Monday, June 11, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 39
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Wagner (who'd just been killed as the result of Klangfarben's interference in the past) was rescued when Dr. Kerr and Zoe arrived a few minutes before Klangfarben, saving the composer from certain death and saving the future course of classical music as we know it. Meanwhile, we return to the rehearsal for Beethoven's new symphony.
*** ***** ********* ***** ***
*** ***** ******** ***** ***
The music was so calm, so self-assured and, above all, so beautiful. From the expansive opening, magisterial yet thoroughly human, there was no doubt on any of their faces this would be Beethoven at his best. Here was a new masterpiece and this orchestra was the first to bring it to life. Every one of them sensed the honor.
And the responsibility.
They followed the Maestro implicitly, watching years melt away from him. The crotchety old man, frail yet still in his prime, became the music – likewise calm, self-assured and even, in a way, beautiful.
They knew that Beethoven had been working for over a decade on this symphony, starting the sketches even before he had begun the last one. That one had disappointed many, though the composer held his ground.
"What was it with critics bad-mouthing my even-numbered symphonies," he continually groused. "Can't they tell they're all good, each in their own way?"
Even if you considered his posthumous career, now over 180 years and thirty symphonies later, Beethoven still managed to come up with different responses each time he came face-to-face with what he called "the Symphonic Question." He'd gone much farther than Haydn – even five hundred symphonies later – had ever done. Mahler himself would be much affected by this one.
And how he hated sitting there in Stravinsky's Tavern having to deal with Mahler and those endless discussions about "What is a Symphony?" It was enough to make him miss the old days of the conversation books!
What started out like a slow introduction, despite the tempo indication of Allegro non troppo (not too fast), gradually unfolded as the first theme, the violins playing the notes of a triad – slowly undulating arpeggios – which the solo horn then picked up and, playing them in faster rhythms, turned into a gradually unwinding melody supported by flutes and clarinets. This melody, more than just a triad, served as its own harmony. What sounded like a chord progression turned into sequences of this melodic-harmonic cell flowing so seamlessly, you could overlook how simple it really was.
But that was Basic Beethoven. A common device from his mortal symphonies, he expanded it to greater and more complex lengths in his 13th, 27th and 35th symphonies, yet never losing that sense of sublime simplicity. His famous small cells, the building blocks opening his 5th or 21st symphonies, became larger, like durable structural beams spun out of diamonds.
And it wasn't only his own works where you sensed this. Without Beethoven's examples, the symphonies of Brahms and Bruckner, Mahler, Shostakovich or Sibelius would all have been very different works, each finding significant influences there. Even those "anti-symphonies" by Berlioz and Liszt found inspiration in Beethoven's "Pastoral," at least metaphorically, implying some dramatic story set across its surface.
But Beethoven argued these were only "surface elements." You needed to dig down to find the structural architecture that supported the surface: in lesser composers, symphonies like that usually fell flat because it lacked this support.
It didn't matter whether listeners could "hear" this or not – and by that he meant "hear it and consciously point it out," talking technically the way a composer might talk about it – that wasn't the point.
It was something subconsciously understood, a realization satisfying the listener without necessarily knowing why; unsatisfying, much the same way, when it was lacking.
Studying the latest music written over the past century, Beethoven had become disturbed by the sound of some trends composers were following but he understood them as direct reactions – pro or con – to his own ideas.
If Schoenberg ordered pitches in the technical way serialism implied, he was doing so because he understood the organic importance of inner structure.
Though he wasn't pleased initially with Alex Ross's statement, "Beethoven got it wrong," in his otherwise wonderful book, The Rest Is Noise, he understood it was all a reaction to him, impossible if he'd never been.
First, the orchestra "ran" each movement through non-stop to get a sense of it before going back to fix some technical details. Basically, for a first rehearsal, everything was progressing smoothly, nothing requiring them to stop. They might need to clear something up that hadn't come across quite so clearly, but on the whole he was feeling pretty confident.
Used to having the composers sitting in on later sessions of the rehearsal process, the maestro was even more nervous than usual. Beethoven was quite well known as a notorious stickler, not one he'd risk disappointing.
If his musicians weren't "on the needles and pins of extremest anxiety," as he put it, he himself was feeling close to nausea, ready to break out in a sweat at the least chance of complication. While it was deemed an honor to premiere a major new work by Beethoven, many conductors often wondered, "was it worth the aggravation?"
That one trumpet player missed his cue and came in a beat late but managed to catch himself, making the necessary correction so that he, the conductor and Beethoven were probably the only ones who noticed. Otherwise, the first movement's read-through had gone splendidly, only a few other things needing touched up here and there, but otherwise quite impressive.
