(If you've only just arrived and have no clue what's going on, you might find it easier to start with the introductory post, here.)
The second part of the novel resumes Knussbaum's strange Tale which Kerr had started reading in an earlier chapter, leaving off at a critical point when he was interrupted by the arrival of Vector, the butler. You can read the initial installment of Beethoven's story in this post.
|Baron Pasqualati's "House" in Vienna - Beethoven had a 5th Floor walk-up here|
...she found herself with child that we realized it was necessary to keep both her and the unborn baby safe as she alternated between rage and despair herself and might well do damage – and to keep her away from prying eyes. For malicious gossips' wagging tongues would do their own damage, after a kind, and make a mockery of one's own shame, where social censorship from neighbors and total strangers fan the flames of guilt. The Master knew he could not have a woman soon to bear a child living with him, it would be impractical, his landlord the Baron's disapproval one thing, her climbing those daily stairs another. (Seriously, no one liked climbing those 105 steps, the ever-winding, never-ending stone spiral: and a woman already irritable beyond measure? Unthinkable!)
By now, I should mention, my uncle had reluctantly allowed me to move to Vienna where I boarded with Herr Dreckfahrer, Teplitz's dance-band director now living near Baron Pasqualati's house where Beethoven resided then. (Truth be told, Dreckfahrer cared little for the Master's music, especially his dances: "unfit for dancing – the man himself cannot dance!") The idea had been for me to see the wider world and learn, perhaps, a better trade than a kitchen boy's. And while I worked and played my fiddle, I ran errands for Beethoven.
The Master had been bereft upon her inexplicable flight from Teplitz, his Belovèd, and followed her to Karlsbad before he returned empty-handed (and -hearted) to Teplitz where he spent a month sick in bed. Again, I carried Beethoven's letters back and forth, now to Fräulein Amalie Sebald, who brought him consolation and some chicken soup. It was the month after leaving Teplitz the Master had caused an uproar in Linz when visiting his youngest brother Johann, the apothecary, living with a woman who was his housekeeper and... something more.
For had he not lost his own Belovèd, the Angel of his heart, the woman he was now unable to marry? And yet his brother lived openly with a woman without benefit of marriage! For him, their sinful state resolved only with Johann's belated wedding to Theresa after which the Master, forlorn, returned to Vienna.
Despite everything that was happening, the Master acquitted himself of his Eighth Symphony, finalizing it in August after the Belovèd's departure, then finishing the full score in Linz that October before returning to Vienna. Back at Pasqualati's, he needed a new violin sonata for Rodé in December (I tried out certain passages for the Master). Earlier, he had finished his glorious Seventh Symphony, its finale full of the joy of love and thoughts of his Belovèd, a symphony so full of dance whether the man could dance or not.
Naturally, he hoped she would return to him, her doubts and fears resolved, strengthening his virtue and lawfully become his wife, but when it became clear she might not, his deafness began to worsen. His hearing now totally lost in one ear, talking in public meant shouting loud enough you were heard three rooms off.
When she returned, climbing once more the spiral staircase at Baron Pasqualati's palace, I thought his joy might restore his hearing. "Ach, mein' Geliebster," he roared, "not only does Fate knock at the door!" Instead, she had to shout about her condition so loudly, those in the kitchen four flights below must know her plight.
His joy quickly turned to revulsion and horror as she dropped her valise, fully intent on moving back into his life. What would the neighbors think? What would his recently wedded brother Johann say?
I stood there with my violin in hand – the Master and I had just plowed through the new violin sonata's variations – as she stared at me, an interloper reminding her of summer's better days, and while it embarrassed me to witness this abrupt change in the Master, my continued presence there was not without luck. Bloated and haggard, she resembled my Aunt Sophia before giving birth to twins (the very thought of which made her scream), but it gave me an idea which I quickly shared with them both.
Since Dreckfahrer was away visiting family in Graz, she could stay there momentarily while I contacted my Uncle Tobias back home. "I'll explain she's a cousin of Herr Kohl's who's fallen on hard times. The child's father was killed before the wedding," which she reluctantly accepted if she and the child could return to Vienna.
And so my uncle reluctantly accepted "Rosa Kohl," his former manager's distant cousin – "from the Belgian Kohls, most recently of Brussels" (I could not quite place her accent, myself) – to stay at Shady Pines. It was the slow season at the inn so, meanwhile, there was room if she could help out in the kitchen.
