Wednesday, June 27, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 53
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Zoe Crevecoeur thinks back to various problems in her life, dealing with her career, her ex-husband, raising her son. Meanwhile, we return to the Hague in 1765 as Dr. Kerr and Sauerbraten sneak into the palace to avoid Klavdia Klangfarben.
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A courtly servant, closing the gate where coaches entered to stable their horses, assumed we were also servants and locked it behind us. Too casually dressed for the main entrance, we managed well enough until an officious-looking footman approached us, stopping us with some suspicion just as a small group of aristocratic yet equally casually dressed men walked past.
Identifying himself as the personal secretary to Count Henrik van Wassenaer, Gyllenhaal introduced Sauerbraten and me from the Imperial Court in Vienna, as friends of Johann Chrysostomus Wolfgang Theophilus Mozart, musician to the Archbishop of Salzburg.
“So many names for such a small musician,” one of the noblemen turned to us and said, waving the footman away.
I noticed how the footman, bowing obsequiously as he left, still eyed us with suspicion.
“Ah, my lord, perhaps a small person but already a great talent,” Gyllenhaal said, bowing courteously. “Who knows what the future may bring.”
“My lord,” I added, imitating Gyllenhaal’s bow as best I could, “few of us may knowingly comprehend that future, but young Mozart, here, I’m sure will become a man well known to many in the world.”
“Indeed, you think so? Such an unassuming little boy.”
Sauerbraten said, seeing Mozart flush, “You have not yet heard him play, I gather?”
“No, dear sir, I cannot say I have, though my wife has, when he first arrived in town over a month ago. She talks of practically nothing else, since. I was expecting somebody older, perhaps more… geniusy…”
With a hurried but luxurious bow, Gyllenhaal introduced us to the Prince of Nassau-Weilburg, Karl Christian, who, his own territories aside, was the husband of Princess Caroline, our hostess, his gesture encompassing the palace around us. As the older sister of Prince William, he told us, she served as regent until the Prince of Orange turned 18 next year.
Any further confusion on my part, unused to addressing royalty like Sauerbraten and, even for his tender years, young Mozart, was allayed by the hurried arrival of Count Henrik, apologizing for being late to the party.
“No problem, my dear Henrik.” The prince greeted him casually. “I have just been introduced to your little prodigy here, the one you and my wife have been filling my ear with, these past several weeks.”
“Oh yes, Herr Mozart,” the count said, extending his hand to the boy. “How is your poor sister feeling? Better, I have heard.”
“She improves daily, my lord,” Mozart answered, taking his hand, “and sends her best regards and deepest apologies for having caused such a mass of inconveniences which you have so graciously taken care of for us.”
For being only nine years old, Mozart was well versed in politeness. Small wonder he’d won the hearts of royalty across the continent.
Smiling, Count Henrik whispered something in van Gyllenhaal’s ear which did not, I noticed, make our friend smile, but rather a glance he darted at the boy made me think was not in his best interest.
“I hope your sister will soon be able to join you for a performance before the court, Herr Mozart,” Count Henrik continued. “When that event occurs, I’ve asked young Gyllenhaal to inform my uncle, Count Unico.” For the new arrivals’ benefit, he explains that Unico van Wassenaer loved music, even composed a good bit himself when he’d been younger.
“Unfortunately, once the weather gets colder, my uncle – he’s very frail, now,” he turned to tell Karl Christian, “just turned 73 – he’d be reluctant to leave his palace for the trip into town,” he told Mozart.
“I would like very much to meet him, sir, and perhaps hear some of his music, or at least study a few scores.”
“I think that could be arranged,” the count said. “Would you like to play a little for the Prince, today, so he’d have a chance to hear you?”
The prince, however, resisted, waving the idea away.
“Perhaps later,” he said, shrugging his shoulders apologetically toward the boy. “We are already late for my wife’s garden party. Come – please join us, since you are here. You, too,” he said, indicating Sauerbraten and myself.
“It is always good to have new players joining in the games.”
“She likes converting the winter ballroom into a summer garden.”
And that’s exactly what she’d done. All around us were pots of brilliantly colored flowers, mostly tulips of several varieties, with numerous trees of various sizes creating pathways between sculpted mounds of dirt and coffee beans.
In the midst of all this, strolling around, were several women and a few other noblemen, dressed “casually” mostly in shades of white or light brown, very summery looking despite the chill in the November air.
“Ah, Master Mozart,” the most elaborately dressed of the women said as she approached us. “What wonderful fun that you have joined us.”
