, over those rocks, I saw Kent-Clarke scampering along, pushing Xaq in front of him, waving his pistol in our general direction.

They had just clambered out of their rickety cable-car when a great poisonous spume splashed over it, barely missing them by a foot. Struggling to our feet, we scrambled past the steaming car, already beginning to evaporate.

Across the rocks we scurried, frantically tearing after them in hot pursuit as much to just get the hell out of there.

Then Cameron yelled over, pointing back at Sebastian, still lying there on the shore.

I immediately ran back to him, Cameron joining me in a flash. A large tentacle started creeping up the beach toward Sebastian’s legs.

Zoe probably couldn’t hear us yelling in the din once Fasolt began shrieking furiously. She kept running, desperate to rescue her son.

Cameron and I reached Sebastian and pulled him back as fast as we could.

Fasolt’s tentacle, gray and slimy with a ghastly blood-shot eye at the tip of its paddle-like extremity, menacingly continued groping after us.

Cameron picked up a rock and threw it, smashing it down on the eye.

Fasolt hissed and shrieked, quickly withdrawing the wounded tentacle, arcs of blood spewing everywhere.

Sebastian came to, screamed and scrambled to his feet.

Without looking back, we raced after the others but could still hear Fasolt’s demonic yowling, churning up the water in his rage. Great drops of noxious acid splattered across the shore, hissing and steaming on contact.

From up ahead, echoing through the dimly lit tunnel, we could hear the unseen Kent-Clarke yelling for us not to come any closer.

Now looking completely frantic and totally disheveled, he’d grabbed Zoe around the neck by his arm, the gun waving behind his head. In the other arm, he was desperately hanging onto the tote-bag with Mahler’s score.

But he wasn’t yelling at us. Someone else was approaching from the other direction, just beyond a sharp bend in the mineshaft. Judging from Kent-Clarke’s less than terrified demeanor, chances were good it was probably human.

So now, villain or not, he was at a decided disadvantage: one man with two hostages being attacked on two fronts, clearly outnumbered.

Knocked to the ground with a nasty shove, the boy started yelling, “Leave my mother alone,” kicking him violently in the shins.

Blocking his only escape route, five more people couldn’t make things that much worse.

Kent-Clarke looked terrified, realizing everything was beyond his control.

Clearly this night was not turning out to be exactly what he’d expected, either.

He could have been easily overwhelmed – the man had problems dealing with bad reviews – so I was surprised Smighley’s team stood aside.

Leaving Xaq behind, Kent-Clarke, equally incredulous, crab-walked past them, his arm around Zoe’s neck.

Pushing her ahead of him, Kent-Clarke dashed through the steeply rising mineshaft till they came to an even more steeply ascending ramp, their way barred by the luminous presence of the Old Man of the Mines. Stepping aside, he showed him an elevator, well-camouflaged in the rocks, making their escape considerably easier. In seconds, they’d arrive at the surface.

We reached the base of the ramp just as the elevator door closed and the Old Man scurried off down another tunnel. Now free of his bonds, Xaq, banging around on the wall, found the call-button.

While we waited, Smighley explained the Gate had been closed and Kent-Clarke couldn’t escape. Besides, his policemen were there, waiting for him.

But when we reached the surface, we were met with a most unusual sight.

Kent-Clarke was being besieged by a rather large, unruly mob of decidedly hot-under-the-collar composers – including Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, Chopin, Berlioz – even Mahler himself.

They were chasing him right toward the Gate which Smighley calmly reminded us he’d ordered closed.

Unfortunately, it turned out it wasn’t.

The air turned blue and rippley as Kent-Clarke disappeared, the composers in hot pursuit.

Agent Babbitt reluctantly informed us, following standard protocol, yes, the governor had sent Smighley’s request to the Universal Security Council for official approval.

“That could take days!” Smighley cursed under his breath, then yelled for his men to follow them. “Don’t let that bastard get away!”

Detective Ste.Croix corrected him: “you mean, that alleged bastard.”

Fuming, Smighley led the charge.

They’d hardly been gone before they returned, the composers carrying Kent-Clarke like a battering ram then throwing him down on the ground. Hugging the tote-bag to his chest, he rolled over, avoiding sharp kicks from Debussy.

Deftly scrambling to his feet, he made another run for the gate, plowing into Ste.-Croix just as she returned, sending them both sprawling.

He barely made it through before Clara Schumann tripped him, Schubert and Berlioz dragging him back through the Gate by his heels.

Kicking and screaming, Kent-Clarke tried protecting his face from the pummeling he was receiving.

