(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. If you need some information about Harrison Harty's 1880 Journal, read this post.)
...landed on the ground with a heart-sickening thud, lying unconscious beneath the staircase. Even in the midst of all this noise, I had easily heard him, his scream a full-range glissando of anticipated agony.
"Rott, no!" I shouted louder, watching him fall, his old coat flapping uselessly like the broken wings of a dive-bombing raven, shouting as if I were not too late and could still protect him.
Everything around me had for a moment become motion nearly arrested in time, every sound muffled like a dull, distant roar. I could hardly recall anything else that happened in the pitch of battle. I saw only this mass of red hair, those usually weaselly little eyes bulging with fear, those arms flailing without hope.
I stood at the bottom of the steps and watched my friend fall, while all about me a battle was raging and no one else, it seemed, had even noticed what just happened here: the Great Dr. Johannes Brahms, still hugging this heavy-looking box to his chest, had pushed Rott aside and sent him flying.
Hans Rott, taken too soon, a young man possessed of a prodigious talent, one who died before he'd had his chance – my friend, though I had rarely called him that during our brief acquaintance.
Writing this account in the days that followed the battle I had witnessed, I recount only what others could tell me, how the attack on the sainted Schweinwald Academy, mounted under cover of darkness, led by the evil forces of the critic Bezsmyertnikov and the Dionysian Right was stalled by the logic of Professor Fabbro. The Apollonian Left could not have held out for long against the onslaught, for all its cunning and skillful military precision, swept into the fetid cesspool of music's future by sheer force and spontaneity.
Brahms pushed on, knocking me against the wall, puffing on his rank cigar, grumbling about being late for the Vienna train. I could have tripped him, I know that, and sent him flying, also. All I could think of was my friend Rott, lying on the ground, when I recalled Ethel Smyth had been abducted.
"Herr Brahms," I shouted as he scuffled past, "look what you have done," pointing at the broken body of my friend. "Where is Fräulein Smyth," I demanded, "and the statue you stole from us?"
"And do you have a symphony you want me to look at, also, you absurd little man with your English airs?"
With a snort, he turned and fled down the last few remaining steps with the box clutched tightly to his chest. Once he lurched out onto the Great Landing, Brahms screeched to a halt.
Whereupon his arrival coincided with an advance from both sides of the conflict, marching determinedly toward the monument of Simon Sechter, unruly Romanticists on the left facing a column of Classicists from the right. I could not see who it was who had hurried up to Brahms and hustled him away, quite possibly to safety.
I wasn't sure: as the most famous living composer present on the battlefield, was Brahms taken prisoner by the Dionysian Right or being forced to retreat behind front lines by the adherents of Apollo? It did not bode well for music of either faction to have so great a composer wounded in a senseless attack.
However, there were even hoarier heads than Johannes Brahms' deep among the fray – Hammerschlag among the Apollonians, Riesenblut waving Dionysus' banner – even if age limited some to standing behind the lines of heaviest artillery.
It was hard to see what happened between the darkness and the smoke as one side advanced before needing to retreat, flashes of lightening careening across the Great Landing like bursts from exploding bombs. The shouting but most especially the deafening curses tore frantically across the air, landing unspeakably in the midst of beleaguered partisans.
The Reds – as Apollo's Left sometimes called themselves – forced back the invading Blues (the Dionysian Right) who rallied under their banners until the steps became a sea of purple raging furiously back and forth. (*2)
Romanticists howled against the chants emanating from the front line of the Classicists: "Thou shalt have no parallel fifths before me!"
"Tritones! Tritones!" they shouted back. (*3)
"Thou shalt have no unresolved dissonances before me!"
"Chaotic, absolutely empty dried-up stuff!" the Apollonians shouted.
"You stink in the ear!"
"And this is what musical trigonometry sounds like...!"