In the midst of winter, I took "Fräulein Rosa" to my uncle's inn, arriving with her half-frozen on a half-dead donkey. My aunt was clearly looking forward to a new-born child not her own.
My uncle took one look at "Rosa" and then at me and doubted I could ever be responsible for Rosa's condition, assuming a boy my age couldn't be interested in so homely a woman. Still, my aunt thought it odd I spent so much time with them, giving up Vienna to look after "poor Rosa."
Odder still, they thought, were the monthly payments they received in the post – "from her fiance's grieving family, to cover expenses" – which Beethoven arranged through his publishers during my brief monthly visits to Vienna.
Come springtime, she wanted out of the house to walk about the farm and perhaps enjoy the pleasant change in weather. My aunt and I had joined her once, when a thunderstorm suddenly erupted.
Taking refuge in the barn, "Rosa" unexpectedly went into labour amidst the cows and was delivered of a healthy baby girl.
It was shortly after that most blessèd event I hurried off to Vienna bearing the eagerly anticipated news to the Master, having kept him apprised of the Belovèd's health and moods throughout her confinement. The winter had been difficult enough for him without contact from his Belovèd such that my news often had adverse affects. He cut himself off from musical gatherings given the worsening of his hearing and sometimes avoided friends (and crowds) all together. Yet at several other times, his deafness aside, he might prove quite amiable. He was under great pressure, unable to compose, dealing with financial hardships and of course the suffering of losing his hearing: his brother Karl nearly died of consumption (their mother had died of it). In consequence, the Master urged him to change his will regarding his son and make the composer the boy's sole guardian.
And now here I stood on his doorstep, having struggled up those steps – I who thought working the farm was exhausting! – to tell him he was now the father of a daughter named Amalie, which was my aunt's compromise after she thought my suggestion – Antonie – too uppity, considering I thought her initial submission – Maria – common. I did not dare to tell the Master (then or in my letters) how "Rosa" preferred a biblical name (especially during childbirth, given her obvious and extreme physical pain), convinced "Satan" was certainly appropriate.
After I hollered to him my news, joyful tears streamed down his face, tears which turned unexpectedly to tears of anguish when his mood again changed in an eye-blink, dropping from elation to despondency. "It would have been better had she died," he wailed, beating his chest, "or, no, that I myself had died instead!" Rather than making him happy, my news only made the Master more miserable, his next hours spent sobbing on the floor. I did not dare leave him for quite some time until he improved. The next morning, he was banging his fists on his poor piano's keyboard such that I was worried for its future but soon his roarings took on the semblance of melodic and rhythmical ideas. Within an hour he had started scribbling down in a notebook several indecipherable ideas he said were for a new quartet.
But before I left to return to Die schattigen Kiefern (*) and "Fräulein Rosa," work on the quartet came to a halt, nothing he could revise into something useful nor discard for anything deemed better (not that this was any particularly unusual behaviour as there were often pages of continuously evolving sketches he'd eventually dispose of). His despondency returned when he realized the truth: he was completely incapable of dealing with that woman living under his roof, realizing that he couldn't live with her yet neither could they live apart. He kept thinking of Dr. Staudenheim's analysis, examining her at Teplitz that summer, how she was physically fit for her age but otherwise unstable mentally and might indeed remain an invalid throughout her life. He considered the possibility of committing the mother, then bringing the child to live with him, before quickly dismissing that solution.
I returned to Teplitz for one more summer in Herr Kohl's kitchen and Dreckfahrer's little band, knowing Beethoven wouldn't be there. This time, he went to Baden outside Vienna and had a miserable stay. A friend working there said, genius or not, Beethoven owned no decent coat nor even had a whole shirt to wear. He sat at a large table for dinner completely alone, avoided by everybody, where one guest complained he was "positively filthy." It wasn't until mid-September I could get away to bring him back home.
