Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 11

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Lionel Roth checks out his room at the old Schweinwald Castle and confronts past memories, especially the time he met Dhabbodhú. LauraLynn, meanwhile, confronts something else entirely in the basement of the Schweinwald Festspielhaus as Fictitia attends the opera with Scarpia and begins texting with a fan. D'Arcy and Kerr find what they hope is refuge in the Festspielhaus scene shop and make an interesting discovery, an inscription on the Mozart 'gizmo' that reads "From the heart, may it go to the heart."

= = = = = = =


Escorted by two new uniformed agents in their futuristic military gear – the others resuming the chase – Cameron marched silently along, given a wide berth by what wide-eyed passers-by the little entourage encountered. His stomach growled in indignant protest over his now confiscated butterscotch crumpet, so close but yet indeed so far. Undoubtedly, he was being regarded as a dangerous terrorist finally in custody. Excessive treatment, he thought, for stopping at a vending machine: was it enough to gain Dr. Kerr some time?

They trooped down long, seemingly aimless corridors and through panels of doorways, turning around corners leading to more corridors and panels of doorways like they somehow knew where they were going, none of this looking even vaguely familiar considering the route he and Dr. Kerr had dashed through minutes before.

Eventually, they reached a bank of elevators and waited several minutes before it opened onto the edge of the lobby, not far from that ancient door with the Ricercar clue on it. There was a sharp gasp as many of those streaming toward the staircase stepped back, making room for them.

Down another hallway, through more banks of doorways and around similar corners, Cameron shortly found himself being pushed outside, met by more plainly dressed security guards and the ominous-looking Yoda Leahy-Hu.

With equal ominousness, Director Leahy-Hu dismissed her agents with a curt nod and, turning with precision, they disappeared inside. Captain Schäufel took Cameron roughly by the arm and marched him forward. Some minutes later, they reached a trailer on the edge of the back parking lot, Festspielhaus Security’s temporary headquarters.

Leahy-Hu was disturbed by the cramped quarters compounded by the presence of several IMP agents assisting on the case. Worse, having no space available for interrogations left only the single restroom.

With little ceremony, she pointed the way, then, nodding, followed him in, courteously inviting her prisoner to sit down. With even less ceremony, Cameron lowered the toilet seat and sat down. Even without the presence of seat belts, he was pretty confident this was going to be a bumpy ride.

After ascertaining his full name and why, basically, he was in Germany, Director Leahy-Hu took a breath before beginning. Giving Cameron a moment to gather his thoughts and steel his courage, she leaned so close he noticed how her hastily applied lipstick bled into the cracks and wrinkles around her lips.

“Why, exactly,” she wanted to know, “did you bolt from the former director’s office, despite being told to stop?” Her voice was eerie as it creaked, an old man’s smoke-ravaged voice.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I was scared, kind of.”

“Kind of?” She cocked her head inquisitively.

Cameron shrugged his shoulders unconvincingly.

Just then, someone tried the restroom door.

“I’m holding an interrogation, here,” she announced.

“Yes, sir,” the voice said, “whatever you want to call it, sir.”

She carefully lit a cigarette. “Please, hand me your phone, Mr. Pierce.”

Cameron, looking at the floor, shook his head.

“Is there a reason, Mr. Pierce, you’re unable to follow direct orders?”

Leahy-Hu leaned in a little closer, leaving Cameron nowhere to back up. Again, he looked down, shaking his head.

Cameron winced. Her breath was really sour, turning his stomach.

“I’d loaned it to Dr. Kerr – he has it.”

“Ah, then in that case, could you give me your phone number?”

Cameron tried sitting back in resolute defiance but it was impossible to appear dignified while sitting on a public toilet: the best he could do was to scowl and look mildly petulant. Being a college student it was something that came natural to him, hoping it might buy him some time.

Leahy-Hu, however, wasn’t rising to the bait, staring at him, occasionally tucking back a stray wisp of gray hair. She waited patiently then, nodding deferentially, excused herself and left the room.

Now, it seemed, he had plenty of time but no real ideas. Since there was no plan, he knew nothing about what was going on, at least in any real sense. Would what little he did know jeopardize whatever Dr. Kerr was doing, now apparently up against Dr. Sullivan’s killer?

He weighed the pros and cons but nothing clear managed to present itself, no spontaneous solution, no great clarifying epiphany when suddenly he heard soft music, quietly, almost stealthily pervading the room. It took only three seconds before he was able to recognize it once they’d managed to adjust the volume.

“The cads,” he sighed. “It’s Pachelbel’s Canon…” Things were looking very bleak. “They probably set it on continuous play.”

He wondered if the mirror over the sink was really one-way glass.

Cameron sat there, brooding, wondering how long before they broke him down. Could he continue playing their dastardly game? The longer he lasted, the more time Dr. Kerr had to escape.

Time passed and he lost count how many repetitions he had endured.

Finally, he gave in when Leahy-Hu returned.

Cameron gave her his cell-phone number, knowing Dr. Kerr would be unlikely to answer it when they called him.

“Thank you,” she said, tucking another strand of hair behind her ear.

With that, she smiled then turned once again to leave the room, calling back to him, “Wait here, please.”

Where’d he go in a room without windows, only a ventilation grate?

“I'm hardly that desperate I’d flush myself down the toilet.”

Then, remembering that smile, he added, “or am I?”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

“What’s that have to do with Mozart,” I asked, breath still gasping, thinking “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” I ran my fingers around the medallion delicately painted onto Mozart’s breast-pocket. From the Heart, May It Go to the Heart, however, was the dedication Beethoven inscribed on his Missa solemnis.

“This is no time to go all musicological on me,” D’Arcy advised, whispering as if someone nearby could hear. “If this is what I think it is, there are clues that…”

He was about to continue when we heard someone try the door. He turned the light off and waited, then he picked up the artifact and headed deeper into the gloom.

“Clues to what,” I asked, still trying to keep up with him.

“That’s what I’m hoping you might know.”

“Wait, you’ve seen this before?” I had bumped into a workbench and stopped a moment to rub my aching hip.

“No, let’s say I’ve heard about it – I’ve never actually seen it.”

There wasn’t time to think much about anything, as he moved off to the left, leading me after him. God forbid anything should happen to him and I needed to find my way out of here by myself. After making so many turns, we were like rats in a maze.

If we were looking for a safe place to hide and regroup, this one seemed as good as any, and I could go for a chance to rest up a bit. It was difficult to get my bearings, but I assumed this was the middle of a large, crowded space.

“It’s called Niebelheim, a sound-proofed area around the scene shop,” D’Arcy said. “We’re headed toward the set storage area.”

Large flats loomed over us on either side, creating numerous hidden passageways.

“Many of these, I think, are being built for the new opera. Seems appropriate we should find ourselves here.” Handing me the artifact, D’Arcy suggested I put it in the tote-bag.

I went from being a rat in a maze to Peer Gynt trying to evade the mountain king’s trolls.

“So,” I said, carefully placing the Maltese Mozart back in my tote-bag, “do you have any particular plan in mind?”

“We’re going to go ahead with what he’d already completed,” D’Arcy began.

“That’s fine,” I interrupted him, “but I was thinking something more short term, like getting out of here alive?”

“Oh, that, right… Well, uhm…” He looked around and shook his head. “No, not really,” he eventually concluded. “You?”

“I just got here and that was basically to attend the festival.”

Then it occurred to me: wait, he doesn’t know, yet, does he, about the CD with the final score? I’d asked the police to keep it out of their final report.

He’d only know the computer was destroyed – the score, presumably, with it.

Just then, something else occurred to me.

It seemed very logical to me Rob would’ve made a copy of his sketches even before he finished the orchestration, so I suggested we tell people we’re looking for this back-up CD.

“It’d certainly draw out whoever’s trying to stop the premiere,” I said. “We’ll announce it tomorrow at the memorial.”

“But you don’t know for sure if there is a back-up disc?”

“No,” I lied, “I’m only assuming that.”

“Could the artifact lead us to where he’s hidden a back-up disc…?”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Mercifully, the music stopped abruptly and Cameron was left alone for what felt like several minutes, possibly longer, probably less. Unlike many people facing long periods of enforced silence, Cameron enjoyed them. He thought about where Dr. Kerr was, how far he’d gotten once those agents were no longer following him.

He worried about the safety of his phone. “It was expensive, too. I hope he doesn't accidentally damage it.”

How much longer would the others wait without access to their bathroom?

Eventually, Leahy-Hu returned, officiously thumbing her way through a rather lean file, looking up at him briefly with an awkwardly wistful smile before dealing with another strand of hair gone awry, an expression she had assumed might be found comforting but which Cameron took as just the opposite.

“(Soooo creepy.)”

She asked about his being present when Robertson Sullivan’s body was discovered and why they found this “BandanaMan” so interesting.

He shrugged his shoulders and said “I was there. I’ve no idea.”

“Fine,” she said, carefully setting the file down on the edge of the sink, “have it your way, then.”

It was difficult but she found room to pace back and forth.

“You were seen talking to a young woman dressed in Gothic fashion. We’ll verify that, check your Facebook page...”

When Cameron failed to respond, she stopped right in front of him, squinting at him with a malevolent expression.

“Hah,” he thought, “even sitting down I’m still taller than she is…”

She leaned in closer and hissed, “we have ways of making you talk, you know!” Her eyes glared balefully.

When Cameron tried not to wince, she chuckled and sauntered away from him. “I’ve always wanted to say that…”

She said they knew there’s more behind Dr. Kerr’s being in Germany.

“So, what was it he found in Sullivan’s office? What was in the tote-bag when you fled the room?”

There was a knock at the door, probably one of her agents.

“That phone number, boss? Got a signal…”

“Excellent, thank you,” she said, facing Cameron with a slightly triumphant smile.


Leahy-Hu stopped and winced, looking at Cameron. “Excuse me, Mr. Pierce?”

“I mean, I have to use the bathroom – would you mind?” He pretended he was only trying to be polite.

It annoyed him how they’d used his phone to locate Dr. Kerr. He’d forgotten all about the GPS function.

“Certainly,” Leahy-Hu responded with equal politeness, turning to leave. “I'll wait outside. Let me know when the paperwork's done.” Suddenly, a whole nimbus of stray wisps of hair required her attention.

If nothing else, he needed time to think or, barring any ideas even remotely useful, at least to stall. Speaking of stall, it would’ve been nice to have a little privacy. He cautiously pulled his pants down and tried not to think about anyone possibly watching him through the mirror.

