Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 42

In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Dr. Kerr and Zoe, after returning to Harmonia-IV and meeting Mahler, were arrested by the police, trying to figure out how to escape from jail to stop Klangfarben's next attempt at killing off some Great Composer from the Past. Meanwhile, Rogers Kent-Clarke, mild-mannered assistant conductor who dreams of becoming a SuperConductor (surely his studies with Maestro Louis Lane were not in vain), is searching for the old mineshaft Puccini had told him about, the one leading to some Black Market House of Music. 

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Chapter 42 
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The directions Puccini gave him sounded simple enough but Rogers Kent-Clarke kept wondering if he had somehow taken the wrong path – literally as well as metaphorically. He was familiar with the symbolism behind paths and woods, ranging from Weber's Der Freischütz to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, not to mention Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande or Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. Not that he was likely to find many fairy sprites around here, but what other manner of spirits could exist here, he had no idea. Would he be thwarted in his plan? It wouldn't take much.

This was so unlike his character, the mild-mannered assistant conductor usually reacting to others people's biddings rather than forging his own path through life. Even on the podium, he had to conduct it the way the regular conductor planned to, so as not to confuse the musicians. Here, he was on his own and it was kind of thrilling.

Even when he conducted on his own – like this lousy Collierville Festival where he was billed as a guest conductor – he found himself relying on other conductors' interpretations or, instead, listening to recordings. He'd become used to not applying himself. He hated doing new works: you had to study the scores because there was nothing else to go by.

But to present a previously unknown opera by Puccini, now, that would be a coup worth the work it would take to learn it. He could imagine the excitement of anticipation and the boost to his career.

People would be talking about him. "Oh, you're the guy who discovered that new Puccini opera!" What if it were a masterpiece on the order of Turandot? Even if it were only another Fanciulla, it was still Puccini and still new. With N. Ron Steele's backing, it should be a cinch finding a company to produce the world premiere.

The only drawback he could see was Steele's wife as the tragically wronged virginal maid. The composer's wife was likely to be the meatier part, a mezzo, unsuitable for Rosa's peculiar lack of range and talent.

His fantasies were interrupted by the sound of a squabble coming from beyond those trees. Who knew how long he'd been looking for this secret mineshaft's entrance, so he thought he'd interrupt these people and ask.

Was this a tea-party in the middle of the woods? And who was that arguing with that other man – Gustav Mahler?! What luck!

The big guy in the top hat kept shouting while scuffling with a beautiful woman in a stunning black leotard with wildly streaming platinum blond hair. Should he rush out and rescue her? Maybe she was a mezzo – she’d look fabulous as the composer's wife in La vendetta di sposa! But what was Mahler, looking very unconcerned, doing here?

"Excuse me," he said meekly, stepping forward from beneath the trees' shade.

Immediately, they all came to a stop, turned and stared at him.

Mahler waved him over with an invitation to join their little party.

The woman broke free of the big man's grasp, then, with the man in the black cravat, took off down the path in the opposite direction, streaming curses behind her, her hair streaming in the breeze.

"Sorry to interrupt," Kent-Clarke began, "but I was looking for a..."

"You're just in time," Mahler said, cheerfully clapping him on the shoulder.

The big man stuck out a massive paw by way of introduction.

"Siegfried Schweinwerfer's my name and the world is coming to an end, soon. You must prepare!"

"Pleased to meet you. I'm Rogers Kent-Clarke, a well-known conductor in the United States... internationally, I mean," quickly correcting himself.

Mahler said he was just showing Schweinwerfer his latest symphony.


The composer began explaining a little bit about it, paging through the score, pointing out things he thought a conductor would especially appreciate.

Speechless, Kent-Clarke was holding in his hands a huge, brand-new symphony by Mahler!

The whole time Mahler was talking to him – "me," he thought, "a lowly assistant conductor!" – Kent-Clarke realized, "This trumps a Puccini opera, any time, in my book!" With several choruses involved and twelve vocal soloists – perhaps something Rosa Budd could handle, but who cared? – not to mention this huge orchestra, why, it must be a "Symphony of TWO Thousand!"

He listened attentively as Mahler told him how many years it had taken to complete – seven – and how the big central scherzo, "The Apocalyptic Dance of the Four Horsemen," had already been thoroughly revised five times.

Even choral selections from the Mayan Popol Vuh, he explained, had been based on the numerical symbolism of the Mayan calendar, creating a web of complex counterpoint rhythmically intersecting like several time-spans across a cosmic disturbance.

To his percussion, he added several of Harry Partch's instruments, tuned in quarter-tones and sounding completely other-worldly, representing the static nature of Eternity.

The final movement which he called "The Rapturous Song of the Final Cataclysm," was a spacious adagio, gradually increasing in unbearable intensity until the very end – "in fact," Mahler chuckled, "the very end of Time itself!"

"Amazing," Kent-Clarke said, "a 'Symphony for the End of Time'!"

That was good, too, but Mahler felt Schweinwerfer's "Doomsday" Symphony was more marketable.

Suddenly, it dawned on Kent-Clarke there really was no reason for him to go looking for some old mineshaft Puccini had been telling him about: black market or no black market, he had just found his vehicle.

But, Kent-Clarke wondered, would he be able to “ride” this symphony back to the Other Side? Surely, Mahler wouldn't bother entrusting it to the first conductor who came along? And who was he – a mere unknown!

If he managed to premiere this, he would be unknown no longer. Everybody would know his name. "Gilbert Kaplan, eat your heart out!"

The only way was for him to steal it, right out from under Mahler's nose, then run as quickly as he could back to that field where he'd found the gateway. How difficult could that be?

Meanwhile, Schweinwerfer was thinking about his own plot. He had to get this score over to the Other Side where its premiere would bring about the apocalyptic end of the world. Then he would be vindicated.

Clearly, this conductor, a Trespasser, was hungry and ambitious. He had only to wait for the right moment – and he'd steal the score!

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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.
© 2012

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