Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben: Installment #37

With only one more episode after this one, which is good news, in the previous installment of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben, Dr. Kerr faces the music (not just Beethoven's missing string quartet) when he realizes there's also bad news: not only has he run into Klavdia Klangfarben and her invisible sidekick Abner Kedaver, he's also found Nepomuck and his Killer Viola! As Cameron takes Toni to safety, Dr. Kerr must race into the labyrinth alone to find the Last Will & Testament of the Immortal Belovéd – before Klangfarben does!

(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.

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The Labyrinth, inside the Pendulum Room: continuing from before

"Make only left turns," Schnellenlauter had told us in that mirror's magic message – it must've been magic that allowed him to leave that message for me. "Where are we, anyway," I wondered: it's like another one of those strange dimensions I've gotten myself into again. "Wait – again?"

As if the Pendulum Room weren't strange enough, here was a room that opened up out of a small rectangular carpet that kept unfolding into a room of its own, suspended in the void.

But this was more than your garden-variety labyrinth with boxwood hedges and paving stones and a lot of pseudo-Medieval, meditational mumbo-jumbo. First of all, it was more like a maze with numerous branching paths. Technically, labyrinths shouldn't have wrong turns and dead-ends – no, this was a maze – but these walls also had windows and doorways!

M.C. Escher, "Relativity"
I don't remember too many labyrinths – not that I've ever walked through many before (any, actually) – that had steps to climb. But I kept making my left turns, assuming right turns were wrong turns. Curiously, I noticed that frequently, had I made a right turn, there was a doorway: what would be beyond that door?

As I was walking down a short flight of steps, I looked ahead and saw the Klangfarben woman through a window. However, she was walking up a flight of steps – but on the underside!

I knew it was a kind of race to see who reached the center first, but how was this a race? (I would never be good with those crop mazes farmers made at Halloween.) If she'd made a wrong – that is, right – turn somewhere, she would, I imagined, never make it to the center, right?

"Ah, Dr. Kerr," I heard her say. Curiously the voice came from behind me, yet I clearly saw her before me. "So we meet again – and again!" She hurried up – or down – the steps.

Another turn: I saw her once more through a window going down a more distant flight as I now walked up. Again she spoke but now her voice sounded closer rather than farther away.

"You think this'll be like Lübeck or Heiligenstadt, don't you? But you don't have your little assistant with you, do you!"

That's right – Cameron had been instrumental in helping me foil... wait – "foil her nefarious plot to kill off the Great Composers of the Past!" Now I remember – and chasing her through Harmonia-IV, as well. By eliminating composers who'd most influenced other great composers, she could've reduced the influence of classical music by – well... a lot!

And all because of something I'd once said in a class she took of mine, something about how "perception is everything." I'd forgotten she was one of my students: she looks so much older.

"If only I hadn't gone back in time once more to rescue Mother," she moaned, raising her arms in defiant rage. "Then she would've stayed dead; that other child would never have been born. And just maybe, I would've met Earl King instead and my daughter would've grown up to fulfill the old gypsy's prophecy!"

She shuffled off around a corner and as I rounded my next left turn, she was on the other side of the window to my right, not six feet from where I was standing.

She glowered at me again, as if looks alone could kill. She didn't want me screwing up her plan this time.

"You see, once I find the Belovèd's Will and prove I'm her great-great-great-however-many-times-great-granddaughter, I can prove I'm that little girl's aunt. I'll have her sign that contract with SHMRG and control her fortune, too!"

With a great cackling laugh, Klangfarben opened a door and disappeared through it. (However intelligent she might have been to figure all this out, she certainly was a bit over-the-top, even for a villain.)

I kept forging on ahead, making several more left turns, passing several doorways and only occasionally glimpsing Klavdia through a window.

Turning one more corner, there she stood, in front of me, a doorway left ajar: she'd reached the center before me.

A bust of Beethoven flanked by two angels adorned an ornate golden casket.

Between the angels there unfurled a banner on which was engraved the line

O Du, der mein Brunnen des Gedankenblitz bist!

which I had seen before, carved on an unnamed tombstone outside Castle Schweinwald: "O you who are my Fountain of Inspiration!" Was this the Immortal Belovèd's actual grave – here?

