Thursday, December 31, 2009

On the 7th Day of Christmas: Starting a New Song

The other day, I completed a song that will open a song cycle setting seven different poems about creativity and inspiration (five of the other songs had already been completed). Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 100 is a frustrated poet's address to a long-absent muse. The cycle ends with Rumi's “Say 'Yes' Quickly,” a rush of inspiration rising to a flash of creative insight. At the midpoint of this as yet unnamed cycle is this poem by Rilke. Ever since I decided what this cycle's “theme” should be, I knew this would be the climax of the songs.

While other posts have been about choosing and translating the poems, this post is about my thoughts as I look at the poem one more time before sitting down to begin composing it. It will be the last of the seven songs to be completed.

“To Music”
by Rainer Maire Rilke

Music. The breathing of statues. Perhaps:
The silence of paintings. You – Language
where Languages end. You – Time
standing upright from the direction
of vanishing hearts.

Feelings, for whom? O you transformation
of feelings – into what? Into audible landscape.
You stranger: Music. You, grown out of us,
Heart-space. Our innermost self,
Transcending, driven outward.
Holiest farewell:
Where the innermost surrounds us
like the most practiced distance,
the other side of air:
no longer habitable.

(translation by R. A. Strawser)
- - - - - - - -

How to turn this into music?! It already IS music!

But first, how to turn this into musical structure, as a place to begin? Where the Shakespeare sonnet (even the Lazy Poet's sonnet) was a strict form, Rilke's is purely rhapsodic (or at least the translation is – I see no discernible structure in the original German, either). What creates structure in this poem (which can be reflected in the music)?

On the surface, there are 17 lines: the Golden Section occurs, therefore, at Line 10½ which occurs between “Transcending” and “driven outward” - or, to round it out to the complete line, between Line 10 and Line 11 which means the words “Holiest farewell” would occur after the Golden Section. (However, mathematically, 17 x .617 = 10.489 so rounding it officially would be to 10, not 11, right? sigh...)

There are two “parts” - the first consists of 5 lines, the second of 12 – unfortunately almost but not quite a “mirrored” Golden Ratio (that would be the 2nd line of Part 2)... However, the proportions are comparable: I could still have the first part fit in the 1st segment (antecedent) of the song; the second part into the 2nd segment (consequent) after the “mirrored” Golden Section point. Considering the beauty of the line “Holiest farewell,” that could still occur at the “positive” Golden Section Point which, incidentally, should be the climactic Golden Section Point of the entire song cycle, considering the carefully planned proportions of all seven songs.

In the first (antecedent) segment, Music is apostrophized as “you” five times. The 2nd person pronoun does not appear in the second (consequent) segment at all.

In the first segment, Music is 'compared' to other artistic formats (for lack of a better term) – sculpture, painting, language. Then, from these 'disciplines' (keeping in mind the ancient Greek idea of art as 'technos'), we move to “vanishing hearts” and “feelings,” from the intellectual to the emotional inner-world and, with “audible landscape,” to nature.

In this second part of the poem, Music (the last “you”) is probably the product of creativity, the work-of-art, “grown out of... our innermost self” which transcends the artist (now “us” and “our”) as it is “driven outward” from us (toward others?) with a sense of a farewell.

The real climax of the poem, emotionally if not structurally, then, occurs between the last “you” and the first “us” – where creativity has converted our innermost feelings and thoughts into something that is created: a work of art. It hadn't occurred to me before, but this is probably why I sensed this poem, of all the ones I'd found and considered setting, needed to be placed as the central keystone of my arch of poems in this song cycle about creativity and inspiration.

If one considers another overlaid structural proportion, the halfway point of 17 lines would be 8.5 which places it at the midpoint of the line “You stranger: Music. || You, grown out of us,” where "you" (art) converts to "us" (artist). Rilke could just as easily have divided the lines with the break there. It is, perhaps, another example of superimposed simultaneities, a type of poetic counterpoint.

The music I hear in my head as I contemplate these lines is vague: I don't hear a specific melody though I know, given the emotional intensity of the text, it must be the most lyrical of the songs, the most dramatic. I don't recall the first time I'd read the poem: perhaps when I was teaching at UConn about 34 years ago. I know I didn't dwell on it to this extent but just remembered the beauty of it and its spiritual impact on me at the time. But ever since the spring when I started looking for song texts, the music I heard in the background was not the logical assumption – Schubert's “An die Musik” – but the “Composer's Aria” from the prologue of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. This “aural background” is more like what a movie director might put into his rough cut before the composer would provide the eventual filmscore: a 'place-holder' to give the best indication of what he was after.

Speaking of integrity, it was this aria I'd heard Joyce DiDonato sing as an encore to her recital in Philadelphia when John Clare and a friend drove down to hear her. As if the whole recital wasn't wonderful enough, the exhilaration I felt after the Strauss was like having discovered the Artist's National Anthem – as the young composer asks, “What, then, is Music?” and responds that “Music is a holy art.”

(This question is raised at 1:16 into this brief 2:22 video clip. Since the composer is a young man, he has become a 'trouser role,' sung by a woman-in-pants to approximate a youthful voice. Here is mezzo-soprano Tatyana Troyanos singing the aria from a Metropolitan TV Broadcast in 1988. An excerpt from the full production, the aria does not stop when it ends but immediately continues, unfortunately lopped off here).

This passionate outburst is the result of the news the young composer's new opera (an opera seria, at that, very old-fashioned even in the 18th Century time Strauss' opera is set and terribly highbrow), instead of just being performed on the same evening as a local comedy troupe's extremely lowbrow performance, must now be, somehow, combined with clowns: Zerbinetta, the saucy actress who leads the actors' troupe, has suggested that the composer's tragic heroine just needs a new boyfriend and all will be well.

First performed in 1912 – at a time when so many things were changing in the world of music: Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Debussy's Jeux, and when Strauss himself, a trailblazer with Salome and Elektra, has gone in the opposite direction, writing historical pastiches of Mozart and Handel – Strauss is exploring the collision between what we might call “highbrow” and “lowbrow.” How do we judge the quality of art – by its popularity? How do we define what “Art” is and what “Entertainment” is and must they be mutually exclusive?

It is not a new argument, friends of mine who rail against American Idol's process for determining success may be surprised to discover (if for no other reason, I am gratified to see Susan Boyle go on to become one of the most successful performers of 2009 despite the fact she lost the TV reality contest, “Britain's Got Talent”). This argument was being written about by Tinctoris around 1500, a Flemish composer and theorist who was trying to find ways of combining the two into a “middle ground,” a form of synthesis existing even before the 19th Century philosopher Hegel came up with the concept of the Dialectic.

(You can read more about it at this blog I've just happened upon this morning, The Taruskin Challenge: two grad students take on Richard Taruskin's immense six volume Oxford History of Western Music, summarizing it ten pages by ten pages with, kindly enough, weekly summaries that are well worth reading if you're looking for some comprehensive and comprehendible immersion. One could argue that, while comprehensive, Taruskin may not always generally be comprehendible, thus setting up its own argument between highbrow and lowbrow and the art of trying to find the middle).

So one of the issues I must deal with, getting back to Rilke's poem, is to find music of comparable intensity (if not beauty) to Strauss' Composer to match Rilke's words.

As a new decade begins, I must sit down and come to terms with all this – this poem's structure as well as its essence – to begin composing a song about creativity and integrity. The trick will be not to let my “inner editor/demon” (for most creative types, these are one-and-the-same) take control of this daunting challenge.

Wish me luck!

And, by the way - Happy New Decade!

Dr. Dick

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Creativity & the Responsibility of Ones Integrity

A few days ago, I was about to chuck everything I'd written on the Shakespeare Sonnet, the song that opens my 'new' song-cycle. I wasn't sure why but it just seemed to be getting too complex. It wasn't that I didn't like it beyond what adjusting a few pitches could accomplish to make it sound better (if not “right”): it just seemed to be more complicated than... than what, I wasn't sure. Necessary?

But this is very close to what I was hearing in my head. Part of the process in writing it down is trying to figure out how to approximate what it was I was hearing internally. The fact that my piano technique and my performance experience are both highly limited makes this a difficult challenge with the considerable danger that the end result will be more limited by my limitations rather than a replication of what I wanted to get down on paper. If that were the case, borrowing a phrase from a pianistically challenged teacher of mine in college, everything I'd be writing these days would be about as interesting as “Jesus Loves Me” in whole notes.

After several hours battering against this particular wall – dealing with the Inner Editor (or Demon, which is usually just as applicable) – I stepped away from my desk and decided to ignore the argument. Instead, I curled up on the couch with a lapful of cats and thought – and, for a change, listened to some music, something I usually don't like doing when I'm composing.

When I showed one piece to a friend of mine, hoping for some constructive criticism about the technical demands, all he said was, “It's very difficult.” Yes, that I knew – I tend not to write easy stuff. It's difficult because, for one thing, it's not a familiar style for most of the performers I know around here. In many respects, it's also unrealistic because it would take more time to learn (being unfamiliar) and in the case of my orchestral work – like the Symphony – that involves rehearsal time which is economically prohibitive (considering a half-hour work will probably only get 45 minutes of rehearsal before its premiere).

So I write difficult music. I don't do this on purpose: that's what I hear.