There was another spot leading up to the scherzo's trio they'd have to go back and work on – something in the cross-rhythms between winds and strings before the trombones entered – but the second movement went surprisingly well.
Throughout the rehearsal, the maestro expected to be interrupted by the composer at any moment, but there was nothing, not even a cough. Was it possible Beethoven had already left? Hadn't he liked it at all?
Then from the darkness of the auditorium, there was enthusiastic applause from their lone audience. Beethoven, usually quite reserved, was shouting, "Bravo! Superb!"
"So with that, everyone – good job! Let's take a break," he smiled, "ten minutes. No, we're ahead of schedule – make it twenty."
Stepping down from the podium, he looked like a much younger man than before.
Very few rehearsals in recent memory had gone this well. The maestro was usually reticent with his praise: between that and hearing Beethoven yelling "Bravo" from the hall was enough to put smiles on everybody's faces.
Marsha Funebre, as personnel manager, was clapping everybody on the back, wishing she had champagne to pass around backstage instead of plain soda.
Roger Babbitt, after carefully packing away his viola, hurried over to find Rondo Sharrif standing on the side of the stage, surrounded by a number of his adoring friends. One of the things agitating him before the rehearsal began was his needing to update Sharrif on the latest intelligence but he was already on stage and there was no place they could go to talk. But now, he had to: he'd just gotten a new official message – not from his boss but from his boss's boss at BHUIA, the Bureau of Harmonian Universal Intelligence Agency.
Rondo saw him heading toward him trying to act nonchalant which was always a problem for Roger, who was such an up-tight individual. Roger was never one to be casual so Rondo, who'd only been an agent of BHUIA’s for a few years, knew this was going to be a business call. They would need to talk – and privately.
Rondo excused himself from his friends, telling them he needed a few minutes to prepare himself and think about his big solo coming up right after the break. Once they'd all left, he retired behind one of the backstage flies. Roger, meanwhile, had gone around from the other side as casually as possible, assuming no one else would notice.
Roger had been an experienced agent at BHUIA for decades, now, and Rondo, as one of the newer recruits, worked under him as a trainee, learning the procedures. But he was the one who'd first discovered it.
"The police have arrested a team of suspicious Trespassers," Roger began once they were alone, "so we suspect they're here to carry out that mission you'd unearthed." ("What a lucky break," he thought to himself, "and on your first training assignment, too!") "The only problem is, they're going to trial soon and you and I've been called as witnesses."
"Okay," Rondo nodded in anticipation. "What do I need to do and when do you think this will be?"
"Probably within the hour, unfortunately: we may need to leave rehearsal early."
Rondo frowned – his big solo...
"But I can't identify them," he reminded Roger. "Are you sure they're the ones?"
"Well, Smighley nabbed four or five acting strangely at Stravinsky's Tavern, and one of them was dead – probably retribution for cold feet."
"The intel didn't say how many there'd be."
"I know, but you need to report on what it was you'd heard, that's all."
After Rondo agreed and returned to his chair to warm up, Roger cautiously walked over to where Funebre stood, ready to give her the official word, showed her his badge, something he rarely had to do for the last several years (the Intelligence Business being a little slow in Harmonia-IV) and knew this was going to be bad news.
Just as he suspected, Funebre didn't take it well, saying she'd have to take it up with the Maestro, first.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't matter what he says – it’s official government business," Roger said, pocketing his badge.
Roger's phone beeped.
"Babbitt," he said a little too urgently, answering it.
Funebre made impatient gestures: the break was about over.
"Yessir, on it. We'll be there." Pocketing the phone, Roger told Funebre that was the Director of BHUIA. It's official: the trial begins in thirty minutes – enough time to get through the slow movement with Rondo's big solo.
Marcia went off to tell the Maestro. She knew this would go down badly, but at least they could get through the beautiful adagio, especially since Beethoven was sitting out in the hall, listening to every note they played. She knew it had to be perfect or the Maestro would be displeased (and that was only putting it politely).
"What do you mean, 'leave the rehearsal early'? Official business?!" He started screaming, "Off with their heads! Off with their heads!!"
Overhearing this backstage, the musicians wondered what possibly went wrong to upset the Maestro now?
"There's got to be an easier way to get around town."
Cameron wondered why the dead guy couldn't get him one of those transports but perhaps they're not available to the general public.
He had no idea if Harmonia-IV was a democracy like the United States where privilege was a privilege or if it were an aristocracy where privilege was a right. Other than a few dead composers and a handful of policemen, he had no idea how the society worked, here. As a Trespasser, he figured he was on the bottom of the ladder.