The drummer for the Classicists beat mightily on his single pair of kettledrums but was severely out-flanked by the Romanticists' eight. The pristine clarity of those distinct tonic-dominant cadences was pulverized by the harmonically ambiguous clattering of hooves from four apocalyptic timpanists. The stampede that followed was decisive and immediate as blue banners pressed forward.
Brass fanfares ignited the senses but grandly unfolding fugues dulled everything before them until the stretto (*4) barreled ahead, increasing the tension. Sweeping melodies played soaringly by strings and winds rose and fell in sequence.
Nikolai Kashcheievich Bezsmyertnikov, arch-critic, leader of the Romanticists, friend of Wagner and Liszt, wielding his pen and scribbling across the air, stood on a raised platform placed to the side of the castle's foyer. From there, he commanded throngs of loyal students cheering and jeering each volley, advancing on the Great Landing, the school's center.
From a podium on the opposite side of the landing, facing the Romantics, stood the conductor Emilio Fabbro wielding his baton, overseeing an array of students defending their school and its traditions against attack.
I lost track of what happened to Brahms and even from where I stood could no longer see poor Rott's body. For that matter, where had Mahler disappeared to: a casualty or taken prisoner?
There was little to be gained standing here. Where was Director Professor Böhm? Who would bring the fighting to a halt?
Fabbro, in addition to dispensing music's most arcane wisdom in his counterpoint classes, blasted his opponents with chord after climactic chord.
Bezsmyertnikov wrote "you conduct like a little girl! You call that a sforzando?"
The Romantics pounded out a dominant C-7th chord, then, turning B-flat into A-sharp,
resolved it like a German 6th chord instead. (*5)
Once again, the Classicists, deafened by these excruciating dissonances and this unexpected resolution, fell back to the middle of the landing, regrouping behind the safety of the Sechter Memorial, resorting to their secret weapon.
As Romanticists began to cheer and blue banners streamed up the main steps, they were checked by a line of Classicists scowling fiercely, fists up-raised, stretching out quickly from either side of Sechter's statue.
On signal from one of the students, they raised middle fingers as one – "Der Vogelfinger der Weltsprache," flipping the Universal Bird!
With piercing cries of "Death to tonal ambiguity!" they stabbed their arms forward, jabbing the air like bayonets with march-like precision and strode deliberately toward the Romanticists' front line which scattered at their barrage.
I realized the storm outside the castle raged on, greatly increasing in violence: the thunder and lightening definitely inspired the Romantics.
With fists raised, they turned toward the landing and stormed up the steps, thumbs between index and middle fingers – the Fig!
Several students were yelling things that sounded like "che pasta!" and "eh, fondue!"
It was then I noticed the harried-looking Brahms, still clutching his mysterious box, led by Hammerschlag and Böhm's secretary Medusa Steindreher, escorted under a white banner to the main entrance and his waiting carriage.
"Make way for the Maestro," Professor Hammerschlag intoned, "the Count's sent a carriage."
"Ah, but that box," Bezsmyertnikov said, stepping forward.
Brahms pulled back, protesting. "This is my box, I never travel without it!"
"Then you'll let us check its contents, yes?"
I could not see what tumbled from the box, but Brahms was outraged.
"You may have won the battle but we'll see who's won the war," after reaching the safety of the awaiting carriage. "We'll see where music goes from here: into the sea – or the cesspool!"
With that, Brahms turned to leave after giving them all one last wave.
Then derisive jeers went up from the Romanticists.
A great C Major chord pealed forth from the castle's mighty pipe organ, swelling out from the academy's expansive Great Hall. Whoever had brought in this biggest of guns, it took everybody by surprise. The vibrations from the 32' diapason pedal alone plus its trumpet en chamade were more than enough to get anyone's attention.
Batons stopped beating, instrumentalists stopped playing, imprecations overall came to a decided halt, everyone dead in their tracks across the landing as all heads turned back toward the organ console in the Great Hall.
There, despite his illness, sat as usual the imposing figure of Rainer Knussbaum, shoulders and great mane hunched over the manuals.