As Elliott Carter said in any of several interviews I'd heard during the year before his 100th Birthday last year, “I don't put complexity into my music.” That's what he's hearing: the fact it's not the result of theoretical calculations that requires a slide-rule (as they said back in the days when slide-rules were forbidding aspects of a mathematical life) to appreciate (since most people thinking like this would not be able to say 'to enjoy'), is something most people who don't “get” his music can't understand. What he's hearing in his head is already complicated: trying to figure out how to make that sound palpable so other people can play and then hear it is something else. Because it's not easy to play or to comprehend is what makes it “complex.”

And it IS a matter of familiarity: I find myself frequently listening to his recent Cello Concerto, the Violin Concerto of 1990, the “Boston Concerto” (a concerto for orchestra written, obviously, for the Boston Symphony), all written since he'd turned 80, or the earlier “Variations for Orchestra” from the 1950s as well as the 3rd String Quartet (probably the gnarliest of his more gnarly compositions) and finding if I'm not exactly humming them later on, I can hear great swatches of them in my head and, when listening to them, anticipate what's going to happen next just the way I can listen to a well-known Beethoven symphony or late string quartet and know what's coming. I rather doubt somebody who might be unfamiliar with Beethoven's late quartets would be able to react much the same way during a first hearing.

The last time I was listening to Wagner's “Ring” with the score – courtesy of my collection of the Dover editions – it struck me how challenging this music must have been for singers dealing with the first performance. It was totally unlike anything they were familiar with and I'm not talking in terms of sheer stamina, the ability to stand there and bellow like a bull for four hours (as another teacher of mine once put it). This music is highly chromatic compared to the more conservative, largely diatonic style that was the going norm of the day, and most of the vocal lines (except for the really big moments) were not exactly what you'd call melodic or tuneful which is what most singers and audiences would be waiting for. No wonder they'd gone through a hundred and some rehearsals trying to get Tristan und Isolde ready for a performance and still had to cancel it!

Then something else occurred to me in thinking back to Wagner's “Ring” music: it's not exactly foursquare in its rhythms and meters, either: compared to The Rite of Spring of 1913 perhaps, but not compared to what most people were singing and listening to in the 1860s, before Brahms had finished his 1st Symphony which he would complete the same year Wagner finished the “Ring.”

People had the same sort of reactions to much of Beethoven's late music: too esoteric on the one hand, but too difficult to comprehend both as performers and listeners on the other. Technical challenges aside (given Beethoven's famous retort to the violinist complaining about his part in one of the late quartets, “What do I care for you and your damned fiddle?”), there are things going on in these works that are totally unlike anything anybody else was writing in the 1820s.

Most critics would excuse this by saying “well, he was deaf, you know,” as if that had any bearing on what he was hearing INSIDE his head. Beethoven could read music well enough so it's not like he couldn't figure out what the stuff sounded like he was writing down on paper. People who can't read music (by which I mean “see it on the page and hear it internally” the way people can read a book and hear someone inside their heads reading it aloud to them) find this difficult to imagine. I rather doubt Beethoven was throwing random pitches down on paper just to say “look, I've written a string quartet!”

My question, as far as being a composer is concerned, is “what am I hearing in my head?”

In most cases, I'm hearing – at least to start with – an “idea.” It's fairly abstract: I've decided to write a song cycle which means I need to find texts that will work with what I want to compose. Joyce Kilmer's “Trees” may be lovely to some people, but it's hardly appropriate for the music I want to write. Then I hear more specific details of what those words imply, musically – the constant slow spinning of the spider's web in Whitman's “Noiseless Patient Spider” or the incendiary rush of Rumi's “Say 'Yes' Quickly!”

What I 'hear' first is often more like an artist's sketch – a whoosh of the brush that suggests a shape that, only later, takes on something we might recognize. This especially became part of the process when I was composing music to lines of Li Po: I came up with musical gestures that reflected words like “shake,” “shout,” “ecstatic” or the last line, “I'll bend the river!” It was as if a germ had come to life, shaking and trembling the way an egg cell, once fertilized, turns into an embryo.

More often, at first it's more vague, more subtle and sometimes completely inscrutable.

In John Tusa's collection of interviews with artists about their creativity – On Creativity (Methuen 2004) – he asks Elliott Carter, “Does the word 'inspiration' figure in your work or is it something which is not a useful idea to describe what goes on when you compose?”

Carter replies, “If there is inspiration, it's not something that comes at the beginning of the piece. It comes in the course of writing it. The more I get into the piece the more the inspiration – well, I don't know exactly what inspiration means – but I would see more clearly and with more excitement and more interest new things... Once I've gotten focused on this thing, let's say the excitement of writing, it becomes more and more important as I write the piece. I think this is the way we would normally behave under other circumstances. If you were writing a letter or a novel, the more you get into the novel, the more clearly you see what you're trying to do and so forth.”

When I read that a few months ago, I realized how many years I had wasted waiting for inspiration to strike, coming to tell me what I should be writing and how it should be written. I sat and waited for inspiration and it never came. What I SHOULD have been doing was trying to figure out what I wanted to compose, then get it started even if I had no idea what was going to happen, knowing that, in the process of letting it settle in, it would (hopefully) come to me. It may not have worked or it may not have been what I was hoping for, but it would have been SOMEthing, rather than the silence I endured for over 15 years.

So, the Shakespeare Sonnet began with a few scribbled-down fanfare-like patterns. Even though it was the first song in the cycle, I also knew it was going to be one of the harder ones to compose (the legacy of Shakespeare aside): that's why I started with the easier ones, rather than getting hung up on details that might make me want to give up on it before it's even begun.

By the time I finally got around to the Shakespeare, then, the original scribblings had no bearing on what I now had in mind. First of all, I tried to focus on one layer of sonority at a time: the whole song is driven by its harmonic structure – the chaconne I'd written about the other day – so I needed to come up with that first. If that succeeded in doing what I wanted it to do, then I could overlay the vocal line on that. That is far easier than writing a melody and coming back to harmonize it (what if the implied harmony now doesn't have any logic within the song's structure?). I had a sense of how I wanted the vocal line to go – brush-strokes like “floating” and “stretched-out” as the poet waits to hear from his muse, then “pushing forward” as the text became more dramatic (especially considering the last line involves Time's “scythe and crooked knife”).

There were purely theoretical details to work out, similar to figuring out what chords I'd want to use if it were a traditionally tonal style. Then this had to be filtered through the purely emotional details: did it suit the nature of the words, the mood they were setting, the way the emotions of the text increased in tension or resolved?

(A friend on Facebook had just written "it's all about the brain." A friend commented that she felt "it's all about the heart." I added "one doesn't work without the other.")

One of the things I enjoy most about Elliott Carter's music is his “temporal counterpoint.” Rather than having musical lines moving independently against each other the way Bach might write a fugue, Carter often pits one tempo against another, writing it out in some kind of common denominator that allows performers to relate these independent strands of time.

It is the “perceived” tempo rather than the actual written tempo indicated by a metronome marking or the expression “allegro con molto.” One layer could seem to be very slow and sustained while another would be very fast and fitful. If you could isolate the one part, you might hear a certain number of fairly regular beats per minute, just as the other part may also have a certain number of fairly regular beats per minute. But putting the two together, it turns out they are not moving with the same fairly regular beats per minute. It's as if two people, playing two entirely different pieces, are being heard simultaneously. Writing that DOWN is what makes it look complex.

If Bach does it with quarter notes and 16th notes, we think nothing of it. If Carter does it with 5 dotted eighths against 7 quarter notes, we think “Whoa! How can you play that?!” He also shifts the real tempo which may turn one of those five dotted eights into the new quarter note pulse which gives it a new metronome marking of something like ♩= 87.5 and musicians throw up their hands and say “how can you HEAR such a thing!?” The trick is, if you're playing it at what seems to be a reasonable tempo to begin with and you follow the music accordingly, you're going to play it at ♩= 87.5 without having to think “now, how fast is ♩= 87.5?”

What prompted my Inner Editor/Demon to pop up into Full Destructive Mode the other day was realizing that, since my music moves along without any visceral relation to the foursquare meter of 4/4 at ♩= 60, I began to question how comfortable a singer would be who would have to be singing complex-looking rhythms that didn't have a DOWNbeat every four beats to hang on to. How comfortable would a pianist be to be playing a similar kind of line in one hand with a completely different and often conflicting kind of line in the other, without having a DOWNbeat every four beats to hang on to?

Was there a way I could simplify the music to make it easier?

I tried doing that and decided “that's not my music.” And while people could argue I should be writing what the audience wants to hear or what would be easier for the performers to play, I realized it was not the music I wanted to write. And if I couldn't take the responsibility of holding on to my own integrity, then I shouldn't be trying to compose music in the first place.

And once I got myself through that conundrum, the piece was finished a couple of days later, the way I wanted to.

- Dr. Dick

Sunday, December 27, 2009

On the 3rd Day of Christmas

Most of Christmas Day had been spent working – not in the sense of being 'gainfully employed' in the days since I've found myself retired, but composing.

Since springtime, I've been working on a set of seven songs for mezzo and piano, setting poems about inspiration and creativity. There are two left to finish – the opening setting of Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 100 and Rilke's “To Music” which forms the centerpiece of the cycle. The other songs have been finished if not finalized over the intervening eight months (composing, for me, is a slow process).