Rondo Sharrif and I jumped into the fray as Schoenberg lifted Kent-Clarke by the collar and gave his skull a resounding head-butt, sending the now terrified man spinning, buffeted from one to another like a top.

This made it easy for Rondo to grab hold of the tote-bag and tear it out of his clutches, regaining the stolen score.

-*-

Standing in the New Coalton field, Officer Tennant looked up to see the conductor, Rogers Kent-Clarke, appear out of thin (if blue and rippley) air, toss himself about, roll in the dirt, pick himself up and then charge headlong across the field only to disappear again, followed by Detective Ste.-Croix who turned and disappeared as quickly as she’d appeared.

He and the other policemen stood there in totally unmitigated shock, not sure what to make of this or what to do. They felt they’d been drawn into some computer game that suffered from faulty wiring.

Even stranger had been the momentary appearance of Kent-Clarke’s upper torso on the ground, his unnerving scream – as if being devoured – indelible in Tennant’s mind as he watched him being pulled back into the shimmering air.

He swore he heard shouts and screams like a large crowd in the distance with no idea where that could be coming from.

There was a far-off cheer as Kent-Clarke, battered and dirty, hurtled through this “environmental anomaly” (the only term Tennant could think of), landing in a heap by the old tree stump, face-down in a small mud-puddle.

“Ewww,” he screamed as Detective Ste.-Croix, from out of nowhere, bent down, handcuffing him.

Even weirder, she seemed to be talking to someone.

Dragged to his feet, Kent-Clarke, completely hysterical, looked around him wild-eyed, dodging imaginary blows.

All Tennant could hear was his paranoid, incoherent babbling.

Something about how could he possibly ever be able to conduct their music again.

“Uhmmm…”

It was the best Tennant could do, not knowing what else to say.

Ste.-Croix dusted herself off and straightened her hair.

“The suspect has been apprehended, but I’m not sure what to charge him with.”

“Uhmmm…?”

“Oh, shit, I forgot! We have to get Victor Crevecoeur back before he…”

Then she froze, looking back and shrugged her shoulders.

“Okay, so…” Tennant scuffed his boot in the dirt. “Could you explain, perhaps… anything? Help me, a little… you know, humor me?”

She marched the still-babbling Kent-Clarke, muttering under his breath, back to her police car.

“Maybe you could start with where you just came from, how you got here?” Trying not to pry, Tennant still wanted explanations.

She looked down, momentarily pensive.

“Let’s just leave it at ‘undisclosed location,’ shall we?”

Tennant turned just in time to see Ms. Rowberson suddenly wandering around dazed in the middle of the field.

“Jeez Louise,” he muttered.

-*-

Once Kent-Clarke had been captured and expelled from Harmonia-IV after the score he’d stolen was retrieved and returned to its rightful owner, and once Klavdia Klangfarben’s plot had been totally foiled, my work here was done.

There was, however, one more thing, what drew us here in the first place: helping get Victor Crevecoeur back to the Other Side.

Smighley whispered something to Zoe and Sebastian, motioning for them to come with him while Mahler asked Rondo and I to follow him to the library, Nepomuk leading the procession, the other composers falling in behind.

With much pomp and ceremony, we arrived at the Posthumous Manuscript Collection, where Mahler turned over the score to his “Doomsday” Symphony.

Nepomuk, the PMC’s highest-ranking representative present, dutifully logged the huge score into the system.

Great cheers arose from the assembled composers now that Mahler’s score no longer posed a risk to the security of the Greater Universe.

Mahler mentioned he might still consider revising it – take out that final, cataclysmic chord? – but he already had ideas for something new.

“Something with many big horn solos for my friend, Rondo, here,” he added, beaming.

Rondo smiled from ear to ear as I wistfully glanced through this collection of symphonies, operas and quartets by the world’s best-loved composers.

These were all works they had written since they died, and which the world – at least, my world – would never get to hear.

“We play them all the time, here,” Mahler explained. “It’s good to keep busy.”

= = = = = = =

To be continued

- Dick Strawser

The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2012

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 68


In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, they reach a strange underground lake that appears to be either reddish acid or is so highly polluted, it's enough to dissolve bones yet is home to large reptilian-like fish and a great white squid named Fasolt. Uh oh...

*** ***** ******** ***** ***
Chapter 68
*** ***** ******** ***** ***

Whether man created Satan to explain the evil in the world or God created Satan thereby causing that evil is not the argument. Nor is it who created whom in whatever image you’d choose to imagine. But there are observations to be made in the various polarities of the argument and those shades of black or white shaping it.

