Friday, July 22, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #23

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Frieda reveals the existence of a shadowy organization known as “The Guidonian Hand,” convinced someone from the group has infiltrated the house. Kerr assumes they're probably responsible for Schnellenlauter's death but that was in London: what are they doing here? Then Cameron receives a message from Dylan: he thinks their woman in the library is the same old lady who'd kidnapped him last year, the Countess du Hicquè. Frieda recognizes the woman, too, from a photograph taken at the funeral of Melody Klangfarben who is actually Frieda's granddaughter. But what was this woman doing at Phlaumix Court?

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.

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At Umberton, SHMRG's temporary headquarters: earlier that afternoon

It was a chance remark Anton Schindler made one day, almost in passing. Like many of the people now mourning Beethoven, he'd been greatly distraught, inconsolable. And why shouldn't he be, he thought: he was the Great Man's amanuensis. Beethoven made him important – and now he's gone. In fact, Schindler'd been down in his cups, unable to control his emotions, ever since he knew the inevitable was near. And given everything that had been going on, it was a terrible end. Beethoven had always managed to surmount his suffering, the constant illnesses, the deafness, and especially that business with the young nephew. If it hadn't been for that boy and his evil mother, what then? Schindler knew he had nearly stopped composing during the worst of that ordeal. "How much had we lost because of them?"

Feeling sorry for himself more than usual on the night after the funeral, Schindler sat in his favorite tavern's darkest corner, and told a friend about this mysterious letter he'd found among Beethoven's papers. It had been addressed only to "my angel" and called her numerous things – "my life," "eternally mine," and "my Immortal Belovèd." Schindler complained, "he only ever called me his Papageno, an appendix, a wretch," and with that, he resumed his uncontrollable sobbing. "I wonder if she's that woman he'd mentioned – that kid Knussbaum would know..."

But Knussbaum, a tall gangly young man, had left Vienna after the funeral, taking with him whatever he might have known, not only who she was but also where, the greatest secret Beethoven kept. Schindler's drinking companion, intrigued by this unexpected revelation – "Beethoven, this genius, in love?" – decided her identity must be learned.

And destroyed...

"It simply will not do," this man had subsequently told his other friends, "that this god-like colossus who strode among men should have his name sullied by the contamination of the basest human passions."

"What," one friend suggested, "if they'd had sex?" More deeply shocked, another wondered, "What if this woman had had a child?" The very possibility sent them into a frenzy of personal outrage and disgust. Their intention was to keep Beethoven's reputation pure, befitting the loftiest of minds. Thus the five called themselves "The Guidonian Hand."

Like any former hired assassin worth her salt, Carmen Díaz-Éray still preferred to wear tight-fitting black regardless of her current assignment, something not all ex-SHMRG agents could pull off, no matter how they tried. (Actually, there was only one agent she knew she'd let pull it off, but that was long ago and he's dead.) It had been several years since she last worked for N. Ron Steele, back in what she called her Glory Days. Most of the agents she'd remember would either be reassigned, retired, or deceased.

Happy enough to be back in the field, she'd arrived an hour ago before they stopped running the trains from London. "Quaint place, this," she thought, looking around as she sashayed down the hall. The fact it was out in the middle of nowhere didn't bother her: it was harder for the police to find.

The only real problem with her standard uniform this time was the weather, something she hadn't thought about before leaving town, making her stick out like a sore thumb against the blinding, drifting snow. Steele told her they'd have some white snow suits that might fit her but not likely any snow mobiles lying around.

She was excited at the prospect of working with her old boss again despite some of his recent, not unexpected problems. The crime industry, like any business she knew, had its ups and downs.

Like The Hand itself, around for 186 years, SHMRG had weathered a volatile course over a period of comparatively fewer years. Even when The Hand had been expertly organized, it had been relatively ineffective. But the problem with SHMRG was that it wanted to move too fast, relying more on raw power and ignoring finesse.

She hoped that by bringing a revitalized Hand into the grasp of SHMRG, this combination of superior intellect and brute force would allow both their organizations the "optimal opportunity" of realizing their long-range goals.

Not since the days of Special Secret Agent Carmilla Varné, her inestimable predecessor, had The Hand come so close to victory, almost securing the necessary information from the old, enfeebled Knussbaum before his death. It was this discovery there'd been a child with the gypsy's prophecy about twins and their offspring that reactivated the quest.

Most assumed the Immortal Club maintained its secrecy to protect the Belovèd's identity, her name as well as her burial place, that they wanted her to rest in peace, guarding Beethoven's desire for privacy. But little did the world's best musicologists know the extent of the secret which years of research had failed to reveal.

And that was a secret the Guidonian Hand also did not want revealed, preferring to obliterate any historical proof it existed. SHMRG, once hearing of the ancient gypsy prophecy, sought to control its fruition.

"Director Steele, so wonderful to see you again, after all these many years," Agent Díaz-Éray said, trying to ignore his situation. She'd heard how he'd been badly wounded in an IMP shoot-out in Schweinwald.

"It's Osmond Goodwood these days, Carmen, and I'm just a lowly departmental manager: Mr. Steele," he sighed, "is on extended leave."

Though he may have looked and, in this particular exchange, even sounded weak, there was clearly nothing weak about SHMRG's director, no matter what this ruse was about his not being N. Ron Steele.

Their meeting began amicably enough, given the circumstances, each of them needing information and knowing the other had access to it but not knowing how willingly the other would part with it, collaboration aside.

It was, she knew, why they were now sitting in Umberton, after all, because something was going on down the road.

The meeting had ended warily twenty minutes later after much disagreement about implementation: Díaz-Éray was concerned SHMRG would act like cowboys; Steele – or rather, Osmond Goodwood – was dissatisfied the Hand had no definitive target. Though smiling through the obligatory handshake concluding negotiations, the limitations were clearly evident if she could not obtain the essential identification.

Strutting out into the hallway, she bumped into a large, rather disheveled man who hadn't bothered watching where he was going, trying to juggle his phone in one hand, a viola in the other.

His protuberant eyes probably indicated a medical condition related to a thyroid disorder but that wasn't enough to explain his attitude. He nearly knocked her flat against the wall without even noticing her presence.

She had half a mind to demonstrate her keen skills with kick boxing and shatter his phone with a single blow.

The large-built man, clearly someone on a mission, had hardly broken his stride while fumbling to balance his phone and instrument, annoyed some ectomorphic nymphette in pretentious black leather stepped in front of him. As he plowed his way down the hall, she was easily swept aside. He didn't feel it necessary to look back.

"No wonder nobody can see properly around here, everything is so bloody dark," Nepomuck muttered, annoyed he couldn't get a signal. "Dark wood, dark rugs, dark drapes and furniture – and the minions wear black!"

Dressed in his black tux, Nepomuck strode along, checking his phone for reception, headed inexorably toward the end of the hall. Turning right, he eventually found a secluded room but it was already occupied. He was sufficiently annoyed having discovered he'd been sent to the wrong house: it wouldn't take much to set him off.

"You can't come in here," the geeky little man warned him, "go away," looking up from his wires and computer screens.

"Shut up," Nepomuck glowered back, realizing he'd found sufficient signal for a connection.

When Nepomuck took the viola out of its case and began to play, the guy said, "Hey, you can't practice here," and stood up to his full diminutive height before hearing an excruciating sound.

The geek fell over, hands to his ears. In seconds, the writhing stopped.

"Now maybe I can make my call... Hello?"

"Nepomuck, my sssssweet," the oily voice finally answered, hissing softly into the phone. He always waited until after the fifth ring. Unfortunately this time, Nepomuck had found it annoying, trying to mask his impatience.

"It seems I was apparently given faulty information: I'm at the wrong house. The directions said to get off at Umberton."

"Are you sssssaying I made a missstake, Nepomuck?" he asked, dripping with disapproval.

"No, Master, not at all, I wouldn't dream..."

"You may have arrived too late – the sssssnow... – the orchessstra left long ago."

He explained how the orchestra stayed at Umberton but rehearsed at Phlaumix Court. "Their firssst taping sssssession is about to begin."

"Then I'd better hurry, Master," Nepomuck said deferentially. "How do I get there?"

"Practisssss, Nepomuck – practissssssss..." With that, he rang off.

"Damn it all," Nepomuck mumbled under his breath, kicking the techie's body aside.

Looking out the window into the worsening storm, he saw the side entrance where the orchestra's personnel manager, Minnie Mumwidge, waited.

She saw him approach and berated him humorously. "Typical violist, missing the bus!"

She waited for a cab since the house limo was no longer running. "You'd better come with me, or you'll miss..."

But the poor woman didn't even have a chance to finish her sentence before Nepomuck played some chords on his viola.

He'd barely hidden her behind a snow drift before the cab pulled up.

In the Great Hall of Phlaumix Court: later

Since we'd heard that morning about Schnellenlauter's murder, everything just kept getting weirder. Next, we'd found ourselves trapped in the library – and then Frieda's unbelievable revelations... It was difficult to imagine how it could get any weirder than this but I imagined we'd probably soon find out. After Frieda announced she would have to take a long nap before dinner, we left her to recuperate and to grieve, exhausted by the shocking news of Schnelly's death and decoding his secret messages.

Cameron took the final segment of Harrison Harty's journal back to the room, excited to work on realizing its coded text. He figured it should take a couple hours, keeping him out of trouble. I knew I should be reading more of Knussbaum's Tale, given our conversation, but I found it impossible to sit still.

It's true, as usual, I needed to walk more than just for exercise: I simply needed time to think about everything. I could check out the place by myself – there was plenty to see. As long as I'm moving, my little gray cells would be firing away, the mind, like the body, staying in motion.

It still struck me as an odd coincidence how familiar everything here seemed and yet I'd only arrived here this afternoon. Had I seen pictures before? Even Burnson hadn't described it in such detail.

