Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 41

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, LauraLynn is confused between who's abducted her and who might be her cousin's killer. As Fictitia escapes from the old castle and seems to be rescued, contact is made between Garth Widor and Dr. Kerr's captor, ready to strike a deal. Meanwhile, in New York, Klavdia Klangfarben, disguised as the old Countess von Falkenstein, recalls how she'd stolen Cameron's letter and the impromptu celebration she had with Dhabbodhú before he left for Germany.

= = = = = = =
Chapter 41

Whatever the family had assumed Harrison Harty's journal was – or might be – it was definitely more than a childhood fantasy, nothing to be dismissed because it was partly written in secret code. Starting so matter-of-factly, anyone who looked at it would assume it's a souvenir of a summer holiday, nothing more. Apparently, no one bothered with the code nor worked past its appearance, assuming the rest would be no different. Whatever his reasons for making the switch, was it worth the effort?

Yet we'd managed to discover, before we'd even gotten about halfway through, that it was a unique, first-hand account of a pivotal time in the life of the composer Gustav Mahler, one of the leading voices at the end of the 19th Century and a major influence on the 20th.

For Mahler scholars who long had little biographical information to go on about the young man's life or musical coming-of-age, there could be priceless insights or at least a few 'charming anecdotes.' Anything included in these curious, coded pages that were found nowhere else could make Harty's summer journal incredibly valuable.

It was tantalizing to contemplate why Harty, himself still an impressionable teenager, felt compelled to finish it in code. But any reasonable musicologist needed to resist such premature if enticing speculation.

Mahler was a gifted if unpromising student in Vienna during his late-teens, never a prodigy like Mozart or Mendelssohn, exhibiting only modest talent as a child with nothing greatly hinted at. In fact, by the time he was 19, he had yet to complete a single composition beyond some songs. By 19, Mozart composed his violin concertos and Schubert his 5th Symphony, not like they're mature works, but still... Mendelssohn would've already composed his Octet and the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture.

Mahler turned 20 only days before he and Rott arrived at Schweinwald, fresh from his first professional conducting gig, rolling out operettas for the guests at Hall, a small Austrian resort. Returning to Vienna in August, he finally finished his first major work, the cantata Das klagende Lied, that October.

There's so little information about Mahler's friend and fellow student, Hans Rott, anything – especially any first-hand observations by his friends – would augment the material considerably, for which all scholars would be grateful. Rott's life was overshadowed by his tragedy but there was very little else he left behind, dead at 26. Rott was 20 when he'd completed his Symphony in E in 1878, bearing the stamp of his teacher Bruckner, yet surprisingly much of it sounds like Mahler writing a decade later.

Didn't Mahler once tell a friend of his that he and Rott were “two fruits from the same tree,” how they could've done “great things together in their new musical epoch”? What “common earth and air” had they breathed during that Schweinwald summer when both had shared such promising futures?

Imagine how the life of Gustav Mahler – who eventually fell in love with and married Alma Schindler, a budding composer – might have changed had he developed an early relationship with Ethel Smyth, though one doubts whether she would have accepted him at any time even if he'd been attracted to her.

What might have changed in Harrison Harty's life if Mahler the conductor had gone on to champion his music? Had they bothered to keep in touch after their summer at Schweinwald?

And what of Johannes Brahms, though there is probably little that is unknown about the last of the Three Bs: he'd taken a few weeks off during his summer holiday in 1880 to visit a once famous music school, yet nobody seems to know anything about the time he spent there. We know he once fell asleep listening to Liszt playing his sonata, but Liszt played at Schweinwald that summer: what had Brahms thought, hearing Liszt's latest music, this "music without tonality"?

It's not that we need to know everything about a composer's life, the daily routine of geniuses made mortal – what he had for breakfast on the day he wrote his Lullaby – but there is something to be said for realizing they're flesh-and-blood composers rather than these ubiquitously reverenced marble busts.