This was Princess Caroline, we were told, who most graciously invited Sauerbraten and me to join them, though I demurred, excusing myself for being terrible at playing games.
“All the better,” she said. “No ceremony, here.”
A young man all in white with gold trim joined us whom the Princess introduced as her brother Prince William, Holland’s future ruler.
He greeted us warmly, bowing deferentially when the Imperial Court was mentioned, and clapped Mozart warmly on the back by way of welcome.
Taking her husband by the arm, Princess Caroline announced the game should now begin.
The indoor garden was set up with gaily painted wooden balls spaced around the different paths where I could see small iron hoops. Servants were passing out distinctive mallets, equally colorfully painted, to each of us.
“Croquet!” I blurted out but they regarded me like I spoke in tongues.
“What, pray tell, is this ‘crow kay’ you speak of?”
“Sorry, my lady,” I said, pausing to find an explanation. “It’s a game we played back home. What do you call it?”
“It’s called ‘paille-maille,’ all the rage now, but not the way we’ll play it.”
She proceeded to explain the rules-of-the-day: instead of working toward the final score, everybody began with a perfect score and worked backwards. Instead of earning a point, for a well-played stroke, you would lose a point.
“The winner, then, would be the first person to reach zero.”
“Everything is backwards!”
“Everything, my dear Mozart. And we play backwards, too.”
At her signal, the footman who had viewed us so suspiciously before now walked in holding a large ornate mirror, one tall enough to reflect the whole person. This, the Princess explained, would be held in front of us, like so, but we must hit the ball with our mallet, like so, so that it rolls behind us – backwards!
“A perfect game for the Kingdom of Back,” Mozart delightedly told us, mentioning the imaginary land he and his sister played in so often on this long journey of their childhood. “Wait till I tell Nannerl!”
“Considering Prince William is the first among us,” she continued, “this time, he should go last.”
He bowed deferentially, grinning broadly.
“That would mean,” he said, “the youngest should go first: clearly, that would be Mozart.”
Matching the color of mallet to ball, Mozart gallantly looked into the mirror and hit the ball backwards right through the nearest hoop.
Sauerbraten went next and muffed it, his ball curving to the left of his hoop. I followed and the footman holding the mirror raised his eyebrow in a look that said, “don’t pretend you’re an aristocrat.” I winked at him, making him stand back rather surprised as I tapped the ball which then didn’t go anywhere near my hoop.
The line then went through the court, from the youngest of the ladies to Prince William who, other than Mozart and van Gyllenhall, was the only one to score – or, more accurately, to deduct from their score.
After the second round, the Princess announced anybody who missed their hoop must drink a glass of wine – or in Mozart’s case, punch since she didn’t know if his father would quite approve his drinking wine. Though Mozart was disappointed, perhaps it was better not to promote incentives to start missing points. It was clear he wanted to win.
By the sixth round, some of us were rather tipsy, not caring we had so far failed to lose points at all. Mozart, meanwhile, was well ahead of the pack, the prince only slightly behind him.
The princess, slightly unsteady on her feet after having been disappointed to lose only one point, proclaimed Mozart the winner who, even without benefit of wine, professed to her she was the Queen of his Heart.
With great ceremony, Princess Caroline placed a small medallion around his neck, a gold-framed mirror honoring his victory in their game of “Backward-Ball.”
Prince William and Count van Wassanaer stood on either side of the young winner, holding their hands to their mouths and pretended to blast a trumpet fanfare in his honor which unnerved the boy at first.
I read somewhere that as a toddler, Mozart had been frightened by trumpets, so laughingly, I motioned for them to stop the fanfare.
The princess announced it was time for some food. Raising her glass, she saluted her guests: “Let them eat caca.”
While many gathered around to admire his medallion, others left to investigate the buffet.
As Nepomuk and I stood with our backs to the ballroom’s grand entrance, I caught a glimpse in Mozart's medallion of a passing mass of platinum blond hair.
Grasping Sauerbraten’s arm, I whispered, “Klangfarben has arrived.”
Since she’d never seen Sauerbraten before, he wandered over toward her, hoping to catch whatever she and her companion, Abner Kedaver, were discussing.
Kedaver, leaning forward, was telling her he had the syringe prepped and ready to inject the boy if he could get close enough. As potent as the virus was, it would look like he had just come down with the same illness that was affecting his sister, only in his case, he would die in a matter of days.
She saw Mozart before realizing who’d moved in front of him to block her view. The look on her face – spitting rage – was worth all the day’s aggravation.
But now we had to leave – and quickly.
= = = = = = =
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.