Klavdia quickly raised the lid.

Reaching inside she found another box, a smaller, nearly flat one like a safety deposit box but made of gold. She rested it on the casket's edge and, oblivious of my presence, opened it.

What was I going to do, I thought, since I had no weapon: how was I going to steal the prize?

The room we stood in erupted and rose into the air, breaking through the ceiling, the void opening up above us.

Jolted by the unexpected movement, she turned to see me and scowled ominously.

The Klangfarben woman was holding a sheaf of old and obviously brittle papers – the original manuscript of Beethoven's missing Quartetto giocoso.

"Damn you! Come one step closer, Dr. Kerr, and I will destroy it."

Then I remembered what Dylan had said when she'd kidnapped him: though a descendent of Beethoven's, nonetheless she hates his music!

"The world will not ever hear this music, if it's up to me – like we really need another Beethoven string quartet!"

The music of the quartet, playing through the void, became louder, more joyous.

"Gaaakh!" she screamed, "listen to that – awful stuff!" She took the manuscript in her hands and began tearing it to shreds. It broke and splintered, falling to the ground: then she stomped on it.

The music around us quickly disintegrated and likewise broke into shards of sound before slowly fading into exhausted sobs – then nothingness.

Reaching into the casket again, she pulled out a small, golden jewel-box that might play Für Elise when you opened it. She held it so I could see, pointing an accusatory finger toward me.

"Don't you come any nearer, Dr. Kerr," she said, looking several years older than me, "it's clear I've won this one!"

I mean, it wasn't like I was going to make a run for her and beat her senseless with my fists. We looked like two senior citizens standing around a jewelry store display case.

Carefully, Klavdia opened the box – which did not, mercifully, play Für Elise or anything else, for that matter – and lifted out a scrolled parchment tied by a simple red ribbon with a gold seal.

"Unless I'm mistaken, it's the Last Will and Testament of the Immortal Belovèd."

Which was when I noticed the crystal sphere.

It had come from nowhere, this small globe, dropping rapidly toward her from far above in the darkness and at first I thought it might hit her in the head, knocking her out cold. There was no tell-tale giggling, in fact not even a whoosh of air, even after it suddenly stopped, hovering above her.

I assumed it was Kedaver with his friend Alf, most likely come to help the Klangfarben woman escape somehow, and I only hoped my glancing up at it several times would sufficiently distract her.

At this point, she fell for it, stepping back and looking up to see what caught my attention. If I'd had a gun and knew how to use it, I could've shot her then. But it turns out I didn't need to worry about that: it was too late. Without warning, the globe simply exploded.

And it exploded – or rather expanded – in all directions, enveloping her in its amber-like glow. Shimmering rays of light emanated from the center of the sphere, multi-colored brilliance bursting forth for only a second.

It caught nothing else up in its luminance, not the casket, not the jewel-box she had been holding nor even, most fortunately, me. After a blinding flash, the light had collapsed back into itself.

And in that flash, Klangfarben had disappeared, rescued by her crony Abner Kedaver – but she had let go of the scroll.

Her shriek, at first deafening, was immediately reduced to a distant, annoying whine, a bit like a mosquito caught in a jar. I looked once again at the sphere, visible after the explosion collapsed. There she was, inside the globe – almost infinitesimal – buzzing against the surface, behind her a glittering shower of points of light.

She hadn't been rescued, ready to escape the dimension of the Pendulum Room: she'd been captured, one more image of the universe preserved inside the sphere. Having attained her goal, she'd now lost it.

"Ah, perfida," the voice of Abner Kedaver crooned once again, "you are mine, you who'd left me behind in the past." The sphere bounced lightly in the air. "We were partners, with an agreement. But now I think I will return you to the past and leave you there. How far back should we go?"

With a great shout of Re-va'-dek ren-Ba'! like some ancient incantation, the globe roared upward at incredible speed, shooting off into space where it quickly disappeared. Both Klangfarben and Kedaver had entered another dimension.

When the whooshing stopped and the laughter evaporated into space, silence descended upon the labyrinth, finally, and I stood there, alone.

I reached down and picked the scroll up off the floor.

Was this really the Immortal Belovèd's Last Will and Testament?

