Thursday, June 07, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 36
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, SHMRG's Director of Social Media, Office Supplies & Classical, Man Kaye, prepared the biographical segment on the composer Richard Wagner, someone he clearly (like many people) has issues with. He also realizes, when Klangfarben succeeds in eliminating Wagner, part of 'Operation: Fate Knocks at the Door,' this whole biography project will have been unnecessary.
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The news that morning could not have been worse: yesterday, a third Prussian battalion entered Dresden during the morning and soon had the New City under control. There was the threat more artillery and cavalry were on the road behind them. The heavy artillery had been silent the last two days, given over to rifles and bayonets which inflicted most of the damage on his compatriots. It was said there were more dead than wounded: the royal army was showing very little mercy. But at this point, Wagner had no doubts left: it was over.
All night long, they had been ringing church bells across the Old City, then at 4:00 in the morning, they started firing guns and rifles but it was all a screen meant to cover the retreat. Then the bells of the Frauenkirche began ringing "three-by-three," the old-fashioned death knell mourning the revolution’s dead or perhaps for the revolution itself.
Everyone was leaving the city by the only route of escape possible – to the south-southwest toward Freiberg and Chemnitz. Wagner had fled the night before, taking Minna, his wife, to Chemnitz where they would stay with his sister and from there go to Weimar, outside Saxony, to stay with Franz Liszt.
That had been the plan, at any rate.
Impetuous as ever, the hot-headed composer returned to the Saxon capital that evening. An ardent supporter of the cause and a first-hand witness throughout six days of fighting, he felt the need to see how it ended.
Along the way, he fell in with a group of soldiers from the Chemnitz Community Guard, marching to Dresden in support of the revolution. At least the good people of Chemnitz came through with tangible support. Their allies in Leipzig made plenty of fiery speeches but did nothing to stop their battalions from leaving to support the king's troops. Things might have gone better in the Saxon capital if their supporters had succeeded, but once the Prussian troops arrived from Berlin, the out-numbered and inexperienced defenders of the Provisional Government had no chance of winning.
When the guard reached Freiberg, twenty miles outside Dresden, news arrived the city had already fallen to the Prussian troops. Was there any reason for them to risk continuing their journey? Was it a lost cause?
Wagner agreed to take their message directly to his friends in the Provisional Government and send back an emissary with the latest information.
Tramping down the road from the Erzgebirge, sneaking into the city by twilight, and finding Semper and Bakunin at the Rathaus where the Provisional Government tried holding things together despite the odds, Wagner delivered his message. An emissary was sent, though Wagner was amused they'd heard Chemnitz was sending fourteen hundred volunteers when he'd seen only a few hundred.
The Russian Bakunin, who'd arrived in Dresden with hundreds of Czech and Polish volunteers, and Semper, the architect who'd built the opera house and then the barricades, greeted the composer at dawn on the Frauenkirche’s steps.
Everyone kept asking him whether he'd heard anything from Röckel. No one had seen him since Monday morning. Everyone presumed, then, he'd either been shot or had already escaped. Karl August Röckel, a choral conductor in the city, was a better rabble-rouser than a musician, so yes, this silence was unlike him. They moved inside to a small chapel.
They'd recently been joined by another associate who appeared as if from nowhere. He introduced himself to Wagner as the philosopher Siegfried von Schweinwerfer who stumbled over himself expressing his admiration for the composer. During a brief visit to the capital, he managed to see the first performance of The Flying Dutchman which had a profound effect on him.
Finally meeting the composer "in the flesh" was even more thrilling considering they were standing in the midst of a great battle with gunfire and church bells all around them. Wagner liked him on the spot.
The Dutchman had so overwhelmed him, Schweinwerfer retired to an abandoned silver mine deep in the Erzgebirge, the mountains south of Chemnitz along the Bohemian border. After living there for three years in complete solitude except for monthly forays into town to steal food, books and go on the occasional pub-crawl, he announced he had become a changed man.
He eagerly told Wagner how the Dutchman's fate and the impact of the music affected his thinking and how, along with reading Schopenhauer, Proudhon and Feuerbach, he developed a whole new attitude about life and dying.
Convinced the world, like the Dutchman, would come to a dramatic end sooner than later, Schweinwerfer realized that the world needed to prepare for its inevitable arrival by cleansing the collective mind and spirit of society. Only in this way would the world find its own redemption and that, without doubt, through love. Schweinwerfer began to elaborate his viewpoint.
This diversion made Bakunin and Semper smile, knowing Wagner and new ideas were like cats and shiny objects.
"We'll meet this evening in Chemnitz," Bakunin told him, "if the world doesn't end, first. Don't delay, Wagner!"
