Monday, March 23, 2015

The Lost Chord: Chapter 57

The Lost Chord

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

Previously, while Peter Moonbeam is making a gruesome discovery in the room he'd chosen to hide, the backstage area of the opera house is filling up: Kerr and his friends are trying to locate Tr'iTone who is busy confronting the bumbling Lionel Roth, in turn confronted by N. Ron Steele of SHMRG who is then confronted by the sudden appearance of Yoda Leahy-Hu and the IMP. Kerr locates the landing where Tr'iTone had thought he would find his goal only to see, once he'd pushed the door open, the villain sail over the railing. 

(You can read the previous installment of Harrison Harty's Journal here; the second installment, here; or begin from the beginning with the first installment, here.)

= = = = = = =
Chapter 57

...being the 4th installment of Master Harrison Harty's Journal, Summer of 1880

It was a miserable retreat, finding Grimgerde gone, pelted with rain and lightening under a thunderous cannonade the whole way. What could we do to rescue Ethel and get the statue back? We must report to Director Böhm immediately. Returning once again through the secret passage to arrive in Knussbaum's fireplace, we found them deep in a game, the much-improved Knussbaum holding up a hand, bidding us not to interrupt.

I had noticed the chess board before but not the individual pieces, each of them a small composer's bust. The white side's king was Johannes Brahms with Clara Schumann his queen. The black side was led by King Wagner, Bishops Liszt and Bruckner and, rather oddly as their queen, Tchaikovsky.

Before, I'd been unaware of two large portraits hanging on opposite walls: one of Beethoven looking sad, holding a letter; and Sechter with a bust of Beethoven, a letter in his pocket. While I wondered why they weren't hanging in the Academy's Great Hall, tonight they observed two friends playing chess.

Böhm looked up and awaited our report, then realized something was amiss when one more person failed to appear. Peering past our drenched forms, he counted and recounted to make sure.

Soaked from the raging storm, Mahler, Rott and I stood there meekly, not sure how best to explain this.

"No, you're right," I said, stepping forward. "You count correctly: someone's missing."

I became, in Ethel's absence, the spokesman for our band of friends now sadly reduced by her unfortunate disappearance.

Quickly I told the story, ending with how we eventually regained consciousness to the lingering stench of foul-smelling cigars.

"Yes," Rott immediately confirmed, "Wienerschwefel," – 'Viennese Brimstone' – "which Brahms was smoking earlier!"

"Whoever abducted her and stole the statue," Mahler said, "left us alive. That means they mightn't kill Fräulein Ethel."

We were quite hopeful they could, instead, be holding her for ransom.

"We don't know why they took her if they'd gotten the statue. She is," Rott added, "only a girl..."

"There are two rival factions," Böhm began, "that dominate our music today, telling you nothing that you don't already know, constantly intent on doing battle for our loyal audiences' hearts and minds. You've already witnessed the intense political flare-up following Maestro Liszt's recent recital and the difference of opinions it generated. Yet both sides find their natural roots in Beethoven, who," Böhm explained, "preserved the past while forging the new. The question is, which side here is claiming Beethoven's legacy for itself?"

"But what could be so important about some old things of Beethoven's?" Rott asked with his usual short-sighted reasoning. "If he died over fifty years ago, why are they so valuable?"

Knussbaum, squinting his eyes, looked as if he would suffer a relapse while Böhm quietly ignored my friend's irreverence.

We'd heard the story of Beethoven's hair before, how Knussbaum gave it to Beethoven's friend then how it was returned. But did this return signify, I wondered, the death of this friend? It was a part of The Master himself, a relic, after all, but was that enough to kill someone?

"Important clues are inscribed on the statue concerning the secret," Böhm explained, holding in his hands an imaginary object. "It's not the statue itself but what it will lead you to."

"Ever since The Master's death," Knussbaum said, "we have observed the proprieties, keeping alive the secret of Herr Sechter's promise. While we cannot reveal it, we also cannot let it be forgotten."

"The secrecy must be maintained" Böhm added; "the society must remain vigilant."

I wondered what secret was so important.

"The Beethoven Monument must never be removed," Knussbaum said emphatically, sitting up. "It is our duty to preserve this! If, at some future time, that happens, then we've broken Sechter's promise."

"But how can you keep that promise for generations yet to come? Monks who lived six hundred years ago would never believe," I said, "their monastery is no longer standing today."

Knussbaum and Böhm exchanged glances and appeared to reach a common decision. Böhm placed his hand on Knussbaum's shoulder.