After breaking the seal and slipping off the ribbon, I began to read.

The Last Will and Testament of the Woman Known as Beethoven's Immortal Belovèd

I can hardly begin writing "being of sound mind and body," can I?

("Wait, this is written in English, not German!")

...since I am old and tired and feel I've lived a hundred years.

("Did Beethoven know any English women in 1812?")

In fact, I could definitely say I have lived enough for three lives but that would be too much to explain or at least for idiots here in Germany to understand, much less believe.

Of course, it didn't help that one of Beethoven's doctor-friends examined me not long before my confinement came to an end and determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was clinically insane. In fact, as he put it, "as mad as a bag of frogs," no doubt no less insane thirty-four years later.

True, I'd suffered a great shock, meeting the Great Beethoven like that, then having him fall inconceivably in love with me, much to the amusement, then growing concern of some of his closest friends. If only that summer had also proven "inconceivable," after my arrival at Teplitz, before my giving birth to our daughter, Amalie.

Is that such a shock to you, my unknown reader, since few people knew of her existence – much less of mine? Yes – I was seduced by the composer Beethoven and bore his bastard child.

("It's true, then, everything Schnellenlauter had uncovered, everything that Frieda was telling me. This document will prove the Immortal Belovèd's identity. This is no doubt the musicological find of the century – of two centuries! No wonder Klavdia Klangfarben was so excited to get her hands on it: it would make one's reputation for a lifetime."

My hands were shaking almost uncontrollably and it was a great temptation to turn to the last page, read the signature, and end the age-old mystery of the Belovèd's name once and for all.

But I'd forgotten about Frieda and her desire for privacy and how this revelation would put young Toni's career in jeopardy. Remember the pressure Brahms had endured with Schumann's 'prophecy' about being Beethoven's heir!

"And what, after all, if she didn't sign it with her real name, using only Knussbaum's nickname for her – Rosa Kohl?"

And what (the Belovèd continued) could I call my 'estate' that I bequeath to my heirs, dying a lonely, poor woman? I arrived in Vienna with nothing and leave this world, finally, with nothing. I have no riches, neither money nor income – the fund Beethoven set up for my care was only for my care.

Yet I cannot complain for lack of any care though it leaves nothing to pass on much less take with me. But there's something I can do about that – let's save that for later.

Plus, as indifferent as I was at the beginning, it saddens me that I have outlived the daughter they named Amalie, that poor girl born of the Great Ludwig's misguided and truly incomprehensible passion.

She died not long after becoming a mother of her own, poor thing, and her at the age of barely 22.

So everything I have – which is nothing, for what it's worth – I leave to the only child of my only child, a sweet grandchild of now fourteen years whom her mother named Claudia Ludwiga. I'd resisted that name on both counts – "so pompous and old-fashioned," I'd reasoned – who'd saddle a girl with the name 'Ludwiga'?

Though I'd been very careful not to tell her, once she was old enough to remember, anything about her illustrious father, Amalie claimed to like the sound of it, and who could argue, there?

With his handsome face, Everett Gutknaben felt he deserved favor from young Amalie: him a talented student from a well-to-do family and her only the daughter of a former member of the Academy's staff (for that's how they explained my presence there, having fallen on hard times, rather than Beethoven's cast-off mistress gone completely bonkers).

Poor Amalie inherited the unsociable manner of her father and her mother's irritability, a volatile temper lurking behind her sultry looks. More handsome than pretty, she already showed signs of inheriting her father's deafness.

She was a bit of a wild girl who'd make a bad marriage so perhaps it was better she'd made none. You could see in her sad eyes that she was destined for unhappiness.

Then she found herself "with child" after Everett graduated tops in his class: she never told him the child was his.

What legacy did young Claudia need as she blossomed into a beautiful child, having inherited the least of her grandfather's personality and the best of her handsome father's looks, especially his golden blond hair?

("I wonder, would Everett Gutknaben be the grandfather of that boy, Gottlieb, whose murder was recounted in Harrison Harty's Schweinwald journal?")

After her mother had died, one thing I decided Claudia would never know – whatever she'd choose to think about her grandmother – was that the mother she would never remember had ever been Beethoven's bastard.