But what was there to be thinking about, what plans could he come up with, even if he could escape? He was unaware of any strategy Dr. Kerr may have already devised. Unfortunately, he found himself lacking the raw materials to patch anything together, like man creating art from almost nothing. Hungry for not having eaten since that brief stop on the train, especially having his snack-cake rudely taken away, he sat there feeling woefully, inadequately uncreative, coming up – not surprisingly – empty.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

In the darkness, D’Arcy checked his phone the way people used to check their watches – furtively, to “see the time,” whatever that meant – then announced they’d be well into the first act. We sighed, both knowing what we’re missing, but I noticed he lingered over something – checking a message? – sighing again.

“Why do you think the Director of the IMPs would have showed up while we were in Rob’s office?” His question sounded more rhetorical than actual: nothing that I’d know, anyway.

He explained they were casually referred to as “IMPs” – like Navy SEALs – at least privately: it drove them wild.

“It was like she knew someone was there, that we’d uncovered something.”

“And we still have no idea what it is we have uncovered,” he said, “but it must be important.”

“Not that we’ve had time – or enough light – to figure that out,” I added, wondering what lurked in the shadows. “Not that more time or light would be a guarantee, mind you...”

All I’d come up with was more questions, starting with “Why me?” Somebody thinks I know an awful lot.

“So far, the killer expects me to help him find a fountain and I’m holding a statue of Mozart – at least, we assume it’s Mozart, since he’s obviously lost his head…”

“And a heavy little statue, for one made of porcelain,” D’Arcy added. “Did somebody clobber someone, breaking the head off?”

“Didn’t look like it was broken,” I said, getting it out again.

D’Arcy groped around to find a lamp. “We need more light than this – maybe there’s a flashlight around here.”

“This ‘artifact,’ as we’ve been calling it, must be significant to someone or else Rob wouldn’t have hidden it. But is it something both Franz-Dieter and Rob would’ve been killed for?”

“Are we even sure it’s Mozart, if that would make any difference?” D’Arcy sounded skeptical. “Couldn’t it be Beethoven?”

“But remember,” I added, “Rob hid it right behind the Mozart bust.”

“You have to wonder,” D’Arcy pointed out, “if the killer knows what it is – perhaps Leahy-Hu does, as well?”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

The conference room was brightly lit that morning as he’d walked in, facing thirteen reporters and a rack of microphones, as intimidating as the first time he’d done this the month before. It’s not the sort of thing that would ever get any easier, publicly announcing the death of a colleague. Taking a deep breath, he looked around the room, scanning the faces, most of whom appeared passive and unconcerned, covering a story but curious about two sudden deaths (“rotten luck, that...”). He knew they already had the basics but it was his responsibility to give them the official version, the details. They just needed something they can quote under an eye-grabbing headline. “Director of Schweinwald Festival Found Murdered. Second to die in two months.” There wasn’t much more to tell them.

“I’m Virgil D’Arcy,” he began, “once again acting director here at Schweinwald, and” – slight pause – “sadly I come before you…” – (“wait,” he thought, “that didn’t sound right – would 'stand,' maybe, be better?”) – “to announce Robertson Sullivan, recently appointed successor to Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist who died just a month ago, has himself died.” He paused for the expected communal gasp but there was no sound, no pen moved to jot this down. (“No, of course, they already know this: just get on with it.”)

He continued, giving them what few details he knew which was not everything, mentioning that with an on-going investigation, the American police were understandably reluctant to reveal certain bits of information but, yes, he was murdered and Schweinwald would proceed with the festival and the premiere of his new opera. They didn’t know exactly if he’d completed the opera as he planned, at least nothing has yet been discovered, but they’re going ahead with what they have, even without the ending.

“It’s too early to tell if there’s enough to go on for someone else to complete it in time. Besides, early rehearsals are already underway, the sets and costumes nearly ready. Next month, then, Faustus, Inc. will join Moses und Aron, Turandot, and Lulu as operas premiered as incomplete works.”

D’Arcy avoided terms the general media wouldn’t understand – like sitzprobe, rehearsals where singers learn their parts with a vocal coach – but he also wanted to avoid referring to Faustus as a ‘torso,’ given the rumors he’d heard about the ghastly disfigurement of Sullivan’s body, one detail the police hadn’t officially released. More newspapers, here, than the usual arts periodicals attending Schweinwald’s press conferences. Many of these reporters, he realized, were not interested in artistic details or their closed-circle erudition and froo-froo terminology.

His sole purpose, D’Arcy knew, was to present a united, positive, forward-looking front that would tell the arts world Schweinwald would weather this crisis also and, regardless, the festival would continue. This was all business, a strong corporation putting forth its best face, unconcerned with grieving a friend and colleague. Standing there flanked by board members and other staff, D’Arcy was aware the death of a mere composer, an American, even if he’s the Festival’s director, was small beans for the press: a brutal murder, the second Schweinwald director to die in a month – now that, certainly, was the real news.

When an American journalist asked if anyone they knew wanted to stop the production of Sullivan’s apparently controversial opera, Board President Barry Scarpia, leaning forward, nudged D’Arcy aside and said, “No.”

Sitting there in the still and chilling darkness, I carefully listened to my guide through the underworld of Schweinwald’s Festspielhaus describe his impassively announcing to the world the death of my friend. I’d skipped the one the police gave the day after the murder, everything still too fresh in my mind. But I couldn’t help thinking about comments Rob had made, especially concerning the politics he was dealing with, here. D’Arcy was suspicious of Leahy-Hu – but could I, in fact, trust him?

It had been my idea, initially, having discussed it carefully with LauraLynn, to ask the police not to reveal there’d been a disc containing the opera’s finished score which was stolen. Let the murderer – or murderers – think they’d pulled one over on us. It might come in handy, later on.

I’d considered letting D’Arcy know but chose not to, since he’d planned on going ahead with the opera, even incomplete. And besides, phones could be bugged and e-mails just as easily monitored. I was planning on telling him in person, now that I’m here, but just haven’t had the opportunity, yet. Whoever said they knew the opera had been finished would only have gotten that information through the murderer, right? But could they be sure there wasn’t another back-up disc around somewhere?

I went to say something but wondered, “What do I call him?” ‘Mr. D’Arcy’ sounded too formal, ‘V.C.’ strange, and using ‘Virgil’ only highlighted the uncomfortable reference to Dante’s underworld guide. Seeing my hesitation, he said, “Just call me ‘D’Arcy’ – everybody else does,” reaching out hospitably to shake my hand.

“Thanks, D’Arcy,” I said, “but is there anybody you’d know on the board or in the administration who’d want to become the next Director who didn’t want the opera premiered here?”

D’Arcy knew he wasn’t likely to get the job, but who’d want to have Rob killed to get it? And who at this point would be moving to cancel the opera? It was widely publicized (especially now) and tickets were selling very well. It was too late to cancel it.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

The old homestead Richard Shaw's family built on the outskirts of Palenville was at its brilliant best for the wedding, resplendently decorated, blending the colors and textures of autumn inside and out. Aunt Katie – the elder daughter of Cuthbert Harty and Uncle Rick's widow – worked her usual magic with the place. Her granddaughter Geraldine’s wedding became an excuse for her to throw, as she put it, one last family reunion for the Shaws, the Sullivans and the Hartys like the old days.

Katie’s son Bernard never looked happier or his wife Pashmina more exotic. LauraLynn’s mother Lucille, escorted by her brother, Lyndon Lewes, the groom’s father, reminisced with Cousin Ethel, Fred Clarke’s widow, recalling the comedy routines they entertained the family with back in the good old days as Lewes & Clarke.

Martin Lewes, the groom, despite being dean of students at Wembley College, was nervous meeting all his fiancé’s wealthy relatives. Still, Dean Martin and Gerrie Lewes would obviously make a fine couple. LauraLynn almost forget her anxiety when she and Rob had gotten themselves lost after they'd taken the Saugerties exit.

Then, glass flying everywhere, this big guy dressed in black crashed the reception, Rob shouting something about some “gizmo” and before she knew it, out of nowhere, Aunt Katie was dying.

Was that the same guy who’s chasing her through the basement of an opera house half-way around the world? Could this be the same guy who murdered her cousin Rob Sullivan? All these thoughts came crashing into her mind as she tried to find someplace to hide, to protect herself.

What if this “gizmo” he was talking about is Harrison Harty’s Journal which Rob had and she’s now holding? What’s so important about it that someone would kill people for it?

“Is that what he meant?” she wondered, almost aloud. “What secrets does it hold that it’s written in code? Is musicology so cut-throat, scholars commit murder to obtain some pointless manuscript?”

He’s desperate, maybe, but wasn’t this carrying the “publish-or-perish” thing too far?

And what’s he got against her family?

She heard running footsteps behind her but everything sounded so echoey, LauraLynn couldn’t tell how far away he really was. She had to get out of here before he killed her, too. Almost slamming into a wall, she was sure she’d been here before, running around in circles.

“Where’s the exit?!”

Carrying her purse was becoming a nuisance but she couldn’t afford to lose the old journal or her phone. Worried it’ll alert the monster to her location, she retrieved the phone.

Finding the phone number Terry Kerr had been calling from – wasn’t he using D'Arcy's phone? – she hurriedly hit re-dial. The call couldn’t go through: “not available or in a dead zone.”

“What kind of a cheap phone does he have, anyway?” she wondered. “This is no time for technical difficulties!”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

D'Arcy's phone made an annoying beep and he quickly tried stifling it: that meant he was in a dead zone. He noticed two dropped calls but no indication whom they were from.

Then it dawned on me: if LauraLynn was surprised I was here, who'd made the arrangements for my trip?

D’Arcy hadn’t said anything about it when we arrived at the hotel. Then I started receiving those mysterious texts.

Could that mean D’Arcy might be working with the killer? Unless, maybe…?

= = = = = = =
to be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 10

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Dr. Kerr, Cameron & V.C. D'Arcy are being pursued by three IMP Special Forces agents: Cameron gets separated and is detained. LauraLynn runs into someone wearing a very strange costume who turns out to be the musicologist, Rothbart Girdlestone, and has a very bad feeling about this. In the lobby, Fictitia LaMouche is about to be expelled by security when she meets Barry Scarpia.
= = = = = = =

Chapter 10

The room was definitely large – spacious, even – just like he’d been told but it was dark and chilly, especially damp, considering the afternoon’s rain, and the electric light barely penetrated the gloom. The bed was huge and quite comfortable, the furnishings old-fashioned and picturesque, but everything else was distinctly, depressingly medieval. Narrow lancet windows, slits in the stone wall close to the ceiling, left in little of the waning sunlight. Lionel wondered if it was safe building a fire in the fireplace.

That fireplace, walking back and forth in front of it, was almost as big as his room at Benninghurst, and should warm the place up nicely, getting rid of the chill. He found nothing to build a fire, only a pile of old dry logs without any matches or kindling.