That globe at the bottom of the steps caught my attention every time, so perfectly round, grasped in its brass claw. Could it contain every image of the universe, condensed into its crystal sphere? Could it mean our brains, full of memories, held firmly within the skull, contained everything we've ever experienced, retrievable or not?

"Every death contains within it every other death," someone told me years ago, if we strip away the layers of memory. In thinking about Schnellenlauter's death, I recalled Zenn's – could there be some connection?

What was it that Howard Zenn had said at his chalet outside Garmisch-Partenkirchen, something that didn't register with me till now. Hadn't he told us about the Guidonian Hand, which made no sense then.

He made only a passing reference to it without explaining what it was. Did he know anything about the organization's secret?

Once again I found myself standing in front of the library's impressive entrance, looking up at the inscription over the door: lifting veils only to find even more veils, questions only begetting more questions. What did Zenn know about the Guidonian Hand? How did they kill Schnellenlauter? Why is this woman in the library here?

And Frieda – could she be in real danger, if this woman's after her? Since she's using Frieda's nom-de-plume, isn't that "logical"? How can I protect Frieda from imminent danger without creating any undo panic?

As Frieda was still searching for more answers about her children and grandchildren, I also needed some answers, not more questions. But now there were all these other issues that made my head swim.

I checked the library door out of curiosity but it was still locked. What answers could it yield, anyway, I wondered?

Frieda spent her entire life looking for answers, after giving up the twins – and apparently she is still looking for them. It might have been easier had the War not intervened, destroying many records. Such searches are hard enough under normal circumstances, laws intent on preserving privacy, but the complications of changing countries and cultures...?

By the time she could get back to St. Ludwiga's Orphanage in Ottobeuren, the building and its records had been destroyed. After fleeing to England herself, she discovered both children were taken to America.

That, at the time, was the best news: they had survived the bombings. Shouldn't that be enough to give her satisfaction? But she knew it was a big country and adoption a private issue. The problems quickly became insurmountable and very expensive. The Leightons, her sister's in-laws, were little interested in looking for illegitimate children. So she put it aside as an impracticality, glad to know they'd escaped and were able to start new lives afresh. What had they been told, growing up American: was their story kept secret?

That was when she wrote that awful novel (even by her own admission) about separated twins who unknowingly find each other. She dreamed it would become a big hit, that even Hollywood would notice. Her fantasy included more fortune than mere fame, something her music wasn't offering: she'd use the money to find her children.

But she discovered it was only a fantasy, taking years to get published; even then, barely a hundred copies were sold. The royalties she'd earned wouldn't buy a month's groceries, especially in post-war England. She felt that she had abandoned them a second time, giving up hope, and putting everything she had into her composing.

But then, after she'd met this young conductor from Germany named Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter, everything swung back and forth – present to past...

Suddenly, I was overcome by this creepy feeling somebody, somewhere, was watching me.

"Ah," I muttered, turning away from the library, out into the Great Hall, "there's just so much to absorb, isn't there?" I felt thrown into a world with 'bad dream' written all over it. Cameron seemed to take it all in stride as if everything were normal: like Vector said, it's "of no significance whatsoever."

That's what Vector said about the Pendulum Room which, as I recall, should be on the opposite side from the library.

"Hmmm," I thought, looking around, "is this it?" I couldn't find an inscription.

It surprised me to find the door unlocked after what Vector had said, how the "infamous" Pendulum Room had been closed. But here it was, open and well lit, full of paintings and mirrors.

Then it fell into place, what Frieda'd said: "Don't you understand? I'm descended from the Immortal Belovèd: Beethoven is my great-great-great-grandfather!"

The road to Phlaumix Court: a little earlier

"I thought it was a woman made the call, mate," the cabby said. "She's working at Phlaumix Court, is what I was told – she ready, then?" Danny Carron pulled up under Umberton's port cochere for what he seriously hoped would be his last fare of the day. The only person there was this big hulking guy wearing just a tux, no overcoat or boots – odd, given the blizzard – and carrying nothing but a big violin case cradled carefully in his arms.

"Uh, yeah," the man said, looking back toward the house, "right, Phlaumix Court. She called it in, okay? I'm new here. Seems I missed the bus to the concert," holding up his instrument case.

"Ah, okay then, mate," Danny said, nodding to the back of the cab. "No sense standin' out here any longer, then."

The big guy struggled, trying to fit himself into the cab's back seat as Danny's wheels spun trying to get traction.

"I'm late for the rehearsal – you'd better drive faster," the guy was saying.

But even with all his passenger's extra weight, the cab was still fish-tailing when Danny finally pulled out onto the road.

"Yeah, I was sayin' earlier, haven't seen snow like this in ages, right?"

The passenger just sat there, staring straight ahead.

"So, not used to snow like this, then? Where you from?"

Again, nothing.

With swirling snow drifting even worse than earlier, his passenger not very talkative, and almost missing that last turn back there, Danny decided it was better to concentrate on driving than holding a conversation.

"Crikie, I sure hope nobody else needs to go anywhere, tonight," Danny thought, "except maybe between the pub and the hotel."

"Mind if I warm up my instrument a little?" Nepomuck said, leaning forward.

"We should be there in just a few."

But the man in the back seat didn't hear or was ignoring him.

Instead of waiting, the guy opened the case and pulled out what looked like this big violin, all white and shiny. Suddenly the cab smelled of spaghetti as he began scraping away on it.

"Hey, dude, that's one horrible sound," he screamed, staring into his rear-view mirror.

Then, without knowing what happened, everything went dark.

The Public Wing at Phlaumix Court: moments later

Nepomuck arrived at the side door of the public wing covered in snow, his viola case wrapped in a tattered blanket found in the cab's trunk. He'd been trudging through snow drifts at some places up to his hips, guided only by faint lights from the house. Very sorry he'd left in such a hurry without his shabby old overcoat which had served him well in the past, he would have welcomed having it this afternoon, that and his heavy scarf.

And boots would've been nice, he thought, stamping his feet against the steps before someone finally came and answered the bell.

"God's bum – who the bloody hell are you," he squealed over the mayhem.

"I'm late – missed the bus," Nepomuck said unapologetically, snow caked to his pants.

"So, what, you bleedin' walked over from Umberton?"

Mike Colangelo, another ex-actor working for the pageant, had no time for late-comers especially since the rehearsal was already well underway. The guy had all the right security credentials: why give a rat's ass?

"Thought you was a penguin for a minute," Colangelo said, helping Nepomuck brush himself off. "Why're you dressed like that, anyway?"

He must've missed the memo about the dress code, too, for that matter, but why send him back into the storm?

Nepomuck dropped the old blanket and stomped off toward where the orchestra sat.

"Hey, hey, hey, where you goin', big guy?" someone else screamed, arms flailing, despite wielding a clip-board and cup of coffee. "You can't just come bargin' in here like Cleopatra on her bloody what's-it!"

An officious little twit, now, the conductor's assistant, Ray Faiello, was another has-been actor down on his luck rescued by Scricci.

Since this scene hadn't involved any of the would-be prodigies, just the orchestra, Sven Galli, the director's stand-in, took no notice. The orchestra ground to a halt as Maestro Dumbledown glowered at his assistant.

Faiello argued loudly with Nepomuck, viola in hand, stabbing at the personnel list which seemed to have left off his name.

"There isn't even an empty seat for you. Where the hell's Mumwidge, anyway?"

"An ectomorph with orange hair, bit of a bob – bad teeth?" Nepomuck asked.

"Yeah, that's her – seen 'er?"

"Uhm, no, actually..."

"Dear Mr. Faiello, would you kindly take this up with our esteemed director so we may resume taping the overture, hmm?"

Dumbledown sounded all very pleasant but Faiello knew his words dripped with sarcasm.

Faiello pushed the stubborn intruder off the set, over toward the director's chair where Galli sat surrounded by several nubile contestants.

"Well, what seems to be the problem, Atello? Can't you see I'm busy?"

Faiello tried explaining the situation with minimum verbiage.

"Take it up with what's-'er-name – Mumwidge?" he decided. "Don't bother me with this."

Galli, pointing to Colangelo, told Faiello, "Have Faiello escort him off the premises," and turned back to his adoring, giggling fans.

Faiello sighed, mumbling, "I'm Faiello, you offensive moron." Then he beckoned his colleague.

With that, Colangelo strode over to Nepomuck, handed him his blanket and pushed him toward the door to Phlaumix's private wing.

The door was usually kept locked from the other side, but Colangelo, being an assistant to the pageant's Director of Security, had been given a key for easy access in case of an emergency.

As far as he was concerned, Colangelo thought, this counted as an emergency: he had to get rid of this guy.

Prodded unceremoniously through the door, viola in hand, Nepomuck found himself all alone.

Not quite alone: wasn't that the Serpent's nemesis, that man entering that room?

Positive that was his quarry, Nepomuck followed him.

Meanwhile, at the International Music Police's London Headquarters

Chief Inspector Hemiola tried to ignore the obvious, brooding over his cold coffee: not wanting to admit it, he'd not been having a very good day. There were now two murders, quite possibly related, with one very common denominator who, however, had managed to elude his grasp. It wasn't even clear they actually were murders, though they were certainly suspicious, judging from evidence found at the crime scenes, but until after the autopsy reports came back, he really had nothing definitive.

There was nothing to connect the two vics, aside from both being musicians, one an old, German-born conductor past his prime, the other a middle-aged violinist born in England, both specializing in contemporary music. The one had been killed before a concert, leaving a weird, coded message; the other, without a note, after a concert.

He wasn't even sure how this Dr. Kerr had either means or motive other than what could be perceived as coincidence. He was friends with both of the victims, but what would he gain? Unless, of course, it was a revenge killing and Kerr, a frustrated composer: had they both declined to play his music?