Other than Claudia, such a dear child who dotes on her old granny, there is no one else in the family, and surely Ludwig would never want his brother Johann to know I exist. Beethoven's nephew wouldn't want to hear from me, especially if no money's involved, though he seems to have turned out alright.

(That poor boy had enough crosses to bear without meeting another crazy relative. I'd thought of introducing him to Amalie, though. Old Ludwig would've flipped an ear-trumpet if he thought they'd become romantically involved!)

Ah well – on my side of the family, it seems like it was only last year I had buried my mother or saw my twin-like sister of the same name, wherever she may be.

Dead or alive, I wouldn't know (and she would know nothing of me): I can only wish her requiescat in pacem.

You're probably wondering, gentle reader, depending on who sees this and when, how exactly a woman like me (whatever that means) would have managed to meet Beethoven, the greatest living composer of his time? Since the man everyone calls "The Master" has his own view of it, I should perhaps let you hear my side.

I had found myself wandering around the halls of an old Viennese home (let's not go into how I got there) when I opened a door and discovered Beethoven pouring water over his head.

He was half-naked and growling something that might be music (so he explained) and didn't seem surprised to see me there. He was expecting a new housekeeper but not, he professed with increasing ardor, one quite so charming and beautiful as I. (I'd heard about his hearing but had no idea he was near-sighted, too.)

Like his music, he was impetuous, overpowering, and though I loathed the man and his music, who could resist the tempest? The courtship was both fast and frequently furious, so I devised a plan.

We should go away together – meeting at Teplitz, he would arrive from Prague: he arrived late, but I was later still.

It had become too intense – he had doubts! So when he cooled, I became even hotter; he pressed forward, I retreated.

Eventually, his reluctance gave way: for my real intent was to destroy him.

It had not been part of my plan to get drunk that evening much less spend a passionate night in bed. I completely withdrew; he collapsed like a billowing inferno that completely spent itself.

But my plan had backfired if not failed: instead, he destroyed me when I realized I was pregnant with his child.

We could not be married, he explained – his art, you know – so I threatened to kill both him and the baby.

Conveniently, his friends had a doctor declare me insane, and off I went.

If the old cliché is indeed true – how a great artist must suffer – then I certainly helped to make Beethoven great. (That is one way of saying it backfired: that was not the plan.)

But soon he had to deal with that sister-in-law and nephew of his, the mirror reflection of me and my daughter.

Every single altercation with Johanna, his brother's widow, every hour wasted on lawyers, every moment worrying over that wretched boy's schooling was a little like revenge for having saddled me with his own child.

Such a hypocrite over his brothers' private lives, he would not dare take in his own daughter born out of wedlock.

So the initial joy he felt at Amalie's birth soon changed to sorrow and that's when I realized I had failed.

Had he been a happy man, would his music have been worth anything?

He could simply have cut me loose, a crazy old beggar woman with a vivid imagination but instead locked me away, a distant place called "Schattigen Kiefern" where I was more prisoner than patient.

That stupid brat of a nut-case Rainer Knussbaum kept tabs on me, running letters back and forth, letters he eventually destroyed.

Beethoven had set up a special fund, asked a teacher named Simon Sechter to administer the account and look after me until after Beethoven died; then Sechter went off to Schweinwald, the Academy's headmaster. Rather than leave me go even though I could do no harm now, he took us with him, keeping us hidden.

Plus they set up a system of people who were called "Watchers" to protect us but they were more like wardens.

("This is the opposite of everything Knussbaum wrote: who is telling the truth?")

There was one thing I could leave Claudia: a manuscript some people would be clamoring for if they knew it existed. Here it is, twenty years after Beethoven's death: how much was it worth? But there were restrictions placed on it by the composer, the crafty bastard: "publish it only after the Immortal Belovèd's death."

While it was traumatic for Beethoven dealing with the aftermath of our relationship, news of Amalie's birth filled him with joy. He poured everything into this new string quartet which Knussbaum delivered to me.

Or rather, to my keepers, since I could neither hold nor see it – afraid I would try to destroy the thing – but once a year on Amalie's birthday I had to listen to it.

I swear he had composed it for the sole purpose of torturing me, payback for the biggest mistake of my life.