After about ten days' work outlining the song, work on the Shakespeare setting had been put aside November 1st when I took a month off to write 64,000+ words of a novel for “National Novel Writing Month,” my musical parody of Dan Brown's “The Lost Symbol.” While I didn't finish “The Lost Chord,” the further adventures of Dr. Dick attempting to unlock the mysteries of the severed ear found by the fountain at Lincoln Center, once the goal of 50,000 words by the end of 30 days had been met, I decided to get back to work on the interrupted song. Further delays happened when I spent a week writing “Beethoven's Christmas Carol,” another parody (this one based on Charles Dickens' holiday classic): at least I managed to finish it, posting it between Beethoven's Birthday and Christmas Eve.

But on Christmas Day, I managed to “finish” what I call the “first pass at the rough draft.” Notes are in place for the whole song but not yet finalized: there are some minor details to settle and the whole thing must be 'checked' before I can feel it's complete. This aspect of it is a matter of time and concentration but I also want to wait a bit to let it sink in and till I feel it would be a good day: a bad day would be merely wasted time and might do more damage than good, especially if the “inner editor” gains control and scuttles the whole process. Compared to the months it took to write some of the other songs, it's taken only about four weeks to sketch this one, about six minutes' worth of music – but it would only take a few seconds to destroy it.

The song had quickly turned into something more complex that just setting words to music. The idea of a sonnet – especially given the legacy of Shakespeare's language – required something structurally comparable in its music. Since the text is about a poet petitioning an errant muse to come inspire him again (the story, in general, of my life), the idea of a chaconne seemed appropriate: the repetition of a basic harmonic pattern with variations over and around it mirrors the poet's obsession with his errant muse.

I had done something like this last year, spending months working on a chaconne that became the central movement of the Violin Sonata I'd been toying at over the period of a few years. I've never liked the idea of the old-fashioned chaconnes – think Pachelbel's Canon, for better or worse – where the sameness becomes boring in its regularity and repetition if the challenge is not met by the genius of someone like Bach or Purcell. Plus, in writing in a style that is neither entirely tonal nor entirely atonal (despite its use of all twelve notes which does not make it 'twelve-tone' music nor atonal in the strictest sense), the idea of repeating the same chord progressions over and over again – even for a song under six minutes long – was of no interest to me. My harmonic idea – the same basic pattern I'd used in the Violin Sonata's chaconne – would modulate through various “tonalities” before returning to the opening tonality at the end: it thus becomes a “progressive” chaconne rather than a static one.

Without getting into the theoretical details (meaning I just cut 423 words of technical jargon which still hadn't gotten through explaining them), let's say I had planned on three sonic layers.

The first was this harmonic structure on an over-all scope, within which I placed the sixteen statements of this basic chordal pattern, each one cadencing on a different chord (and tonal level) to avoid the sameness of repetition (then, too, some of the chord progressions vary from statement to statement so not every one is exactly the same, like a sequence of one set of chords repeated over and over again spiraling around on different pitch levels).

The second was the vocal line, setting Shakespeare's text of three quatrains and a final couplet (one of the standard sonnet structures). I placed this over the harmonic layer in such a way that the four different “text units” overlap the sixteen harmonic units, creating a greater sense of continuity: ultimately, this makes the music sound less choppy, subdivided by the frequent restatements of the basic chord progression.

The third, though, was going to be tricky. Thinking of the chord progression as basic “left-hand territory,” the “right-hand melody” in the piano would need to be counterpoint to the vocal line and a bit more in the background except at those points where the voice takes a breather.

Now, I'd taken the first layer and superimposed it on a structural grid divided by the Golden Section so rather than moving in the standard operating procedure of parallel phrase lengths – usually 8 measures answered by 8 measures ad infinitem – the phrases (determined by the placement of the chords) seems to move in constantly changing patterns of long beats and short beats, since the Golden Section divides a line or space not in half but according to the fibonacci series, the climax occurring at .617 rather than at the halfway point or the ¾ point or whatever. This gives the impression that the “tempo” of each statement is slightly different: the first one is the longest and they gradually become shorter, so it sounds like, over time, the tempo is accelerating.

When applied to the lines of text, this makes it sound like each quatrain starts out with longer, floating notes that, as the tension increases, become shorter and more dramatic, also giving it a sense that each verse is constantly getting faster (thus, building tension). But it moves at a slightly different rate of speed than the piano's chords move which also creates a kind of tension before the different phrases resolve together. The melody does not move, chunk by chunk, overtop neatly placed chords: both layers are then completely fluid.

So this third layer needed to be somewhere in between and yet still be fluid. This is what counterpoint is all about – the art of writing flowing lines that work independently of each other and are recognizable as complete on their own yet, when combined, operate as a harmonic unit within the larger scope of things. This is the way Bach worked – in fact, it's the way most Renaissance composers worked, too: only the surface language has changed over the centuries.

Just focusing on the piano part, since my “harmonic layer” consisted of triads (three-note chords), the other layer would be more easily differentiated if it's just a single note. That way, you would know which line is which.

Then, around the time of his 101st birthday, I was listening to one of Elliott Carter's piano pieces, the first of Two Diversions (written when he was 90) which consists of one layer of two notes (diads) moving along at a constant rate of speed while the other line (single notes) changes speed constantly.

(You can watch a studio read-through of the piece here: the pianist, Marc Hannaford, sets a metronome for the beat-pulse of the diad, not the written beats you'd see in the score which is constantly changing tempo and meter: check the 'more info' link to see how these notes are grouped together metrically even though the music sounds like it's regular half-notes!)

Anyway, this gave me an idea, though one far simpler to realize than Carter's Diversion.

Without differentiating the registers they'd be played in and calling the harmonic material “left-hand” and the linear material “right-hand” (regardless of which hand will actually end up playing them), I started thinking of this new layer as one starting out very fast and gradually becoming slower toward the end, contrasting with the harmonic layer which starts out very slow and gradually becomes faster.

So now, all layers are mapped out from beginning to end: the next step in the process is going back to make sure how well they interrelate, to fix rhythms, determine the registers for many of the passages (again, to avoid boredom, I don't want all of the harmonic layer to be limited to the “left-hand” register so at some points they'll cross and exchange locations). I also need to determine textures and articulations so they're not all the same with just block chords in the harmony or steady ticking quarter-note-like pulses (regardless of the actual rhythmic values) in the linear layer.

That's something to start working on as soon as I'm done posting this...

Dr. Dick

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the 2nd Day of Christmas

There were two doves sitting in the Japanese Maple waiting for me to put seed out in the bird-feeder this morning. It is pouring-down rain right now – better than most of what has been saturating much of the country the past few days – and in the low-40s: most of the snow is gone now, though yesterday it was at least a white Christmas if not a pretty one. The ice-storm everyone had dreaded didn't seem to materialize but with the temperatures hovering just above freezing, I was not one to venture out onto the roads, traffic or no traffic. It was a very quiet day spent with the cats who enjoyed playing with their new catnip toys; in the spirit of the holiday, three of them gave me furballs in return...

Not one to watch much TV – though too much in the evenings, lately – I decided to watch two movies: a version of Babes in Toyland with Laurel and Hardy (I decided to pass on the one scheduled for later in the day with Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves) and “The Bishop's Wife” with Cary Grant as an angel answering the prayers of a bemused bishop, David Niven. I found myself identifying with the old professor played by Monty Woolley. For more modern fare, I had listened to David Sedaris' “Santaland Diaries” the day before. But otherwise, not much.

And so, now that the pre-holiday orgy of consumerism is over, I can retire my “Bah! Humbug” scarf for another year. It is has been something I've worn every year since a friend gave it to me back in the early-'80s. Usually, I get it out for Black Friday but with the desperation involved in this year's pre-Thanksgiving Day Christmas sales, I was wearing it about a week earlier than usual.

It's not Christmas that bothers me: it's the way it is celebrated. There are two Christmases: the religious holiday and its spirit of “Peace on Earth” and the secular holiday which is all about the Accumulation of Stuff and, beyond the idea that three kings once brought presents to a baby in Bethlehem, has very little to do with the other.I find it ironic that, as a not very religious person, the materialism of the holiday as its observed offends me.

While some Christians would complain that saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is the secularists' attempt to destroy Christmas, I rarely see anything religious in all the advertising for all the sales that dominates the life-style of many Americans for at least one month out of the year, beyond wishing people a “Merry Christmas” as they urge them to come spend their money in these difficult times in order to keep the economy afloat.

As a sign of these desperate times, a snowstorm the weekend before Christmas could be accused of nearly destroying the American Economy's delicate recovery because people couldn't get out to do their shopping. Late on Christmas Eve, I was still getting e-mail urging me to shop on-line even as midnight was approaching: didn't it matter it wouldn't be there for anyone to open on Christmas Morning?

Bah! Humbug...

After getting back from having dinner with some friends on Christmas Eve, I was just about to drop off to sleep around 2am when I heard this great roar and the house shook with a clanging that lasted a few seconds. The Ghost of Christmas Past, the first of my visitors this night? No, it was the water softener going into its monthly cycling, a little louder than usual in the stillness of the night.

For me, it is music that gets me in the holiday spirit, whether it's the old popular Christmas songs that all seem to be from the '40s and '50s but still dominate (if not saturate) the atmosphere today, or those classical settings of sacred texts pertaining to the actual Christmas holiday.