This part of the city, Sebastian explained, was designed around the spokes of a wheel, each one leading into the central square. The library was on the south side of this; Einstein Hall, the largest of the concert halls, was on the north side. He should avoid Central Park because it was easy to get lost cutting through it.
"Head north till you find an old wall and an entrance to the large wooded park beyond the edge of town. There, turn left, skirting the wall till you come to the field with the Coalton Gate. But remember – the object is not to get caught, just to lead them on. If anyone sees you, run into the woods."
Sebastian handed him a small white disc like the one he'd given Dr. Kerr. "It will help us locate each other. Don't lose it – if the police find it, they can locate the rest of us. Hurry!"
There was already some concern in Sebastian's voice. Not only had Klangfarben not returned, Kerr and Zoe should've been back by now, too. Did something go wrong? Were there difficulties in Dresden? After all, this was the middle of a battlefield, basically. If something happened to them there, they might have been bounced back to another location. But where?
Moving Xaq out into the hallway, he explained they could be in another part of the building, trying not to alarm the boy, but they'd have to watch out, because they could run into Klangfarben.
It wasn't exactly awesome, no, whatever kids meant by that these days. Sebastian had had enough trouble trying to figure out his son's "lingo" and now found his son's grandson's "lingo" was even more baffling. He tried not to dwell on it.
No one was in the hallway, not Klangfarben nor the police but also not Kerr and Zoe.
"So far, so good," Cameron had thought to himself, dashing across the square and past Einstein Hall. Immediately he knew he should stop congratulating himself on each successfully completed step. The last thing he needed was to jinx himself by thinking everything was going well. Just as soon as he'd do that – bang! – something was bound to go wrong.
It didn't help to dwell on things that could go wrong because he knew from past experience how that never seemed to help. Wasn't it better to be aware of possibilities and suitable reactions? Not always.
It was too easy to act the tourist, distracted by the different buildings and shop-windows. He needed to hurry and he had to get to the field before anyone spotted him. Sebastian figured once he was there, anyone guarding the gate against their possible escape would see him and draw the police away from wherever Kerr and Zoe were.
"And where were they," he wondered? "They should've been back almost immediately. That's what Sebastian said when we got back from visiting Bach: 'you were only gone a second.' We'd done all that in just a second? Awesome! But this time it must have been a few minutes before I'd left the library and still no sign of them."
He found the wall and the gate opening into the dark woods just beyond.
"This is a park? No wonder he said the cops wouldn't follow me in there. I'm not sure I'd want to, either."
It was taking forever to get to the field. "He said it was right beyond where the wall ends, but where's that?"
What was the wall for, originally: to keep barbarians and wild animals out or to keep the residents of Harmonia-IV in? The entrances to the park weren't anything you could close, just open portals in the wall.
What was the point of the wall in the first place? Another lack of concern for security! But then, his grandparents used to talk about a time they didn't worry about locking their doors at night.
It wasn't a very high wall, either. Was there some kind of technology that would fry anyone trying to climb over it, some mineral perhaps like photonmium that would activate on contact? Not a pleasant thought.
Finally, the wall just stopped.
"Geez," he said, "It didn't even surround the place!"
Another half-mile or so and he'd reach the field.
The last several blocks were smaller houses, what they'd call duplexes, the equivalent of suburbs in a city difficult to describe as either new or old. Everything looked so much alike, in some uncomfortably undetectable way.
Looking around very carefully and seeing no one, Cameron quickly crossed the street into the wide, empty – or at least presumably empty – field.
"So this was the place we entered from New Coalton? The woods are right over there, but where's the Gate? How will we find our way home?"
Behind him he heard a gruff voice: "What the hell...?"
Cameron wheeled around and saw the rumpled detective from Victor's farmhouse. She wasn't there a second ago! "What the hell," indeed.
"Huh," she said, "you were at the Crevecoeur's farm."
"Right, I'm Cameron Pierce."
Rather than return the civility, she turned and looked around, half in wonder, half in deep concern.
"So, like, where are we?"
"Well, it's complicated..."
She took his explanation stoically, without comment.
"But you found Victor Crevecoeur?"
"Yes. He's dead, unfortunately. His father said if we'd get him back through the gate by morning, it'd be only a temporary set-back."
Then Cameron saw them: policemen scrambling down the street.
Taking off for the woods, he didn't know why dead people were afraid to go there, but he figured he was about to find out.
Before she knew it, Det. Jenna Ste.-Croix found herself surrounded by policemen. Uncharacteristically, she was the one placed under arrest.
"What the hell...?"
= = = = = = =
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.