Amalie grew bored with it, preferring newer music she heard at the Academy, especially anything by Rossini or Mercadante, even Hummel. As for me, I thought Kalkbrenner and Kalliwoda were more enjoyable than this.

And yet we endured this every year on the observance of her birthday. Seriously, it was an annoyance beyond human endurance.

But no one ever said who had composed it – though I knew it. The players never knew whose music they performed. Nobody bothered telling Amalie it was written by her famous yet heartless father.

But now that I am dead, you ask, what difference would it make? It is the only revenge I have left. He forced me to listen to it but why should anybody else suffer?

("And now the Belovèd's revenge in complete: nobody else will ever hear it! The Klangfarben woman has destroyed Beethoven's lost quartet!")

There isn't much time left though I've lingered for years beyond my hopes, but I think I've succeeded if not exactly in destroying Beethoven's unknown quartet, at least in keeping the damn thing hidden.

("No wonder Knussbaum said her Last Will and Testament must never be found, supposedly protecting her identity and keeping Beethoven's secret. In the margin, someone – Knussbaum, I would assume – wrote 'she's crazy, you know.'

Why did Knussbaum choose to honor her wishes and not burn this letter, much less hide the manuscript of the quartet?"

Instead that fool of a warden – my chief jailer the arch-idiot, arch-nemesis Knussbaum – thinks by leaving about a few vague clues, some future Prince Charming will cut through all the mists to rescue this.

One can only hope that by the time some jolly do-gooder finds it, he will discover everything has deteriorated beyond recognition.

The world does not need to hear another quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven. Even with those last ones he composed, how could anyone take him seriously? He's completely delusional! (And they call me mad!)

I've lost so much time in my lives...

("Ah, now" I thought, "there's an odd typo.")

...making a muddle of opportunities, what's the point of wishing to go back again and make things right? If any person should understand that, it's me! Besides, who am I but a sick, defenseless old woman? Yeah, right, baby! I'm a bitch and I know it so I'm going to go out like an old bat riding on a broomstick...

(" least I think that's what it says: much of it's crossed out...")

When Knussbaum realized to release the quartet was to reveal the whole secret, the other Wardens decided there was no recourse: to protect The Master, the quartet must be kept in a safe place.

"Yes," I said, "hidden from those who seek to ruin the Master's reputation, safe for one hundred years – no, two hundred..."

Since after many years I feel the inevitable closeness of Death upon me, I can write what I feel without concern, like I care what any future generation will probably be thinking of me. Having been mad as a bag of frogs at one point in life, perhaps in some future world it still applies.

However I care to explain it, I can make prophecies of my own and who is there that could dispute them?

("At this point,” I thought, “she can say anything she damn well pleases.")

The lineage will remain a small one (it's the nature of prophecy), descending primarily through illegitimate daughters and the occasional son. Some may hope to become composers, though none for generations, alas, will succeed. But frankly, being a composer who's a woman will be challenge enough without the pressure of being descended from Beethoven himself.

As the prophecy went, sometime long in the future, there will be a daughter descended from twins who becomes Beethoven's heir. My daughter would only be disappointed not to present the world with twins.

Would it help her knowing these twins will be descended in some way, in some far off time, from her daughter?

Why fill Claudia's head with an old gypsy's prophecy, this one about the twins, like Wotan's tragic children, Siegmund and Sieglinde?

("Wait, how many years before Wagner started writing The Ring did she die?")

Not an incestuous parentage, here, a few generations' gap, but she may well become the brightest new composer of her day. Who knows what lies ahead, as they say, since only Time will tell?

But that's the point of searching for lost time because Time, we all know, is a fickle bastard of its own.

What good does it do me to open all these agèd wounds again if I had been considered mad in my old age only to find I've been just as mad in my youth?

For my grandchild, poor dear, I left my penultimate will and testament which mentions nothing of her grandfather nor my madness, much less my constant ruminations about lost time which would only be confusing.

This is for the future: as the old man said, "Perception is everything!"

Dutifully signed,

The Immortal Belovèd, once Klavdia Klangfarben.

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to be concluded... [with any luck, this link will take you to the final installment at 8am on Friday, August 26th.]

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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

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