This was the same summer Brahms completed his two piano rhapsodies, Op.79, and began writing his Tragic and Academic Overtures. A friend's death in January inspired that summer's transcendent choral work, Nänie. We know he completed two piano trios, written mostly during that summer: one in C and another in E-flat.

Brahms published only the C Major Trio even though Clara Schumann preferred the other: yet he destroyed that one. Did he accidentally leave a copy behind the week he visited Schweinwald?

It's generally assumed that Brahms, not quite 30 years older than Mahler, didn't meet him until late in 1890, when friends dragged him to hear Mahler conduct Don Giovanni in Budapest. While they never became friends, Brahms thoroughly admired Mahler as a conductor, helping him get the job in Vienna.

But if Brahms and Mahler had met ten years earlier at Schweinwald, had some difficult situation happened between them? Was Mahler too young to impress him? Was Brahms already too old?

A not-yet 20-year-old conductor wanted to look older and grew a beard, hoping it would earn him some respect. He had no experience as a conductor, so every little bit counted.

That summer, Brahms, turning 47, grew his third attempt at a beard. For him, it would become a mask.

There was something else about the information Harty's journal might provide us, considering the intersection of Brahms' and Rott's lives, a well-known collision that happened shortly after their both being at Schweinwald. Brahms wasn't one to suffer dilettantes gladly, even those approaching as fans, his brusque, often crude behavior well documented. As the famous Dr. Brahms, recognized already as one of the Great Masters, he was no doubt frequently besieged by adoring fans who wanted him to hear them play his music. And people who fancied themselves as composers, hoping to find an endorsement, pestered him to look at their music, and offer a few kind words to a publisher or famous performer, hoping he'd remember what it was like, at 20, to stand on the doorstep of Schumann's house in Düsseldorf.

The devastating interview with Hans Rott took place on September 17th, 1880, not long after being at Schweinwald that July. Was Brahms there as a guest lecturer who was giving master classes? What had happened between them that summer which may have set the mid-September meeting on such a tragic course? Brahms' apparent savagery in attacking Rott's Symphony in E was clearly devastating, given the interview's eventual and unfortunate outcome, but what do we know of Brahms' side of this whole story?

Perhaps Brahms remembered his mentor Schumann's claim, hailing him as Beethoven's heir, and the pressure it placed on him, everything he created being judged a masterpiece worthy of this Great Giant. Was Brahms offended by this brash youngster who lacked the necessary courage to wait before producing his first symphony? As we know, the year before, Brahms told a young Hugo Wolf, another who lived on a delicate balance, "First, you must learn something, then see if you have any talent."

But what if young Hans Rott, with the impetuous confidence of youth, insisted he'd already created a symphonic masterpiece? Did it need to "go back in the oven" for more work? What 22-year-old would agree with the advice "then simmer for twenty years before releasing it" as Brahms had done?

Even if Brahms were a slow composer – more like pains-taking and methodical – it wasn't his First Symphony's being so long that it took him over twenty years before he could complete it. He didn't care to write a dozen apprentice symphonies, learning by doing, which would easily be dismissed and forgotten.

Why could these young people not wait to learn the necessary wisdom, absorb everything until it gestated into genius? People are so impatient, he must've thought: it had worked for him.

Instead, a month later, Hans Rott boarded a train heading for Mulhausen and a rancid little choral conducting job. He should've done better, thinking Brahms could've done something to help him.

A passenger beside him pulled out a cigar, ready to light it. Then Hans Rott pulled out a pistol.

Waving the pistol at him, Rott warned him not to light up. It seems Brahms was intent on killing him. He'd had the train loaded with dynamite. The explosion would kill everyone.

They took Rott back to Vienna where, placed in a mental asylum, he would die, forgotten, four years later.

Did Brahms remember Schumann then? Perhaps that's why he attended Rott's funeral. Did it have any impact on him?

What had happened at Schweinwald?

What if that had been Mahler, instead?