There was one real window, heavily curtained, with old-fashioned beveled glass panes which looked out toward the darkly sprawling woods. Lost in shadows, the old cemetery across the road was already fog-bound. If he listened carefully, he was sure he’d hear a wolf howl. No doubt there were bats around, too.

What stories would these stones tell him, he wondered, and if they talked, would he want to hear them? He carefully pulled the heavy curtains closed, hiding himself from the world.

Lionel Roth, feeling smaller than usual, like a doll being kept in a dollhouse too large for its size, paced around the room that, for the time being, was his home. The grand piano was certainly grand enough but unfortunately out of tune; the desk was very large, dwarfing him.

He checked if perhaps some matches had been stored in a drawer.

“That’s okay,” he thought. “I’d probably only burn the place down.” Or at least the stuff that wasn’t stone.

Was it wise, he considered, following Dr. Dhabbodhú’s advice to come here? Between his fear of planes and his agoraphobia, was it necessary distancing himself quite so far from Sullivan’s murder?

Funny, seeing Sullivan’s friend – Dr. Kerr, wasn't it? – on the Munich train. He certainly seemed nice enough, he thought.

What was it Dhabbodhú advised, recommending he stay in this place, not just sit locked away in his apartment? What he wanted was something that would help him procrastinate, postponing reality. He could work on a new composition though he hadn’t finished the last one (he rarely ever finished one, anymore). Not that it mattered: no one was ever interested in playing them, and now he’d largely given up trying. What was the point of composing more pieces if nobody performed them?

His stint at Benninghurst had been an intense and unmitigated writer’s block, two weeks of sheer agony and depression. Wouldn’t it have been better, staying home in New York, watching TV? And then, after all those anxieties, everything culminating in that gruesome murder. Poor Robertson Sullivan – he rather liked him.

He’d been given the boot at the store two years ago, now, convinced someone had wrongly accused him of stealing, but why had he never managed to establish himself as a composer? He kept going over and over the same tired obsessions, whether he had no luck or, instead, no talent.

Oh, he was aware that someone out there was against him, fighting him everywhere he turned, holding him down. But what if his unknown enemy really was, he gasped, Robertson Sullivan?

Lionel threw himself down on the bed in amazement – an astounding discovery: what if that’s what Dr. Dhabbodhú really meant, telling him he could never name names because that wasn’t really professional? He had stressed it was Lionel’s responsibility to make his own discoveries and, ultimately doing so, thereby heal himself. He was only inferior as a composer – as a person – if he allowed others to make him feel inferior. That was a challenge, considering he did such a good job himself.

So, if Robertson Sullivan was his secret enemy and he was dead, maybe there’s nothing left to worry about and Lionel would soon be on his way, getting his big break? That was almost enough to make him jump up and run to the piano to start composing right away!

Of course, there was always that image of his friend Billy Bupkis who, when they were in 7th Grade and Lionel already started composing, kept bugging him about doing something more constructive.

“Like what,” Lionel asked him.

“Like anything,” Billy said. “That’s just stupid.”

He suggested Lionel should collect baseball cards.

Naturally, Billy thought that would be “constructive”: he loved baseball, wanting nothing more than to play in professional sports, but he'd never even make it on to the high school team.

Whatever happened to that guy, Lionel wondered, thinking back to past reunions: his grades weren’t good enough to make it into college and there'd be no sports scholarships coming his way. He’d worked at a fast food joint for ten years, then went to a trade school for a while. He’s been working on home construction crews and makes more money now than any teacher or artist Lionel knew. “Can’t get more constructive than that,” Billy laughed, slapping Lionel’s aching shoulder.

They were both middle-aged and neither really succeeded at fulfilling their dreams. Of course, Billy was happily married, had two kids, coached the local little league team and made more money.

Lionel never married, had neither family nor career, no amateur standing in the local music scene: who’d notice him?

Lionel had the greatest respect for Dr. Dhabbodhú, a man who treated him professionally and personally like a worthwhile individual. “If anybody’d take notice of me – more therapist than agent,” Lionel thought, sitting back on the bed with a sigh that echoed softly through his room – or was it the wind? It had been a great stroke of luck, then, meeting Dr. D., right at the moment that should have been his big break which quickly turned itself into a huge disaster. He’d spent a small fortune renting the recital hall at Carnegie Hall, especially placing that ad in the Times, and then hiring professional musicians (including three rehearsals) to play his music. Lionel even sent invitations out to critics, agents and publishers all over town, hoping to gain some professional attention.

“But in the end, he was the only one who noticed,” Lionel recalled, “and he hadn’t even attended my recital.” His smile filled with gratitude, reliving how Dhabbodhú talked to him afterward. Only a handful of people showed up, most of them Juilliard students, several who’d left after the first piece. Even two of his friends had left before intermission after he finished playing his “Twenty-four Preludes on a Spiritual.” By the time the string quartet started, the hall was totally empty.

It happened in the men’s room afterward, Lionel hurling his lunch in one of the stalls, trying to figure out how he could drown himself in a toilet (death by “super-swirly”). Dhabbodhú was there to buy tickets for tomorrow evening’s recital – with Robertson Sullivan, ironically – when he felt the urge. If Dhabbodhú’s bladder hadn’t sent him that emergency signal, it’s possible Lionel Roth’s life might have ended that afternoon. All Lionel did was ask him to hold down the flush lever.

Every time he remembered this, he had to take deep breaths to keep himself calm – Dr. D’s first advice. It could’ve been his greatest disappointment if not for the porcelain lining. Instead of talking him down off the ledge like a normal suicide, Dhabbodhú talked him up from the commode.

They talked for fifteen minutes before Dhabbodhú suggested getting some Chinese take-out, then taking a brisk walk to his brownstone, just off Broadway on W.68th Street not that far from Lincoln Center. (Actually, it was made of gray, not brown, stone so technically Lionel thought it was more of a flintstone.) And then, over plates of orange beef and Buddha’s Delight, they talked some more, continuing long into the night. It wasn’t that they talked so much about “shop” – more about life.

A small world that Dhabbodhú was also a composer (a friend of his had once studied with Sullivan, too). He turned out to be an ideal friend for Lionel – understanding, kind. Now Dhabbodhú brought him along to Schweinwald, "just what the doctor ordered." Lionel knew he must not fail him.

Trying desperately not to hyperventilate, Lionel forced himself to think pleasant thoughts, imagining himself walking through some pleasant mountain pastures, listening to the birds sing and water bubbling by in little streams.

“Imagine me in Sullivan’s shoes at his premiere,” he thought, “how that could be me, except I’m still alive.”

One of many things to think about – there were lots of things he needed to take time and consider.

But he had to admit, regardless, this room gave him the creeps.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Running deeper into the Festspielhaus basement didn’t make a lot of sense, but there weren’t a lot of options. Being chased by an odd-smelling hulk in a Marie Antoinette wig with harem pants didn’t make a lot of sense, either, but you rarely had a choice in picking your worst nightmares. LauraLynn had no idea where she was going, only hoping this beast was less familiar with the building’s layout, but regardless she was determined to get there as fast as possible.

She recalled seeing diagrams in Rob’s office how the Festspielhaus’s basement was divided into several areas like clustered units such as rehearsal rooms, scene shops or sets and costume storage areas, all of these just off the central underground parking garage which expanded under the new wing with comparable spaces.

The whole area was virtually black: if there were light switches down here, she had no idea where they’d be. On the other hand, maybe she’d be better off in the dark. While he might not see her, she could at least smell him. And she knew he was getting closer.

What was that smell? Like Proust’s madeleine, it brought back recollections of Grandmother’s house, childhood days spent playing upstairs. That’s it – that’s how she recognized the smell: in the closets.


Turning another corner hoping to distance herself from that smell as much as from this unshakable monster who smelled, she wondered how he continued to track her in the impenetrable darkness. Did he possess incredible night vision or a predator’s keen olfactory sense, like some odious (if odorous) jungle beast?

She was getting used to the dark but this failed to keep her from occasionally slapping into a wall, her Louis Vuitton heels, such stylish-looking shoes, clattering over the concrete floor. Anxiety-induced perspiration was rapidly undermining the delicate scent of her favorite perfume, Cannabis Rose, a mixture of Bulgarian roses, bergamot and patchouli with subtle undertones of oolong tea and dark chocolate. Unfortunately, now, she realized she’d have to forgo attending the opera tonight, considering she must smell like a goat.

“I’m out of disguises,” the monster realized, chasing her through the darkness. “How do I get out of this mess?”

There’d been several in addition to his favorite, the agent Iobba Dhabbodhú. Girdlestone was only a tux and a wig since she had already seen Dhabbodhú and would recognize him easily. He hadn’t invested much in the bum though he’d become rather fond of the little old lady, Claire Güllendorf. A pity he had to dump their disguises and leave them behind. Peeling off one disguise after another – the tux under Claire’s gown under the bum’s bulky sweat-suit – what’s after this? He’d be down to his boxers and it’s a long walk home. Bad enough he had to throw away Old Claire’s gown and wig, he’d forgotten his keys in Girdlestone’s pants.

And what’s even more maddening was, LauraLynn’s proven very adept at evading him, when this should have been a cakewalk. Perhaps she has better night vision than he has, like a cat’s. It didn’t seem to matter which way he went, left or right, she always ran in the opposite direction.

“Wait a minute! That’s how she’s doing it,” he thought. “D’oh!” Stopping short, he realized he reeked of mothballs.

Very carefully, he stripped off the waistcoat and set the wig aside.

“The pants have to stay,” he reluctantly decided, “even in the dark.”

Undoubtedly, he was now totally shocking – awesome, even. Padding stealthily forward, he could easily follow the sound of her footsteps. The hallways were long but not wide and up ahead was a dim emergency light faintly illuminating a door. The shadow of a desperate woman, her beautifully coiffed blonde hair beginning to come undone, passed across the light.

Trying the door, she discovered it was locked. She turned and waited.

LauraLynn glanced furtively first left, then right, sniffing the air like a frightened deer unable to find her bearings. The idea of being hunted like those beautiful, delicate animals sickened her. There must be some way out of here, she pondered, peering as far into the murk as she could.

“Take a deep breath, dear,” the voice said, civilized but with a malevolent edge, coming from out of the shadows.

She froze, her eyes peering toward the unexpected sound. She smelled nothing.

“Perhaps you are pretending to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil – like your cousin, hmm?”

Wait, she considered for a split second: he knows about Rob’s murder? How could he possibly know about that – those details weren’t in the papers – he must’ve been… there. Which means…?

“Something else I need to know and I might let you live: I know you're very close to your cousin. Wouldn't he tell you about the location of this Fountain of Inspiration? Not only do I want that journal, I need that and that gizmo he talked about – remember the gizmo?”

