Thursday, March 26, 2015
The Lost Chord: Chapters 58 & 59
(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)
While the previous installment was another excerpt from Harrison Harty's Journal from his stay at Schweinwald Academy in the summer of 1880, including he and his friends Gustav Mahler, Hans Rott and Ethel Smyth being inducted into the Friends of Beethoven's Immortal Society, the installment before that concerned Dr. Kerr and Cameron tracking down the villain Tr'iTone in his search for Beethoven's Fountain of Inspiration backstage at the Schweinwald Festspielhaus.
= = = = = = =
Tr'iTone never felt anything so exhilarating before! Had he missed the moment? Had Beethoven's spirit descended upon him so unexpectedly? There was a sense of incredible ecstasy as if he were flying! It had seemed so sudden, not what he'd thought it would be, no secret portal, no challenges to surmount. And yet, without a flash of awareness, he found himself so overcome, he could barely comprehend what was happening except to know somehow something touched him and he was being transformed.
It was as if he were airborne yet somehow suspended in space, both moving and not moving through time, a burst of energy and cosmic bliss both alive and beyond life. He hovered outside the confines of Earth like a small weightless fleck freed from the limitations of mere humanity.
It must have been the Touch of Beethoven! He had not even had to drink from this Fountain of Inspiration, did not even have to find it or struggle to attain it. Beethoven, Greatest of All the Greatest Composers, accepted him as he was and would bestow on him his mantel.
The total experience could only be heightened by hearing the cheers and the rousing applause of his adoring audience, who, in the worshipful darkness, would discover the magnitude of his talent.
He felt the embrace of a million souls reaching out to him and watched the dancing daughters of Elysium all rushing to greet him, not just one but dozens of them! Heavenly instruments and celestial voices combined themselves into this most divine sound, becoming a kiss from all the world! Thousands of notes rose ever upward in a vast torrent of sound, engulfing him with Beethoven's most universal symphony: what other music would you expect to experience at such a moment?
The Ode to Joy seared his brain, the climax of the fugue where both of Beethoven's themes joined forces to bring joy to the universal brotherhood and glorify all of mankind. Music burst through his ears as the sopranos reached their high A: why did it sound like someone screaming?
Of course, if he wanted to become the World's Greatest Living Composer – and wasn't that every budding genius' ultimate goal? – he had to listen to every piece of music he possibly could. He especially liked listening to lots of the most recent contemporary music: so many different styles, simple or complex. What a liberating experience it had been to hear all this music and realize how much of it sucked! If these guys could get their music performed, certainly he could, too!
He started by bulking up on the greatest works written by Beethoven – especially his symphonies, sonatas and string quartets – then added the operas of Wagner and all the symphonies by Mahler. Very soon, after adding to it a strict diet and exercise plan, he turned himself into this formidable talent.
Looking back on his youth, it amazed him to consider the news, given the state of his mind and body, that he had ever been accepted into the sacred halls of Juilliard, an unlikely weakling both musically and physically, incapable of bench-pressing a dozen etudes much less of writing a symphony.
Over the years, he'd taken on so many names, such different identities, not just Tr'iTone or the agent Dhabbodhú, he'd forgotten he was ever once a boy named Luke van Rhiarden.
He had made it through that first year as one of Robertson Sullivan's handful of students at this prestigious conservatory where his hatred of Sullivan hadn't yet boiled over into physical violence. Sullivan had just laughed – laughed! – at his idea for an opera setting the Faust Story inside an American corporation! They were standing in the lobby of the school at the end of that year, posing for the photographer, saying good-bye to the graduating seniors, when Luke made up his mind.
It was almost as if his famous teacher had found him wanting, unworthy of induction into their secret organization, and therefore deciding to withhold from him the greatest knowledge art required. Without this endorsement, Luke admitted he'd failed, receiving neither understanding nor ritual, nor any legacy passed down through generations.
"You are a lazy composer, always looking for some shortcut to creativity," his teacher complained in one particularly debilitating tirade. "You think it's like unearthing some wizard's artifact with its hidden secret?" Sullivan paused as if concerned perhaps he'd revealed too much, then continued: "some totem found in an ancient temple?
"All you want is to take the magic pill, drink the dragon's blood or find the Fountain of Inspiration and solve all your problems – but, trust me, you must earn it!"
Such wisdom, Luke assumed, could be passed down from teacher to student only when all the circumstances were perfectly aligned, otherwise we'd all be overrun by geniuses capable of being Great Composers. As others have said, we all have talent somewhere deep within ourselves but not everyone succeeds in revealing it.
For now, Luke knew Sullivan himself hadn't yet realized his fullest potential but could he still reveal it, regardless? Could genius be increased after repeated visits to this Fountain of Inspiration?
Only later would Luke realize the source of this wisdom Sullivan withheld must somehow be kept hidden at Schweinwald. Why else would the man keep gravitating back there throughout his career?
Once he'd learned the fountain's true location, Luke knew he'd kill Sullivan – thus bringing the sacrificial ritual full circle.