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

Lionel Roth continued to lurk in the corners of Castle Schweinwald's dungeon, losing what confidence he'd gained wandering those passageways after having seen Dr. Dhabbodhú secure Kerr's young companion to that table. This seemed rather extreme in conducting an interview for a new client though Dhabbodhú clearly had his sadistic side. Certainly he'd been very helpful with Lionel, giving him such friendly advice, but this struck him more like punishment and Lionel was glad Dhabbodhú never felt he'd needed anything like this. Roth recalled his own intolerance for pain, a threshold notoriously quite low, and watched poor Cameron with increasing anxiety, 'pain' being No. 7 on the list of his Fifty Basic Fears. He needed to rethink what he's witnessing to avoid 'distrust,' often the result of other fears on his list.

He remembered one friend, a pianist named Natasha – patients only went by their first names at the Happy Mountain Sanatorium – who loved to do bad things hoping to get the electro-shock treatment. Though still in her thirties, her graying hair was streaked with white, her eyes looking either distant or possessed. Her dream was to hook electrical current up to her piano bench so if she started going too fast, she'd receive a quick jolt but that'd only make her play faster.

Dhabbodhú hadn't said anything about other clients joining them at the castle but Roth looked forward to some company. Even though he'd just arrived, it felt like such a lonely place. It's true it was quite literally out in the middle of nowhere, like having a sanatorium all to himself.

Dr. Kerr, the older guy he'd led through the dark secret passageways, had mumbled about rescuing Cameron and escaping, so it's clear he's dealing with some persecution issues and paranoia himself.

But what the boy's problems were, he hadn't really observed very much, since they'd only walked in the door. Maybe he also had some separation anxieties, things Roth dealt with regularly.

He knew Dhabbodhú was like a therapist used to making quick diagnoses: the boy was in very good hands.

Dr. Dhabbodhú had tossed Lionel the tote-bag, snarling about making himself useful as he stomped off to the sound-proofed booth, how there'd be a reward, he said, if he found anything worthwhile. Riffling through a handful of loose pages, Roth saw nothing of interest, only some hand-scribbled notes, and felt disappointed. He always loved it when Dhabbodhú played the Mad Scientist with him, one of their many little mock-therapist games, because being useful made him feel appreciated and that helped his self-esteem.

But the stuff in Kerr's tote-bag didn't make any sense to him, afraid the Doctor would think he'd failed. There certainly wasn't anything like that journal Dhabbodhú was eager to find. Whatever it was he was hoping for, was there the possibility that Kerr dropped it back in the passageway?

Roth sorted everything out on another table, wishing he had better light, difficult to read even with his exceptional eyesight (nothing he would bother calling a talent, just something other people lacked). Dhabbodhú's amber lighting, gradually mixing with green, may have been mood enhancing but Roth was finding it wildly impractical.

He also noticed this music was becoming more interesting as it progressed, subtly complex and contrapuntal, different layers overlapping. Once static and mindlessly numbing, it now showed signs of new directions.

When Dhabbodhú came back from the sound-proof booth, he turned some dials down until Cameron's writhing slowed to a stop, removed the ear-buds then examined his eyes which were bulging with fear. Though Roth knew there was nothing the boy should be afraid of, he understood why he looked so terrified. Whenever the Doctor was in this mood, his bedside manner became gruff, clinically impersonal and a little too threatening. It was just that everything Cameron's experiencing was so new and sudden.

It was times like this that Roth wished people wouldn't wait till it was too late to seek help, when urgent situations became emergencies almost always requiring such drastically violent responses. It didn't help, he imagined, to be stripped to his briefs then tossed on a cold, stone table, either.

No doubt Dhabbodhú's appearance wasn't much of a comfort, either, Roth imagined, caught unexpected in the middle of the night without any chance to go get dressed in a more professional manner. Standing there nearly naked may seem immodest to a man like Roth and most likely Cameron shared his discomfort.

But if they had waited till morning, who knew what damage might have been caused by such a delay? At least Dhabbodhú was professional enough to help unexpected guests in need.

And Roth himself had had deep reservations about Dhabbodhú's appearance and mannerisms when he'd first seen him from the passageway, spying on him in secret during his private time like the paparazzi. What a man did to amuse himself was no one's business, really, and Roth shouldn't hold that against him.