Since the beginning of time – or, more correctly, since the time of human consciousness – mythology has been used to explain the world. The complex details which man was incapable of comprehending were rationalized through simple stories.

What made the sun rise or how malevolence was punished could all be explained in simplicities of the starkest black or white. These stories – rather like fairy tales, if you will – also taught us moral values.

Mythology was something that we usually regarded as a primitive belief system different from our own which we, by comparison, designated as religion.

Priests were the first scientists, so we are told, keeping it securely in their jurisdiction as a way of proving their beliefs. It was something considered far too sacred for mere mortals to understand or assimilate. Later, when scientists developed into a social sphere of their own, their explanations often were at odds with greater, generally accepted spiritual beliefs.

One has to look no further than those thought-provoking scientists persecuted for having “discovered” the earth was not the center of the universe or that creatures unmentioned in the sacred writings existed, by evidence of skeletal remains.

Nothing is quite so detrimental to the sake of argument as the blind acceptance of one “fact” at the expense of another, whether contradictory or simply different. Inevitably, new polarities mean it’s either acceptable or not. Unable to agree, disagreement takes on the characteristics of rejection and thus, lacking consensus, are born religious intolerance as well as political intransigence.

It is the general perception of this fact, its transcending of pertinent truths, that is nullified by becoming ‘either/or’ rather than ‘both/and.’

When someone says “I tell you the truth,” the next question is “whose truth?”

If creation myths placed man squarely at their center, the whole reason for Creation apparently being put here solely for man’s use, doesn’t his becoming one brief component of the natural continuum automatically erode his superiority?

Is this any different than science telling us that man, no longer divinely created, has merely descended from a long line of apes?

Whatever history may or may not be, its sequence of facts, chronologically told, is invariably complicated by the context of its times. Not all facts survive or manage to survive translations through time, languages and cultures. Such times, existing before the observations of those present, are often, by default, reinterpreted to reflect the acceptable viewpoints of our immediate society.

Theories – potential interpretations of experts making well-intended assumptions – fill in where facts are missing but often become more assertive than facts themselves. If one implication of these gathered facts proves false, shouldn’t the entire argument collapse?

Cursory by nature, education serves its introductory role by choosing the most representative facts, since not everything can be explained in expert detail. When the distant past is reduced to the names of kings or presidents, lists of battles, dates when wars begin and end, very often one thing missing in summaries found in many textbooks is the people.

Plus, we tend to absorb too much of our historical awareness from our entertainment – from movies and television; before that, historical novels – where facts are sacrificed for a good story’s needs, fiction only factual in part. But because the medium allows for greater expansiveness in developing some of these facts, we might get a better picture of the past.

But these are still filtered through an author or director’s viewpoint, possibly biased, picking and choosing what many would consider “better drama.”

Absorbing all these various influences, our faulty memories later create additional layers of perception.

As a case in point, whatever overview we may have learned in our history classes in school about the Spanish Conquests in America, the general perception is that Cortez conquered both the Aztecs and the Mayans. However, the Mayan kingdom had basically disappeared, so far inexplicably, during the 9th Century when, without warfare or plague, great cities were abandoned.

Seven centuries later, the Spaniards found remnants of this civilization, blindly destroying many of their sacred writings as works of the devil just as they murdered many of the people they found who refused to convert.

Five more centuries pass and still we know little about the intricacies of the Mayans’ faith, their science or how they interrelate. Only comparatively recently have scientists rediscovered their great cities or started translating their language.

We know, for instance, their complex calendar ends abruptly even though it extended thousands of years beyond the chronological boundaries of their civilization.

Even though scientists – and surviving Mayans themselves – tell us their religion contains nothing so extremely apocalyptic as the end of the world, many people assume because the calendar just stops, they believed the world will end.

Many creation stories – on-going and regenerative – imply the destruction of the world out of which is created a new (and presumably improved) world.

Conflating the often contradictory Mayan and Aztec mythologies, well-meaning philosophers (and I use the term loosely), unsure which age we’re currently living in, have become convinced, in 2012, the universe will be destroyed and time will end.

For things that cannot adequately be explained by science, we often revert to mythology, still finding the “either/or,” the not-quite-reality of “black/white.”

Take, for instance, the mysteries of man’s artistic creativity: where does art come from?

Whatever their initial explanations – involving inspiration-bearing muses and the patronage of Apollo or Dionysus – the Greeks had no word for “art” or “creativity.”