His earliest memories from childhood were pleasant enough, remote from his later streaks of sadism and his all-consuming musical obsessions. Life was good, life was extremely comfortable and also full of music. Yet he learned, quite young, his parents were not really his parents which quite unhinged his sense of logic. They'd taken him into their family, naming him Anton Friedrich Himmelwandern III, only the first of his many aliases, before telling him his birth name on the day he turned twelve.
They gave him a beautiful silver locket containing a portrait of a not terribly attractive woman with blonde hair they said was his real mother though they didn't know her name. Because she was his mother, he considered her beautiful just the same. Something enclosed with it was another matter.
This wisp of hair, oddly gray and brittle-looking in its glass casing, always such a riddle to his growing curiosity, could not have been cut from his mother when he was born, unless her portrait had been painted when she had been much younger and she had aged considerably after that. His adoptive parents, those who raised him, could offer him no clues, unfamiliar with events leading to his birth. Left with him when adopted, the hair might've belonged to his grandmother.
Someday, he decided then, he'd run away but realized he'd never inherit their fortune if they couldn't find him. Instead, he killed them both – and no one ever suspected his crime. Rid of them but possessing their fortune, he now reverted back to his birth-name before acquiring more useful aliases. Eventually, he turned the Third Anton Himmelwandern into the struggling composer, Tr'iTone, but realized being parentless complicated his well-being: without the foundation of a family's love, what would he rebel against?
Tr'iTone found solace as well as torment in the music he loved to play and listen to – even compose – and read voraciously how his favorite composers worked and lived and suffered, about the poverty of Mozart, the constant illnesses of Beethoven, how both of these combined to afflict poor Schubert.
That was what it all boiled down to, Tr'iTone learned from years of reading and more years trying to compose – that if he were to be successful, he would have to suffer. But how, since he was extremely rich, his health, he knew, exemplary, his conscience lacking any pangs of guilt?
Truly, no one suffered more than Beethoven, not just with his deafness. He fought his demons to create the greatest music known to man even as they attacked his physical body.
His abdominal pains and debilitating intestinal issues, his rheumatism and the headaches, his gout and nosebleeds and frequent vomiting, pneumonia and what we now call edema, all culminating in liver failure – these were things Beethoven dealt with throughout his life, beyond his deafness: "it was all about how to suffer."
Composing, Tr'iTone had learned early, was ever a traumatic process for him from the moment he felt inspiration's beckoning call to that physical act of drawing the double bar at the end. It was to be a battle waged daily with his inner demons, one never meant to be taken lightly.
Only by outflanking his doubts and pummeling his mind-numbing fears into submission, would he ultimately conquer his latest piece. In order to be successful, he ultimately had to experience excruciating pain.
If any of them knew what had happened at that precise moment, none of them were terribly sure of it. Accounts naturally differed among the various witnesses, each with their own impressions. The last anyone remembered was Tr'iTone yelling at the incompetent Lionel Roth, who then rushed at him, arms flailing. Roth had charged with such unexpected vehemence, he caught Tr'iTone off guard. Only Leahy-Hu had noticed the door behind him bursting open so forcefully, it must've knocked him off the landing.
Steele, given his vantage point, saw a man peering over the railing, a look of surprise on his face, but he had never met Dr. Kerr and thought nothing of it. No one saw Kerr's young assistant, Cameron, who with considerable effort led the thrashing Roth out into the hallway.
LauraLynn, already caught between well-armed agents on either side of the stage, watched as a large man dressed in black, his unmasked face the only thing visible, fell precipitously in her direction. Would he land on top of her or miss her by enough, she'd only be covered in blood spatter?
Widor, for his part, imagined the man was tumbling in slow motion, like those instant replays in Olympic diving. Was that silver he saw reflecting in the on-stage light's weak glow?
It was a long split-second, by any account, before the free-falling Tr'iTone, his cape flapping like a ruptured parachute, hit the towering set for either an office or a pent-house apartment, careening off the frame's steeply slanted edge before bouncing toward another set, this one for the infamous nightclub scene.
It was unlikely a man – especially one so large – plummeting from four floors up would survive such a fall. Even Steele breathed the quick hope something soft might break his descent.
There were three things on this set someone with a keen eye might take in at a quick glance: numerous tables – several bean-bag chairs – a stage with an extremely tall dance-pole.
Unfortunately, Tr'iTone slammed squarely onto the dance-pole, impaling himself through the chest, which left him suspended above the stage.
Once the scream of anguish faded from his lips, a long diminuendo – morendo al niente, ironically 'dying away to nothing' – Tr'iTone's body writhed on the pole, then slowly slid even further down. His arms and legs continued twitching involuntarily, then gradually stretched stiffly outwards before he went entirely and hopelessly limp.
Widor dashed onto the set, though he was too late to help.
Tr'iTone looked directly at him, thoroughly confused.
"Who are you," he asked in a fading whisper. "You're not... Beethoven..."