“What was this man talking about,” she wondered. Was he that big guy who'd broken into the wedding reception? “Is he the man who fired the shot ultimately killing Aunt Katie?”

It had been such a happy afternoon when Katie’s granddaughter got married, the room full of family and friends. What was it Rob had yelled at him – something about a gizmo?

If this monstrous musicologist allegedly killed both Aunt Katie and Cousin Rob, wouldn’t he now kill her?

“But why?”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Fictitia cautiously took the hand Scarpia held out to her and followed him up the great staircase to the mezzanine where ushers raised their eyebrows as they tried to stop them entering. After being pushed aside, did they think, “How nice, he’s trying to introduce his rebellious teen-aged daughter to opera”? Taking their seats in the Board President’s Box, just left of center, Fictitia was assuming those who knew him were more likely thinking, “Now look what the old cat’s dragged in.”

Hearing no singers, she noticed the conductor, some old dude on life-support. The audience leaned forward, paying close attention. Were they also wondering if this guy’d make it through the performance? She thought she heard a woman yelling – backstage? – but she wasn’t sure. Considering singers’ feuds, this could get interesting.

So far the curtain hadn't gone up, too boring for her taste. “There’s a problem, here,” she realized, skimming through the plot synopsis: “nobody dies! What kind of an opera is this!” Not that she cared for all that stupid emo stuff but really, like, not one lousy character gets offed?

Fictitia squirmed in her seat, which was the wrong thing to do: Scarpia quietly took her hand in his. Great, she thought, already grossed out, and they haven’t even started singing.

She recalled he’d said, promenading up the stairs, opera was like ice-cream, that you didn’t need to learn how to like it, you knew it the first time you tried it. Then he added, with that annoying leer of his, “kind of like sex, too, now that you mention it.”

“Not that I’d mentioned it, fucktard” but she kept her mouth shut, not that she ever liked ice-cream, either. Thinking of sex with him, she definitely considered heaving over the rail.

Now the singing dragged on – lots of guys lurking in the shadows – she wondered what he’d do if she suddenly tore her t-shirt off, exposing her boobs and yelled “Help! Rape!” Sitting back, she was glad she couldn’t read his feeble mind because that’s probably exactly what he was thinking.

Once the mezzo started singing – not bad; too perky for her taste – she pulled out her cell and checked Facebook. Over a thousand likes and comments plus dozens of new friend requests. She hadn’t posted any reports on Twitter since she ran into Scarpia and needed to get things caught up. She tapped in posts about being nearly expelled by the security guard, then getting escorted into the opera instead. She asked “anyone catch the TV pre-show? heard it was a train-wreck.”

The Director’s Box was practically empty, except for a few local dignitaries, and Scarpia had been irritated neither “Dead Beat” D’Arcy nor the dead guy’s cousin had bothered to show up. She snapped a pic of the box as some big-wig and his bejeweled wife saw her and sneered. Perfect!

Responding to various coughs and knowing nods from the next box, Scarpia leaned over, putting his hand around her cell.

“We don’t do that during a performance,” he smiled at her patronizingly.

“No,” she whispered back, “I didn't think you would,” then yanked her phone away from him and continued tweeting.

She realized there were no mosh pits in concert halls, but wouldn’t the orchestra pit here work really well? Snap! Post. The pic of the old codgers already had 150 re-tweets.

Scarpia was getting annoyed. Here he was, Schweinwald’s board president with some punk kid old enough to be his granddaughter – that was totally cool – but she wouldn’t put the damn cell-phone away. Now she was asking him what he knew about this mysterious BandanaMan. He’d seen her tweets – what’s the point?

“Maybe we could talk about that after the opera?” he asked her. “We could have some ice-cream.” (Or sex.) When she grimaced, he thought, “okay, fine, we can skip the ice-cream.”

“Game Time.” He slipped his own cell out of his pocket and logged onto his secret account as SlimTodLX. He sent Fictitia a private text, hoping she was enjoying the opera.

“No,” she texted back, “bored &c – U?”

“Its OK.” He reminded himself to abbreviate. “Wd rthr b w/u. Ltr?”

“What’s so interesting about an old bum falling into the fountain, anyway?” Fictitia mentioned even the security guys seemed to be all revved up about this one, still continuing under her breath. “Now, leave a severed ear on the fountain with a coded message, then things would start to get interesting!”

In fact, that would’ve been downright kinky, Scarpia thought. He liked kinky. And Fictitia was also kind of kinky. Nice ears, too, but he’d get his tongue caught in those piercings.

“im wrking,” she texted SlimTodLX back. “bzy 2nite &c. sry.” Who’s this? She checked his profile: typical – totally blank. If he’s German, “Tod” meant “Death,” but he didn’t sound very Goth. She wondered what was going on with Cameron, if he was okay. That’s who she’d like to see tonight.

“Hey tod u kno re:BandanaMan? need 2 find out more re:that dude.” If she’s a reporter, now she’s working.

“No, sry :-/”

“Nvrmnd. Thnx&c.” Damn…

“Thnking of U + ur &c…”

“Sry, i gotta go – im w/POF – ttyl” She went to hang up but the guy sent one more text.

“POF? like ‘person outstandingly fuckulent’?”

“lol i wish – pompous old fart ;-)”

Scarpia tried not to react but got an idea and quickly sent her a photo with a tracker virus.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

D’Arcy and I scrambled down the darkened hallways trying to avoid using his key-card to find a place to hide, still hoping we could reach LauraLynn before that suspicious-sounding musicologist found her. When we reached an open well-lit area, D’Arcy looked around and stopped. Too late – there was no one there. The parking garage was ahead of us, the library to our left. The hallway on the right looked inviting, but a potential killer would try keeping you from reaching those elevators.

Desperately hoping to catch my uncooperative breath, I tried asking him between puffs where she might have gotten to, preferably nearby in a direction that might have been more adequately lit.

“He must have chased her back toward Niebelheim,” he said. “Hear anything?”

“Other than my pounding heart? No, sorry…”

“With any luck, he’ll chase her right into the path of those IMPs running after us and they’ll rescue her.”

A nice bit of choreography, I thought, but somehow not very likely. We needed to rescue her and somehow avoid those very agents ourselves, not to mention find Cameron as well.

Without another word, D’Arcy grabbed me by the arm and dragged me back down the darkened hallway we’d come. He tried shushing me but my lungs, about to explode, were insubordinate.

Again, he stopped suddenly and I nearly fell over, banging into him, shushing me again with no better success. I desperately tried holding my breath but it didn’t seem to matter.


I heard distant footfalls, someone running.

“What’s that smell?”

I croaked out, “I live with five cats, so...”

“It sounds like something's coming from over there, around the central unit.” He dragged me deeper into the maze.

“What if it’s those agents?” I asked, suggesting perhaps we should hide.

Not far ahead, there was a doorway underneath a dim security light.

“Looks like we’re in luck,” he said.

D’Arcy pointed out somebody’d left the door to the scene shop open.

“What if it’s a trap? And shouldn’t we be looking for LauraLynn?”

“We have to solve the gizmo.”


Without further explanation, he pushed me through the door ahead of him. The room inside was vast, dark and silent. Pulled tightly shut behind us, the door locked with a resounding click. Occasional points of dim light along the side wall were barely enough to see where we needed to go.

While we stood waiting for our eyes to adjust to the gloom, he asked if I had the artifact. Looking around, I hugged the tote-bag close to my chest and nodded.

“Am I to take that as a no?” D’Arcy asked, sounding concerned.

“No,” I said, catching my breath finally.

“Did you drop it somewhere? We need that to catch the murderer!”

“No, I meant ‘yes, I have it.’ It’s here in my tote-bag,” I said. “What did you mean, ‘gizmo’?”

D’Arcy grunted, perhaps embarrassed to admit he couldn’t remember the word ‘artifact.’ He led the way down what appeared to be a narrow aisle between cluttered shelves and equally cluttered work desks. Turning on a small desk lamp, he told me to sit down: it was time to examine the artifact.

The first thing I saw was a hand-painted heart-shaped medallion on the doll’s breast pocket surrounded by fine letters, written in German.

“From the heart, may it go to the heart.”

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 9 (Part 2)

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

The previous installment begins backstage at the Schweinwald Festival's opening night gala with Rossini's The Barber of Seville. Host Rita Pagliaccio begins the live telecast by interviewing the evening's star, Cora diLetto who's singing Rosina. Unfortunately, her next guests haven't shown up yet. Two of the festival's security team are looking for an old woman who's gotten lost in the parking garage and make a grim discovery.
= = = = = = =

Chapter 9 (continued...)

From around the corner, I noticed the reception area was almost empty, the servers impatiently gathering up empty plates and dirty glasses, clearing off the tables and setting up the dinner chairs.

Handing D’Arcy his phone, I told him, “Get down to the library! It’s LauraLynn – she’s in very serious danger!”

Cameron careened out of the doorway, breathlessly running into us, looking around.

“Quick,” he panted, “they’re right behind me!”

And with that, all three of us headed for the side exit.

Bursting through the stairwell door only seconds behind Cameron, Captain Schäufel, still holding onto his phone after calling for back-up, was followed by two black-clad IMP agents who practically stumbled over him. Small knots of people – board members, the fashionably late – still gathered around, casually sipping the last of the champagne. We hid behind one group, hoping we’d be able to blend in, D’Arcy, in his tux, having a better chance than Cameron or I, still in street clothes after our arrival.

The IMP agents appeared frozen to their respective spots, Schäufel nearly motionless except for clutching at his still-heaving chest. The guests seemed oblivious of their arrival, affording us some momentary cover. It wasn’t going to be easy, breaking away to make our escape, bolting for the next set of doors.

The elevator at the opposite side of the reception area slowly opened, revealing a short figure in an off-beige trenchcoat, wisps of silver hair escaping from beneath a brown and shapeless hat, scowling and eminently displeased, standing beside a proportionately taller IMP agent dressed ominously in black like the other two.

Yoda Leahy-Hu – was she really the International Music Police’s Director of Special Forces? – croaked an order into her phone: “Whatever happens, try not to be disruptive, but I want them alive.”

Cameron, hunching himself over hoping not to stand out in a group of mostly shorter people, noticed Leahy-Hu first, his eyes simultaneously meeting her rheumy gaze, both registering flashes of recognition. Trying not to move, he whispered something about leprechauns at nine o’clock, D’Arcy cautiously turning to follow his glance.

Suddenly, Leahy-Hu’s eyes began to smolder, still smarting from the roach spray. Raising the phone to her withered lips, she spoke a few words. The other agents turned to face us.

D’Arcy suggested acting as nonchalant as possible, shepherding us toward the exit as if he’s giving us a tour. Immediately, I backed into a table, sending glasses crashing to the floor.