To them, art, the work of craftsmen, was called “techne,” a word giving us “technique” and “technical,” implying a more conscious approach. The idea of the inspired artist was an image distilled in more recent centuries.

In fact, until a few centuries ago, “creativity” was the prerogative of the Divine (as in “The Creation”), not of mere mortals. Yet we still describe the differences between Classicism and Romanticism as Apollonian or Dionysian.

Now, an artist has a “God-given” talent and receives periodic infusions of “divine inspiration,” something that’s devilishly difficult to quantify and explain scientifically.

-*-

Periodically, Klavdia Klangfarben – that is, the adult Klavdia Klangfarben – would pull out this odd little hand-held contraption and stare at it wistfully, checking to see if anything had changed since the last time she’d checked it.

Her mother – the woman who had no idea she was her mother – would sneak a glance in her direction, wondering what that was.

“Dead as a door-nail,” she’d mutter, slipping it back into her pocket and sighing. But it still indicated the battery had power.

Whatever had gone wrong, technically, she missed not having Kedaver there to fix it.

Yes, maybe she’d been too hard on him, and it would only have been for a little bit longer – not much time. But she knew he would’ve tried talking her out of this little side trip.

That was the main reason behind accepting SHMRG’s offer, to try rescuing her mother. Ironically, now, her brashness had become her own undoing.

She had to laugh, thinking about it. There were Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner, all still alive, doing just fine, thank you, all because there was this numbskull professor of hers who’d successfully thwarted her plan.

She’d failed, thanks to him, and now here she was, in some time-traveler’s limbo.

She had failed big time. What would happen now?

Maybe it wasn’t nice leaving Kedaver stuck in 1802, considering she would never have figured out how to implement the plan without him. And now, no one even knew where she was: who’d bother to rescue her?

The important thing was, whatever else happened, she had saved her mother’s life, and that, she felt, ought to count for something. How could she have known that her best friend’s mother would have died instead?

Every day, now, she’ll be thinking of Susie, suddenly growing up without her mother. How could she do that to her best friend?

She glanced sideways at the woman sitting beside her, perceived through different eyes, now, not the idealized image of her Mother but a woman who was very ordinary. Was rescuing her a kind of failure, too?

This was something new Dr. Klavdia Klangfarben was experiencing. What, after all, was guilt? Wasn’t she devoid of guilt, coming into her maturity in a capitalist, corporate environment? It was like being in a Dickens novel.

There was a brief glimmer, something akin to hope: perhaps, waking up, it’ll be Christmas morning so, Scrooge-like, she could reform her ways.

She hadn’t begun thinking about her own difficulties. Here she was, an adult in her childhood home, not a tourist stopping by. How would she be able to explain herself, become part of everything around her? She couldn’t even use her real name, could she? Because Klavdia Klangfarben was really that child left playing back in the living room.

She had no identity, no history, no job. She had no income, no money, no place to live, not even any luggage. She had no idea what she could do about it or where to begin.

She couldn’t buy new shoes because she only had credit cards in her wallet, cards that expired thirty years into the future.

Did they even have credit cards back in 1985?

She couldn’t remember. Everything froze.

How did she create a new identity, get a job, rent an apartment, fake a birth certificate, starting her life over from scratch?

And didn’t she know too much about the future? She’d have to be careful what she’d say or how she’d say it. They’d think she’s crazy if she started warning people about terrorists before September 11th.

Could she start a new career as a psychic? Madame Klavdia! Well, her degree as a forensic musicologist was even more worthless, now.

Basically, she had nothing and could do or say nothing without giving herself away. She was unemployed, homeless, penniless and potentially certifiably whacko.

There was nothing she could do. She had become the embodiment of the negative.

-*-

Man Kaye lay in bed, unable to sleep. He kept staring at the clock. When would he hear some verification from Dr. Klavdia Klangfarben about the success of her mission – his mission (his plan, at least)? Could he walk into N. Ron Steele’s office first thing in the morning, informing him SHMRG could take over the classical music business?

What a great moment that would certainly be, pointing out how he should be given a promotion and, above all, a raise? Hadn’t he proved his worth? SHMRG was poised on the verge of unbelievable mega-greatness!

He had spent months going through the archives and buying up the rights to long-dead composers’ music, the also-rans of music history. It hadn’t made much sense: only classical radio stations played the stuff any more.

“Who’s going to listen to Kozeluch or Weigl if they have Mozart and Beethoven? Its only purpose is to make good audio wallpaper.”

“Ah,” he said with an evil grin, “but then, if they no longer had Mozart and Beethoven to listen to, any more? Without them, what was left for people to listen to or perform or record?”