Widor saw the silver locket on the floor, snapped off its chain: it brought back a flood of memories. Opening it, he found inside a lock of hair and a portrait. Glancing up into the broken man's face, Widor shuddered in sudden recognition, seeing himself from half a life ago.
"Look... I'm your father," Widor said quietly with a chill of self-awareness.
Tr'iTone's eyebrows knitted in perplexity at this news, his life-blood seeping down the pole and pooling at the stranger's feet.
"But you know... my name...?" he sighed.
"This portrait is your mother. We were lovers when we were young..."
Widor mentioned how she'd had their child, was forced to abandon him.
"And then, after marrying then divorcing Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist, she'd married some Manhattan industrialist named du Hicquè, and..."
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
Det. Larson stood back as Det. Heimer, former high school football star, kicked in the door with a well-placed foot, the crack of wood resounding through the canyon of W. 86th Street. Like most old brownstones in New York, the house was sturdy enough but proved no match for Heimer's strength.
Guns drawn, they kicked down additional doors as they checked various rooms.
"NYPD, Ms. du Hicquè – drop your weapon and come out with your hands up," all four shouted in unison.
Hearing a commotion further inside, all four detectives immediately headed that way. Someone ran cursing and fumbling, things everywhere going bump in the night, toward the kitchen and the back door. The place was dark and their suspect could be lurking behind anything: in a closet, under the old-fashioned sink.
Had she run down into the basement, the old servants' quarters, and out what had once been the service entrance? How many rooms were there, Heimer wondered, not sure what they'd find. If this was anything like Dhabbodhú's place, there could be a wine cellar downstairs, perhaps a secret hiding place.
What if the old woman's not alone? How many were there in her gang, if she was the ring-leader? What kind of terrorist cell were they dealing with here, Noranik wondered.
After they realized the back door had been unlocked and the screen door left hanging open, they assumed she'd escaped. But how many others might there be and where was the hostage? Noranik called into the precinct for back-up, warning them to be on the look-out for their run-away old woman.
Perhaps in her disguise their suspect, the Fake Widow du Hicquè, wasn't as old as she appeared to be. Just maybe, Det. Noir wondered, she wasn't even a woman at all?
In the front parlor, Larson found a young man bound and gagged in an armchair beside the ornate fireplace. He was barely responsive but thoroughly frightened, shaking his head in fear.
She confirmed his name was Dylan Sprenkle and that he was okay.
His first words were, "She hates Beethoven!"
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
This was his father? He had a mother?
This news percolated gradually through what few brain cells continued to function. With so much to absorb, Tr'iTone thought the shock might kill him, his slowly ebbing life-force, once ready to conquer the world, now barely enough to show up on the chart. His ability to process everything, building toward some sort of redemptive recognition, was proving challenging, too difficult to grasp, suffusing his mind with warmth even as his body grew steadily colder.
It was so dark and growing dimmer. Tr'iTone looked at the man telling him this and couldn't recognize him, sighing because there was something about him he thought was vaguely familiar but, barely able to see the shape of the man or the details of his face, could only wonder.
He hung there, suspended above the stage floor like an insect stuck on a pin in a coleopterist's display case and looked down at the man who claimed to be his father. What could he possibly have in common with this man, he wondered, after Fate has knocked at his door?
His brain had become a split screen, on one side the glimmer of perception of reality happening before him, the other a series of nearly forgotten, once so important childhood memories.
It's difficult to remember one's earliest recollections, separated from third-person narratives one hears as part of the family history, unable to tell whether they were ever part of one's direct experience. In this way, there were these vague images of a beautiful woman who at one time cared for him. But those, they'd explained to him, had happened when he'd been born, impossible for him to remember so vividly. He'd suspected, even as a young child, his story had a secret.
He was 12 when his father gave him the locket and told him the tale of a beautiful woman, the aristocratic blonde whose portrait rested inside with a lock of hair.
He often dreamed of her, this woman who was a German countess.
"Perhaps," the boy thought, "she's my mother?"
Widor explained in hushed, hurried tones the story of Lisl von Falkenstein, his love for her, how their son was given to be raised by her maid, then adopted by the Himmelwanderns. Widor had been sent away after regaining consciousness, his memory mysteriously clouded, Lisl married to her father's middle-aged assistant.
It had all come flooding back to him, now, seeing her picture in the locket left with their baby, memories suppressed these dark and lonely years, followed vaguely from clandestine distances.
Tr'iTone – Luke van Rhiarden – had spent his life dreaming of this mother, wondering if she were really his mother. What might life have been? And was this then his real father?
Brushing this latter disappointment aside, for now, he figured this at least would explain his fascination for older women.
But that would mean he, Tr'iTone, was a son of the Falkensteins, the line's last male heir, bastard or otherwise. What bizarre twist of fate had brought him back to his birth-right? What a small world it was, he thought, that he should meet his birth-mother that night in New York.
What a stranger twist of Fate that he should recall that night of passion he'd spent with that woman...
With one last disconsolate groan, Tr'iTone yielded his spirit to the cosmos.
= = = = = = =
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.