The Master was, as they say, "a mess," – completely withdrawn from society, not giving a damn about his appearance or manners – rude even with me before I had gotten him back to Pasqualati's house. Since the beginning of May he had composed not a note of music, wasting his entire summer holiday – four whole months! For the first time since he arrived in Vienna, he said, he had no great plans for a major new work, no symphony, no concerto, not even (here, he smirked) a new string quartet. The Great Beethoven, he moaned, was finished, done, his glorious career was ended, before asking me, "Who needs a deaf composer?" It was enough to reduce one to tears, seeing the great man thus. I did not know whom to turn to among his friends and patrons for surely he would not listen to them.
Several days later, going through a growing pile of unopened letters, I noticed one from that musical mechanic, the inventor Mälzel. Scrawled above the address was the word "URGENT!!!" and beneath it, "Please Respond!" Beethoven brushed it aside with a scowl, grumbling about absurd ideas and such, but at least he let me open it. Considering the recent English victory earlier in June over Napoleon's army in Spain – and all Vienna was abuzz with this latest news of France's imminent collapse – Mälzel was urging him to complete his "Battle-Symphony."
But Beethoven would hear nothing of it at the moment, tossing it aside, "a stupid piece for a stupid mechanical orchestra." Though he seemed to have nothing but time, he considered it "wasting time." Still, he could not imagine himself writing anything, even to celebrate Napoleon's Fall, a counterpoise to his symphony about a hero. He said he needed the inspiration of something lofty to start composing again, more than the defeat of a fading tyrant. I would argue, wasn't "how are the mighty fallen" a lofty enough subject?
There were more pressing needs, certainly, the practical matter of providing himself income and, I added, a matter of personal concern, the payments to my uncle for Rosa Kohl's care and, now, her daughter's. They had stopped in May according to several notes received from Uncle Tobias who asked if, somehow, they couldn't be resumed.
When the Master heard I had sent home a large portion of my own meager income to defray the Belovèd's expenses, he began to weep again, counting it as another of his "miserable failings." Then it made him weep to think of her alone in the world, and then weep more thinking of his daughter. But then another thought would occur to him, should Uncle Tobias no longer be able to keep her at his inn, how she and the child, with nowhere to go, might return to Vienna.
This sent him into another paroxysm of tears for where would she go and who was there to look after them? There was no other solution, he would shout, for he alone was responsible. Yet when he imagined her living there with him while he tried to compose, the child crying, he wept even more.
He was the one who had been left alone, abandoned by the "angel" who denied him his virtue and his manhood – I had overheard him weeping to Zmeksall about his resorting to "vile prostitutes" – how he, without any spiritual union, found afterward no trace of noble feeling and now was left with nothing but remorse.
In his difficulties with hearing, he thought I'd called it "Die schändlichen Kiefern" not "schattigen" ["Shameful Pines," not "Shady" – translator's note] and he rose with great resolve, taking Mälzel's letter over to his piano.
Over the next few days, once he'd resumed work on those "poor inane sketches" he'd started the month before in Baden, bit by bit Beethoven's spirits began to improve at least for a time, during which I was able to convince him to make arrangements with Herr Zmeksall for a small loan ("for personal reasons"). While he did go purchase some new clothes and a pair of boots, most of this loan went to my uncle in order to ensure the continuation of maintaining "Rosa" for the long winter.
"It will give us more time, Hermes," (as he continued to call me) "in finding a better solution for their care," though I was reluctant to travel with such a sum through the countryside. At my age, he argued, ruffians little expected a lad of my years to have such a lining to my cloak.
Uncle Tobias was, of course, gratified (and surprised) to be receiving the money having assumed with the birth of the child the late fiance's family would have felt their obligations now at an end. He would be loath to do it, sending her out into the cold, but she'd proven too grand for kitchen work.
And so, as winter approached, "Rosa Kohl" and her daughter Amalie became long-term residents at the Pflegermanns' inn, "Die schattigen Kiefern." The story told guests was her husband had died before the child's birth.
Anyone aware of Beethoven's story would know that, soon, his "Battle-Symphony," later Wellington's Victory, changed the course of his personal history. The Master suddenly found himself not only popular but also financially well off. He was able to sell the piece to a new publisher, Steiner, even making friends some handsome loans (at good interest).
Through a partner there, he arranged a special account administered by Herr Tauschen (as long as he was not Herr Täuschen ["Tauschen" means exchange, barter; "täuschen" means cheat – translator's note] to be kept secret.
No one else knew about the existence of the Belovèd or their child, but as it became more involved than previously, the Master now felt it necessary to bring someone else into his confidence.