It had only begun with the Susquehanna Chorale's concert which I attended at Market Square Church on the 18th – especially with the Fantasia on Christmas Carols by Ralph Vaughan Williams, based on British carols not as familiar to us today (which is why they were favorites of RVW's) and the 'signature piece' which ends each of their Christmas concerts, Malcolm Sargent's arrangement of “Silent Night” (you can listen to another performance of it here, beginning about 1:07 into the clip). In between, it would hardly matter what they sang because I knew it would be sung well even if the idea of me participating in the audience sing-along carols reminded me of Saturday Night Live's “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sung by Kermit the Frog and Robert de Niro.

On Christmas Eve, while making an ill-timed run to the bank and the grocery store and then out to some friends for dinner, I listened to the Waverly Consort's medieval Christmas pageant which I'd seen twice and have listened to often.

Since I'd spent much of Christmas Day composing (more on that, later), I didn't want to settle down to listen to any more music until after I was finished for the day, so it was late evening by the time I got around to it, listening to only two pieces.

The first was one I hadn't really listened to before: Danish composer Poul Ruder's “Christmas Gospel,” a 1994 textless orchestral work, may not have been suitable for playing on the radio because it sounds more like the soundtrack for a science fiction film rather than a short silent film of the Christmas Story. It's only 10 minutes long and the program book marks the timing cues where each aspect of the story begins: some of them are only a few seconds long and they do little more than set a cinematographic mood whether it's the arrival of Mary and Joseph at the stable, the labor contractions (oddly, one of the longer sections of the score) which become more dissonant until resolving in a radiant major chord with the birth of Christ, or the part that is often overlooked in modern-day tellings, Herod's Massacre of the Innocents.

And while it doesn't sound very "Christmassy" and did in fact sound more like a science-fiction filmscore, I figured to some the story of the Virgin Birth surrounded by angels may indeed seem like science-fiction: which could explain why someone as rational and logical as Thomas Jefferson would edit the Mysteries out of his copy of the Bible including the magic of the nativity with its angels, focusing on the humanistic elements of the story – this from one of this country's  founding fathers whose viewpoint is often overlooked when today's religious discussions argue about returning to the faith on which this country was founded.

The major work for my evening's playlist was going to be Ralph Vaughan Williams' telling of the same story but with Biblical texts interspersed with poetic meditations (much like Bach would have done in his cantatas, actually). Entitled “Hodie” (from the text, “Hodie Christus natus est,” This Day Christ Is Born), it's a vital hour-long work he completed it in 1954 when he was 81 (you can read more about it, here; you can also listen to clips of a recent Naxos recording here.)

For me, this is as much a holiday tradition for me as Handel's “Messiah” is for others, not that one's likely to hear a live performance of it around here.

Before going to bed, another tradition: listening to Dylan Thomas reading his “A Child's Christmas in Wales.”

And then I slept.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Beethoven's Christmas Carol: The Last Installment

In this fourth and final installment of "Beethoven's Christmas Carol," a parody of Charles Dickens' holiday classic (which began here), Beethoven receives more than just a visit from the third spirit that Schindler's Ghost had told him he would receive.


He had hardly found himself back in bed before the bells began to chime again and the room became even chillier than it had been when the other spirits approached. It was not so much that something approached him this time as the walls of his room dissolved only to be replaced by a blackness so intense, there seemed to be no substance anywhere about him, the absence of matter, only void.

And then, something - he could barely tell what - began to form at the foot of the bed.

“Spirit that I can barely see, you swirl of misty, fading light, you are the spirit of Christmas Future?” He felt he should raise his arms as if to protect himself but from what, he had no idea.

After a pause with no response, Beethoven felt himself rising out of his bed. “Where are you taking me? Where are we going?”

This third spirit had not materialized into any recognizable shape but appeared to be merely light – not a bright light, really, but a swirling essence of pale, adumbrated light, gesticulating slowly and moving as if not moving at all, suspended in place as well as time, yet expanding and contracting like breath itself on a wintry day. But still, they seemed to be wafting through space, the infinite darkness of unimaginable emptiness combined with an unbearable lightness of merely being.

“Spirit, you take me where? If your fellow spirits have shown me the past and the present, are you, whatever you are, taking me into the future?”

The light swelled and glowed briefly in response. Then came a voice, a disembodied distant voice echoing down from the heavens beyond. Barely audible, more sensed than heard, it unwound slowly, as if after centuries of disuse it has found it difficult to speak.

“Yes, Ludwig.”

They traveled slowly, silently for several minutes – longer, it seemed – wrapped in coruscating mists.

Ahead, Beethoven saw a faint glow. They were headed indirectly toward it, now from the right, then from the left but as they approached, coming in closer, they took a more centerly route. The city – a once large city, judging from the expanse of it – was largely in ruins. Only the churches showed any sign of past prosperity.

There was snow on the ground, not much: perhaps a recent storm had left behind only a few inches, enough to coat the ground and fill the streets and sidewalks. The people he could see on the streets were not rushing about as he was used to seeing. They moved precisely as if regimented yet kept in step without appearing so.

“They all seem to be headed in one direction,” Beethoven noted.

But as they floated over the city, he saw people coming gradually out of the darkened, run-down buildings, all of them headed toward a central point. That point was the only welcoming looking building in the vicinity.

The streets, though snowy, were dark. There were no lights, certainly no Christmas decorations, at least not as he had become used to them. Perhaps it was early morning before the stores opened, but then he saw there were no stores – or rather, few stores: the ones he noticed were not ostentatious, simply designed with simple signs and clear-cut names, offering practical wares and necessities.

And he heard music – familiar Christmas music quietly wafting from the brightly welcoming building, simple arrangements of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” but also others, less interesting and not at all familiar. Above all, he noticed in them a single quality – consistency.

“Where are we, Spirit?” Beethoven was almost afraid to ask.

Slowly the pale, diffuse, long-strained voice unfolded the story.

“This,” it began, “is what is left of New York City after the Revolution.”

“But,” Beethoven protested, “the Revolution was hundreds of years ago: I remember reading about it when I was a young man just getting started in Vienna!”

“Not... that... Revolution.” The spirit proceeded to summarize the years since enough people, afraid of how quickly their world began to change, seized control of government and society to pass laws imposing their views on their fellow citizens. It was all done legally just as, in the past, a new President would be elected in a reaction against the last and then set about dismantling everything that had been changed.

“Yes,” Beethoven nodded, the constant yo-yo effect between the Right and the Left or now as it was trendily described, the Red and the Blue. “It was so tiring, listening to all the bickering: made me long for the days of my deafness...” He sighed. “But that is all part of – what do they call it, 'evolution'? Surely, there must be some way of finding a more balancing consensus!”

“Ah, fortunately the authorities below are unable to hear you, Ludwig, for you have just said one of the Banned Words. You could be arrested for merely speaking it, now.”

“What, 'evolution'?”

“No – 'consensus.'” That other word he'd mentioned no longer existed: like many other words, no one understood it any more since it had no meaning.

Beethoven was silent for a while. They floated over a dilapidated court house with its nativity scene on the front steps. They floated past Carnegie Hall, dark and ruined with great holes in its roof. Lincoln Center had been gutted by numerous fires and bombs where weeds and scruffy saplings grew around the long-silenced fountain, struggling through the blocks of pavement like a wasted field through which the winds of change now whistled ominously. People had been, for many years now, piling their trash there. The place stank.

“The great concert halls, desecrated! A shambles! An outrage!” He felt himself trembling, whether from the cold or the realization, he could not be sure.

“Do not exercise your spirit too much, Ludwig. It will do you no good. They cannot hear you, these people below. And if they could, they would ignore you – or, worse, report you to the authorities. Dissent is not allowed.” The voice sounded sinister in tone despite its seemingly disembodied state.

“That's absurd! What did they fight the French Revolution for, or their own American Revolution or even the Bolshevik Revolution before it went wrong?”

“One person's wrong is another person's right, Ludwig. And it depends on what is left, how well things should survive.”

“One thing I have learned in this world is that all things are temporary: Emperors and dictators fell in the past. Styles change only to come back again in some other guise. It may take time.”

“Perhaps, Ludwig. Perhaps...”

In the generation after the Palin Presidency, things had indeed changed, certainly, but it seemed a very long time to expect any change to revert back to the past he knew. Here, the freedoms they had fought for had gradually been redefined. They had, now, the spirit explained, the fundamental freedom of religion on which, it was often said, this country had been founded, the freedom to worship the one true God but only in the way the government allowed, the freedom from having to deal with dissenting opinions.

It was not just in religion that this great new freedom was being exercised. It manifest itself in all realms of society, of life in general. Here, among the ruins of a once excessive society, people today lived in apparent contentedness knowing their souls were well looked after by a God-fearing government who instilled that fear in their citizens to abide the laws. There were no longer divisions in the churches between Catholic or Protestant – these and their petty disagreements have all been subsumed (the spirit chewed over this word with a mixture of fear and delight) into the O.T.C. – the One True Church – and its political party, the S.O.M.

“The S.O.M.?”

“Yes, similar to Eve, created out of a bone, an ulna from the right wing of the G.O.P.”

“Does it... stand for anything in particular?” Beethoven was always leery of trendy acronyms and internet-speak with its fatuous abbreviations drove him to distraction when he read his e-mails, especially from people who should know better.