Then we heard a loud and powerful voice bidding us to stop immediately.
But this voice which sounded vaguely familiar was coming from inside Sechter's statue, booming forth with unfamiliar confidence: it was Mahler!
"As the Master once received," another voice intoned, "Mozart's spirit through Haydn's hands, so we must combine his heart and mind.
"Very soon there shall appear one among us who embodies the Master's legacy.
"I thus present to you, my fellow devotees, the glorious Future... of... Music!"
There was a pause followed by muffled conversation.
But then, finally, there was a great rumble, the landing shaking ominously as the base of the statue slowly swung open.
I doubt anyone was more surprised than I, looking up to see Ethel.
Even more surprising was what she held in her hands – a small statue.
"How is that even possible," I wondered aloud.
It was the model of the Beethoven monument, with all its secretive implications.
The very one Knussbaum and Böhm gave us to hide in the crypt, which was then so mysteriously stolen from us.
And held now by the person who had been stolen along with it.
How had she rescued the statue – or herself?
And who the hell decided Ethel Smyth should be the Future of Music?
She stepped forward into a pool of light – the moon broke through the storm and bathed the castle in its light. The clouds and thunder retreated into the distance, leaving behind an eerie quiet.
Raising the statue as in some arcane ritual, Ethel turned side to side while Knussbaum improvised on the Ode to Joy.
One by one, combatants who, moments ago, struggled for control of the Academy now put their instruments aside and wandered away: the battle may be over if not won, its final outcome merely postponed.
Ethel continued standing there, holding forth the statue, as Knussbaum turned the Ode into a fugue and the moonlight gradually faded.
A tall, bearded figure in a dressing gown, peaked cap and familiar spectacles had appeared unnoticed beside the Great Hall's entrance.
Professor Dudley Böhm, still stately, looked like he'd been roused from deepest slumbers.
"Whatever is all this racket about," he asked, looking about him, quite bemused. Had I not seen him playing chess with Knussbaum moments before the battle, I'd assume he'd slept through the entire thing.
And for that matter, what had happened to the chaplain who brought news of the uprising to Böhm? Where was Porlock?
"Ah, there you are, Dudley," said Dr. Porlock, himself half-asleep and looking annoyed.
"Wait, what is this," he stammered, equally bemused. "What are so many students doing out of their rooms at this hour?"
"Ah," Fabbro said, saluting the director, "we were all here to give Dr. Brahms a fine Schweinwald send-off – weren't we, boys?"
Some of the students gave a half-hearted response while others ignored him completely.
"Well, it's late – or early, Professor Fabbro," Böhm said, yawning. "You, too, Bezsmyertnikov: help get everyone else back to bed, eh?"
With that, students put away their instruments and banners, cleaned up the debris and trundled themselves, grumbling, back to their rooms. Several of them appeared more dazed than wounded, shell-shocked or offended than hurt. My roommate Nokyablokhoff limped past, mumbling something unintelligible that still sounded faintly life-threatening (the end of term couldn't come quickly enough).
More importantly, Hans Rott was sitting up, very much alive, by the staircase, nursing what could only be an implacable headache.
"I get the impression Brahms doesn't like me," Rott said, rubbing his neck.
Happy to see he had survived his fall, I ran to help him when I realized Sechter's monument had already closed. Where had Ethel gone again – and the statue? And what about that voice?
Very soon, under the seemingly detached eyes of Professor Böhm and Dr. Porlock, the scene, before so chaotic, had emptied out.
For that matter, I recalled how we had discovered Gutknaben's body lying there. Was that how the boy's murderer had escaped? Had the killer attacked him, stolen the locket, then disappeared beneath the statue?
"Where does that passage go," I asked Böhm, pointing at the statue's plinth.
Feigning indifference, Böhm looked around, shaking his head.
"This castle is riddled with such passageways, Harty," Böhm said as he motioned us to follow him down from the landing.