About then, Beethoven met a music teacher at the Institute of the Blind named Simon Sechter, a man he could trust.
Sechter was a young man of 26 who had studied with Koželuch (though the Master did not hold that against him) whom Beethoven, now considerably changed, had liked instantly despite his being so academic. Greatly honored by the request made of him, Sechter would take over the "administration" of what Beethoven now called "our Project." Sechter would look after the banking, keep the books and administer the fees to be paid to my uncle, Tobias Pflegermann, for the "maintenance" of the woman known as "Rosa Kohl" at his inn. It was my great responsibility as "Resident Hermes" (now, alas, no longer skinny) to carry correspondence between Sechter and the Master as well as any such correspondence directly between the Master and the Belovèd. Sechter and I jokingly called ourselves the "Unsterblichesverein" [the "Immortal Society" – translator's note] and such, I admit, was its unlikely beginnings.
My uncle, of course, had no idea regarding the source of this income, knowing only of the agent he corresponded with, someone named Baron Ludwig von Zwischenstein-und-Schwerplatz who acted for an unnamed Viennese aristocrat. Fortunately, it gave them the impression "Rosa" was to have married a nobleman, an assumption that didn't hurt our project's cause. It might ultimately explain why she found kitchen-work beneath her, whatever the cause, even if at times she put on airs. I told them reminding her of her loss would only sadden her more.
It was during the springtime of the following year – this was now 1814 – after "Wellington's Victory" had become a great success, much to the Master's constant bafflement and delight, despite some critic's occasional complaints (as Beethoven scoffed to me over lunch once, after reading one such review, "I shit better than what this moron writes!"). Not only did it bring him some much needed income, it brought with it a renewed popularity, even more than before, but more importantly, for his own benefit, a renewed sense of his self-esteem.
Fidelio was revived and was finally a success, the Viennese seeing it as a triumph over the inevitable fall of Napoleon (originally premiered during the French Occupation of 1805, it had been a disaster). And when, with Waterloo, Napoleon's collapse became reality, Vienna danced as Europe converged, redrawing the map after twenty years of war.
These were heady times for a boy in his mid-teens as much as they were for a genius in his mid-forties. Beethoven had many works inspired by current events that were being euphorically received. Sechter had taken me on as a student both in organ and theory, the better to explain my frequent appearances there. Though by now Beethoven had gone from having been forgotten to being acclaimed, he'd also gone from hard-of-hearing to totally deaf. He could scoff at what he was composing: he didn't mind the acclaim.
My uncle was amazed to discover I was becoming a frequently employed musician (no doubt through good connections with Baron Zwischenstein-und-Schwerplatz). He and my aunt (if not "Rosa" herself) were gratified I'd outgrown kitchen-work. But "Rosa" warned me in her half-serious way, that if nothing else materialized, one could always find work in a kitchen.
The strain of these years and her prolonged absence from the Master's side had no doubt been weighing heavily upon "Rosa," and at times I could tell she missed the excitement of city life. Alone with Amalie (and how quickly she grew), life must still be dull living at a country inn far from Vienna.
Once, I suggested to the Master that I bring "Rosa" and the child in to Vienna for one of his concerts. He declared it would be more than he – or possibly she – could bear.
"Wellington's Victory" had struck a chord with people who never went into a theater to hear one of the Master's symphonies. Patriotic fervor rode high among the light-hearted Viennese and Beethoven mined it easily. Fame it may have been, but it didn't last long, a glorious moment like a flame extinguished by a fickle wind. As life after years of constant warfare gradually settled into a new normalcy, people wanted to feel comfortable, to be entertained. They didn't want to grapple with those intellectual issues fueling his earlier works.
With the responsibility of the Belovèd's finances given to the efficient Dr. Sechter, and relying less on me for any communications, it seemed the Master forgot about her and his daughter living far away. If everyone else chose to ignore their circumstances, was Beethoven doing the same and hiding one of his life's greatest frustrations?
So it was to my considerable amazement when – this would be late-winter, 1815 – the Master requested I visit him some evening. I don't recall having seen him once all season, busy with my studies. And when I arrived well after dinner, making sure not to disturb him, I found him neatly dressed and smiling broadly.