“Yes, it does: it stood originally for the Sanctity of Marriage party. Later, it became more inclusive of other issues to become 'Save Our Morality.' Those people who once joked that it meant 'Serve One Master' no longer exist.”

“Exist? What do you mean...?”

“I mean,” the spirit replied laconically, “they no longer EXIST. You can do the math.”

“But where did they go? What did they do with them?”

“By 'they,' do you mean 'They' who govern or 'they' who are governed? Your questioning will only get you in trouble, Ludwig. By law, you can use an indefinite number of exclamation points, but question marks must be used sparingly. It fosters an attitude with which the government is uncomfortable.”

“Ach! This music is terrible,” Beethoven blurted out, covering his ears. It pervaded everything, wafting over the streets in its innocuous blandness.

“It is not a question of music – or art – being terrible but serving its function. Art, such as it is these days, has a pre-determined role in society. Where as before it had been reduced to being merely entertainment, now it was meant to calm the emotions, to foster a sense of serenity – in short, to control peoples' behavior.”

“Soviet socialist realism! Bah, hogwash!”

“No, Ludwig, it's not the Soviet Union reborn. It is its own.”

Beethoven felt himself shiver.

“I don't even hear anything from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker! I thought that would never lose its popularity!”

“Given its consumerist frivolity, the ballet of which you speak no longer exists. In fact, none of your friend's music does. It has all been banned.”

“Banned!? What the hell for? I mean – sorry – whatever for?”

“Because Tchaikovsky was, they say, a... homosexual.” The spirit whispered this last word in a conspiratorial tone. Apparently it was not a banned word but one said in only a certain tone of voice which, Beethoven thought, the spirit must have captured just right for the implications were most chilling.

“But what does that have to with whether his music is good or not?” Beethoven was beginning to wonder about his quotient of question marks and was trying to think how he could word them so as not to deplete his meager allowance.

The spirit made a deep sigh and seemed to consume itself inwards before expanding again with his cautiously worded reply.

“You see, Ludwig, after the S.O.M. defeated laws and amendments in all those states that tried to promote what was known as 'Same-Sex Marriage,' their followers continued to elect their cohorts to state and local governments and finally took over the Congress and the Presidency. And soon they managed to institute other laws to protect the sanctity of marriage.”

“How could they... uhm, and they did this by... er...” Beethoven could not find the proper wording to make it a declarative statement, so he left his thought unfinished.

First, the spirit began to explain, after building the case on the biblical definition of 'marriage,' the newly reconstituted Congress with its now partisan majority began to pass other faith-based laws, initially with the support of many of the churches who had been so opposed to the Same-Sex Marriage bills and referendums. Once the abortion laws were repealed, there was the new law that made divorce illegal. There was a good deal of contention about this initially but the moderate American public no longer had the support of liberals who had been trounced in the elections and the gay population who saw no reason to stand up against something that didn't concern them: if you couldn't marry, what was the sense of exerting yourself over something else you couldn't do? They chose to repay disinterest in kind.

“The S.O.M.'s motto was 'We Tell You the Truth.'” The spirit veered sharply off to the right and Beethoven found himself scrambling to keep up with it.

“Truth? Whose truth!” Beethoven was incensed. Had he not written a great symphony to a hero only to destroy the dedication to a single man who became a tyrant fortified – deluded, even – by his sense of power? Didn't that single non-musical act turn it into a work of universal understanding about the spirit of the hero that lives within us all?

Eventually, the spirit dolefully continued, the S.O.M., supported by a population expanded by the Quiverfull Movement's success, eliminated the opposition. People who once considered themselves mildly conservative now found themselves branded as liberals by comparison.

“As for the real liberals, well...” the spirit explained, its already weak voice trailing off into the ether. Most of them were reduced to voices crying in the wilderness, the spirit explained, where they escaped to avoid persecution, those that couldn't escape to Canada or Australia or who managed to find some room in the crowded corners of Europe's numerous refugee camps.

Pointing to a barricaded entrance to a subway, the spirit added, “in New York, most of those who stayed went underground. In time, they will all die out completely – if they haven't already.” It shrugged its metaphorical shoulders, two soft undulations of light as if to say “but what could be done about it?”

Soon, the spirit continued to explain, laws were passed to make adultery a criminal offense, sending most of the politicians and many of the preachers to languish in prison along with thousands of fine, otherwise upstanding citizens and public figures. The prisons were too small and too few to hold them all, so they converted the department stores that now stood empty in the shopping malls – the ones that had gone out of business after the economy finally collapsed – or the old libraries which stood empty after most of the books had been burned. “There, these suffering souls are guarded by unmarried menopausal women wearing black robes and hoods who make the memory of those stern, ruler-wielding nuns in Catholic schools across America seem as benign as the Welcome Wagon from days of yore.”

Men who ran the government – since women were now barred from teaching and preaching much less running for public office – enacted more laws concerning virginity and marriage. Seat Belt laws were soon replaced by Chastity Belt laws. Public stoning was brought back as the execution of choice for crimes against morality.

But these were only part of a program to return society to its old moral foundations. Laws against eating lobster and shrimp, for example, may have ruined the fishing industry but, the spirit mentioned under its faint breath, “there was still a healthy underground business in some locations, especially in the remoter parts of Maine, where you could go to a 'speakeasy' to get a good lobster dinner, if you knew the right password – and had enough money.”

“But so many artists, so many musicians and composers are gay. How could art survive in America without them?”

A sweep of a pale, thin arm – a single ray of dessicated light – over the scene below them was his only answer. For a long time, government support for the arts had become a luxury, not a necessity. Who cared if children grew up never hearing an orchestra or acting in a play, painting a picture or singing in a choir? Or even reading the great novels of the past, much less writing one? Now, art has almost ceased unless it had a religious function.

“But, certainly, my music is still played and loved, here,” Beethoven said hoarsely, barely confident that he had now found a declarative statement he could feel fairly sure of.

There was a pause and the swirl of light faded as they descended closer to the ground, passing effortlessly through the roof of a large church. A large group of people, all dressed rather shabbily and similarly, sat there during Morning Prayers on their way to work, the first of three services they were required to attend each day.

Beethoven turned up his hearing aid so he could understand what they were singing. The tune sounded familiar enough.

Faithful, faithful, we surround Thee,
God who gives us everything;
Saving us from Hell's damnation,
God protects the wedding ring.
Banish sin from our surroundings,
Help us understand You well.
Take the evil unbelievers,
Let them burn and rot in Hell.

Beethoven hummed along, proud to know his tune had been chosen as the National Anthem for the European Union. But soon he broke off in utter confusion. “Why,” he declared in amazement, “that's my 'Ode to Joy,' but how could they sing such words to music inspired by love and universal brotherhood?”

“Your music is 'out-of-fashion,' now, Ludwig.” The spirit did not sound terribly concerned about this, despite the look of shock on his guest's face. “Too emotional, too grand, too demanding of the intellect without any true religious merit. Too... controversial!”

Beethoven stood there with his mouth agape.

“And your friend, Mr. Tchaikovsky,” the spirit asked simply: “where do you think he is, now?”

“Probably back at Stravinsky's Tavern sitting at the back end of the bar, I would imagine,” Beethoven grumpled indignantly. “At least, that's where he was earlier tonight, gloating over attending yet another performance of that blasted ballet of his...” Then he thought better of his smugness and shrugged his shoulders. “No, I guess he wouldn't be, then, would he? Not any more...”

“No, Ludwig. There are no bars and night clubs any more in all of America,” the spirit hissed. “They've all been rooted out with all the other Palaces of Sinful Excess.”

Beethoven could feel a rising dislike for this spirit but perhaps it was only for what he was telling him. Even though he could no longer feel the brutal intensity of the cold, he wished this visitation would soon end so he could return to the warmth and comfort of his old familiar rooms.

“And the children with their looks of joy and wonder, dancing to his music, Ludwig: what became of them, now?” The spirit took him away, rising slowly through the brightly lit church windows into the dim streets beyond. “Or to those who'd listened to your own music, whether struggling to play the Moonlight Sonata or listening to your Ninth Symphony...? What's become of them, now?”

“Now?” He thought back on the serious, single-minded faces of those he'd seen singing his melody without expression. “There is no joy in it. They have forgotten.” Suddenly, he felt very sad, his anger changed to dejection. “They have forgotten what art can do.”

A tear formed on his cheek and quickly froze. He wanted to bury his face in his hands out of shame, out of pity.

“Tell me, spirit, if you can speak of this,” Ludwig wanted to know. “These visions you have shown me this cold winter night: are they destined to become fact or may things still be changed?”

The light began to twist slowly and fade off into the distance with a soft moan barely audible over the wind that swirled around them.

“No, don't go, don't leave me here, spirit, alone in this inhospitable world!” Beethoven cried out in fear, clicking his heels together. He closed his eyes and began to chant, “There's no place like home! There's no place like home!”


When he opened his eyes, he was practically fettered by the giant tangles he had made of his bedspread. It was a bright sunny morning and the snow outside his windows sparkled as he looked out on the familiar sight. Craning his neck to the far left side of the bedroom window, with great relief he could see the sign that pointed out his favorite haunt.

“Yes, it's still there. I can still read it! Stravinsky's Tavern hasn't been closed down!”