We barely made it to the door in time, bounding toward the lobby, the others breaking into hot pursuit.

We raced down the steps, feet pounding, twisting around for two flights, Cameron and I desperately following after D’Arcy’s lead (I’d forgotten Rob told me he’d been a track star in college). We dashed past the lobby entrance, since that would not be safe and headed down toward the main kitchen.

“More options this way,” he panted, pointing down the long, dim hallway. He made a sharp right. “This way!” It looked like any institutional hall lined with offices and meeting rooms.

“Lots of places here to hide,” Cameron noted, “so, why don’t we?”

“Can’t – LauraLynn’s in danger… by the library.”

D’Arcy held a door open for us and we barely scrambled through.

Judging from the clatter of boots behind us, we could hear the agents were not far enough behind us.

Three doorways – which one would we choose? One, he said, led back to the kitchen. The other two were locked. We stopped to catch our breath but the pounding was getting closer. D’Arcy said the middle door led to the library, but he quickly put his hands on all three doorknobs. Swiping his card in the middle door, we followed him through. It clicked shut behind us. “That should help.” But there wasn’t time to slow down: they’re already trying the doors.

A long hall with several sharp turns, lit only with emergency lights, it soon led to three more doors. There was an alcove with two vending machines and a drinking fountain.

“Ooh, cool,” Cameron said, “butterscotch crumpets,” checking his pockets for change, “I haven’t had one of those in months.”

“No time for that!” D’Arcy again touched all three doorknobs, unlocking the right door and locking it behind us. We continued our mad dash down another long and dimly lit tunnel.

“They must have heat censors to follow our trail,” shaking his head. By now, I could barely keep up. “It’s not far from here but we have to keep on going.”

All I could think of was how much danger LauraLynn was in, compared to what danger we were in.

“Hey, wait,” D’Arcy said, stopping up short. I almost spilled over him. “Where’s Cameron? Wasn’t he behind you, Dr. Kerr?”

There was nobody behind me, not even the distant pounding of feet.

I hugged my tote-bag to my heaving chest as if doing so might somehow keep my heart from exploding.

Looking back, I saw nothing, heard nothing and could say nothing. “Evil…”

“What was that?” D’Arcy looked at me.

I waved my hand, unable to speak, shaking my head in disbelief.

Cameron had been my responsibility but here I’d failed him – and myself. I should’ve reached back and grabbed him. He should’ve known not to dawdle, not then, when we’re being pursued.

But I also had a responsibility to Rob and LauraLynn, yet whatever was happening, this could not go on.

“Could he follow us, maybe?”

“The doors would lock automatically behind us.”

“Then the reason we’re not hearing them running after us is, they’ve…”

“Yes,” D’Arcy said, “I’m afraid they’ve caught him.”

Checking the tote-bag to make sure I still had the Maltese Mozart, I said we had to keep going.

“And we have to hurry,” he said. “They must’ve figured it out.”

“What?” I asked. We started running again.

“Someone’s monitoring the key-cards and telling Schäufel. They know where we’re going.”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

“What the hell?” LauraLynn’s first reaction was as if she’d suddenly seen some hideous monster lurking in the subterranean darkness. Her second reaction wasn’t much more reassuring: was it worth screaming again? She blinked her eyes and stared straight ahead, but still this thing – whatever it was – kept heading toward her. Besides, as she continued cluttering her racing mind with numerous unwelcome thoughts, who’d hear her if she screamed again? Was this Heidi engaging in some prank or was this Rothbart Girdlestone?

No, this was definitely some large hulking man – more like a beast. Some construction worker on a drunken lark? Or someone trying out a costume for a scene from Rob’s opera? She was a rational person and tried to find a rational explanation but temporarily found herself at a loss.

“What the hell?”

This time she said it out loud, annoyed that that was all she could come up with.

“Where is Heidi? Have you seen Heidi?” Right – engage monster in conversation.

He stopped abruptly and quizzically tilted his head slightly to the right, so she repeated her question in German.

Perhaps this was another character from one of Schweinwald’s quaint folk-like celebrations, one that she hadn’t been warned about. Maybe they were doing some up-dated version of Beauty and the Beast.

“She’s making a long-distance call.”

His voice, echoing strangely underground, sounded vaguely familiar, but at least he spoke English.

“Did she say if she’ll be long?” Apparently he must know her.

The 'monster' made some tentative steps toward her, thrusting his hand forward.

He asked, “did you bring the notebook?”

“Wait… what? What notebook…?” She stepped back, gripping her purse. “You are…?”

“Allow me to introduce myself.” He bowed. “I am, believe it or not, Dr. Rothbart Girdlestone, at your service.”

It made no sense, a famous musicologist dressed like… well, like this. He hadn’t struck her as eccentric but it might explain why he didn’t want to meet in the lobby.

“I must apologize,” he said. “You see, I slipped in…” he hesitated, looking behind him, “well, in something slippery.”

She hadn’t reached the library’s reading room yet, but otherwise, looking around her, she didn’t really know where she was. The elevator they’d taken was behind her; weren't the restrooms behind him? Maybe Heidi will be coming back shortly and scare him off, unless… uh oh, something just occurred to her… What if he’d already “taken care of” Heidi? Oh, no, he couldn’t have… now she felt like screaming again. But there’s bound to be security cameras around here somewhere, surely somebody…

While she considered her very few options, LauraLynn noticed the monstrous musicologist (as she now began thinking of him) considered what she might do, like playing chess with a living set-piece. Move too much toward the outside door, he would cut her off. Could she reach the elevator before him?

She should also try to rescue Heidi. Did he tie her up, leaving her bound and gagged in the restroom? No, at this point it would better to escape, alert the police. But he said he’d slipped in “something slippery,” explaining the need to change clothes. Did he mean, like… blood?

She found herself curious about his rather unorthodox manner of dress, looking like he’d raided an old costume trunk. A vaguely recalled whiff came her way, reminiscent of her grandmother’s closets.

It was difficult to know where to start: his towering wig looked like it came out of the 18th Century, the kind a beautiful countess might have worn to a fancy ball. His waistcoat, several sizes too small, left uncovered a massive bare chest, but really, most curious were the pants. She could only describe them as harem pants, the diaphanous genie-like kind, barely hiding the outline of tree-like legs. She wondered if she could outrun him: he was, after all, barefoot.

He was built like a wrestler with a low center of gravity (was he wearing boxers underneath those pants?). She was lithe and slender, winner of several athletic trophies in school. Her over-the-shoulder Belle Ennui cocktail dress with matching heels wasn’t designed for running, but he was wearing harem pants...

Weaving back and forth, hoping her indecisiveness would confuse her would-be attacker – technically, he’d made no overt moves as yet – she considered his obvious power compared to her greater speed and agility. She might fake him out, darting toward the back: instead, she lunged for the elevator, pounding the 'up' button.

But the elevator was taking too long, in a few bounds the beast would be on top of her. She pivoted on her heel – shades of high school basketball – and ran.

When the elevator opened, Peter Moonbeam, running behind schedule, was not amused.

“Jeez, kids playing with elevator buttons? Really?”

They’d skipped the lobby and were now in some grimly creepy basement.

“Hey, you – dirtbag,” Moonbeam called out after the oddly dressed figure running off into the shadows. “Thanks for nothing!”

“What was that,” an older lady asked.

Someone suggested maybe an exotic dancer, perhaps for that scene from Faust.

“Yes,” another offered, “maybe it was for the Helen of Troy scene?”

“Ugh, really,” he shuddered, “I can’t say what I just caught a glimpse of would launch very many ships…”

Any more delays, and he was afraid they’d miss the opera's overture.

As the elevator door closed, he thought he heard a distant scream: someone met Helen in a dark alley?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Rita Pagliaccio had pulled herself together once Schmerzleid, having gotten himself back together, managed to talk her down off the pedestal she had retreated to, threatening to fling herself, Tosca-like, into oblivion. Not realizing her makeup needed considerable attention, she was thrust on camera after quickly primping her grotesquely bedraggled hair. Her mascara had run, her pancake looked streaked, her lipstick was smudged. Once he saw her on the monitor, Schmerzleid knew his career was toast, if she didn’t kill him first.

She was greeted by two gentlemen dressed in tuxedos who introduced themselves as board members of the Schweinwald Festival, both enthusiastic about being here if not exactly sure as to why. The tall, middle-aged one on the left was Barry Scarpia and the younger, much cuter one was Christopher Babbila.

Looking at her list, she said, “I see you’re not on my list – as you can see, I have a little list,” she tittered, holding an index card up to the camera. Scarpia, for his part, was trying not to focus on what role she might have been made up for. One of the Eumenides came to mind, or possibly Katisha in The Mikado except that was an alto role. Was someone doing The Little Mermaid and she was the Sea Witch?

“I apologize unanimously for my brief indisposition,” she simpered, her mouth drawn up in such a moue that Babbila stepped back, knocking over an end table set for the next scene. “What sorts of things,” she continued, batting her eyelashes, “would two board members be interested in talking about, hmm?”

Scarpia, momentarily speechless, wondered if this once famous diva wasn’t trying to fit in with the modern fashion world, thinking she’d look younger, more relevant by going for the glam-rock style.

Babbila stammered a bit trying to get himself started, mentioning, though he was a first-year board member, he had been asked to chair the search committee looking for a new director.

“D’you think an over-the-hill opera singer (speaking for myveryself, of course) would have the qualifications for whom you’re searching?”

To cover Babbila’s understandable inability to respond, Scarpia stepped forward and mentioned the two previous directors had many long-range plans which now might be left hanging once a new director was appointed. There was the commitment to transform the festival into a year-round institution with a concert hall and a school. Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist considered it an important step for Schweinwald to remain viable despite numerous funding difficulties and economic risks. Babbila noted, somewhat sourly, that perhaps the timing is not sufficiently fortuitous.

The new wing of the Festspielhaus – here, Scarpia waved his arm in its general direction – was scheduled to open with this summer's season but this is now, unfortunately, already in jeopardy, as was the world premiere of the late former director’s new opera which was left incomplete at his death.

“But wasn’t there something about the old school…” Pagliaccio chewed on her lip trying desperately to recollect a past conversation.

“Some board members, unfortunately, are rather ‘old school,’ that’s true,” Scarpia smiled.

Babbila suggested she meant the old Schweinwald Academy, legendary in its time, once located out at the old castle.

“Ah,” she said, “yes, the old castle. Never underestimate an old ruin, I say. But why did it close?”