"You see," Böhm pointed out, "Sechter and the society's other original members never considered the Beethoven Monument might be removed because they assumed the Academy would always continue to operate in perpetuity. But, as you've pointed out, the monks undoubtedly once thought the same. Everything in this world is, alas, impermanent."

Mahler, thoroughly lost in thought, looked up and wondered what would happen if no one was left to remember: "Would anyone see any reason why they should not remove the statue?"

"That," Knussbaum said, raising his right hand, pointing it toward the ceiling, "is only one issue behind the Unsterblichesverein," explaining how they had just inducted Gutknaben the night of his death. "But who will carry on our legacy, protecting it for future generations? For we must look to the future..."

"I think it's time," Böhm said quietly, "that we invest these young men into our cause, suspending the rules."

"They must be trained in the secrets: they have much to learn!"

"But first, Rainer," Böhm interrupted, "isn't there another task to be done?"

Mahler and I stepped forward, heads bowed to receive a knight's blessing, Rott stumbling back before joining us reluctantly.

"They rescue Ethel and find the statue, then we've found Gutknaben's killer – hopefully, before it will be too late!"

Knussbaum continued to explain about this society forged among The Master's friends and wondered how they'd identify new members. "We must keep Sechter's promise from being 'cruelly misused' in the future."

"Who," Böhm asked, "will carry the Society's legacy into the next generation? You must be inducted into it – immediately."

I had to admit, The Immortal Society gave it a different ring, sounding more like a Union of Vampires with Professor Bezsmyertnikov the Critic draining away the blood of the past.

"Beethoven had no idea what paths music would follow after he died, nor, I should think, would he have cared. He wanted us to form this Society to protect only one thing. The Society does not exist," Knussbaum intoned, "to decide which of these factions is the true future of music."

"Now, Professor Fabbro," Böhm explained, "tells you you must control your emotions and that first you must learn your craft. Good, I would think, for teaching counterpoint," he added with a twinkle. "Hammerschlag teaches you harmony's rules as if they were carved in stone – and woe to those who break them. But Professor Riesenblut tells you how you must taste the 'Dragon's Blood,' as Siegfried does in Wagner's Ring Cycle, so you comprehend the Universe and unleash your creativity through God-granted inspiration."

Professor Knussbaum leaned forward with great effort as if to impart something which needed great reverence to impress us. "Beethoven himself told me this – I was a lad delivering his letters. 'Every one of us, boy,' he said, looking right into my eyes, 'has something inside us we cannot understand.' It was like a set of strings – 'invisible strings', he called them – stretched between the heart and the brain. They resonate each in their own way because we are all different."

Director Böhm nodded and coughed quietly when I looked over at him. He'd told me this only earlier today.

"It's what makes each of us different," Knussbaum continued, "this reverberant chord. It absorbs what we learn and vibrates to what beauty inspires us. Or to whatever challenges the mind sets.

"Apparently, from what he said, each of us could 'hear' these strings only when we felt ourselves sufficiently moved or when played closer to one end or balanced in the middle. It's what made Mozart sound like Mozart; it gave Beethoven his voice – while others never find their individual identity. What happens when these strings are out-of-tune, no longer able to resonate to what makes us who we are? What lengths would we take," Knussbaum wondered, "to retrieve our lost chord?"

"It won't be a matter of fate, something knocking at the door like Macbeth's being greeted by the Three Witches, a prophecy of uncommon power that could transform him into Beethoven's Heir. It's not a matter of proper training or even talent," Böhm said, "to make one think it's even possible."

"Ever since The Master died, we have waited for the Next Beethoven," Knussbaum said with growing impatience. "Who? Where – When...! No, it won't be through critical acclaim or being anointed, like Brahms."

"But in truth," Böhm whispered, "it will be through Beethoven's direct bloodline..."

"Beethoven had a son!?"

"No – a daughter!"

"And we believe," Knussbaum continued, pausing slightly, "it is through the daughters Beethoven's true heir will be made manifest."

"You mean," I gasped, "this great composer – he could be... a woman?"

Without warning, we were interrupted by an ominous knock at the door, whether it might be Fate or something otherwise. We froze and looked at each other: who knew we were here? Experiencing what we had tonight – beyond Ethel's disappearance and the statue's theft – Rott understandably stepped back into the fireplace.

"Herr Director Böhm," a thin voice whispered, "they said you'd be here. If you hear me, let me in." It was the voice of Dr. Porlock: what brought him here, now?