He picked up his phone and said to his trusty dispatcher, Agent Solfege, "Mimi, have Agent Fermata check out Dr. Kerr. Basically, I want to know if he ever submitted scores to either victim."

Hemiola put the receiver down just as Agent Sforzato burst into the room.

"Boss," he shouted, "from Doc Rigorian – look here!"

Hemiola grabbed the papers from the agent's hand, eagerly paging through both reports.

Disappointed, Hemiola sat back, perplexed. "There's nothing conclusive. What got you so excited?"

"But, sir, you wanted to see them immediately."

"Yes, well..." Hemiola hesitated, hating to belittle his agent's excitement, "very good, then." He smiled, giving the man a curt nod.

Sforzato snapped to attention with a loud click of his heels and left.

But Hemiola was no better off than before, lacking the tox screen results: there was nothing that indicated this was murder. No blunt-force trauma, no wounds, no inexplicable DNA or fibers – nothing remotely obvious.

Everything pointed to natural causes yet without signs of heart attack or stroke. The most likely possibility was "they dropped dead."

The expressions of fear frozen on their faces at the time they died, something he will never be able to forget, made Hemiola wonder about the possibility they hadn't both been scared to death. But such thoughts were interrupted when the phone at his desk started ringing. "Maybe it's Fermata getting back to me already."

"Chief Inspector, there's a call here from the director of the Munich office: shall I ring him through?" Agent Solfege asked.

"Yes – yes, of course," Hemiola stammered with surprise, wondering what this was about.

"The last time Director Schwungvoll phoned," he recalled, "was over five years ago when he was trying to get tickets to some sold-out West End show for his mother-in-law, back when she visited England."

This time, Schwungvoll was calling to alert him about a potential international situation (one not, apparently, involving his mother-in-law's imminent arrival).

"About the death of American composer Howard Zenn – you've read about it, yes? Old guy about to celebrate his 100th birthday? So naturally, the police assumed it would be simply 'natural causes,' not so?"

But the coroner noticed something that looked suspicious and called in the IMP. That's when Schwungvoll began describing something very familiar.

"So I thought you should know since one of the last people to see Zenn alive was now in your jurisdiction."

"And who might that be," Hemiola asked him.

"Someone named... Dr. Richard Kerr."


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to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am on July 25th]

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The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #22

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Frieda works out the coded messages Dr. Kerr has found, though they don't seem to be telling us anything that makes sense: something about searching for a lost work apparently by her great grandfather; the other mentions missing children and “when you hear his Quartetto Giocoso, remember I love you – always have.” These clues raise more questions than they offer answers! Meanwhile, Dylan, Cameron's partner celebrating Beethoven's Birthday in New York, sees the photo he texted him and thinks the woman in the library looks familiar. We find out more about that mysterious woman as the scene continues.

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.

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Chapter Four, conclusion

Frieda's sitting room, Phlaumix Court: a little later

"Sorry – thought I heard someone in the hall. Just feeling paranoid, I guess." Cameron, after pulling the door shut behind him, joined us by the fire. "You know what they always say," he added. "It's probably just the wind. This storm does seem to be getting worse..."

Minona had gone downstairs to the servants' lounge for her scheduled afternoon break, not likely to return until closer to dinnertime. "It would go against her religion to break with her routine," Frieda explained.

Even she had seemed reluctant to mention anything in front of her maid, stone-faced Minona who kept her thoughts to herself. Too often, she'd said, people treated their servants as if they weren't there. If nothing else, I'd at least learned that much from watching Downton Abbey, where things that shouldn't be overheard invariably were.

There were, however, no other guests staying in this part of the house, at least not until other wedding guests arrive. "Other than my dear friend Cathie," Frieda continued, "this hallway is invariably empty. I suppose it could be somebody who's lost, with all the new guests." She stopped suddenly, perhaps deciding against other possibilities.

"I'd forgotten Vector said something about guided tours for those who're first-time guests – not that that'd keep me from getting lost." I also wondered about the very likely possibility the house could be haunted.

Guidonian Hand (Help with Solfege)
Frieda had mentioned the existence of a secret organization called 'The Guidonian Hand,' taking its name from Guido d'Arezzo's famous drawing which students of singing used as a memory aid since the 11th Century. Superimposed on different parts of this hand were various syllables of the scale, identifying them by what we now call 'do-re-mi.' For instance, by pointing at a specific joint on the teacher's upheld hand, he'd indicate a specific pitch in the scale which meant anyone unable to read musical notation could follow where he pointed.

What always confused me as a young student was its seemingly illogical progression: it wasn't a continuous line over adjacent fingers. I thought it should go down one finger and then up the next. Instead, it went down the thumb, across the palm, up the little finger, circling around the inside fingers like a labyrinth.

"So, wait – what?" I said, raising my hand like sign language for 'stop' as if I've just had a major epiphany. "You think someone from the Guidonian Hand might be here in the house?"

"Well, yes, actually: I think it's very likely." Frieda pointed toward the door. "We do have some new servants, recently hired."

Of course, a maid wandering around the house wouldn't seem all that unusual, eavesdropping on the other side of closed doors. "You think Minona could be part of this shadowy organization you're talking about?"

Frieda looked at me with signs of encouragement as if waiting for various pieces of the puzzle to start falling together though I regret to say nothing of the kind was, so far, happening.

"Do you think someone's out to steal your copy of Knussbaum's Tale, then?"

"Oh, I think they already have that information."

"But Schnellenlauter was killed in London, not here," I said, shaking my head, marking each point by counting on my fingers, "on the day of a concert he was conducting of Rob Sullivan's music – music SHMRG tried to stop being performed before, his new opera Faustus, Inc., killing the composer among others in the process."

I started to explain the far-reaching implications of SHMRG and their nefarious plans but she held up her hand for silence.

"Please, Terry, yes – I know all about SHMRG but there's much more involved."

I had to admit there was no clear evidence pointing specifically to SHMRG, nothing other than the merest conjecture of coincidence, a very strong hunch, maybe, but nothing that would stand up in court. It hadn't occurred to me others with other motives might want Schnellenlauter dead, that an old conductor couldn't have other enemies.

My shoulders drooped as if I felt defeated, unable to stay in London, unable to help in solving my friend's murder. How was the investigation going, I kept thinking; what leads had they found?

It occurred to me I should contact Chief Inspector Hemiola about Schnelly's message, the code that he'd hoped I could solve, which is, after all, what had gotten me involved in the case initially.

"Cameron, didn't I give you that card with Hemiola's phone number on it?"

"Yeah, I, uh... put it in that book..."

"Ah... well... if I call New Scotland Yard and ask if they'd give me a number for the International Music Police, perhaps I can get a message to him and let him know about..."

"About what, exactly?" he asked. "We have two messages that don't make sense. Plus there's this group called the Guidonian Hand...?"

Cameron was right, of course: it didn't seem like much to go on, nothing that would lead to the killer's identity.

"Besides, we're doing what Schnellenlauter wanted us to: get information back to Frieda."

She carefully picked up Schnelly's original secret messages, her last communications from him, and wondered where they would lead her now. The first one took us to the next clue in Schoenberg's String Trio. The letter's fragment in her book was gone, now itself a dead end. And where was there news about the twins?

Schnellenlauter was involved in so many things, here, reviewing them in my mind, any of which could've led to his death: what I couldn't understand was why anyone would kill for any of it.

It's true Schnelly had the book with him, but did that necessarily mean he was ready to return it to her? Maybe he hadn't actually found the twins, then. Where would she continue searching?

"Yes," she sighed, turning the two messages over, "there's much to tell you. But first, give me a few minutes' rest."

Returning to Dylan's Manhattan apartment, several minutes later

Dylan sat in the chair, rocking back and forth gently to the music. No, not to the music – some inner metronome, something even deeper than Beethoven. Already into the finale of the quartet that just began a moment ago, he must've lost his place in the music. What had happened that he'd missed so much? He couldn't have fallen asleep. And it certainly wasn't any lack of interest! Of the Op. 18 Quartets, this was his favorite after the F Major.

He'd lose track of time listening to music, especially when listening to Beethoven, but that was only the time surrounding him. Losing track of the music was completely different: had that ever happened before? What did it mean, that he'd lost his concentration during a Beethoven quartet? Of all days, too, the Master's Birthday. Sacrilege! 

Dylan thought about starting the quartet over again – three movements; maybe nineteen minutes – a little less worried about keeping to schedule, though he needed to finish these six quartets before his parents came home. Maybe he ought to use a different recording so it wasn't so repetitious. But didn't he really hear it by osmosis?

Looking at his phone to check the time, Dylan noticed the last photograph which Cameron had just sent him from London, the one with that woman in the shadows, the one who looked familiar.

Maybe that was why he had blanked out, finding himself unable to concentrate, given facial recognition was never his strong suit. People he was familiar with, felt comfortable with, that was different, over time. But those people he had only met before in passing really frustrated him when he didn't recognize them the next time. He tried finding something he could focus on which would jar his memory about their appearance or the way they spoke, but Cameron and his parents were good about letting him know their names.

Another thing troubling him was why he should 'almost recognize' someone in Europe: there'd be lots of people he'd never met. "It's like there're only so many people to go around in the world."

Was she somebody his parents worked with who'd stopped by the house occasionally, somebody he wouldn't have paid much attention to?

"That's probably it," he sighed, stretching his legs. "I can't waste more time. I've got to start this quartet over again." He went over and stopped the CD player, waiting for a reasonable cadence. It annoyed him but he didn't really remember hearing the first three movements so he really needed to start over again.

Any other time, he would just keep going, but today was Beethoven's Birthday, a day he felt needed his full concentration. How could you play Beethoven and not listen, pushing it into the background?