“Ancient history, basically – lost in the mists of time,” Scarpia responded uneasily.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

What Grandma would’ve done to be here in a grand opera house, preparing herself to head into this magnificent theater, getting ready to experience a live performance starring this internationally famous singer. Her whole day would’ve turned into panic in case she should miss even a minute of an opera broadcast. If she didn’t have a radio broadcast to listen to every week, she’d go take out a library recording or listen to one of her own again, one of her favorites. Fictitia remembered how her Da always hated these, being forced to listen to them when he was a kid, getting so angry one time he’d smashed one of her favorite LPs, not sure her tears were for the broken record or realizing he could do something so hurtful as that.

It was probably a bit of both whether he was acting out of rage or rebellion. Fictitia totally got Da’s point of view, you know, being forced to do something he hated. Warbling like wounded crows, his mates always made fun of him because his ma made him listen to opera. That was hardly what a boy dreaming of playing football wanted to do, “better” himself by hiding behind the skirts of some overweight prima donna yodeling her eyes out on stage.

Fictitia saw it as much a “class” thing as a “cultural” thing: this stuff was meant for the aristocrats, those pompous lesions on society, parasites of the bloody workers and all. What right did Grandma have, a poor old widowed housewife, putting on airs liking all this high society muck? Her grandmother still listened to these huge recordings weighing a bloody ton when everything she ever needed to listen to in this world – anywhere, too – fit into her tiny light-weight iPod.

She didn’t mind a lot of classical music, even enjoyed some of the faster stuff though sometimes “pretty” wasn’t all that bad, either, if you didn’t tell your friends about it. But this time, she wouldn’t worry much about the music: she knew something far more “rad” was going down.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

“What luck,” Cameron thought, finding just the right change left over from that snack he’d gotten at the train station. He waited patiently as the vending machine slowly released his butterscotch crumpet. But when he turned around, Dr. Kerr and Mr. D’Arcy had disappeared behind one of three doors. Which one?

He tried the door on the left but it was locked (should he have tried the right one, first?). The clattering of boots was getting louder. The middle door’s locked, too.

“Halt, right there,” a woman’s gruff voice shouted. “Agents of the IMP!”

Turning, Cameron tried to look thoroughly innocent.

Three people in tight-fitting uniforms, rifles drawn, blocked the only exit left.

“Uhm, is there a problem?” he asked. “I was only trying to find my way back to the lobby.”

“You’re under arrest for stealing…”

Another of the agents cleared her throat.

“…for allegedly stealing or conspiring to steal… something.”

The other officers tried not to grimace. This wasn’t going very well.

“But I didn’t steal anything,” he said, holding out his snack. “I had the right change for the machine.”

The three agents conferred, keeping their rifles drawn and their stances ready, the one closest grabbing the snack cake.

That’s when Cameron decided, “not another word,” and they marched him away.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

The opera had begun.

Looking across the empty lobby, Fictitia recalled the tuxes and evening gowns, realizing how her own torn fishnet stockings and black t-shirt were more than out of place. She wasn’t sure she dreaded being branded “uncouth” or felt emboldened because she was invading their hallowed sanctimoniousness – whatever.

She never understood why “dressing up” meant “culture,” as if whatever you're doing was made suddenly better, more enjoyable. What was the point of everybody wearing posh clothes and behaving “properly”?

When Da went to the fights, he wore the same grubby t-shirt and torn pants he wore at home. Wasn’t it grand, going out to hear some killer band with her mates, all of them dressed in Goth Black, everyone screaming and dancing, all part of giving society the finger?

She wasn’t even sure why she was here, covering this event for GothArts, the e-zine she often wrote for. Was she covering it as a straight-forward event or making fun of it? What possible interest could they have, especially in this opera which lacked a certain, shall we say, Gothic sensibility?

Just then, Fictitia saw several security guards file into the lobby, one of them heading right in her direction. She got her press pass ready, her passport into their exclusive world.

Looking over to the far right, near that bank of elevators where she’d last seen him, there were more security guards and some black-clad soldiers (totally cool) escorting that cute guy, Cameron.

Fictitia felt a hard grip on her shoulder, a guard wheeling her around like he’s about to expel her.

“You were seen talking to that young man. Did he tell you anything of interest about, say… a murder?”

“What drugs are you on? What killer would confess to a reporter?”

Turning to walk away as defiantly as possible, thinking, “go ahead, try and arrest me,” she found her way blocked by a tall gentleman in a tux. It was Barry Scarpia.

“Everything’s all right, Officer,” he smiled. “The young lady is with me.”

With that, he held out his hand.

= = = = = = =
to be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 9 (Part 1)

 The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Dr. Kerr is in Rob Sullivan's office at the Schweinwald Festspielhaus along with Cameron, V.C. D'Arcy and the festival's chief of security, looking for whatever they could find when he locates a headless bobble-head doll probably meant to be Mozart. They also meet the diminutive Yoda Leahy-Hu, Director of the International Music Police's Special Forces Unit who wonders what it is they've found. Cameron makes a dash for it, Kerr and D'Arcy run after him and then Leahy-Hu and her agents are off after them. It seems LauraLynn Sullivan is in the basement of the building, between the parking garage and the temporary location of the Library waiting to meet the musicologist Rothbart Girdlestone: something about the old Harrison Harty journal. Heidi Gedankgesang runs into someone waiting for LauraLynn but it doesn't quite go the way she'd planned.
= = = = = = =

Chapter 9 (Part 1)

Trying to keep out of everybody else’s way, a whole crew of TV engineers swarmed the backstage of the Festspielhaus, quickly pulling cables into place, checking sight-lines and double-checking lights and headsets. The dress rehearsal had not gone well which was probably good news because everybody would be on their toes.

Werner Schmerzleid, the broadcast’s director, checked the timings with his assistant when guests should arrive, only hoping they would. His hostess, soprano Rita Pagliaccio, was finishing her make-up, ready to go.

“Don’t use too much pancake,” she warned, checking her profiles in the mirror, “or I’ll look like a clown.” One thing she hated was looking like some bozo in a gown.

“Ms. Pagliaccio, ready for your close-up,” the voice said through the intercom.

Ever the diva, she strode into place.

It had been years since the great Pagliaccio last sang in public, her adoring fans still abundant all across Europe – her farewell performance as Tosca in Munich brought the audience to tears – but she still knew how to work a camera and, standing tall, bring her full personality into the character. She blew the cute cameraman a kiss (unfortunately it was already on-air), welcoming viewers backstage for a delicious treat, this special broadcast of the opening night gala at the Schweinwald Festival.

Delighted to see she was ready to go, patiently waiting in place, the hostess warmly introduced her first guest, “one of the great stars of today’s opera world, mezzo-soprano Cora diLetto.”

Already in costume, Cora waved to the camera, tugging at her ear, thrilled to be backstage for the interview.

“Thank you. It’s so wonderful to be able to share the stage with the Divine Miss Rita,” she bubbled.

“Oh, my gracious!” Pagliaccio laughed, fanning herself. “You had me at ‘divine’!

“Though you’re known for pants roles like Cherubino and Octavian where you pretend to be a boy,” Pagliaccio continued, quickly checking her notes, “tonight you’re ‘all girl’ as the quick-witted Rosina.”

“One of the great things about making a living being a liar!”

(The camera fully caught Pagliaccio’s arching eyebrows.)

DiLetto continued how one night she could lie about having a bad day while playing a comic character or dying a tragic suicide another night while feeling perfectly content with the world.

“The whole trick is to lie so convincingly, the audience believes everything you do or say – I mean, sing!”

“And what is it you’re lying about, tonight?” Pagliaccio asked, shoving the mic into her face. “Anything in particular?”

“I’m a little nervous, given the occasion, and Rosina is very confident...”

DiLetto asked her if she weren’t a little bit nervous before going on-stage herself, even in a familiar role, but Pagliaccio, extremely self-confident, said she’d never really thought about it before.

Looking over to the side and seeing no more guests lined up there, she began thinking about it now.

She continued asking diLetto about favorite roles, new recordings and future plans – meanwhile extremely aware how much she missed someone asking her these questions – when her guest politely excused herself to 'prepare.'

Then, stepping aside for a view of the busy preparations on the stage, Pagliaccio announced they would return shortly.

Off-camera, the director handed her a list of topics she could mention when the stage-manager’s voice went out on-air, “Check the long shot for that fucking anvil in the first finale!”

Reluctantly, Rita Pagliaccio stepped back before the camera, prepared to do something she never did on stage before – wing it – mentioning how she hoped to talk with the festival’s acting director soon and with the legendary maestro, Luigi Maéstro, whom she fondly remembers from his conducting her debut many years ago.

She peered anxiously at the director’s notes, everything becoming a hopeless blur since she wasn’t wearing her reading glasses, then looked around helplessly, knowing she still had fifteen minutes to fill.

Suddenly she just stomped off, muttering curses that would’ve aroused Mephistopheles’ admiration, running headlong into Cameron who, having managed to escape from Schäufel and the two IMP agents, was hiding backstage. She tossed him the notes, stuffed the microphone in his hand and pushed him in front of the camera.

Standing like a deer in headlights and realizing being on nationwide TV was not the best place to be hiding, Cameron glanced down at the notes, turned them right-side-up, and swallowed nervously. After a deep breath, he launched into his best high-school German delivery, Schmerzleid burying his head in his hands.

“This fall, Schweinwald will a whole new chapter in its history begin, when the new building, to the beautiful Festspielhaus a mirror with its halls for symphonic and chamber music, opens.”

His sing-song delivery and misplaced emphases, plus the fact he often had no idea what he was actually reading, made it difficult to understand, people watching the monitors stopping to laugh. He mentioned tomorrow morning's rehearsal and the composers’ round-table with Peter Moonbeam then gave up on the next items.

“Sadly, there’s tomorrow’s memorial service for Robertson Sullivan, the composer, whose opera, Faustus, Inc., will this summer premiered be – he briefly as festival director following the death of Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist served.”

Cameron glanced up in time to see Schäufel and the two black-clad IMPs sneaking in behind the second cameraman. Shoving the mic at a stage-hand, he said “Your turn,” and fled.

“Remember,” Schmerzleid said to his speechless assistant, “if I ever agree to do live TV again, please shoot me.”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

P.K. Arabesk and Tom LeVay, both recent graduates of the police academy who couldn’t find jobs with the local Landespolizei, were still acclimating themselves to the dull life of an arts festival. Here they were, patrolling a parking garage looking for a lost old lady like it was some terrorist alert. Maybe their boss, ‘Schäufel der Teufel,’ had finally lost it, cracking under the constant strain of nothing ever happening, even though the Festival lost two directors in little over a month.

“Not like any of that excitement happened anywhere near here,” Arabesk complained. “Zeitgeist wiped himself out on a ski slope in Austria and then Sullivan got murdered someplace in the States.”

“At least we’re prepared if any old ladies turn belligerent. What,” LeVay scoffed, “we’re issued one bullet between us?”