Jumping for joy in an odd little dance, Beethoven then turned on the television set and heard yet another car commercial with the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy tinkling away in the background. Usually, this would have just enraged him and he would have promptly taken out his hearing aids in disgust.

Instead, he thought “what a magical sonority Old Peter has created here – how delicious to have found an instrument that could make such wonderful sounds as that! Oh, to be alive today to be able to hear it!”

He ran to the now empty living room and threw open the window, seeing a young boy building an awkward snowman on the sidewalk below. Knowing the geezer-stooge who lived there was a cantankerous old man, the boy immediately dove for protection behind his snowman.

“You there, young man!” He recognized him as one of the neighbor's sons.

The boy looked around to see whom he was addressing.

“Yes, you, I mean. What day is it? Is it Christmas Day?”

Dumbfounded, the boy nodded that it was.

“Wait there, will you?” And Beethoven shut the window and sat down at his little writing desk beside his old piano. He scribbled out a quick note, stuffed it in a hastily addressed envelope and returned to the window, throwing it down toward the boy.

“Could you deliver this invitation to Tchaikovsky's house over on Floribunda Lane? Hah, I forgot to ask you, 'Please.' It's not far – oh, and wait...” He reached into the wallet he kept in the desk drawer and pulled out some crisp fresh twenties he'd gotten from the MAC-machine last week, and threw them down, too.

“Go to Da Ponte's Market down on the Square and reserve that great roast goose they'd had in their window yesterday. And have them deliver it here this afternoon, along with a plate of stuffing and vegetables – and some cookies – oh, and some gingerbread men,too (hah hah)... And, let's see.... a tray full of sugar plums and... ah!” He pulled out another twenty and threw it down to the gape-mouthed boy. “A plate of oysters, if you please – make sure they're fresh, will you? Would you do that for me, please? I would so appreciate it – and keep the change... no wait,” he stopped to calculate and threw another twenty after the last one, “that should be enough to leave some change for you. Merry... Merry...” His lips struggled to form the word. “Merry Chrillfimm... Merry...”

The boy looked up at him, holding the money in one mittened hand and the envelope in the other. “Merry Christmas, you mean, sir?”

“Yes, yes, that's it. Ha! Merry Christmas! Yes, indeed - that is exactly what I mean: Merry Christmas! Ha ha!”

And as the boy ran off in great amazement, Beethoven pulled the window snuggly shut and began to prepare the shabby little table for his impending guests. He knew there wasn't much space – not even chairs – so he would make it a buffet where people could stand around and talk. He threw a faded old oriental rug over the piano in case he needed any extra space for platters or dishes – at least for the oysters!

He went on-line and e-mailed additional invitations for his afternoon reception, apologizing for the spontaneity of it all. “Let's see,” he said clicking through his address book, “the Mendelssohns (both Felix and Fanny), there's Handel, Brahms... there's Mozart, Stravinsky and... well, he'd said they already signed it, but I'll include the Schumanns, of course, and the Mahlers and the Wagners, too... oh, and Bruckner, he'll do anything Wagner does... and Chopin: certainly he must sign even if he can't bring Georges Sand with him today... Who else...? Ah, I wonder if Britten is in town this weekend? I imagine Old Bach will be far too busy with all of his family, but... well, ask them, anyway.” And when he was done, he clicked on send, then began to search for a small Pennsylvania college he had remembered the second spirit mentioning what seemed like only moments ago.

Meanwhile, across town, there was even more amazement in the wake of the boy's hurried dash, stopping first at Da Ponte's where old Lorenzo smiled not only at his request but at the money he had offered him; then, moments later, at Tchaikovsky's house on the East End of town.

Bob Davidov thanked the boy and took the envelope, its address barely legible, out to the kitchen where his uncle and their friend Ravel were wrestling with the Christmas turkey, arguing about whether the stuffing should be cooked inside the bird or in a separate bowl, entendrés aside.

“Uncle Peter, this just arrived.” He handed it to him with a quizzical expression. “I've no idea who it's from.”

“Why, with ink stains like that, it can only be from one person. Old Beethoven himself! I wonder what is so important he sends a note around on Christmas morning?” He dried his hands off on a dishtowel and carefully opened the seal. Ravel watched as if he half expected it to explode in confetti. The handwriting was difficult enough to read, as it was:





“As I almost live and barely breathe,” Tchaikovsky said, stunned, handing the note to Ravel who promptly brushed his hands off on his apron before receiving the unexpected letter.

Nephew Bob laughed the loudest as Ravel joined in with them.

“I never expected a Christmas present like this,” Tchaikovsky said. And they danced around the kitchen, humming the “Ode to Joy.”

All across town, as people checked their e-mail, there was great surprise to be receiving something from the one they all called Maestro.

The Mendelssohns, the Schumanns and Brahms had all made plans to get together for some chamber music after dinner but they quickly changed them, agreeing it could wait until after Beethoven's reception.

Chopin opened his mail and immediately forwarded it to Georges with the heading, “You must join me! Please? I could never face him alone!”

Bruckner crossed himself and quickly sent a reply, “I would be most honored to attend.”

Britten was also surprised and with an arched eyebrow, called out to the kitchen, “Peter, come look at this!”

That's when Beethoven found what he was looking for. There, in the college's list of students was a junior composition major named Timothy... and only one piano major named Benjamin. “It must be them,” he said to the empty room. He knew they would not be able to open any e-mails from him since mortals beyond the town of Coalton were not able to see or hear these great composers anymore in human form, but he knew the message could be delivered in other ways, by a technology far more ancient than anything the internet had ever dreamed of – inspiration!

So he wrote to him anyway, to Tim, and told him to persevere when reality got him down: if he had doubts, to remember the anguish other composers have had to deal with and overcome. Oh, he knew it sounded all very trite and predictable, the musical equivalent of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, but didn't young musicians everywhere find inspiration in Beethoven's struggles to create his music? If he could only touch this young man, now, and give him some extra courage to face his demons – he was sure a man of 20 with a father like that would have demons, after all. But if he could find inspiration with the one he loved, with this pianist named Ben, who was he to deny him the courage to create what he knew in his brain and felt in his heart?

He sent the e-mail.

And as he did so, Beethoven heard a little ding: he knew, every time you hear a bell, an angel gets his wings.

Later that day, in another small Pennsylvania town, when he stood up from the table after his father had started yelling at him again, Tim walked into his room, slammed the door and looked for his iPod. He chose to listen to his favorite piece – his mother had often said to him “if sound files could wear out like my old LPs did, you'd wear that one out, for sure” – and settled back to find not escape but strength to go on, in the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

When he got to the variation with the solo quartet, he hummed along with the words he knew by heart in German:

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!

(Whoever has had the great fortune
To be a friend's friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth!)

That was when the idea came to him. It had nothing to do with Beethoven or his Ode to Joy: it just came to him out of the blue, mid-phrase, one of those unexpected epiphanies. Tim quickly jotted it down and knew right away it was something he could use for that piano concerto he wanted to compose for Ben. “Yes!” he said to himself, pumping his arm: “it's begun!”

As the men from Da Ponte's arrived with boxes of steaming food – Da Ponte himself carried the oysters – Beethoven felt a warmth he had not felt for well over a century. He put out plates and glasses, silverware and things like this he hadn't used for even longer, humming some of his own music, set to some of Schiller's words,

Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth!

The doorbell rang and Beethoven went down to greet his first guests. “Merry Christmas,” he practiced on the steps, “Merry Christmas! God bless us, every one!”

*** THE END ***

- - - - - - -
Dr. Dick
© 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Beethoven's Christmas Carol: Chapter Three

In the previous installments (Chapter One and Chapter Two), Beethoven, following an uncomfortable discussion with Tchaikovsky at Stravinsky's Tavern and a visit from Anton Schindler's ghost, was visited by the first of three spirits which took him on a quick flight through the past. But now, as this parody of Charles Dickens' holiday classic continues, it is time for the appearance of the next visitor Beethoven is to receive this cold winter's night...


In the midst of a deep snore, Beethoven once again awoke to a sense of chill in the air. His room was silent, there was nothing he could see or, he noticed, hear, not even the faint sound of bells he recalled from what could only have been moments ago. Not a creature, he was certain, was stirring, not even that mouse he occasionally heard scrabbling around in the ceiling.

But gradually a light began to show underneath the frame of his bedroom door. Someone was moving around in his living room. What is this neighborhood coming to that some low-life would break into someone's home to rob them on Christmas Eve?

Quietly, he got out of bed and tip-toed to the door, turning the knob as noiselessly as possible so he could surprise the intruder.

It was not what he expected, someone dressed in black with his grubby hands on the TV set. Instead, the room was completely different from any way he had ever seen it before, decked in boughs of holly with ornaments and candles everywhere he looked. There was a tree covered in lights and tinsel in the corner, a miniature train circling a tiny village beneath it. Plates of cookies and a bowl of punch filled the elegant mahogany coffee table with its scrolled edges replacing the cheap and well-worn bench he had long been using. There was even a stocking marked “LUDWIG” hung by the chimney with care.

And in the midst of the room stood a handsome young man, jolly and blond and dapperly dressed in what clearly was gay apparel designed by Don Wienauer.

Beethoven stood in the doorway in amazement at how his room had been transformed.

“Oh, hi – you must be Beethoven,” the young man said when he turned and saw the grumpy old man in his night-shirt.