He hated how most people often used music like it's wallpaper with sound just to make a room feel less empty. "Ambiance," his father called it, "never too loud, barely enough to notice it."

Wasn't that what people were like to him, physical ambiance, enough to notice but not present enough he'd actually pay attention?

That's why men were always easier to recognize, their suits always so similar, since women rarely wore the same outfit twice. Was that why he was attracted to men, because they're more uniquely consistent? Usually it was the pattern of a beard or way the hair's combed. Women often kept changing their hairstyles, confusing him.

He kept looking at the photo, trying the phone from several different angles. Then it dawned on him: yes – the hair!

He hurriedly started texting Cameron back with what he considered an important discovery.

The same hallway in Phlaumix Court, moments later

Deep in thought, Dr. Kerr stepped quietly into the hallway outside the bedroom. He was stoop-shouldered and careworn, an old man, looking like he's already defeated. Closing the door behind him, he rubbed a finger briskly underneath his nose, an old habit she recognized as mounting frustration. He had often done that during a lecture, interrupted by some student's question, unable to find his way back on topic. She always delighted in being the one who broke his train of thought.

The woman who now called herself Melissa Fourthought sunk further into the shadows, convinced this was definitely Dr. T. Richard Kerr. Whatever he was doing here, it meant she had to be very careful. If he wasn't here after the same thing – and how unlikely was that? – she couldn't very well risk his finding out.

He did, somehow, have a copy of that dreadful novel by Melissa Fourthought, the author she's using as her current alias, so if he puts two and two together, he could blow her cover. She could just kill him, bump him off, like it was an accident – these old houses had all kinds of potential.

Just then the window at the far end of the hall blew open, sending in waves of cold and flying snow. The drapes began swirling ghost-like in the breeze around her window of opportunity.

Dashing down the hall to close the window, Kerr nearly slipped and fell, the snow already slick and the wind strong. Between the diaphanous drapes and the banging casements, he was having considerable trouble.

In the distance, she thought she heard the howl of a large dog. All it would take was one little push.

It would be hours before the storm subsided and they'd find his body, buried in the drifting snow beneath the window. The mere element of surprise would be enough, sending him to his death.

Cameron barged into the hall, shouting "Doc, you've gotta see this – what the...?"

The mysterious woman stumbled back into the shadows.

"A little help with the window, first, maybe?" Kerr tried pushing it shut.

Over the wind, Cameron tried shouting at him, "the woman in the library? Dylan thinks it's the one who'd kidnapped him!"

Frieda's sitting room, Phlaumix Court: a moment later

After Cameron disentangled me from the drapes and helped me lock the window – was that a dog howling in the distance or maybe just the wind? – we inadvertently woke Frieda from her brief nap as we barged back in, excited and a little confused by Dylan's message.

"But if that really is the same woman," I asked, "what's that mean? Do you think he's right about recognizing her?"

"Well, you have to understand," Cameron tried explaining, "how his mind processes things."

We'd talked about this before on several occasions, especially on this last trip, how Dylan's making excellent progress with facial recognition, something Cameron's been able to help him with, making him feel more secure.

"But the photo you sent him – with all due respect to your phone: it was pretty grainy after you enlarged it."

Having wakened with a jolt, Frieda asked what the excitement was all about: was there news? had we figured something out?

Cameron showed her the photograph, this time enlarged. "Do you recognize this woman?"

When she strained to see, shaking her head, he explained about Dylan's experience with his kidnapper, possibly this very same woman.

"I don't socialize that much around the house," Frieda said, tilting her head, "especially with that crew in the public wing. But since you've mentioned it, I think I might have seen her – elsewhere."

Cameron and I looked at each other, surprised, as Frieda searched for another folder she'd hidden in a different desk drawer, mentioning how Schnellenlauter's latest trip to New York was more research than tour.

"As I'd started to tell you, I think, Schnelly had been trying to find my son, but with no particular luck."

She pulled out a fairly fresh looking folder containing two photographs she'd printed from e-mails Schnelly'd sent before leaving for London.

"The one's a scan of a newspaper obituary; the other, he didn't explain."

The smaller print-out was a photo I.D. of a handsome student, otherwise unidentified.

"I've no idea who he is," Frieda continued. "He wrote, 'will explain later.' And now he died before he's told me."

She handed us the obituary, its photograph enlarged, explaining it was taken at her granddaughter's funeral. "He'd discovered her too late."

The obituary, dated last June, was for a middle-aged woman named Melody Klangfarben, a name which rang a distant, tiny bell. Her life, summarized in 200-words-or-less, seemed fairly colorless beyond her love of gardening.

"Her father was William Hawk; she's survived by two daughters and a grandchild – Klavdia, of Hartford CT; Fern Geliebter, of Hoboken."

Frieda explained that William Hawk was the Americanized name of her son Wilhelm. "I'd named them both Falke, from the Falkensteins. Hawk, apparently, sounded better in English than Falcon, though he proved most elusive."

"That name, Klavdia's quite unusual," I interrupted her, looking over the funeral photograph. "Could Schnelly have mentioned that to me before?"

"I doubt it," Frieda said: seems he discovered William's whereabouts two months ago.

"William died shortly before the birth of his daughter, Melody – no further information. Schnelly found no mention of the mother's name."

"Look at this person here, in the background." I could almost see her. She stood facing the camera, her hair billowing.

"It looks like the woman in the library," Cameron said. "It's Melissa Fourthought!"

Taking a photo of it with his phone, he sent it to Dylan.

"But that doesn't make any sense," Frieda said.

"That's her, the same one," Dylan immediately replied, "that's the Countess du Hicquè."

"But why was she at this woman's funeral?"

"Why is she now calling herself Melissa Fourthought?"

"And why is she here?"

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active at 8am, July 22nd]

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

The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #21

In the previous episode of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, an installment from Knussbaum's curious Tale, we discover that not only did the Immortal Belovéd, disguised as "Rosa Kohl" and hidden away in a countryside inn, give birth to a daughter, Beethoven even composed a new string quartet which he called the "Giocoso" to celebrate his daughter's first birthday. An old gypsy woman reads the child's palm and says there will be twins in the future and from their union, generations later, will spring one destined, despite the peril, to be as great as this child's father.

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.

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

Chapter Four continues...

Frieda's sitting room, Phlaumix Court: later that afternoon

Frieda explained how, after she'd left Germany for England during World War II, she felt the need to create some sort of new identity for herself. With everything else – a new home, a new language and culture, new expectations – she needed something to do, to keep occupied.

Minona returned with some 'tea things' for us since we had missed everything, once we'd settled into Frieda's private apartment upstairs.

"So, unable to compose, I decided why not try to write a novel?"

Unfinished Melody was her second book, she said, and first to be published. "It only sold a hundred copies, if that."

She dismissed Minona, suggesting she check on Cathie before going on her break.

"But now it's time we get to work. Apparently there is some urgency."

Cameron handed her both messages and stood waiting.

If Schnellenlauter was indeed murdered for this information as Frieda seemed to think, what did she expect to find in them? They might not explain who his killer is but why he was killed. After all, Schnellenlauter thought they were important enough to drag me into this, making sure Frieda eventually got to solve them.

"I could use a little help," she asked, "if you wouldn't mind terribly," pointing out a notebook on her writing desk. Cameron handed it to her, eager to help in any way he could.

It was a long and more intricately involved process than I would've thought, more than Cameron dealt with in Harty's journal. There were three different steps, making it harder to crack it too easily. First, she needed to find which alphabet he'd used – "like a transposing instrument" – which would determine what the actual letters are.

"Unfortunately, this second level does not yet put everything in the proper order but each letter now will have its number. I trust the gentleman who had transcribed this made no errors copying it."

fu Sqygkfu
hr okhh ggutauq
g"sryllv wG dFnh fskfu;x fqauqe
kre ulq ruiM grggglqrsy mguvhuh vhewfkt Qld ffes
kuum hqvl ln lsau k yuu,o aylh' ruaq cyny qfhka eyhf nlowk uulnuuskyfuf

Frieda looked over it very matter-of-factly, with none of the apprehension I'd felt, confirming that that was indeed a smiley face.

"For instance, this salutation contains the key that will help me find the right alphabet to, ah... transpose the message – so. In this case, I know that means Belovèd, one of several possible salutations."

Frieda started scribbling with an old, well-chewed pencil and very quickly came up with what I thought would be the solution.

te Giasote
rh korr ssefyei
s"ghannd cS vTlr tgote;b tiyeiu
ohu eni henM shsssbihga msedrer dructof Inv ttug
oeem ridn nl ngye o aee,k yanr' heyi wala itroy uaret lnkco eenleegoatet

"I've no idea what language that could be," Cameron said, scratching his head.

"Oh, it's not a language, dear," she chuckled.

Then she began explaining how she had to apply "The Rule of 12."

"You take every twelfth letter, find its number, then you re-order them, so."

Minutes later, she had something we could read:

My dearest,
In your absence,
Tending to your friend, Cathie:
May she, like Schoenberg, survive, telling the tale.
Then seek to find a long lost work, your three times great Grandfather's."

"Was your grandfather a great composer?" I asked.

"Yes, you could say that..."

Frieda sat back and took a deep breath.

I reread it carefully but found nothing helpful: who would kill for this? "But it doesn't really direct you to anything."

"No," she said, "but now I know what was on his mind, then."

A few months ago, during Schnelly's last visit, she was looking after Cathie who had just suffered a serious heart attack. "He was here; I stayed at the hospital and I never saw him..." In their brief conversations on the phone – he'd only been here a day – she knew he wanted to tell her something.