The radio crackled into existence. “Come in, Officer Arabesk. Any sign yet of the old lady,” Chief Dispatcher Agitato asked.

“No, sir,” he replied sheepishly. “Peeling our eyes as we speak, sir.”

“Do that,” Agitato replied. “Just remember, if you happen to see her, which one of you has the bullet.”

“Roger, that,” LeVay responded with due gravitas, rolling his eyes at Arabesk, carefully shutting off his radio before continuing. His partner nodded and did the same, hoping to avoid further embarrassment.

“Wasn’t it Agitato who had to deal with that little old lady last year, the one complaining how she didn’t get the seat she wanted for the last performance of Boheme?”

“Right – she ended up groining him with her cane when he escorted her away from the box office line.”

No wonder he was on dispatch now. It may be boring and safer – and he can sit down, too – but it does pay a little better than being on foot patrol.

“It’s not like Al-Qaida would target some opera house in the rural outback of Bavaria for any terrorist attack.” Arabesk surreptitiously checked his gun: “Yes, I’m the one with the bullet.”

“Not Barber of Seville. Now, Siege of Corinth or Turk in Italy, maybe,” LeVay nodded, “given their anti-Muslim stereotypes…”

Checking to make sure their two-way radios were off – this out-dated equipment always managed to make things more complicated – they laughed how Mobilé described Schäufel’s face when he saw BandanaMan’s wet clothes. The old guy, they agreed, was really beginning to slip: “What is he, now,” LeVay chuckled, “mid-forties or something?”

Arabesk asked if he’d noticed that list of names beside Mobilé’s phone.

“You mean all her ex-boyfriends?” LeVay snorted. “Can’t tell a player without a program. Still, she’s quite a knock-out…”

And if that wasn’t bad enough, they were all crammed into this tiny trailer, half their equipment malfunctioning daily, banished to the remote back parking lot, far from the main lobby. Of course, it was only temporary, until the new construction was done, but it could be a long summer.

It was the silver hair they saw sticking out of a trash dumpster around the corner from the lady’s room, alerting them to the problem. Fearing the worst, they drew their guns. While Arabesk quickly secured the immediate area, LeVay checked out the dumpster, hoping the old woman was still alive.

It turned out to be a wig; instead of a body, only the gloves and dress Schäufel had described.

LeVay hastily reported back to the security trailer, “We have a situation.”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

She took a deep breath and tried looking confidently into the camera, imperceptibly nodding to resume the interrupted backstage broadcast, knowing that Rita Pagliaccio’s melt-down was assured a long life on YouTube. She knew she had to do better but was comforted by knowing it was unlikely she’d do any worse.

Elsa Poppen, Schmerzleid’s directorial assistant, smiled broadly and improvised an apology for the indisposition of the regularly scheduled host, knowing her boss was in the men’s room, heaving his guts out.

“Being backstage,” she continued, “it’s busy at the best of times but with an opening night gala, there’s so much going on, not just getting the stage ready for a performance. With any luck, there’s even a chance we’ll get to talk with the festival’s Acting Director, Mr. V.C. D’Arcy.”

Nodding at the cameraman to zoom in on the stage, the crew finishing with the last of the opening’s set, she wondered how she could direct and talk at the same time. If only she could remember more of the talking points D’Arcy and Schmerzleid went over at the earlier walk-through.

“The big news is the world premiere of Robertson Sullivan’s opera, Faustus, Inc., following the composer’s recent, tragic death. He had been so close to finishing the opera before he died...”

Looking around to see if anyone else scheduled for an interview before the performance might be hanging around nearby, Elsa, seeing nobody, decided to skip the gruesome details of Sullivan’s murder. “Only recently appointed the festival’s new director, Mr. Sullivan died weeks after the death of long-time director Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist. Sullivan's cousin, noted philanthropist LauraLynn Harty, is in attendance tonight and was originally scheduled to talk with us briefly but her schedule’s been very busy with preparations for tomorrow’s memorial service.”

She tried stepped back from the camera though the cameraman kept following her despite her brusquely shaking her head. Someone handed her a slip of paper she read with obvious relief.

“Let’s go now to the traditional ‘Blessing of the Waters’ held at the fountain in front of the Festspielhaus.”

Unfortunately by now, the plaza was too dark in steep shadows for much of the festivities to be seen clearly, the engineer arguing that the setting was the same as last year’s. Also, no one realized the new building now blocked the evening sunlight after money-saving decisions canceled seemingly unnecessary test-runs. It didn’t matter to most of the younger viewers since the picture’s grainy quality and out-of-focus forms dancing about were similar to many barely visible things they viewed regularly on YouTube.

The older viewers, assuming it was probably part of a low-budget home-made movie produced and acted by local students, hoped the nonsense would end soon so they could enjoy the opera. The reporter stood next to several pre-pubescent girls screaming over a Justin Bieber video they’d downloaded to their phones.

Several of the children were still laughing about the expression on that old woman’s face when she opened the door, finding herself nearly trampled by their mad dash toward the plaza entrance. They’d spun her about until she almost became part of their dance: it would’ve been funny, if she had.

The priest – a rotund baker playing a part – intoned a prayer thanking God for the art that inspires us and the children danced, singing nonsense rhymes the tourists thought perfectly quaint.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Officers Arabesk and LeVay meticulously described the remnants of the old lady they had discovered stuffed into a remote dumpster – her wig, the dress Schäufel described, even the shoes, but no body – until Officer Mobilé pointed out this was not a real old lady but apparently another of BandanaMan’s ingenious disguises. No one had any idea what this was all about, much less what disguise he might be wearing now: what was he up to and where did he go from here?

Officer Agitato interrupted them, telling them not to worry about it now: Schäufel had just phoned in for back-up, running down the stairwell from the Director’s office with several IMP agents. He was in pursuit of another suspect who allegedly tried to steal something right out from under his nose.

“All available officers were to cordon off the main lobby and the mezzanine where a reception was being taken down, and apprehend the two Americans posing as friends of Director Robertson Sullivan. They’ve kidnapped Acting Director D’Arcy and may be involved in Sullivan’s murder. This,” Agitato concluded, “is your top priority.”

With that, the remaining officers swarmed out of the temporary security trailer, Arabesk and LeVay running toward the lobby. Assuming them armed and dangerous, Arabesk verified he still had the bullet.

The clatter of their boots reverberated through the emptiness, dying away once the door to the lobby stairs slammed shut, stifling the screams of terrified children rushing back from the plaza’s festivities. In a brief moment, everything left behind them turned to restful silence and the fleeting chaos was quickly forgotten.

The scrape of the metal grate, by comparison, sounded incongruously loud, pausing as if to adjust to the silence. Slowly, as a vent pushed open, a man dropped to the ground.

A large man, too bulky to fit easily through such a vent, unfolded himself awkwardly and cautiously looked around, dressed in black – turtleneck, jeans, sneakers, a ski-cap pulled over his face.

Breathing heavily, he reached for his phone and answered the in-coming call.

“Garth Widor, here – yes, almost ready... Good...”

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Last minute arrivals were picking up their tickets at the “Will-Call Window” while others were disappointed the only seats the box office had left for tonight were in the auditorium’s remotest reaches. There was a great deal of excitement, several people coming from Munich and Salzburg just to hear Cora diLetto.

“She doesn’t play the provinces often,” one dowager explained to her granddaughter, “but even music lovers from major cities can’t get enough of her. You’re in for an experience, my child.”

As people milled about in the lobby or streamed into the auditorium, anticipation was nowhere higher than in a corner of the mezzanine where a major donors’ reception was winding down. Near the back of the space, caterers moved in, ready to convert the reception into the post-performance gala dinner.

Two members of the Festival’s board were deep in discussion about the economics of art with fellow captains of industry, CEOs of some of the biggest corporations located in the immediate region. Barry Scarpia and Christopher Babbila both knew the importance of convincing others to increase their contributions supporting the Festival. Babbila, one of the younger board members, had seen his grandfather’s sheep farm transformed into a major wool-producing factory. Scarpia was delighted he’d talked him into joining the board last season.

Peter Moonbeam, meanwhile, brought his tour-group to the reception’s edge, treating them to the remains of sweets and champagne, talking about how great art can often be like a beautiful woman, fine wine that you can drink with your eyes or beautiful music which you can devour with your ears. A self-described “jolly fat man,” Moonbeam, a Native-American who thrived on turning recent initiates into life-long classical music aficionados, often found food similes a great help for people to understand music.

“Someone once told me opera was like ice-cream, but a lot of people don’t like opera the first time. So many people say you have to learn how to like opera. Now, truthfully, how many times did it take you to try ice-cream before you realized, ‘hey, I like this’?”

Moonbeam toasted his guests, lifting his champagne glass while quoting a few lines from Franz Schubert’s song, “An die Musik,” then began leading them back to the lobby, realizing they’re running late. Tomorrow, he’ll host a panel discussion with several guest composers focusing on the up-coming world premiere of Faustus, Inc.

Scarpia, receiving a frantic call from backstage – the director’s just decided to pre-record the intermission interview, just in case – suggested to his friend Babbila he should join him in meeting Schmerzleid.

“I can’t figure out D’Arcy: he didn’t even make it to the reception,” Scarpia said, clucking his tongue disapprovingly.

“Perhaps,” Babbila said, barely keeping up with him, “something else came up?”

“Bah,” Scarpia scoffed, “what’s more important than a roomful of major contributors?”

Then he caught a glimpse of Fictitia.

= = = = = = =
To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Beethoven's Eroica: The Music & the Hero, Part 3

Another Heroic Monument
You can read the two earlier segments to this essay about Beethoven's 3rd Symphony here and here. This segment was originally entitled "The Hero Within the Music."

While Bonaparte – that is, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte (born Buonaparte), not the Emperor Napoleon – was the impetus behind the Symphony in E-flat Major Beethoven began working on in 1802, I'm wondering if Haydn wasn't closer to the mark when he allegedly said, “He's placed himself at the center of his work. He gives us a glimpse into his soul. ...But it is quite, quite new – the artist as hero – quite new... Everything is different from today.” (– quoted as it was used in the BBC/Pro Arte film Eroica which was imbedded in the previous post.)

Haydn (from BBC's "Eroica")
The idea of the “artist as hero” is entirely antithetical to the “artist as craftsman” of the Classical Era of which Haydn is generally considered the ultimate example. Yet he had already begun pushing these boundaries, now that he had retired after nearly thirty years as a court composer for Prince Nicholas Esterházy and had few requirements to fulfill for his successor. He composed two immense oratorios – completing The Creation in 1798 and The Seasons in 1801 – and six monumental masses between 1796 and 1802, his last major works. And there is certainly something of the sublime far beyond the classical craftsman in these works.