“And you, I take it, are my second visitor tonight?” he said, half wearily.

“That's right: I'm your Christmas Present!” He threw his arms out in a well-practiced theatrical gesture and beamed. “Ta-daaah!”

“Hrmmph,” Beethoven said, shuffling over to the tray of sweets. “I hope you mean the 'Ghost of Christmas Present.' Otherwise, I would prefer it if you were a young lass named Helga.”

“I can do that! But seriously, honey, if I had any lesbians working for me tonight, I'd've been done here in half the time! You've got to try one of these brownies. They're faaaabulous!” Beethoven nibbled at it cautiously, careful not to be standing under any mistletoe, but nodded his approval enthusiastically as he reached for another one.

“Mmmm,” he groaned, “speaking of sin: these are delicious!”

“Ah! Time to join the party,” the spirit said and rose a foot or so off the floor. “Here,” he said, holding out his scarf, “hold on to this: careful, it's classic Gucci – silk, too!”

Classics, he understood; Gucci and silk combined with scarf meant nothing to him. Young people, these days...

And in a moment, they had left the would-be party behind. The building he lived in disappeared beneath them but soon they arrived at another house, a newly built one in the pricey subdivision across town. It wasn't necessarily more stately or lavish as more detailed and elegant than the rest. Inside, the rooms were beautifully painted: the parlor with its marble fireplace had walls painted a shade of rich, deep red, almost purple but not as intense, offset by blindingly white trim and silver decorations. Even the tree was decorated in silver. The dining table had been expanded to accommodate everyone and was piled high with the remains of a great feast, much like Beethoven's simpler room had been when they so suddenly left it.

It was Tchaikovsky's house and he sat at the head of the table, his nephew Bob Davidov to his right and his close friend Camille Saint-Saëns to his left. Beethoven realized it was almost entirely men, with the exception of Dame Ethel Smyth dressed rather manishly and almost unnoticeable amidst the likes of Samuel Barber and Gian-Carlo Menotti, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Ravel, Reynaldo Hahn, Poulenc, Schubert and Telemann, making in all an even dozen, whether it read like a Naughty List or not.

Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saëns were laughing about their performance of Pygmalion and Galatea, the French composer playing the leading lady complete with tutu, while Nikolai Rubinstein played the piano for them on the empty stage of the Moscow Conservatory after-hours.

“And your 'Swan,' of course, is one of the most beautifully danceable melodies every written,” Tchaikovsky concluded.

“What is one swan to a lake full of them, my friend. But you wounded me, you know,” Saint-Saëns added with a mock-serious tone, waving his fork at him, “when you came to Paris the next year and ignored me.”

“You had just married that nineteen-year-old woman, you know – what's her name” (and at that, several of them laughed), “so I figured the last thing you wanted to be reminded of was your little Pygmalion!”

“And who would have guessed the year after that that you yourself would have gotten married!?” Saint-Saëns left out a great guffaw. “But then, in those days, women were all we could marry, you know,” he turned, looking down the table toward the others.

“I would have been very happy marrying a woman,” Dame Ethel announced quite seriously and again they all laughed.

“Yes, yes, all well and good,” Ravel began once the hilarity died down, “and here we are, over 130 years after your little pas de deux, and women are still all you could marry – no offense, Ethel.”

“What was that sign I saw on the news last week,” Poulenc interjected, “one of the protesters in New York – 'If I can't marry my boyfriend, then I'll marry your daughter'? I loved that!” He raised his wine glass in a toast which was answered by several of the guests.

“Well, you've all signed my petition about this Same-Sex Marriage bill, not that it will do any good, I'm sure.” Tchaikovsky put his wine glass down and everyone became quiet.

“If they really want to protect the 'sanctity of marriage,'” Reynaldo Hahn interposed, placing quotation marks around the expression with his fingers, “perhaps we should propose they pass legislation abolishing divorce and making adultery a criminal offense?”

That would get rid of most of the politicians!” There seemed to be general agreement that, realistic or not, the idea would present the legislators with a conundrum.

“No, no,” Davidov piped up, indignant at the argument. “We don't need any fatuous gestures like that, wasting our energy and losing focus on the real argument. We need to get everybody motivated to get out and campaign for it, get it on the ballots and convince everybody to vote for it – that's how democracy works in this country.”

“And it worked so well in California and Maine, didn't it?” Saint-Saëns answered with clear disdain.

“If it hadn't been on the ballot in Ohio in 2004, John Kerry might have become President,” Samuel Barber pointed out.

“But how can a bunch of dead composers influence the American political process,” Schubert asked, “even with our American friends, here?” Barber was clearly delighted to have been acknowledged by the master of German Song even though he was reluctant to get involved in politics, alive or dead.

“That didn't stop those Utah Morons from campaigning in California and Maine!” Ms. Smyth was getting hot under her collar.

“I believe you mean Mormons, Dame Ethel,” Poulenc corrected her with a twinkle. Even Beethoven, standing in the corner beside his guide, enjoyed that one.

“Please, please, I prefer ballets to ballots, myself,” Tchaikovsky pleaded, clinking a fork against his wine glass for their attention. “Just yesterday, we were sitting in the tavern – Bob and I – and Mahler said he and Alma would sign our petition; Wagner and Cosima, too. Schumann was rather reluctant to get involved but Clara picked up the pen and signed both their names.”

“Good old Clara – always did wear the pants in that family,” Ravel interjected.

Tchaikovsky looked pleased with the progress they had been making and added, “Why, I think even Old Beethoven might come around.”

“Wha'!? You're joking?!” Saint-Saëns was dumbfounded.

That old curmudgeon? I would've thought he had no interest in this!” Telemann spoke up distastefully. “I am so glad, I can tell you, that my career was over long before Beethoven was around: how you guys had to deal with his legacy, I'll never know.”

“Beethoven will never sign. All that stuff about Napoleon this and Eroica that – that was the old Beethoven. He has no stomach for politics today, I'm afraid. Sits on his laurels, these days.”

“But, Dame Ethel, that is all we can do, these days,” Saint-Saëns said, shrugging his shoulders at her. He thought of all the symphonies and operas he could have been writing in the eighty-eight years since he died.

“It's been a while since all those articles had come out about his own potential homosexual tendencies,” Ravel joked. “He's probably forgotten what it's like to under a microscope.”

“Homosexual tendencies? Ludwig? Do tell!”

“Oh, the fact he never married and had this thing for his nephew. Some of these modern psychologists even think because he had all this inner turmoil, he was conflicted about his sexuality, for some reason.”

“Well, I got married and I can assure you, it didn't mean I was straight!” Saint-Saëns poured himself some more wine.

“Hey, Beethoven could be a jovial enough guy, hanging out with his friends in the pub. It was rough, being deaf and all that,” Schubert added in his defense.

“Do we even know for certain if the Immortal Beloved WAS a woman?”

“Oooh, now there's an interesting twist,” Ravel chuckled. “Maybe we can plant a letter in some dusty archive somewhere with all masculine pronouns in it, instead! That'll give these scholars something to chew on for a while!”

“Please, please, it's Christmas,” Tchaikovsky said, trying to tone down the conversation. “A toast – to Beethoven!”

Several joined in with enthusiasm, others with reluctance.

“He's a genius, I'll grant you that, given all that incredible music he wrote,” Saint-Saëns said between sips.

Ravel raised his glass again. “And they called you the 'French Beethoven.' You should be honored”

“Hey, everybody remembers Beethoven's birthday: does anyone even recall that I died on the same date? Do they?”

And with that, the spirit shook his silk Gucci scarf at Beethoven, suggesting he take hold. As the conversation continued around the table, they rose back into the afternoon sky, a crisp sunny day even if he felt, at the moment, a bit deflated.

“They used to call me Herr Dumpling, my friends at the tavern...”

In the distance, he could hear the voice continuing to intone words from the Bible. The spirit motioned to him to be silent and listen. Beethoven realized the innocent voice of the child had long strayed from the original Christmas story.

Let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians: 14:34-35.)

The spirit, now in a more serious mood, commented how, today, scholars argued that these misogynistic statements conflicted with many of Paul's general statements about the equality of men and women standing before Jesus. Things like this were probably interpolated into the Bible by religious leaders in the first few centuries of the developing church. Did that reflect the society during the time of Christ or during the Dark Ages when the Church Fathers no doubt saw it is a reaction against Roman liberalism? If that is the case, who was “playing fast and loose” with God's Word when?

Beethoven was silent, not knowing what exactly this had to do with Christmas or, for that matter, with him.

The voice continued reciting:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Beethoven thought for a moment: are not politicians like thieves? Does not all this worship of the Bottom Line make more than just some corporate executives greedy? How many people are getting drunk this week? Are not tabloid publishers, politicians and commercial writers also slanderers and swindlers, much less all that promiscuity and adultery that is part of our television entertainment? You never hear anything about them, no legislation to protect us from them. “One must move with the times,” he often heard.

They arrived at a house he did not recognize in a town he had never heard of with people he had never seen before sitting around a dinner table much like his own. It was smaller and far simpler than the one he had recently seen at Tchaikovsky's Christmas Dinner, but filled with a suitable feast for the family reunion on such a day. The home was simply decorated but the spirit of love between them all needed no such excuse to be expressed.