That’s when his colleagues knew he was an idiot. How else had he managed to rise up the corporate ladder, becoming their boss?

That was when he formulated his plan – it was brilliant, really, and very simple. The only problem was how to make it happen.

That was when Dr. Klavdia Klangfarben answered his ad.

And tonight was the night.

It was already 4am. Kaye reached over and struggled with the radio by his bed, fumbling with the switch in the dark. Soothing piano music soon filled the room. He knew this piece: it was famous.

“Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata,” the whispery voice announced once it had quietly concluded, “inspired by watching the moon shining across the beautiful blue Danube.”

Right, he remembered that, now. Interesting. So beautiful. It was a shame they would lose that, once Beethoven died – or, rather, disappeared. Maybe he could write it out and then publish it under his own name?

That hadn’t occurred to him, before, taking the most popular songs by these guys, then, when nobody remembered them, publishing them himself. Why, he’d make a killing in the market since he’d own all the copyrights.

Would all that sheet music just disappear into oblivion? Wait, if these composers never existed, it would never have been written or printed.

He sat up, afraid it was too late. He must write this stuff down before it was forgotten, vanishing from human consciousness. If he wrote it out himself, wouldn’t his own anonymous copy survive their disappearance? Wouldn’t it be great if he said it’s based on some guy named Beethoven” and people would say “Beethoven? Never heard of him.”

What else should he try to pirate? Bach’s Jesu Joy thing and that “Air on a G String,” maybe some Mozart (what?). And the opening of Beethoven’s 5th (that’s all he’d need for the commercial rights).

Then he heard the radio announcer’s smooth voice continuing. “Amazing, how Beethoven could turn such a beautiful scene into such beautiful music. Well,” he added with a chuckle, “he was deaf as a doornail, not blind.”

Kaye snarled at the radio. “Dead as a doornail, not deaf, you insufferable imbecile.” Then he laughed, “and now he really is dead!”

Distracted by anticipation, not to mention the sheer magnitude of his most incredible plan, he forgot about writing down these soon-to-be-forgotten hits and looked at his phone, willing it to ring with news of Klangfarben’s victory.

While he checked his e-mail one more time – nothing – the station began to play something by Mozart, something for winds, pretty but unfamiliar.

But if the station was still playing Beethoven and Mozart, it hadn’t happened yet. Maybe it was some kind of time-zone thing.

“So I can still jot down the Moonlight Sonata?”

He ran to his desk.

-*-

Stuck in her childhood world as an adult, she was sitting in her mother’s car on her way to do some shopping for shoes she couldn’t afford to buy, couldn’t, in fact, even pay for, herself. Klavdia Klangfarben (or whoever she would become) tried not to dwell on the enormity of everything that was about to happen to her.

There were so many things she hadn’t thought out, hadn’t done the requisite research. She might have tried approaching it more scientifically. She couldn’t explain, “I should’ve at least googled it.” (“What’s that she said? ‘Google’?”)

Going back to eras when she didn’t exist, she could understand becoming an observer. But hadn’t she expected – that’s the way it was in her dreams – on that day in 1985 she’d become her childhood self?

Dreaming of growing up with her mother, now she was going to watch someone else – her other self – grow up with her instead.

And how weird was that going to be, watching herself as a spoiled ten-year-old growing up until she went off to college, majoring in music, becoming a forensic musicologist, then taking on that job for SHMRG?

Should she try advising herself – the young Klavdia – to pursue something… well, more practical? Knowing what she knows, could she actually change history?

Not like knocking off some future President or terrorist. More like killing Dr. Kerr so he wouldn’t be a factor in her future.

By the time she’d return to the present – her former present – she’d be 60.

Remembering all the failures, even the slights, that happened to her throughout her life, she could imagine looking after the young Klavdia, smoothing her way like some beneficent fairy godmother or guardian angel looking over her.

But was that possible? Was there a three-wish limit? Would she waste them on boy friends before getting to things that really mattered?

What were the scientific ramifications to think about? Would she stay permanently unaltered or continue growing older like any normal person would?

Or would she just, eventually, fade away like the battery power in her Time-Device?

No, she had to get back to 2011. Somehow, everything had to get back to normal, whatever normal was (speaking of perceptions). Could she find the Time-Gate without Abner Kedaver’s help? How hard could it be?

It shouldn’t be too difficult to find New Coalton. How long would it take her to get there, hitch-hiking from Valley Hills, Connecticut?

= = = = = = =

To be continued

- Dick Strawser

The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2012