"Come, come," he said like an eager father, brandishing a sheaf of papers. "Look, look," and dropped it on his desk. He pulled out a chair and set me down in it. "There – see?"
The Master pointed impatiently at the top page which was only barely legible. "I finished it this morning – it took months!" His excitement continued as I paged through it, trying to read it (unsuccessfully). "You will need to copy it, with parts, then show it to Sechter, and find some friends to play through it."
I asked why he hadn't contacted Schuppanzigh who usually played his new quartets, but he only laughed, pushing his chair back.
"No, no, Falstaff" (so-called because of his girth) "will want to perform it."
That seemed a logical assumption, I told him, but the Master was adamant even though I couldn't possibly do it justice, looking at the second violin part which was far beyond my meager talents.
"Well, Hermes, then you will have to copy it and learn it quickly, for you must play it for Amalie's birthday."
The quartet, Beethoven stressed again and again, had to be kept a secret, intended only for the ears of his family which, likewise, had to be kept a secret, away from Vienna's prying eyes. This music had grown from his innermost feelings – whether the heart's or mind's – and became the most personal of utterances imaginable. It was the opposite of everything else he'd been composing during this time, all of it otherwise for the public moment. In this piece, there was nothing public there, only his most private thoughts.
"The world beyond these walls would not be ready for such 'interior' music, a world interested only in show and cajolery," he argued as I carefully deciphered his scrawl into something mortals could read. "I do it to protect myself from maladroits who could never understand it, but I do it also to protect them."
As I would begin copying a new section, he would carefully point out what this phrase or that unexpected modulation meant, thoughts behind his musical thinking, not mere story-telling but more than purely academic. It wasn't telling the story of some people as if on a stage, but described what responses he felt about them.
This motive, he'd say, was inspired by a glance from the Belovèd herself and how this new idea came from it – "there," his finger stabbed at the manuscript, "see?" – which became the child's theme.
It was music unlike any I'd heard before and rarely equaled since then – though I heard it only inside my head – both lyrical and dramatic, beautiful yet intricately complex – and long, much more expansive. There were passages he would blush over when I asked him about them: "those, I'm afraid, are too far beyond words."
It struck me far more serious than his last quartet, the F Minor (finished four years earlier, and still held back) yet he considered it overall a joyous work, much like his Seventh Symphony.
In the last movement, he pointed out how it became a dance-like fugue with a subject based on the Belovèd's motive; how the counter-subject expanded the Child's motive – turning eventually into a double fugue. Sechter, the master of counterpoint, had bragged of writing a fugue a day: how would he react to seeing this fugue?
By the time I had finished copying it and my colleagues and I had learned it (an arduous task in itself), we were two months late for Amalie's birthday – doubtful the child would notice. Only Sechter and myself knew the author's identity ("Rosa," of course, could guess) but there was no problem keeping it secret.
We had difficulties enough playing it but the others had more in listening, Amalie not the only one who fell asleep. Even Sechter, there as my teacher not as Beethoven's agent, found it indecipherable.
Gradually, my aunt, uncle and what few other guests all left the room to partake of beer in the outer parlour. Only afterward did an old gypsy woman staying nearby appear in the doorway.
She began reading everyone's palms, telling their fortunes. Rosa's palm proved a mystery: "such a long life-line – you must be immortal!"
When she got to the child, Amalie's hand created in her an immediate energy, causing her at first to drop it.
"There will be twins – and from their union..."
"Horrible – that's incestuous!" someone muttered.
"No, generations will pass, but when they join – and I see great peril – greatness equal to this child's father will result."
After everyone else had left, Herr Sechter and I remained by the fire, pondering this over another pleasant glass of wine.
"Where did that come from," shaking his head. "Plus, did she mention 'peril'...?"
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to be continued... [this link should become active at 8am on Monday, July 18th]
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(*) Die schattigen Kiefern: German for Shady Pines
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The usual disclaimer: The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, which you've no doubt figured out by now, is a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents of its story are more or less the product of the author's imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody, occasionally by personal experience. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) but not always "realistically used." Other places like Phlaumix Court and Umberton are purely fictional. Any similarity between characters and real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental, but then, as Klavdia Klangfarben keeps quoting a former professor of hers, "Perception is everything." Yadda yadda yadda.
©2016 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train