"It's like a message from beyond the grave! Oh, Schnelly," she sobbed quietly, running her fingers tenderly over the post-it note. "So now, Terry, it's time to figure out the clue you've just found."

doqqbd."c Btbo
j:q[] cjRde
ujvdf oppp awa wutt(cda ahzaofdo)
n'eahe uzn'o o qztqzv qnjnpuzd jw dwzj.ZzwVZ'h ddzqld
wt,du wpvz ehd gdto pbh Odptphhcq t–ndapm toejvzpl t dzdq hqz w atumud nadx

"Every message he'd send me was slightly different – he was paranoid, that way – but honestly, 154 letters is a bit much..."

She explained how the 'FC' was another hint: this alphabet was symmetrically reflexive where F became C and C became F.

"But this isn't really a Fib, is it?" pointing at the circled word.

"No, that means he made a mistake – uncharacteristic... Don't be so pedantic, Terry."

The first part of the process came easily:

etrrge."f Gogt
y:r[] fyQed
nymec tsss hlh lnoo(feh haihtcet)
u'dhad niu't t riorim ruyusnie yl eliy.IilMI'a eeirwe
lo,en lsmi dae beot sga Tesosaafr o–uehsv otdymisw o eier ari i honvne uhek

"Anyone trying to crack the process would lose patience halfway through," she said, separating 'code' from the 'process' of solving it.

"Not very different from a theorist trying to figure out some complex composition."

"I think that's why Schnelly devised it in the first place," she said. "but was this level of complexity really necessary?"

She stumbled a few times and on occasion sighed, and, once, sounded annoyed. Cameron helped by reading back letters and numbers. This one took much longer than the other, but soon it made... sense?

reading this,
I'm[circled] sorry:
still seek the missing children.
You'll find a letter (fragment) in Unfinished Melody.
Then when you hear his Quartetto Giocoso, remember I love you – always have."

"Terry, was there anything else in that book when you first found it?"

"No, I don't think so – does that mean...?"

I figured it could mean either the killer had already taken the letter or I might've lost it one of the times I'd dropped the book (a possibility I didn't particularly care to suggest). But whoever her grandfather was, regardless whether we had the letter or not, was finding this 'Happy Quartet' worth killing for?

"So that's why he was returning that book to you, now," I asked, "because he had put this letter in it? Why not just say in his message, 'here's where you'll find the quartet'?"

It was a small enough world to realize Frieda grew up around Schweinwald which meant nothing to me before last summer, but now I've discovered she's also a daughter of the House of Falkenstein.

"Had your grandfather been a student at Schweinwald or maybe a teacher there? You're sure this quartet isn't still at Schweinwald?"

"Of course, the Falkenstein's old manor house had been destroyed in the war – how ironic my nephew's bride-to-be's cousin had briefly directed the music festival my cousin, Count Karl August, raised over its ruins – but, no, neither of my grandfathers were composers (we're speaking of earlier generations) and neither had direct involvement with the academy."

Glancing back and forth between Cameron and me, she appeared distant and pensive as if, for a moment somewhere far away, she was recalling a decision she knew one day she'd have to make.

There never was a story possessing any urgency that didn't need some explanation and the more time was of the essence, the more unlikely the story could easily be distilled to its essential facts. As Frieda took a deep breath, sat back and began telling her story, I figured we might as well get comfortable. Once she started with her older sister, Wilhelmina who had married an Englishman who offered her safety when the war began, I knew this wouldn't be a simple summary of twenty-five words or less.

"Before that, when I had just turned 19 and had fallen in love with a handsome young music student in Munich, I quickly found myself in the family way and my boyfriend quickly disappeared. His name was Lief von der Erde – beautiful – though it's really not important: what's important is, I gave birth to twins.

"It was shameful to my family since I was myself an illegitimate daughter and treated 'appropriately' by my cousins at Schweinwald. To appear married, I took my lover's name but shortened it to Erden. Unfortunately, I was unable to keep the twins as things were going badly – Hitler was in power and war was inevitable. There was not enough money to support myself, much less my two children and so I must face a horrible choice. Even today I am haunted by the awful decision I had to make.

"At the time, it did seem like a wise choice, I told myself. With me, we'd probably all starve to death. This way, they would live – without their mother – and perhaps grow up happy. That was when my half-sister, Wilhelmina, found me and invited me to England. I could never tell her about the twins..."

Wondering what had ever happened to her babies, she thought of them constantly, the real reason she could no longer compose. That was when she started writing her novel, Unfinished Melody, about the twins.

"That was when I met a young conductor from Munich named Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter. He'd also fled to England during the war.

"But this composer that Schnelly mentions, here," she said, tapping the first clue, "they erected a statue of him at Schweinwald..."

Then for some reason she changed the subject: "You know the Immortal Belovèd?"

I shook my head in confusion, wondering where the hell that came from. Looking at Cameron, he seemed just as confused, whatever LauraLynn may have told her about our being at Schweinwald last summer. But we'd never told LauraLynn or anyone else what we found that morning after Rob's killer was caught, everything apparently solved. That maniac looking for the Fountain of Inspiration, the one who kidnapped us, had been killed in a dramatic backstage fall but it wasn't until later we finally understood what that fountain actually was.

LauraLynn knew her great-grandfather's journal about his summer at Schweinwald included the story, a pact between Beethoven and some trusted friends, how, years before, the castle had become home to the woman Beethoven loved. But the journal was incomplete with nothing that would identify the mysterious woman known to history only as The Immortal Belovèd.

The only proof she existed was the letter Schindler found in Beethoven's desk, going through his papers after the Master died: Harty's journal, once it's published, would only inflame the scholarly debate about her.

Then I recalled starting to read the book conveniently left by my bed, Knussbaum's intriguing tale, the one Frieda had translated.

"Well," I said, rather hesitantly, "I wouldn't say that I knew her personally, but I guess we know who she is. Well, not literally, of course, I mean, no – but we've heard of her."

Clearly, if she is familiar with Knussbaum's Tale about Beethoven and his Belovèd, wherever this was coming from at the moment, I imagine she certainly knew more already about the story than we did. It would be unlikely Knussbaum would have written at length about her death and mentioned neither the grave nor her name.

No doubt the whole idea of showing me the copy of Knussbaum's Tale was because she knew we'd read Harty's Journal: we'd already be acquainted with the main characters if not the Belovèd herself.

But after finding the unmarked grave with the touching inscription Beethoven's letter requested – "O, You who are my fount of inspiration" – Cameron and I had sworn ourselves to secrecy: "some things are best unfound."

One question occurred to me, thinking about it: she hadn't published Knussbaum's Tale. Perhaps she had her own secret to keep?

Her index finger lightly placed beside her nose, Frieda nodded knowingly at us and I felt somehow we were being evaluated. I'd forgotten how piercing her eyes had been, even now, well past 90. Folding up the scraps of paper she had used in solving the clues, she had Cameron drop them into the fire.

"It's something Schnelly and I often discussed, lately, something you ought to know, which started falling in place with Burnson's wedding. I'm sure it's something, were he here now, he'd be telling you himself.

"As you presumably know from Mr. Harty's journal, Simon Sechter created the Unsterblichesverein, the 'Immortal Society,' to look after the Belovèd, giving her privacy, even after death," she stressed, "free from the historians' scrutiny.

"They call themselves 'The Watchers,' dedicated to protecting the Belovèd to this day."

I had no idea where this was going.

"There's another faction I must mention," she continued, tugging gently at her shawl, "which began to grow after Simon Sechter's death, people who wanted to know her true identity, and who'd stop at nothing. Knussbaum writes about a great battle blowing up in the halls of Schweinwald in the years he had become increasingly frail.

"More recently, they call themselves 'The Guidonian Hand,' a small but powerful society fueled by our modern-day disregard for any privacy. This is why Schnelly had become so paranoid about the codes we'd use."

From underneath my raised eyebrows, as she paused, I was beginning to sense there might be more continuity to these statements than the mere ramblings of an old woman whose mind wasn't altogether there. As for the logical brain, one might expect some purpose behind Schnellenlauter's murder but how did Beethoven's Belovèd fit into this?

What possible reason would she and Schnelly have to be writing coded messages back and forth about her grandfather's missing quartet?

Unless they were afraid of their being intercepted by some nefarious secret organization...

"When Schnelly lived in Vienna before the war, he was given a letter – never mind how, it just appeared one night – that Beethoven had written to an unknown friend but was torn in two."

It mentioned a new quartet he'd recently completed and sent by separate post, a work he wanted another friend to see.

"But the fragment that Schnelly found," she continued, "didn't mention the friend's name – nor any more substantial information about this quartet."

"Was there a date on the letter, perhaps, indicating when he'd composed it?"

"That's the thing," she said, "there's no proof he'd composed a quartet then, sometime during the summer of 1815, it seems."

There was also no indication who this friend was other than "Dear K" or who Beethoven wanted to see the quartet.

Could this mean that Schnellenlauter had been murdered by some perversely deluded musicologist?

Beethoven had completed his Op.95 Quartet in 1810, delaying its publication until 1816. His next quartet, Op.127, wasn't composed until 1824. The discovery of a quartet Beethoven composed around 1815 would be huge news. Between the violin sonata in December, 1812, and Wellington's Victory that next summer, it's known Beethoven composed barely a few trifles.

"Apparently Schnelly has finally found the missing fragment of this letter," she said, "hiding it in my copy of Unfinished Melody."

"Which he'd return to you once he's found your twins... the missing children?"

Frieda wheeled herself over to her desk, unlocked one of the lower drawers, handing me a sealed envelope she found there.

It contained several loose pages in familiar-looking handwriting written in a familiar-looking code.

"So," I said, "these are the missing pages from Harrison Harty's Schweinwald Journal?

"Wait, but what's the connection with your grandfather?"