But Wagner was too busy listening to Schweinwerfer's explanation of the world's demise to notice their departure, barely waving absent-mindedly in their direction.
The world, Schweinwerfer continued, would be cleansed by a comet that will burn everything to a crisp.
"What an interesting idea," Wagner thought. "I need to write this down..."
Moments later, a guard arrived, announcing a visitor.
Thinking his wife had returned, he thought of Minna and how glad he would be to see her, but then he thought, perhaps it might also be someone descending like a deus ex machina announcing the imminent production of Tannhäuser in some opera house somewhere. Instead, the guard told him there was a beautiful woman waiting to see him.
"A beautiful woman?!"
With a gesture of his hand, Wagner motioned for Schweinwerfer to be still. Realizing this couldn't be his wife, he assumed this woman needed help to escape and might become his newest mistress.
The woman who entered made his brain burn with desire. She was mesmerizingly tall, stately, slender, voluptuous, elegant, possessing a mass of hair so silvery blond, he was immediately transfixed as if by a magic potion. His brain froze everything that could be considered reality: his wife, the battle, his need to escape, his safety, especially this idiot Schweinwerfer.
She stood there, inconsolably beautiful, like Venus rising from the smoke of battle, a vision amidst the sound of gunfire and church bells, a goddess suspended between a world of innocence and a world of evil. He heard music throbbing through his heart, a rising phrase resolving to a chord suffused with such exquisite pain he could barely breathe.
Thinking how could he possibly posses her, Wagner realized Schweinwerfer was still babbling on, quoting Proudhon, how "property was theft," when he realized, if that was the only way, then he would have to steal her.
Completely ignoring the loquacious philosopher, this epitome of the eternal feminine approached Wagner, offering him her hand before introducing herself as Countess Klavdia von Klangfarben-Schmutzgrübe. Her sultry voice, a deep mezzo, echoed through every fiber of his body like a string on a Stradivarius about to snap. No one else in the room existed beyond these two kindred souls.
He took her hand and started kissing it warmly. As she moved closer to him, he effortlessly worked his way up to her elbow.
"Pleased to meet you," he said as she touched his cheek, sending electric shocks ricocheting the length of his body.
"I gathered that. So, I understand you are the famous composer and conductor, Richard Wagner?"
"My fame precedes me but I confess I am. You have heard my music?"
"More than you will ever understand."
"And how is Count von Klangfarben-Schmutzgrübe?"
"Out of town. And Frau Wagner?"
"Out of town," he smiled.
Schweinwerfer finally realized he no longer had Wagner's full attention.
"Would some other time be better to discuss my vision of the future – the near future," he stressed, "and how it relates to your musical ideas?"
But Wagner's entire interest was at the moment completely involved in the extravagant beauty standing before him who had so incredibly interrupted them.
Schweinwerfer cautiously suggested they might even collaborate on an opera at some point, if Wagner felt any of his ideas might inspire a story. He took the composer's silence as an encouragement ("he didn't say no").
Taking his leave, Schweinwerfer humbly bowed and backed out into the hallway where he could hear a growing, distant clamor. Someone ran by, shouting at him to leave quickly. He saw the sky was growing darker.
He dashed outside in front of the Frauenkirche as Wagner pushed the chapel gate shut with a thud.
"A little privacy, thank you!"
People could be heard running frantically, pounding up and down the steps as agonizing shouts pierced through the growing chaos. Guards were running everywhere, the bells now ringing ceaselessly, the gunfire continuing to pull ever closer.
Schweinwerfer had been shot! When he heaved open the chapel gate, gasping for breath, he tried to warn Wagner of the impending danger.
And still he couldn't move.
Wagner's eyes were locked to Klavdia's gaze, standing there, immobile amidst the chaos. Oblivious to danger, unafraid of death, all he could think about was, "I have to write this down."
A tall man charged into the room, brandishing a bloody cutlass. Dressed in a black suit with a black cravat and sporting a stylish goatee, he shouted to the soldiers behind him, "There's the traitor, the composer Wagner!"
"You filthy, treasonous pig!" "I hate your music!" "Your operas stink!"
And with that, they opened fire and shot him dead.
Still holding Klavdia's hand, Wagner sank to the floor. "Oh, crap – I mean, oh, curse the daylight!"
Schweinwerfer fell upon the man with the cutlass, hoping to strangle him, shouting "The Apocalypse will arrive all the sooner, thanks to you, now that the Hero Wagner is dead!"
Klavdia stepped across the body and shot the philosopher in the neck.
"He will soon be forgotten, swine." She blew the smoke away from the barrel of her handy Derringer. "Come, Abner – we must hurry to Wagner's home and destroy the score of Lohengrin!"
And quickly, they departed.
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To be continued…
- Dick Strawser
The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.