“Spirit,” he asked, “are these friends of mine that I have lost track of over the years, or people whom I might have met somehow?”

“The young man, there – his name is Tim – wants to be a composer some day and he studies at a small college in Pennsylvania. In his childhood bedroom, he had a bust of you on his desk and a volume of your piano sonatas on his piano at all times. They're still there.”

Tim had just turned 20, the oldest of the three children: the others were Beth and Brenda, both still in their teens. Their father's parents had joined them for the day and the mother and grandmother had spent much of the morning preparing the feast with the ample assistance of all three of the children. Tim, it seemed, was growing into a knowledgeable cook and his mother was duly proud of him if for no other reason than, as she thought to herself, he would make someone a fine husband some day.

But the dinner discussion, as often happened, was beginning to turn sour when it hit upon a subject Tim knew was coming.

He missed his lover, Ben, a pianist he had met when they'd first started college. They had fallen in love from the very beginning. Together, they dreamed some day of being able to get married, but the recent news – from California, from Maine and just the other week, New York – disappointed them. Still, they made their plans to spend their lives together even if there was no piece of paper to make them 'legal' in the eyes of society. On the wall of their off-campus apartment (since it had been too risky to share a dorm-room, given the jocks on the floor who would certainly make their lives miserable), they had hung posters of composers and performers like John Corigliano, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and, over the faux fireplace, a portrait of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Tim's big dream, by this time next year, was that he could finish a piano concerto to present to Ben for Christmas which he could perform with the school orchestra in the Spring of their senior year.

His mother knew much about this without having been told and what she didn't know, she sensed, the way mothers do. Today, especially, she felt a tear in her eye, fearing how things will no doubt eventually turn since her husband strongly disapproved of Tim's chosen profession, not to mention his chosen lifestyle (if one 'chooses' either). Like his own father, her husband had raised his son, he constantly reminded him, to be a man, as if that were all his argument needed to stop his son's opposition.

Not long after Beethoven arrived, his guiding spirit now no longer as flamboyant as he'd first appeared, the arguments began. It was painful to see the young man brow-beaten by his own father, especially in front of the entire family, but Beethoven knew of this first-hand himself. He had hated his father and would see no reason to believe why Tim shouldn't hate his.

“The boy is 20, now, you say, yet he still lives with his parents. Why doesn't he leave and go out on his own?”

“In America, there is a small thing called College Tuition – well, not a small thing – but the general sense is, if the parents are still footing the bill, the child is still under their control, one way or another. Independence at 18 is only in the eyes of the law – well, some of them – since they're still not legally adults until they are 21. Oh, I know – they can die in the Army when they're 18 and even vote in a Presidential election but they aren't considered mature enough to drink in a bar for three more years – but many things don't seem fair or make logical sense.” Turning to Beethoven, he added, “Did they ever?”

Beethoven shook his head.

Along with the father's rising arguments, Beethoven now heard the voice of the child reciting scripture again:

Suppose a man marries a woman, but after sleeping with her, he turns against her and publicly accuses her of shameful conduct, saying, ‘When I married this woman, I discovered she was not a virgin.’ ...But suppose the man’s accusations are true, and he can show that she was not a virgin. The woman must be taken to the door of her father’s home, and there the men of the town must stone her to death, for she has committed a disgraceful crime in Israel by being promiscuous while living in her parents’ home. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22:13-14, 20-21)

“But the argument is flawed,” Beethoven admitted.

“All arguments are flawed, Herr Ludwig. Climate Science, according to one side, is a myth; the Holocaust, according to one side, is a myth; that man landed on the moon, according to some, could be an elaborate hoax created in a TV studio... How are we to know, even if we see it with our own eyes?”

The spirit pointed, focusing Beethoven's attention back to the dinner table.

“And yet,” he continued, “Tim's mother knows his sister Beth, who's 16, is already having sex with her boyfriend. She just wishes her daughter would be careful but can find nothing to say against it, considering she herself had not been a virgin on her wedding night (her husband had seen to that). In fact, she was born only four months after her own parents' wedding.”

True, Beethoven had been outraged when his brother's wife gave birth to their son – his nephew Karl – only four months after their wedding. He constantly threw this back at her, this Queen of the Night, he called her, especially when he was suing her for custody of the child. And rightly so, he thought. She was still bringing her lovers into the house when the boy was sleeping. What kind of morality is that for a child to grow up in!? But still, it didn't seem enough to kill her for it.

The spirit continued. “It didn't seem like such a big deal, but Tim's mother wished her husband didn't think it was the end of the world that their son should prefer boys over girls: she just wanted him to be happy. There was enough to worry about in their lives – this seemed almost trivial, considering.”

She also knew there was a gift her husband had made her wrap for the boy – a rifle, of all things – despite the fact he was horrified of guns and violence. If anything, she feared the boy would lose his mind and shoot his father with it or, worse, himself.

Tim was trying to explain for the thousandth time why he wanted to be a composer, despite the fact it probably wasn't a very lucrative career choice. He also tried to explain about one of his favorite composers, Benjamin Britten, who'd lived together with his 'life partner,' Peter Pears, for forty years.

“Aw, isn't that too bad, forty years,” he chided in a childish little voice, “and no children.”

“I don't know, Dad, there's Peter Grimes and Albert Herring and A Midsummer Night's Dream and... and Death in Venice and...”

“Jesus Christ! What the hell is that?”

“They're operas that Britten wrote for his lover to sing – he created them for him and they're some of the best operas written in the 20th Century.”

Beethoven nodded in agreement on that one: he always envied Britten his talent for writing operas.

The father threw down his knife and fork and made a face, acting like a sissy and speaking in a high, falsetto voice. “Ooooh, opera!! Lah de daaaah!” The grandfather laughed but even the girls lowered their eyes in embarrassment.

“I raised you to be a man, boy, not to be some rotten little homo picking up fruits in a fag bar,” the father now shouted at his son.

Tim tried to control himself, and when he stood up, he was tempted to drop his pants and yell “Well, I AM a man, Dad, how d'you like those apples, speaking of fruit?!”

But instead he said “God bless us, every one!” and excused himself, going up to his room, slamming the door behind him and looking to his iPod for consolation. He suspected, meanwhile, Ben was going through a similar scene around his family's dinner table. And with that idea in his mind, he felt the warmth of love and friendship in his blood.

“You'll burn in hell, ya know – the Bible says so!”

“Dear, please,” the mother tried to protest, “it's Christmas.”

“And Christ would be pleased to see us sitting here celebrating his birthday with some little faggot? Jesus!”

Beethoven, indignant, raised his arms and intoned at the top of his lungs,

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.

Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.

Climactic lines from Schiller's Ode to Joy - but when he realized no one could hear him in this room today, his hands fell limply to his side. In the distance the reciting voice of the child continued:

"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. Then he adds, 'Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.' And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (Hebrews 10:16-18)

“The New Covenant – that's right, the New Testament replaced the Old Testament's covenant and laws!”

Beethoven seem surprised to realize this, since so many Christians throw the Old Testament laws around at anything they disapproved of. It may still be a sin but there is a new covenant in effect – and that, he realized, is part of what they're celebrating on this feast day, not Santa Claus or how much money you can spend on gifts, not just the birthday of a boy, even if that boy was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but the birth of a whole new world, one built on – dare he say it in the presence of this particular father? – love and forgiveness.

The radio in the background had been playing Christmas carols but then a newscast crackled into prominence. The announcer continued, “And in other news this Christmas weekend, in Uganda, the legislators debated a bill that could sentence men to death for being homosexuals in an attempt to curb the spread of AIDS. Friends, family, even landlords and neighbors could be liable for seven years' imprisonment for failing to report them to the authorities. As one legislator commented, 'It is what we are told to do when our communities are struck by Mad Cow Disease or Avian Flu – kill anything that could be infected with the virus to keep it from spreading...'”

“No,” Beethoven shouted, “take me away from here, spirit, take me away!”

And with that, the spirit handed Beethoven the edge of his Gucci silk scarf, and off they flew, into the darkest night.

They stood in his living room as if they had never left his simple little apartment in downtown Coalton. The tables were still packed with food and bottles of wine – including something he hadn't noticed before: a plate of oysters!

“As I live and breathe,” he said to the spirit, “I love oysters! I thought how wonderful it would be to live someplace other than Vienna – perhaps Trieste which had the best, freshest oysters!”

“Well, dear, you got part of your wish – you are living someplace other than Vienna and these are fresh! I brought them myself.”

The distant recitation continued:

These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you: They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.” (Leviticus 11:9-12)

Beethoven was about to pour some wine when he stopped to listen. “Whatsoever hath not fins and scales is an abomination? What does that mean!”

The spirit was busy filling up a plate and said nonchalantly, “oh, that just means you can't eat shrimp or lobster – or oysters, for that matter. Here, have some of this awesome pork roast!”

“Tell me, spirit, what will happen to Tim and his... his lover – Ben, is it? Will they be able to survive in a world so full of hate? I mean... as a couple...?”

The spirit looked at him and said sourly, “Why do these people feel the need to get married? Can't they just live their lives without having to have everyone pat them on the back for it? Why this need to imitate societal conventions...?”

Hearing his own words thrown back at him, he realized the room began to turn all wavy as the music swooped up and down the scale like a slowly building alarm. In a moment, everything went black.

To be continued...

- - - - - - -
Dr. Dick
© 2009