"And perhaps not all roads lead to Rome." Porlock, yawning, turned and left.
The air was still reverberating with the remnants of Knussbaum's improvisation echoing about, though I'd forgotten it had ended long since, as the great organist himself, looking completely exhausted, joined us on the steps. When I went to congratulate him on his having single-handedly dispelled the attack, he ducked his head modestly, stroking his beard. Considering how sick he'd looked lying on his daybed earlier in the evening, the old man appeared to be greatly revitalized, but then we were all well aware of the curative powers of music.
"Yes, yes, Rainer, that was really most impressive – most impressive indeed," Böhm said and turned toward him with an appreciative nod, "though that cadenza on the minor plagal cadence did go on a bit."
"Well, I couldn't see if you were in place yet, without Porlock's cue," Knussbaum said, "but it made a nice entrance."
I was dumbfounded to discover their appearance had all been planned quite carefully.
"Well, not quite," Knussbaum muttered into his beard.
"Come now, Rainer," Böhm chuckled, "how often have you improvised on the Ode?"
The point was, Böhm explained, they needed to make it look very nonchalant rather than anything adversarial or taking anybody's side.
"If I came on too aggressively," he said, "it would ruin my reputation and somehow being mild-mannered serves me quite well."
But his delayed entrance had given him an opportunity to see something interesting.
Near the bottom step, almost invisible in the dimness of the fading moon, I saw what Director Böhm was pointing at: a small pile of broken bits of something that fell from Brahms' box.
"Whatever it was Bezsmyertnikov found and which Brahms was reluctant to leave behind, this would seem to be all that's left."
Rott and I carefully gathered up the fragments, thin pieces of twisted metal.
"What is this," I asked, "it looks mechanical."
"If I can give this back to Brahms," Rott said, "he'll forgive me!"
"I wouldn't get my hopes up, Herr Rott." Böhm then pocketed the fragments. "I doubt there's enough left to be helpful."
Then Knussbaum held his finger to his lips, not sure he'd heard something.
"We should probably return to your room, Rainer," Böhm whispered, looking around cautiously. "Besides, the others are waiting."
"Others?" I asked.
Not that it would arouse any undue suspicion had anyone been there to see two professors and two students suddenly disappear into the landing's deepening shadows behind the portrait of one of those professors. There were numerous portraits around the landing, a "who's-who" of Schweinwald's past: were there secret passages behind every one of them? As Böhm approached it, his portrait glided aside: had anyone noticed us, we might have walked right through a solid wall. As usual, I was barely through when the portrait slid back into place.
Knussbaum led the way with a candle he lit once inside the passage and we climbed after him through various twists, reminding me how much easier it had been, traveling from the opposite direction. After one turn, Böhm pointed out another passageway veering off to the right which led off to his own private apartments.
Now deep into the building, climbing ever higher, Knussbaum felt it must be safe to talk, as long as we whispered. I refrained from asking the questions I had, curious also about "the others."
"What do you think Old Brahms had in that box of his, Dudley?"
"Whatever it was," he answered, "fell and broke."
"So you don't think he'd stolen a book – or maybe a manuscript, perhaps?"
"We can't be sure he'd stolen anything, Rainer."
"He was awfully secretive about something, this visit."
"He's a very private person..."
Overall, Böhm sounded quite unconcerned about whatever Brahms tried to take with him, reminding Knussbaum that Brahms' first teacher, Eduard Marxen, had been one of the very first students when Schweinwald opened its doors. His leaving the castle in the middle of the night was one thing, but stealing something was an entirely different matter.
"But that still doesn't give him the right to go poking around here, looking for stuff that doesn't belong to him."
"There are scholars who feel research and discovery are vital to our understanding."
"Vital, maybe," Knussbaum grunted, "but we have a professional obligation to protect things that don't need being understood – that's vital, too."
When he mentioned something about a missing quartet, Böhm held up his hand.