Besides, Dhabbodhú had long ago explained the importance of how role-playing games helped to maintain a healthy creative balance. Undoubtedly, the character he'd been playing earlier was another of these identities.

Now it seemed Dhabbodhú had moved on to another stage of consultation, their conversation becoming quieter and more intense. But it was rapidly escalating into more of a confrontation, Roth noticed.

Suddenly, Dhabbodhú slapped Cameron across the face which Roth thought pretty extreme. He had to remember who's the master.

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

It reminded her – sitting around doing nothing for what seemed an endless amount of time – of that day in school when her 10th grade Latin teacher, Miss Erabilis, decided to punish everybody by making them sit still for the last fifteen minutes of class (she'd forgotten what the original infraction was), warning them anyone breaking the silence would bring down even worse punishment (was it doubling the amount of homework?) which of course made everyone even more fidgety after only five minutes. But Yoda Leahy-Hu, diminutive and already inscrutable, sat motionless the whole time, oblivious to the tensions in the classroom and to the teacher who waited for the one person who'd snap, the teacher who prodded anyone dozing off, forcing them to sit upright and, with their eyes open, look forward.

For any teenager this was unnatural behavior, the equivalent of corporal punishment which should have been banned by the constitution: the more often they complained about it, the more often it happened. Taking it to the principal, he'd said, "if you don't want punished, then don't do anything to provoke her." And no matter how often this happened (these were clearly different times), Leahy-Hu never cracked and broke the silence, but this only made the teacher hate the poor girl even more.

Everyone else assumed Little Yoda had managed to master this secret art because she was part-Chinese and studied meditation even though Zen or yoga had little place in her family's lifestyle. If anything, it was the art of concentration learned from hours spent listening to music and practicing her instrument. Her father, Kammanuanna Leahy, played in the Honolulu Symphony, the son of a Vermont-born musicologist and a Hawaiian woman. Her mother was Dr. Annie Hu, a Chinese-American pediatrician and amateur musician.

Afraid her daughter might never grow tall enough for a full-size cello, her mother suggested taking up the trumpet which sometimes required doing nothing while silently counting hundreds of measures' rest. She would motionlessly play through whole symphonies' trumpet parts in her mind, counting out every single measure of silence.

Looking back, she admitted never learning much Latin in Miss Erabilis' class, but what she called "exercises in static punishment" would help her immensely in her chosen career much more than Latin, since it was impossible to convince any normal fifteen-year-old that Latin could have any relevance in their modern-day lives. But young Yoda knew her friends thought the same about classical music which she'd come to love so much, giving her life rich meaning even when she counted all those rests.

She never complained about Miss Erabilis' punishments nor gave the woman cause to inflict anything specifically because of her, considering she knew how her fellow students groaned whenever some infraction occurred. If anything, Yoda always found herself looking forward to these periodic ordeals, always more enjoyable than the actual class.

This skill came in handy in other aspects of life, she discovered, not just during long boring lectures in college or visits from overly talkative relatives who had nothing interesting to say, but especially during those interminable staff meetings that were to become such an exasperating part of her professional career.

The trick, of course, was to look like you were paying attention, then snapping out of it so effortlessly, like any musician entering right on cue, nobody was ever the wiser.

For the agents, the hour spent in Ottobeuren's Ritterplatz waiting for Sullivan's alleged killer was regarded as an absolute failure, even if anyone thought the probability he'd show up was already unlikely, that he'd trade Ms. Harty if they agreed to cancel Sullivan's opera, that he'd allow himself to be caught. Some of them had become so thoroughly bored by the second half-hour, several swore they saw the knight's statue occasionally stretch his back, flex his sword, then impatiently check his watch.

Aside from the one agent who'd managed to fall asleep standing up and nearly fell from her rooftop position, or the dog who wandered through, lifting his leg against Leahy-Hu's foot, there was so little excitement Det. Ketchum and Dispatcher Aida Lott considered going through the list of headsets again.