A Manhattan apartment: only a few minutes later

Dylan Sprenkle sat alone in his parents' apartment, looking out over the city. It was late morning and as usual his parents were both at work. The morning was cold and windy – bitter, as far as he was concerned – but it didn't matter: he wasn't going anywhere. At least it wasn't snowing here, he thought, like it was in London, where over a foot of snow had fallen. He'd been following Cameron's tweets about the blizzard, almost glad he wasn't there.

Well, not really, because what he really missed was spending time with Cameron, clearly the most important person in his life, since they were rarely apart after having become partners over two years ago. He was beginning to feel a little more comfortable around their new friends but he was still nervous in strange circumstances.

And that was one thing Cameron Pierce certainly managed to get involved in, all these strange, unexpected and often inexplicable circumstances like a simple trip to Bavaria which turned into such an excruciating nightmare. Cameron still hadn't explained everything that had happened after he had been kidnapped, why he could no longer listen to Bolero. No wonder his parents were reluctant to have him going off with Cameron: it was bad enough what happened at home! Even on his own, he managed to get caught up in their adventure.

"But it was a friend's wedding in London," Dylan argued with his parents, "how dangerous do you think that could be?" He'd met LauraLynn when he and Cameron heard that new opera at Schweinwald.

"Okay, so it wasn't exactly Beethoven, but nothing weird happened on that trip." Details of some other trips he never mentioned. It was usually best not to remind himself about Cameron's other trips, either, not that he understood what Cameron told him. And he had no idea what it was that Cameron didn't tell him.

"You'd just never believe it," Cameron told him after he'd made it home, then added, "I can hardly believe it myself." There were aspects of 'the case,' as he called it, he couldn't discuss. Eventually, Dylan didn't bother asking him any more, figuring out when to stop: that's when Cameron would give him 'the look.'

Neither his parents nor his doctor felt good about Dylan traveling like that, afraid his nerves couldn't stand that much excitement, though they were mindful of still treating him like he's an adult child. His going to college in Philadelphia where he and Cameron were living on their own was a huge step for them. But it wasn't the excitement as just dealing with the whirlwind of strangers and all this experience being thrown at him, like some sensory overload where he'd freeze up and be unable to respond.

Cameron didn't try to make it sound scary but he realized Dylan would be outside his 'comfort zone' no matter what, even if he was there beside him all the way: Dylan realized that. But when his parents let him go to Lincoln Center alone that night, didn't he get abducted by that crazy woman?

"Yes," Cameron argued, "that could have happened anyway: the streets of New York are not the safest for anybody, these days." But because it involved Cameron's trip to Bavaria, they still held him responsible. Still, it was Cameron's friends who managed to contact the New York police who were able to rescue him from her.

It would've been a difficult experience for any unsuspecting teenager, held for ransom, especially one who was normally cautious around strangers – and Dylan had to admit they didn't come much stranger than that one...

But the year-end holidays were now upon them and he tried to banish all thoughts from his brain about unpleasant things: and today he was celebrating the most important holiday of all – Beethoven's Birthday. It was too bad Cameron wasn't here to celebrate the day with him, listening to Beethoven's major works in chronological order. He had started before sunrise with the Op. 1 piano trios, several piano sonatas, string trios, the first two cellos sonatas and just finished the Quintet for Piano and Winds, one of his favorites.

He'd spent a lot of time worrying about where to play the B-flat Piano Concerto, written before "No. 1" in C, but decided at the last minute to go with opus numbers, this year. 

Maybe next year he would do a "12-Days-of-Beethoven," specific genres on specific days, but now he'd start the Op. 18 quartets.

At this rate, he'd probably reach the last work Beethoven completed, the second finale to the Op. 131 Quartet, next week. He knew there would be distractions – like meals – but hey, this was Beethoven! This was one holiday where Dylan didn't mind spending hours and hours alone – not really alone: just him and The Master. Very soon Cameron would be home before Christmas and they would have New Year's together back at their apartment in Philadelphia. And it wasn't like Cameron could sit still listening to that much music.

The D Major Quartet had no sooner started – Dylan knew No. 3 of the set was the first to be composed – than he heard Cameron's ring-tone, the "Es muss sein" motive from Op. 135. (*1) Rather than being a disruption, he knew he could now combine two pleasures – his love of Beethoven along with the love-of-his-life.

It was a brief text and a series of attached photos from London – well, not exactly from London, Cameron quickly explained.

"Snowstorm – Phlaumix Court day early. Cool place, you'd love it. Here's some pics."

There were several views of several grand rooms in this oddly ornate castle, clearly a case of Rococo meets higher mathematics. He would ponder its obsessive detail later while listening to Beethoven's 'first' quartet.

But there was something odd about the last photo, taken in a library. Who was this woman? She looked vaguely familiar.

A hallway in Phlaumix Court, a little later

She'd seen that man in the library before and his little sidekick, too. What the hell were they doing here now, at this place and time? Their very presence here was enough to raise her blood pressure, she knew, and certainly did not bode well for her.

"How did he know, the old man? What possibly could've tipped him off?" She'd been very careful, working alone this time. "For that matter, what could he really know? What alarms might've gone out?"

These were just a few of the questions rattling around in her brain as she wandered the halls of Phlaumix Court. The appearance of an old enemy like this one doesn't happen by accident.

"I must destroy them, thoroughly and utterly, before they get in my way. Fate," she thought, "knocks at the door, indeed!"

Then, suddenly, the woman in the shadows stopped and considered which way the Pendulum of Fate might be swinging this time. It could be, she knew, a double-edged sword which required her cleverest skills. In the past when the paths they crossed hadn't worked in her favor, she'd paid a heavy price at his hand.

"But now, with any luck," she thought, skulking past paintings and marble busts, "this time, it swings for thee, Professor Kerr!" Frankly, she felt like snapping her fingers and breaking into an undignified jig.

It couldn't have been any more undignified than the night she had thrown herself into the arms of that maniacal agent – what did he call himself: Dhabbodhú or something? (*2) "Pathetic was what it was." She thought back less pleasantly than she might have done at the time. "Man was definitely in need of a psychiatrist!" It had been a crazy time for her, speaking of crazy, finding after all those years an identity she could assume, having gone from being a vagrant to a millionaire in a single stroke.

Then she had been delighted to find herself even tangentially allied with a man going after Dr. Kerr himself, she recalled. Too delighted to help him, she discovered, alas, Dhabbodhú was "weak as water." But now she's found Kerr all by herself: the third time's the charm! "What matter of kismet brings us together again?"

It could not have been a mere coincidence, she often found herself thinking, how there had to be some Greater Plan, running into Old Widow du Hicquè the very moment she'd had her stroke. Not that she believed in God – at least not in the traditional sense – but what other explanation could there have been?

The old widow had millions in the bank, more than she'd dreamed possible, so while occupying the widow's identity (and her brownstone), she managed to put aside nearly $500,000 cash for an emergency fund.

Keeping it in a tote bag under the sink, she barely escaped with it when the police broke into the house, along with her bag-lady disguise kept for such contingencies: "easy come, easy go."

At least this time she had a sufficient nest egg to fall back on, creating a whole new identity for herself.

And now, here she was, having rechristened herself Melissa Fourthought after a chance encounter with an awful novel nobody would know, with a job in a TV production company filming in an English castle.

As it could only happen in her life – really, what were the odds? – the whole thing seemed, on the surface, miraculous.

It brought her to a hunt for the musicological discovery of the century. But what if Kerr's after the same thing?

"Wait," she thought, hearing someone open a door. "I think I'd better hide."

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to be continued... [this link should become active at 8am on Wednesday, July 20th]

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(*1) the "Es muss sein" motive from Op. 135:  The final movement of Beethoven's final quartet opens with a questioning musical phrase and the words "Muss es sein?" (Must it be?) written over it; when the Allegro begins, the question is answered by a straight-forward, happily extroverted phrase marked "es muss sein," "It must be!"

(*2) Dhabbodhú or something: Iobba Dhabbodhú, who lived in a New York brownstone near Lincoln Center (actually it was a gray stone house, more like a flintstone than a brownstone), was just one identity of the villain Tr'iTone of the previous novel in the Klangfarben Trilogy, The Lost Chord. Many of Dylan's memories in the previous scene were also events from this novel.

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The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #20

In the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Skripasha Scricci contends with the usual problems of a reality show producer, dealing with prima donna judges like Holly Grayle (seriously, she's heard Phlaumix Court is a meth house!) and Destinée Knox who points out the latest arrival for “Pimp My Prodigy” is a composer – and what the hell are they going to do with a composer on their show? Meanwhile, things are also going awry at Tea Time as Charles Leighton, the Marquess of Quackerly, makes a play for his cousin, Burnson Allan's sister, the young, potentially rich widow Tabitha Rossa. It does not end well.

(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.

The second part of the novel resumes Knussbaum's strange Tale which Kerr had started reading in an earlier chapter, leaving off at a critical point when he was interrupted by the arrival of Vector, the butler. You can read the initial installment of Beethoven's story in this post.

Baron Pasqualati's "House" in Vienna - Beethoven had a 5th Floor walk-up here

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Being a continuation of Knussbaum's "Tale of the Master and of his Belovèd"

...she found herself with child that we realized it was necessary to keep both her and the unborn baby safe as she alternated between rage and despair herself and might well do damage – and to keep her away from prying eyes. For malicious gossips' wagging tongues would do their own damage, after a kind, and make a mockery of one's own shame, where social censorship from neighbors and total strangers fan the flames of guilt. The Master knew he could not have a woman soon to bear a child living with him, it would be impractical, his landlord the Baron's disapproval one thing, her climbing those daily stairs another. (Seriously, no one liked climbing those 105 steps, the ever-winding, never-ending stone spiral: and a woman already irritable beyond measure? Unthinkable!)