"Shh, Rainer," Böhm said, chuckling. "We're here – the others should be back, now."
Once again, we found ourselves in Knussbaum's fireplace.
It amazed me that the whole way back, all they talked about was what Brahms had in this box of his – not about the attack led by Bezsmyertnikov in an attempt to overthrow Böhm. Yet even more amazing was to walk out into Knussbaum's crowded sitting room and find three people waiting there for us.
Ethel sat at the table with the Beethoven statue in front of her and next to her sat a grinning Mahler. But perhaps the greatest surprise was the distinguished gentleman who sat behind them.
A middle-aged man with silvering, slightly damp hair, he reminded me of someone but nobody I could recognize from the school. There was also a familiar stench of tobacco rising from his tweed jacket.
The man's identity was clearly unknown to me, prompting Ethel to speak up: "Let me introduce Count Albrecht Johann von Falkenstein."
Now I recognized him – from outside the manor house with Brahms and Fabbro: they'd been having dinner out on the terrace. What was he doing here – and once again, what was Ethel up to?
"I must apologize for knocking you out," he said, "back in the crypt. I wasn't sure whose side you were on."
"Whose side," I asked, rubbing the back of my head at the recollection, wondering how Rott must feel after his fall. "I'm afraid that's just one of many things I can't say I understand."
"What the Count means," Ethel began, "is that other people were prowling around, probably spying on his guest, Herr Brahms, and..."
"Perhaps," Böhm stepped in, "Herr von Falkenstein should explain it himself, Ethel, yes?"
Mahler and I tried to suppress knowing smiles as Ethel sat back, chagrined, realizing how much she liked to "explain" things.
"Well, yes, not only did we have a great celebrity as our guest, we were unveiling a great secret that night."
"That was the fugue-writing machine I had been telling you about," she added.
"And," the Count added, nodding, "we were concerned someone may steal my invention. Fabbro perfected it and actually built it, but..."
"But Brahms stole it himself," Rott spoke up. "It was in his box!"
Böhm placed the broken pieces of metal on the table. "Is this it?"
Looking at it, Falkenstein said, "that's the model."
The actual machine, he continued, was quite huge, filling up a large room, but after it turned out a decent fugue, he'd given Brahms the model as a souvenir, silencing Rott's jump to conclusions.
"He thought it would look fascinating on his mantle, something nobody could identify: who would imagine it was a composing machine?
"Earlier," the Count continued, "Fabbro caught sight of an intruder in the yard which he thought was his nemesis, Professor Bezsmyertnikov. Later, when I heard someone in the crypt, I thought he had returned."
"So, you thought we were Bezsmyertnikov and Carmilla, back to steal your machine? That makes sense to me, under the circumstances."
But it didn't explain what happened after that, especially with Brahms' late-night escape.
The Count brought Ethel back in the coach intended for Brahms to catch the Red Eye train leaving for Bad Ischl.
"It turned out tonight was the night Bezsmyertnikov had planned his nefarious attack, and Brahms unwittingly got stuck in the middle. So we improvised our part – nice touch, Ethel as the Future of Music..."
"But then," she said, eying up the Count, "you mentioned some silly legend, how your wife is the granddaughter of Beethoven..."
"When I saw you with the Beethoven statue, I figured they'd told you."
Böhm picked up the brooding statue and weighed it carefully in his hands.
"In fact, Ethel, it's not some silly legend."
Once Professor Böhm had told Ethel everything he'd already gone through with us – and a good bit more besides, it seemed – she too was inducted into the society of watchers known as the Unsterblichesverein.
(I have decided, quite arbitrarily, not to include further details of that here, saving that separate adventure for its own volume.) (*6)
The Count then told us about his daughter Fredericka who, having celebrated her 14th birthday, was showing some talent for composition. If Ethel kept in touch, Fredericka might find it inspiring, woman to woman.
He then agreed with Böhm and Knussbaum he should take the Beethoven statue, somehow recording on it the secret they protect in hope that, in future, younger generations would not lose sight of it.