The IMP's Special Forces Director Yoda Leahy-Hu, working her way through trumpet parts for two substantial Haydn symphonies, rests included, was neither surprised nor disappointed by the outcome of the failed stake-out. For her, Haydn was like "soul music," so any time spent with Haydn was never a waste of time.

To her agents, outwardly, she would remain stoical and above all philosophical but inwardly she couldn't wait to get her hands on that idiot of a professor who'd stuck them here.

As she and her team prepared to suspend the stake-out, Leahy-Hu received an urgent call from her dispatcher, Aida Lott, who'd just received word about a helicopter recently landing at the hotel.

"It's now confirmed that SHMRG CEO N. Ron Steele was on it."

"Well, crap, Agent Lott, that's not good."

She no sooner hung up from giving Lott a barrage of instructions when her phone started to buzz again. About halfway to the van, Leahy-Hu snarled, "This better be good news."

"Director – Agent Voo, here" she said. "Dr. Kerr is on the move."

"Damn it, Voo" Leahy-Hu cursed, "not again..."

"It appears he's stolen a car from in front of the hotel."

"Can you identify the car?"

"Yes," Agent Voo said, "Dr. Richard Kerr."

Clearly, there was no time to lose.

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

N. Ron Steele knew, like any successful corporation – careful to use the affluent-sounding term 'corporation,' not the generically plebeian 'company' – it was a matter of constantly adapting, a matter of simple economics, even if for no other reason than to appear alive and well, making each new step worth the risk. Since his company now had billions of dollars lying around which couldn't just sit there in his Cayman accounts, he decided it was time to expand his Mergers & Acquisitions department. Under the man he'll name as its newly appointed chairman, Basil Carsonoma, he could see new profits rolling in, buying up artist agencies and recording companies, then destroying those less competitive which will drive down the competition and rake in even more profits, their executive bonuses surging through the roof.

One of Carsonoma's plans involved a social media network called 'Songbook' where you can 'sing' about your favorites bands' songs, tell your friends what concerts you're attending and create your 'fantasy playlists.' Maybe they're selling nothing but word-of-mouth advertising, but any information they harvest about their users could sell for millions. Of course, he always told his artists, all this would trickle down and eventually increase their profits and careers, though it was difficult not to laugh whenever he told that joke.

With over half of SHMRG's billions now gaining interest in overseas accounts, the result of recent expansions in Europe, profits that couldn't return to the USA without their being egregiously taxed, Steele decided it was time for them to expand their European branches and start inroads into the Asian market. Until the regime change occurred at home, despite Wall Street's preemptive strike, he would have to wait for a huge tax holiday from Congress before using any of these profits state-side.

The question was what projects with only limited risks could they initiate and which companies could they buy up? This was the real reason Steele found himself traveling across Europe today. Meanwhile, his plan – leveraging the Schweinwald Festival, once they canceled Sullivan's premiere – was just another step toward world domination.

While the future belonged primarily to the internet – "and," Steele thought, "they said television was the death of the intellect" – Steele understood there were still millions to be made in concert promotions, even to a considerably more limited extent in the classical music niche which had long been an elitist brand. The key to corporate success was to give people what they wanted, whatever was popular, not what was good, since 95% wouldn't know the difference anyway – "and the rest, who cared?"

All you had to do was look at the American food industry and the nation's increasing rate of obesity. Steele argued, "What was so difficult to understand about that simple principle?" It was the American way of life in every aspect of life: thanks to globalization, now the universal life.

At least Scricci's MP3 Project, foisting child prodigies on the world-wide audience, was a better risk than Manfred Kaye's plan, something about killing off the already dead great composers of the past. Honestly, how had the man ever come up with such an idea? Even corporate laughing stocks can fall precipitously.

"Sure, it's a shark-eat-shark world in today's Darwinian economy and that shark just didn't fly," as Steele put it. "Too bad he jumped off that ledge but Kaye loved old-fashioned theatrics."

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

posted by Dick Strawser

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

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