By now, I should mention, my uncle had reluctantly allowed me to move to Vienna where I boarded with Herr Dreckfahrer, Teplitz's dance-band director now living near Baron Pasqualati's house where Beethoven resided then. (Truth be told, Dreckfahrer cared little for the Master's music, especially his dances: "unfit for dancing – the man himself cannot dance!") The idea had been for me to see the wider world and learn, perhaps, a better trade than a kitchen boy's. And while I worked and played my fiddle, I ran errands for Beethoven.

The Master had been bereft upon her inexplicable flight from Teplitz, his Belovèd, and followed her to Karlsbad before he returned empty-handed (and -hearted) to Teplitz where he spent a month sick in bed. Again, I carried Beethoven's letters back and forth, now to Fräulein Amalie Sebald, who brought him consolation and some chicken soup. It was the month after leaving Teplitz the Master had caused an uproar in Linz when visiting his youngest brother Johann, the apothecary, living with a woman who was his housekeeper and... something more.

For had he not lost his own Belovèd, the Angel of his heart, the woman he was now unable to marry? And yet his brother lived openly with a woman without benefit of marriage! For him, their sinful state resolved only with Johann's belated wedding to Theresa after which the Master, forlorn, returned to Vienna.

Despite everything that was happening, the Master acquitted himself of his Eighth Symphony, finalizing it in August after the Belovèd's departure, then finishing the full score in Linz that October before returning to Vienna. Back at Pasqualati's, he needed a new violin sonata for Rodé in December (I tried out certain passages for the Master). Earlier, he had finished his glorious Seventh Symphony, its finale full of the joy of love and thoughts of his Belovèd, a symphony so full of dance whether the man could dance or not.

Naturally, he hoped she would return to him, her doubts and fears resolved, strengthening his virtue and lawfully become his wife, but when it became clear she might not, his deafness began to worsen. His hearing now totally lost in one ear, talking in public meant shouting loud enough you were heard three rooms off.

When she returned, climbing once more the spiral staircase at Baron Pasqualati's palace, I thought his joy might restore his hearing. "Ach, mein' Geliebster," he roared, "not only does Fate knock at the door!" Instead, she had to shout about her condition so loudly, those in the kitchen four flights below must know her plight.

His joy quickly turned to revulsion and horror as she dropped her valise, fully intent on moving back into his life. What would the neighbors think? What would his recently wedded brother Johann say?

I stood there with my violin in hand – the Master and I had just plowed through the new violin sonata's variations – as she stared at me, an interloper reminding her of summer's better days, and while it embarrassed me to witness this abrupt change in the Master, my continued presence there was not without luck. Bloated and haggard, she resembled my Aunt Sophia before giving birth to twins (the very thought of which made her scream), but it gave me an idea which I quickly shared with them both.

Since Dreckfahrer was away visiting family in Graz, she could stay there momentarily while I contacted my Uncle Tobias back home. "I'll explain she's a cousin of Herr Kohl's who's fallen on hard times. The child's father was killed before the wedding," which she reluctantly accepted if she and the child could return to Vienna.

And so my uncle reluctantly accepted "Rosa Kohl," his former manager's distant cousin – "from the Belgian Kohls, most recently of Brussels" (I could not quite place her accent, myself) – to stay at Shady Pines. It was the slow season at the inn so, meanwhile, there was room if she could help out in the kitchen.

In the midst of winter, I took "Fräulein Rosa" to my uncle's inn, arriving with her half-frozen on a half-dead donkey. My aunt was clearly looking forward to a new-born child not her own.

My uncle took one look at "Rosa" and then at me and doubted I could ever be responsible for Rosa's condition, assuming a boy my age couldn't be interested in so homely a woman. Still, my aunt thought it odd I spent so much time with them, giving up Vienna to look after "poor Rosa."

Odder still, they thought, were the monthly payments they received in the post – "from her fiance's grieving family, to cover expenses" – which Beethoven arranged through his publishers during my brief monthly visits to Vienna.

Come springtime, she wanted out of the house to walk about the farm and perhaps enjoy the pleasant change in weather. My aunt and I had joined her once, when a thunderstorm suddenly erupted.

Taking refuge in the barn, "Rosa" unexpectedly went into labour amidst the cows and was delivered of a healthy baby girl.

It was shortly after that most blessèd event I hurried off to Vienna bearing the eagerly anticipated news to the Master, having kept him apprised of the Belovèd's health and moods throughout her confinement. The winter had been difficult enough for him without contact from his Belovèd such that my news often had adverse affects. He cut himself off from musical gatherings given the worsening of his hearing and sometimes avoided friends (and crowds) all together. Yet at several other times, his deafness aside, he might prove quite amiable. He was under great pressure, unable to compose, dealing with financial hardships and of course the suffering of losing his hearing: his brother Karl nearly died of consumption (their mother had died of it). In consequence, the Master urged him to change his will regarding his son and make the composer the boy's sole guardian.

And now here I stood on his doorstep, having struggled up those steps – I who thought working the farm was exhausting! – to tell him he was now the father of a daughter named Amalie, which was my aunt's compromise after she thought my suggestion – Antonie – too uppity, considering I thought her initial submission – Maria – common. I did not dare to tell the Master (then or in my letters) how "Rosa" preferred a biblical name (especially during childbirth, given her obvious and extreme physical pain), convinced "Satan" was certainly appropriate.

After I hollered to him my news, joyful tears streamed down his face, tears which turned unexpectedly to tears of anguish when his mood again changed in an eye-blink, dropping from elation to despondency. "It would have been better had she died," he wailed, beating his chest, "or, no, that I myself had died instead!" Rather than making him happy, my news only made the Master more miserable, his next hours spent sobbing on the floor. I did not dare leave him for quite some time until he improved. The next morning, he was banging his fists on his poor piano's keyboard such that I was worried for its future but soon his roarings took on the semblance of melodic and rhythmical ideas. Within an hour he had started scribbling down in a notebook several indecipherable ideas he said were for a new quartet.

But before I left to return to Die schattigen Kiefern (*) and "Fräulein Rosa," work on the quartet came to a halt, nothing he could revise into something useful nor discard for anything deemed better (not that this was any particularly unusual behaviour as there were often pages of continuously evolving sketches he'd eventually dispose of). His despondency returned when he realized the truth: he was completely incapable of dealing with that woman living under his roof, realizing that he couldn't live with her yet neither could they live apart. He kept thinking of Dr. Staudenheim's analysis, examining her at Teplitz that summer, how she was physically fit for her age but otherwise unstable mentally and might indeed remain an invalid throughout her life. He considered the possibility of committing the mother, then bringing the child to live with him, before quickly dismissing that solution.

I returned to Teplitz for one more summer in Herr Kohl's kitchen and Dreckfahrer's little band, knowing Beethoven wouldn't be there. This time, he went to Baden outside Vienna and had a miserable stay. A friend working there said, genius or not, Beethoven owned no decent coat nor even had a whole shirt to wear. He sat at a large table for dinner completely alone, avoided by everybody, where one guest complained he was "positively filthy." It wasn't until mid-September I could get away to bring him back home.

The Master was, as they say, "a mess," – completely withdrawn from society, not giving a damn about his appearance or manners – rude even with me before I had gotten him back to Pasqualati's house. Since the beginning of May he had composed not a note of music, wasting his entire summer holiday – four whole months! For the first time since he arrived in Vienna, he said, he had no great plans for a major new work, no symphony, no concerto, not even (here, he smirked) a new string quartet. The Great Beethoven, he moaned, was finished, done, his glorious career was ended, before asking me, "Who needs a deaf composer?" It was enough to reduce one to tears, seeing the great man thus. I did not know whom to turn to among his friends and patrons for surely he would not listen to them.

Several days later, going through a growing pile of unopened letters, I noticed one from that musical mechanic, the inventor Mälzel. Scrawled above the address was the word "URGENT!!!" and beneath it, "Please Respond!" Beethoven brushed it aside with a scowl, grumbling about absurd ideas and such, but at least he let me open it. Considering the recent English victory earlier in June over Napoleon's army in Spain – and all Vienna was abuzz with this latest news of France's imminent collapse – Mälzel was urging him to complete his "Battle-Symphony."

But Beethoven would hear nothing of it at the moment, tossing it aside, "a stupid piece for a stupid mechanical orchestra." Though he seemed to have nothing but time, he considered it "wasting time." Still, he could not imagine himself writing anything, even to celebrate Napoleon's Fall, a counterpoise to his symphony about a hero. He said he needed the inspiration of something lofty to start composing again, more than the defeat of a fading tyrant. I would argue, wasn't "how are the mighty fallen" a lofty enough subject?

There were more pressing needs, certainly, the practical matter of providing himself income and, I added, a matter of personal concern, the payments to my uncle for Rosa Kohl's care and, now, her daughter's. They had stopped in May according to several notes received from Uncle Tobias who asked if, somehow, they couldn't be resumed.

When the Master heard I had sent home a large portion of my own meager income to defray the Belovèd's expenses, he began to weep again, counting it as another of his "miserable failings." Then it made him weep to think of her alone in the world, and then weep more thinking of his daughter. But then another thought would occur to him, should Uncle Tobias no longer be able to keep her at his inn, how she and the child, with nowhere to go, might return to Vienna.

This sent him into another paroxysm of tears for where would she go and who was there to look after them? There was no other solution, he would shout, for he alone was responsible. Yet when he imagined her living there with him while he tried to compose, the child crying, he wept even more.

He was the one who had been left alone, abandoned by the "angel" who denied him his virtue and his manhood – I had overheard him weeping to Zmeksall about his resorting to "vile prostitutes" – how he, without any spiritual union, found afterward no trace of noble feeling and now was left with nothing but remorse.