Haydn teaching Beethoven
Beethoven arrived in Vienna in 1792, a year after the death of Mozart – whose own music, especially in things like his D Minor Piano Concerto and the opera Don Giovanni challenged 18th Century Classical proprieties with an abundance of Romantic emotions – and studied with Haydn until he left once more for London in 1794. Though their relationship was never friendly – in fact, Haydn treated the young composer with some disdain if not jealousy and didn't seem to take these lessons seriously (Beethoven refused to list Haydn as his teacher on his first publications because he felt Haydn had taught him too little; another composer, examining Beethoven's counterpoint notebook, found several errors that Haydn had not bothered to correct) – Haydn was, after all, the most celebrated living composer in Europe at the time. One could point out many similarities in their works – the opening of “Winter” in Haydn's Seasons and the introduction to Beethoven's 4th Symphony, both in the same key, for instance – but then the “common language” of 18th Century classicism was so “common,” it is difficult to say how much of this is influence or coincidence much less imitation.

But there was something so startlingly new in the Eroica for 1803, it's impossible not to ask “where did that come from!?”

Yet if we examine the symphony in terms of its overall structure, it turns out not to be that different from the models that inspired Beethoven's first two symphonies between 1800 and 1802: instead of a slow introduction, typical with Haydn, Beethoven uses two peremptory chords to get out attention (no chance to settle comfortably into “listening mode,” here), but after that, the overall concepts are not unfamiliar – just incredibly expanded, especially in the middle section's development which is the hallmark of Sonata Form (in the 18th Century, this might be so brief as to be no more than a digression, but in Beethoven, it becomes the dramatic focus of the struggle between leaving the tonic key and its eventual return.

This first movement – full of excruciating dissonances and nearly as long as any of Haydn's earlier symphonies entirely – is followed, as expected, by a slow movement, but again one of immensely expanded proportions and intense drama – a funeral march, no less.

Haydn's third movements are often earthy and more dance-like than the standard courtly minuet of his earlier works, but Beethoven's takes this peasant-like energy to a new and often frenetic level, a return to life after the slow movement tragedy.

Haydn's finales were often light-hearted, full of tricks or jokes, but also capable of hiding intellectual details, but none of them were ever as long or as commanding as the Eroica's finale: here, a set of variations on what seems to be a simplistic, almost inane idea later turns out to be the bass of a theme introduced almost as an afterthought, but simple or not, it is full of “learnèd counterpoint” and out-and-out fugues, the culmination of the intellectual.

And it was the tradition in the 18th Century approach to variations that the next to the last one would be in a slow tempo (a way to inform the audience the end is near) which is exactly what Beethoven does here except, again, it is greatly expanded, almost into a slow movement of its own. It becomes an emotional climax if not of the whole piece, then at least the second half of the symphony (nothing could be more emotional that that funeral march's final disintegration). And how to end it? With an uproarious “happy ending,” a triumphal dance that, to a proper 18th Century classicist, would be vulgar in the extreme, pounding away at the final resolution to the home tonic – repetitive but also drunk with joy!

The skeleton of the classical symphony is still there but the surface of it – its scope and dimensions and what activates it as a work of art – are almost unrecognizable, certainly on first hearing. Yet it is not so revolutionary as we tend to think, embedded in the past as it is.

So it is interesting to read someone writing about the “sublime” in music:

= = = = = = =
“In music, only that can be sublime which exceeds the conceptual powers of the imagination: which appears too large and significant, too foreign and strange, for the imagination to grasp it easily...”

“The feeling of sublimity in music is aroused when the imagination is elevated to the plane of the limitless, the immeasurable, the unconquerable. This happens when such emotions are aroused as... prevent the integration of one's impressions into a coherent whole.”

– Christian Friedrich Michaelis, “Some Remarks on the Sublime in Music” (Leipzig, 1805) quoted in James Webster's essay, The Creation, Haydn's Late Vocal Music and the Musical Sublime in the Bard Music Festival Series, Haydn and His World (Princeton, 1997)
= = = = = = =

It is interesting to read this because it very much describes the music we associate with the huge emotional – indeed, “sensual” – leap into 19th Century romanticism which, as any music student has been told, essentially began with Beethoven's Eroica in 1803. Outside of a close circle of friends of Prince Joseph Maximilian Lobkowitz, no one else heard this symphony until April, 1805, when it was first performed at Vienna's Theater an der Wien.

And yet Michaelis published his “Remarks” in Leipzig in 1805: had he been in Vienna and heard Beethoven's startling new music? It's almost as if he were describing the Eroica's impact on its listeners:

= = = = = = =
“Firstly, by uniformity so great that it almost excludes variety: by the constant repetition of the same note or chord... by long, majestic, weighty, or solemn notes, and hence by very slow movement; by long pauses holding up the progress of the melodic line, or which impede the shaping of a melody, thus underlining the lack of variety. Secondly, by too much diversity, as when innumerable impressions succeed one another too rapidly and the mind is too abruptly hurled into the thundering torrent of sounds, or when (as in many polyphonic compositions involving many voices) the themes are developed together in so complex a manner that the imagination cannot easily and calmly integrate the diverse ideas into a coherent whole without strain. Thus in music, the sublime can only be that which seems too vast and significant, too strange and wonderful, to be easily assimilated by it.”

– Michaelis, ibid
= = = = = = =

The first idea certainly seems to pertain to Beethoven's epic Funeral March – even to that mysterious, unexpected D# interrupting the 1st Movement's opening cello melody, though not a “long pause,” which holds up the progress of the melodic line and expands it in such a way, there is this harmonic hiccup before the phrase cadences where it's expected to.

And the second idea – too much diversity – is another element of Beethoven's development sections, one thing after another thrown at you – melodic fragments, harmonic implications, striking dissonances and rhythmic irregularities – before you're back on any kind of solid (expected) ground.

Yet Michaelis is no doubt responding to elements of Haydn's oratorios – especially The Creation which already begins pushing beyond mere craftsmanship: the opening depiction of chaos was, to an 18th Century listener, sheer chaos, harmonically; the appearance of Light a stroke of brilliance that, though obvious to us (especially tame compared to today's special effects we witness daily in television, movies and video games) was thrilling to first-time listeners.

But it's all about expectations and how they're met: how did Beethoven get from being the Student beginning his studies with Haydn at 21 to the Master who wrote the Eroica at 32?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Cherubini & Muse (by Ingres)
It is tempting to write about the influences on Beethoven' style we don't usually think about, especially composers of his time whom we no longer know. There was a whole school of French artists active in post-Revolutionary Paris who painted, sculpted and composed on an epic scale, composers like Cherubini, an Italian transplant who became the leading French composer and dominated the musical style of his generation. Beethoven's sole opera, Fidelio, premiered in 1805, is based on a French "rescue" drama and heavily inspired by Cherubini.

But the musical style of Gossec, Gretry and Mehul was known to Beethoven whether or not he was aware of the paintings of David and Ingres. But this would take another sizable post of more interest to scholars than listeners, so let's leave that for now. It is, however, an area little written and less talked about in the Beethoven literature.

After producing six string quartets by 1800, his first symphony and a series of piano sonatas – including the very Romantic “Pathetique” in 1798 and the so-called “Moonlight” in 1801 (which could easily have been called the “Tempest” after its stormy finale) and the very next sonata, the placid “Pastoral” – Beethoven said to a friend, “I am only a little satisfied with my previous works. From today on I will take a new path.”

The next works he composed were the 2nd Symphony, the three violin sonatas of Op. 30 (dedicated to Tsar Alexander I), the “Eroica” Variations for solo piano which made use of a successful dance tune from his ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus of the previous year (a view of Creation from the perspective of classical Greek mythology, by the way), and the three piano sonatas that includes the very unusual one actually known as the “Tempest” (from a chance remark he made about Shakespeare's play when asked what its opening movement meant without ever really explaining how it applies). And then he started working out some new ideas for another symphony.

But something else happened in Beethoven's life that year.

A far from heroic-looking Beethoven walking in the woods near Heiligenstadt
He had begun experiencing symptoms that indicated something was wrong with his hearing and the idea of a concert pianist, indeed a composer, going deaf came at a time just as Beethoven's reputation was growing, that his new pieces were bringing in a good income. He was nearly 30 – what did it mean if he would soon go deaf and all this would come to a sudden halt?

In October, 1802, in the midst of the last movement of the 2nd Symphony, Beethoven wrote a heart-rending letter to his two brothers, intended to be opened after his death, which is known as “The Heiligenstadt Testament.” In places, it reads like a suicide note.

He had been troubled by the first symptoms around 1796, enough to worry about it. In a letter to a friend back home in 1801, he wrote “I will seize fate by the throat; it shall certainly not bend and crush me completely.”

When he wrote his 5th Symphony – which he started sketching probably while he was working on the Eroica and had completed the opening movements before he'd begun the 4th Symphony – he used that famous motive he described to his student Ferdinand Ries as “fate knocking at the door.” This gives rise to the idea the symphony is clearly about Man overcoming Fate and celebrating a great victory in the finale. It doesn't matter if that Man is actually the man Beethoven because the music itself transcends whatever inspired it, but certainly his own experiences dealing with what Fate has dealt him – in this case, his deafness – might have given him the dramatic inspiration whether he's writing an autobiographical piece or not.

Another fanciful image of Beethoven
And just as the Hero of the Eroica Symphony probably isn't a musical portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte – after all, how do you make sense of a hero who has a funeral in the second movement when the hero it is supposed to be dedicated to is very much alive? – is it any more possible the struggle in this music is the first stage of Beethoven coming to terms with his own deafness, becoming his own hero in grabbing Fate, two quick knocks at the door to start the symphony on its way?

Perhaps not. It's always dangerous to read anything into what Beethoven may have been thinking because he never told anyone what was specifically on his mind – even the reference to the “Tempest” is so vague, it hardly begins to answer the question.

But whether it is a musical portrait of Beethoven – or more likely his state of mind – or of Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France, is immaterial. You may hear great armies marching across battlefields in the first movement or hear in it a portrait not of Bonaparte but of Alexander the Great (as one writer insisted) but that may have nothing to do with what Beethoven was thinking about when he composed it.

What it comes down to is more like what Arturo Toscanini said: it is Allegro con brio, the tempo Beethoven gave to the first movement. It is about music and how it's put together: what you make of it is your own side of the equation.

- Dick Strawser

This three-part essay was written as a companion post for the Harrisburg Symphony's opening concert of the 2014-2015 Season with conductor Stuart Malina, which featured Beethoven's 3rd Symphony as well as the 4th Piano Concerto, October 18th & 19th. It is not intended as a scholarly or analytical article and is designed merely to augment a listener's appreciation of the music, the time in which it was composed, and the life of the composer who wrote it. Other essays in this on-going series can be read by following the tag up close.