"In fact, I'm thinking I'll add another layer to it," the Count suggested, "you know, to make the quest more challenging."
"But we still don't know who killed Gutknaben or stole the silver locket."
In addition to a lock of Beethoven's hair, the Count explained it contained the only known portrait of the Immortal Belovèd.
"We are all in danger, we who keep the Master's secret," Böhm said. "You must be careful whom you talk to."
The Count told us about a shadowy organization calling themselves the Guidonian Hand, and he suspected Carmilla Varné was its leader.
"Though we have no proof, I imagine she killed Gutknaben for the locket."
After that night, when I talked with my friends of what we'd survived, now the summer was drawing to a close, I wondered if maybe I should not destroy this journal I've been keeping.
"What if it should find its way into the wrong hands – Guidonian hands? Would it yield up too much important information?"
"What hands would ever find it in London," Mahler asked, "or especially Ireland? Who would think to look for it there?"
"Surely, you're not likely to read it again," Ethel said with dripping disdain.
Not that anyone would know what it said or what secrets it hid, written after all in code and backwards, beside. Wasn't I the only person in the world who could possibly read it?
And, Ethel was quick to point out, given such difficulties to decipher it, would anyone bother working their way through it?
Now the adventure must come to its close and the summer, its end. Carriages that brought us from various corners of Europe now took us home by way of Munich to Vienna – or London.
Poor Rott, his headaches worse after his fall, was in a sad state, sitting out the summer's final weeks in hospital.
Ethel nattered on about writing a great programme symphony to describe her adventure, thinking she'd call it "The Future of Music," full of musical references to Beethoven and Brahms, ending with a great fugue!
Mahler, for his part, had become – if possible – even more distant and thoughtful, the result of his experience in the woods, and talked about how his head was constantly full of themes and ideas.
That was a good thing, Ethel admitted, because frankly, the way he'd been, he would never make it as a composer.
For any of us, who knew what the future might hold in store, becoming the Liszts and Brahmses of our generation or being forgotten like so many names I'd read about but never heard?
I had no idea what possible good this summer might have done me but I wouldn't trade it for the world!
We parted ways, we four, and vowed to keep in touch, writing letters, and conducting each others music when success came.
But we each had our responsibilities, as well: of our secret, ever watchful.
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to be continued... [with any luck, this link should become active on Friday, August 5th, at 8am.]
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(*1) The earlier sections of Harrison Harty's journal were a major part of the previous novel, The Lost Chord. To find out more about it and links to the other excerpts, check out this post.
(*2) back and forth: In 20th Century psychoanalytical terms, the Left Brain is the side that controls logic and structure which, in music, would be the logical-minded classicists with their interests in form and harmonic rules; the Right Brain is the side that controls emotional responses which, in music, would be the Romanticists who favor content over form and a certain disdain for following the rules. In previous centuries, Apollo was the traditional symbol of classicism; Dionysus, of Romanticism.
(*3) Tritones!: One of the most hated rules theory students have to contend with is the injunction against voices moving in parallel a perfect fifth or an octave apart. To this, the Romanticists respond with rousing shouts in support of the augmented fourth, known as the Tritone which, since medieval days, has been called the diabolus in musica or "the devil in music." Much frowned upon by the classicists except in special cases, it was a favorite sonority of the 19th Century Romantics.
(*4) stretto: in the writing of fugues, stretto refers to a passage where motives start overlapping between voices, increasing the tension; it comes from the Italian for "stressed."
(*5) German 6th Chord instead: A Dominant 7th chord built on C would be spelled C - E - G - B-flat and resolve to an F Major chord; by spelling the B-flat as an A-sharp (the same key on a piano), it however changes the resolution to a B-natural which becomes the root of a B Major chord, a tritone away from the expected! Don't understand? Don't worry...
(*6) its own volume: if he did, it has yet to be found.
* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *
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