In his difficulties with hearing, he thought I'd called it "Die schändlichen Kiefern" not "schattigen" ["Shameful Pines," not "Shady" – translator's note] and he rose with great resolve, taking Mälzel's letter over to his piano.

Over the next few days, once he'd resumed work on those "poor inane sketches" he'd started the month before in Baden, bit by bit Beethoven's spirits began to improve at least for a time, during which I was able to convince him to make arrangements with Herr Zmeksall for a small loan ("for personal reasons"). While he did go purchase some new clothes and a pair of boots, most of this loan went to my uncle in order to ensure the continuation of maintaining "Rosa" for the long winter.

"It will give us more time, Hermes," (as he continued to call me) "in finding a better solution for their care," though I was reluctant to travel with such a sum through the countryside. At my age, he argued, ruffians little expected a lad of my years to have such a lining to my cloak.

Uncle Tobias was, of course, gratified (and surprised) to be receiving the money having assumed with the birth of the child the late fiance's family would have felt their obligations now at an end. He would be loath to do it, sending her out into the cold, but she'd proven too grand for kitchen work.

And so, as winter approached, "Rosa Kohl" and her daughter Amalie became long-term residents at the Pflegermanns' inn, "Die schattigen Kiefern." The story told guests was her husband had died before the child's birth.

Anyone aware of Beethoven's story would know that, soon, his "Battle-Symphony," later Wellington's Victory, changed the course of his personal history. The Master suddenly found himself not only popular but also financially well off. He was able to sell the piece to a new publisher, Steiner, even making friends some handsome loans (at good interest).

Through a partner there, he arranged a special account administered by Herr Tauschen (as long as he was not Herr Täuschen ["Tauschen" means exchange, barter; "täuschen" means cheat – translator's note] to be kept secret.

No one else knew about the existence of the Belovèd or their child, but as it became more involved than previously, the Master now felt it necessary to bring someone else into his confidence.

About then, Beethoven met a music teacher at the Institute of the Blind named Simon Sechter, a man he could trust.

Sechter was a young man of 26 who had studied with Koželuch (though the Master did not hold that against him) whom Beethoven, now considerably changed, had liked instantly despite his being so academic. Greatly honored by the request made of him, Sechter would take over the "administration" of what Beethoven now called "our Project." Sechter would look after the banking, keep the books and administer the fees to be paid to my uncle, Tobias Pflegermann, for the "maintenance" of the woman known as "Rosa Kohl" at his inn. It was my great responsibility as "Resident Hermes" (now, alas, no longer skinny) to carry correspondence between Sechter and the Master as well as any such correspondence directly between the Master and the Belovèd. Sechter and I jokingly called ourselves the "Unsterblichesverein" [the "Immortal Society" – translator's note] and such, I admit, was its unlikely beginnings.

My uncle, of course, had no idea regarding the source of this income, knowing only of the agent he corresponded with, someone named Baron Ludwig von Zwischenstein-und-Schwerplatz who acted for an unnamed Viennese aristocrat. Fortunately, it gave them the impression "Rosa" was to have married a nobleman, an assumption that didn't hurt our project's cause. It might ultimately explain why she found kitchen-work beneath her, whatever the cause, even if at times she put on airs. I told them reminding her of her loss would only sadden her more.

It was during the springtime of the following year – this was now 1814 – after "Wellington's Victory" had become a great success, much to the Master's constant bafflement and delight, despite some critic's occasional complaints (as Beethoven scoffed to me over lunch once, after reading one such review, "I shit better than what this moron writes!"). Not only did it bring him some much needed income, it brought with it a renewed popularity, even more than before, but more importantly, for his own benefit, a renewed sense of his self-esteem.

Fidelio was revived and was finally a success, the Viennese seeing it as a triumph over the inevitable fall of Napoleon (originally premiered during the French Occupation of 1805, it had been a disaster). And when, with Waterloo, Napoleon's collapse became reality, Vienna danced as Europe converged, redrawing the map after twenty years of war.

These were heady times for a boy in his mid-teens as much as they were for a genius in his mid-forties. Beethoven had many works inspired by current events that were being euphorically received. Sechter had taken me on as a student both in organ and theory, the better to explain my frequent appearances there. Though by now Beethoven had gone from having been forgotten to being acclaimed, he'd also gone from hard-of-hearing to totally deaf. He could scoff at what he was composing: he didn't mind the acclaim.

My uncle was amazed to discover I was becoming a frequently employed musician (no doubt through good connections with Baron Zwischenstein-und-Schwerplatz). He and my aunt (if not "Rosa" herself) were gratified I'd outgrown kitchen-work. But "Rosa" warned me in her half-serious way, that if nothing else materialized, one could always find work in a kitchen.

The strain of these years and her prolonged absence from the Master's side had no doubt been weighing heavily upon "Rosa," and at times I could tell she missed the excitement of city life. Alone with Amalie (and how quickly she grew), life must still be dull living at a country inn far from Vienna.

Once, I suggested to the Master that I bring "Rosa" and the child in to Vienna for one of his concerts. He declared it would be more than he – or possibly she – could bear.

"Wellington's Victory" had struck a chord with people who never went into a theater to hear one of the Master's symphonies. Patriotic fervor rode high among the light-hearted Viennese and Beethoven mined it easily. Fame it may have been, but it didn't last long, a glorious moment like a flame extinguished by a fickle wind. As life after years of constant warfare gradually settled into a new normalcy, people wanted to feel comfortable, to be entertained. They didn't want to grapple with those intellectual issues fueling his earlier works.

With the responsibility of the Belovèd's finances given to the efficient Dr. Sechter, and relying less on me for any communications, it seemed the Master forgot about her and his daughter living far away. If everyone else chose to ignore their circumstances, was Beethoven doing the same and hiding one of his life's greatest frustrations?

So it was to my considerable amazement when – this would be late-winter, 1815 – the Master requested I visit him some evening. I don't recall having seen him once all season, busy with my studies. And when I arrived well after dinner, making sure not to disturb him, I found him neatly dressed and smiling broadly.

"Come, come," he said like an eager father, brandishing a sheaf of papers. "Look, look," and dropped it on his desk. He pulled out a chair and set me down in it. "There – see?"

The Master pointed impatiently at the top page which was only barely legible. "I finished it this morning – it took months!" His excitement continued as I paged through it, trying to read it (unsuccessfully). "You will need to copy it, with parts, then show it to Sechter, and find some friends to play through it."

I asked why he hadn't contacted Schuppanzigh who usually played his new quartets, but he only laughed, pushing his chair back.

"No, no, Falstaff" (so-called because of his girth) "will want to perform it."

That seemed a logical assumption, I told him, but the Master was adamant even though I couldn't possibly do it justice, looking at the second violin part which was far beyond my meager talents.

"Well, Hermes, then you will have to copy it and learn it quickly, for you must play it for Amalie's birthday."

The quartet, Beethoven stressed again and again, had to be kept a secret, intended only for the ears of his family which, likewise, had to be kept a secret, away from Vienna's prying eyes. This music had grown from his innermost feelings – whether the heart's or mind's – and became the most personal of utterances imaginable. It was the opposite of everything else he'd been composing during this time, all of it otherwise for the public moment. In this piece, there was nothing public there, only his most private thoughts.

"The world beyond these walls would not be ready for such 'interior' music, a world interested only in show and cajolery," he argued as I carefully deciphered his scrawl into something mortals could read. "I do it to protect myself from maladroits who could never understand it, but I do it also to protect them."

As I would begin copying a new section, he would carefully point out what this phrase or that unexpected modulation meant, thoughts behind his musical thinking, not mere story-telling but more than purely academic. It wasn't telling the story of some people as if on a stage, but described what responses he felt about them.

This motive, he'd say, was inspired by a glance from the Belovèd herself and how this new idea came from it – "there," his finger stabbed at the manuscript, "see?" – which became the child's theme.

It was music unlike any I'd heard before and rarely equaled since then – though I heard it only inside my head – both lyrical and dramatic, beautiful yet intricately complex – and long, much more expansive. There were passages he would blush over when I asked him about them: "those, I'm afraid, are too far beyond words."

It struck me far more serious than his last quartet, the F Minor (finished four years earlier, and still held back) yet he considered it overall a joyous work, much like his Seventh Symphony.

In the last movement, he pointed out how it became a dance-like fugue with a subject based on the Belovèd's motive; how the counter-subject expanded the Child's motive – turning eventually into a double fugue. Sechter, the master of counterpoint, had bragged of writing a fugue a day: how would he react to seeing this fugue?

By the time I had finished copying it and my colleagues and I had learned it (an arduous task in itself), we were two months late for Amalie's birthday – doubtful the child would notice. Only Sechter and myself knew the author's identity ("Rosa," of course, could guess) but there was no problem keeping it secret.

We had difficulties enough playing it but the others had more in listening, Amalie not the only one who fell asleep. Even Sechter, there as my teacher not as Beethoven's agent, found it indecipherable.

Gradually, my aunt, uncle and what few other guests all left the room to partake of beer in the outer parlour. Only afterward did an old gypsy woman staying nearby appear in the doorway.

She began reading everyone's palms, telling their fortunes. Rosa's palm proved a mystery: "such a long life-line – you must be immortal!"

When she got to the child, Amalie's hand created in her an immediate energy, causing her at first to drop it.

"There will be twins – and from their union..."

"Horrible – that's incestuous!" someone muttered.

"No, generations will pass, but when they join – and I see great peril – greatness equal to this child's father will result."

After everyone else had left, Herr Sechter and I remained by the fire, pondering this over another pleasant glass of wine.

"Where did that come from," shaking his head. "Plus, did she mention 'peril'...?"


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to be continued... [this link should become active at 8am on Monday, July 18th]
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(*) Die schattigen Kiefern: German for Shady Pines

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The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.

©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train