While Böhm went to answer the door, Knussbaum cleared away the chessboard, sweeping the pieces back into the box with the clandestine gestures of one caught sneaking a draught of opium. Before Mahler and I joined Rott in the security of the fireplace, Porlock pushed his way into the study.

"Have you heard any rumblings," he asked, before spotting us standing there, then immediately stopped and rose to full height. "Ah, you're here," he said, "I mean – why are there students here?"

"Knussbaum was feeling ill," Böhm said, "they'd come by to see him."

I felt like a child caught red-handed.

"At this time of night, before sunrise? But they look wet, too. You've been outside, caught in the rain...?" Porlock looked back and forth before turning his attention entirely on Böhm.

"I must report, Herr Director, that Professor Bezsmyertnikov along with Dr. Riesenblut are gathering their followers," Dr. Porlock explained, "for the defense of Schweinwald and to save the future of music. They explain that this is not an attack on you, Herr Director, but defending you against influences from evil-doers."

Director Böhm stepped forward indignantly, sputtering incoherently, too furious for any words, as Knussbaum reached out to calm him.

"That is preposterous," he muttered, "absolutely preposterous! They're going against the rules!"

"It seems," Porlock sneered with dripping irony, "it has something to do with these young students I find here, students who are not – speaking of rules – supposed to be here, true? Someone found their wet footprints disappearing into the wall by your portrait. They think you need to be... protected?"

There was no time to lose, clearly: we must first defend Schweinwald. The rest of it would have to wait. Battle plans were quickly devised with Porlock alerting the faculty, especially Fabbro. I admitted misgivings about Porlock which, shrugging his shoulders, Böhm brushed away: "Officious, maybe, but committed to the school."

He handed us a list of names, students he knew were loyal: we must gather them on the landing. With that, Director Böhm went to change into something more impressively appropriate.

It wasn't Schumann's 'David's Club' against the Goliaths who fought the new by tossing conventions at the slightest innovation. It wasn't just the comfortable older generation trying to deny the young. More the Classicists of Apollo called to confront the Romanticists of Dionysus: somehow, compromise must be reached between them!

"Fabbro?" I thought, knowing how reluctant Ethel would be to trust him, considering she was convinced he's the Evil One. What if his machine became the object that would destroy Beethoven's Legacy?

If Bezsmyertnikov was leading the attack, however, didn't that vindicate my fears? Didn't that make his the Dark Side?

But Rott still held out for Brahms, convinced by the cigar smoke but also his attitude toward the ladies – "would anyone else abduct Ethel?" – plus there's his interest in Fabbro's Machine.

We went our separate ways, rousing the students out of their beds, walking through the hallways and knocking on doors. Each one awakened continued spreading the alarm for the defense of Schweinwald. Several, we found, were missing, no doubt already gathered with Bezsmyertnikov's forces. Carmilla had also been hard at work. Turning a corner, I ran into Nokyablokhoff, barely escaping with my head before he set off an ear-shattering war-cry. It came as no surprise which side my erstwhile roommate was on!

In a moment, I joined Mahler and Rott with dozens more students forming a barrier against the insurrection's tide. Many faculty soon joined us, particularly Old Hammerschlag who looked simply furious.

Fabbro and Bezsmyertnikov stood facing each other, hurling imprecations in various languages.

Would this be the end of music?

Even on the Great Landing, it was impossible not to be amazed looking out on this sea of lantern-lit faces between the flashes of lightening and the constant thunder shaking the foundations.

Before I got my bearings, I'd managed to lose sight of Rott who must have disappeared into the shadows.

Looking up, wondering where he'd gotten to, I noticed Brahms' familiar silhouette descending from one of the castle's towers.

"Help me, fools," he squeaked, waving his lantern. "I'm late for my train!"

Brahms, I realized, scurrying down the staircase ever mindful of his balance, was tightly clutching a small wooden box which I thought might be large enough to hold the Beethoven statue.

Suddenly, Rott stepped out and confronted him, bringing Brahms to a halt. I noticed the man was not pleased.

"At long last, Dr. Brahms," Rott said, "I have your undivided attention! What do you have in that box? Where have you hidden Ethel? When will you look at my symphony?"

Running up the steps, I called out to Rott, "Let him go!" but Brahms pushed him out of the way.

Poor Rott stumbled over the stairway's railing and fell effortlessly until he...

(At this point, Harrison Harty's journal stops. Several missing pages have been ripped out – their present location remains unknown.)

= = = = = = =
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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