(If you're just joining us, as they say, you can read the novel from the beginning, here.)
And now, it's time to continue with the next installment of
In Search of Tom Purdue.
“What I really don't understand,” I said, trying to get my point across to the Kapellmeister, “is why you keep thinking I can help you.” The fog I'd hardly noticed was already dissolving and I began to hear other peoples' voices around us. “Seriously,” I whispered, “I don't know anything about whatever this thing is you're... wait – we're there, already?”
It couldn't have been more than two minutes since I'd been talking to Amanda in Purdue's basement. Then I'd turned, stepped into that tunnel and, of all the luck, ran into the dratted Kapellmeister again – and now we were someplace God knew where, surrounded by stone and a great deal of wood. Not surprisingly, I had a strange feeling we weren't in Marple anymore, but so far the Kapellmeister wasn't explaining anything now we were here, wherever “here” was.
Had we walked into one of those paintings by J.M.W. Turner? Here we were, standing in a large hallway with much higher ceilings than that claustrophobic tunnel outside Purdue's basement. Colors and lights and nondescript images no longer swirled about, but I still was unable to focus on anything to see any clearer. The lighting – probably candlelight – became increasingly brighter after I felt a deeply penetrating vibration, not something that came from the floor we were standing on but from the insides of my feet, firing rapidly up my spine. Then everything came into focus with a great whoosh!
“This place looks vaguely familiar,” I continued whispering. “You know, I think I've been here before.” That didn't help me narrow it down since I also might have seen it in some book or movie.
Trying not to gawk like a tourist, I noticed stone walls, marble floors and striking wooden buttresses across the ceiling with huge chandeliers floating off toward infinity. It was a great hall grander than many an English castle's, like something you'd see at Oxford or maybe Cambridge.
“Where are we?” This was very different from our earlier visit to the wilds of rural Maine, finding ourselves in a small village not many years after the American Revolution before ending up in some haunted cabin deep in the woods. I had no idea where the Kapellmeister would've chosen to continue his search, but this was not the segue I would have anticipated. If he's looking for a colonial American document sold to an itinerant German musician who then traveled across Pennsylvania and ended up in Kentucky, how did we end up in... – “of course, Cambridge! We're at Harvard, aren't we? Or is it Yale...?”
Whichever it was, it was magnificent, more than I remembered, though during my visit I'd been in a hurry, and hadn't taken time to look around. Besides, I realized only later the significance of the building and it wasn't until years later, when I'd become older and more aware of these things, how quickly I'd been rushed through it, then. It was a dining hall – “rather posh for a cafeteria, don't you think?” I joked, “but then it is 'Hahvud,' isn't it?” Yes, definitely, now, I remember: it was Harvard. The history of the building had escaped me in my anxiety to make it to the concert at Sanders Theater in time, and as soon as it was over, we were on our way out to get something to drink before I caught the late train home. The “Great Hall,” in the process, had been forgotten.
“Anyway, it was a long time ago when I first started teaching. A friend of mine was a grad student at...”
The Kapellmeister, intent on locating someone, hissed at me to be quiet.
“Of course, back then,” I continued mumbling, looking around at the crowd, “it wasn't that long ago – I mean, in comparison to when women wore bustles and men had side-whiskers like that,” I said, nodding at a rather average-looking man with an incredible display of mutton-chops standing near the center of the room, surrounded, I supposed, by students. He, too, looked familiar but not because I'd ever met the man.
More importantly, I was beginning to wonder, “When are we?”
The room was not quite so full of people as I'd first thought. In fact, as my eyes adjusted to the light – dim, by modern standards – I noticed only a small portion of our end of the long hall had in fact been cleared for what appeared to be a reception. The rest of the space was filled with rows of long, highly polished wooden tables surrounded by low-backed wooden chairs. Only a few of the chandeliers had been lit, however, leaving the rest of the room, unused, in near darkness, giving it a not unwarranted sense of mystery, its ceiling nearly invisible beyond a pale glow from the rafters. I suspect, if I remembered correctly, those were stained glass windows, and those white marble busts lining the walls shimmered a bit like ghosts in the candlelight.
People milled about, talking with the others, women gliding by, their feet completely hidden by long, florid skirts that swept the floor. Heels clicked against the marble and men tapped their fashionably elegant walking sticks, adding to the echoing din. I looked about wondering if there was a table where someone served food, if it was a reception, but most people seemed merely to enjoy conversation, only bits of which I was able to catch. Apparently, we had just missed a program of chamber music.
“Good,” the Kapellmeister sighed, nodding toward the mutton-chopped man surrounded by students, “there he is – still here. I was afraid he would have left early after the concert if we were too late.”
“You mean that man over there in the brown suit? We're looking for John Knowles Paine?”
The Kapellmeister pulled back with a sharp glare. “You've known who he is? Why didn't you tell me!”
“Why didn't you tell me you were looking for him?”
It occurred to me before, I had been able to read his mind but for some reason, now, I was not. Or perhaps, again, I hadn't been paying attention. There was a great deal to take in, at present – or “at past,” considering – and the noise, overall, was very annoying.
“Ah,” he continued, this time more confidentially, “but do you know who she is?”
“She,” so far as I could tell, must be the rather large matronly figure who at the moment dominated Dr Paine's conversation, with her deep purple satin dress and voluminous black and lilac bustle, accessorized by a bounty of ribbons and lace, looking for all the world like a frigate set to unfurl a full complement of sails. Her voice and her gestures were suitably matched, a woman of significant confidence who no doubt must have struck terror in any man daring to contradict her and would most likely enjoy the prospect. Her broad back and powerful shoulders nearly hid Paine from view and all I could think was how amazing it was that, certainly with her as an advocate, women had not yet had the right to vote. Whether she was arguing or not with the composer, I couldn't say, but I would imagine no one ever engaged with her in mere small talk.
“As my famous cousin has said many times, dear doctor,” I heard her announce, “'musica delenda est,' though I must say, while I disagree in general with the overall tone, I feel it should be most assiduously applied to new music,” clearly pronouncing “new” with a decided sneer. “No person under the age of 30 should be subjected to anything composed less than fifty years ago, though I would make an exception for Mr Mendelssohn who died, as you know, almost forty years ago, unfortunately.”
It was one of Francis Parkman's frequent expressions in the years before Paine finally succeeded in gaining official recognition for his music courses at Harvard, how “music must be destroyed.” It was also clear Dr Paine, who must have heard this many times from this woman, I was sure, judging from her tone, didn't care to be reminded of it and tried to pass it off with a feeble and obviously artificial laugh. Meanwhile, the Kapellmeister started to steer me in Paine's general direction.
“And with all due respect to my famous colleague, Mrs Pennywise,” the professor said, nodding gently toward the young woman largely hidden from us by the woman's buxom profile, “your cousin, Miss Norton, shows considerable talent regarding music and I for one am glad she didn't have to go to Germany to study as I did.”
“That may be so, Professor,” she admitted with a smile and a sigh, “but I do wish you would not expose her to such deplorable music as we have heard tonight, your own delightful fugue aside.”
Nearby, another group of students, waiting for their chance to talk with Dr Paine, had taken notice of the Kapellmeister and me and I wondered what they must have thought of us, given our general appearance and presumably fantastical dress. While they didn't strike me as openly hostile, I sensed a bit more than mere curiosity. One who appeared to be the center of their circle was strikingly handsome in a modern sort of way – not as tall as the others but with high cheekbones, dark hair (and eyes to match), plus a small wisp of a mustache and goatee framing an expression more smirk than smile. Too bad Cameron wasn't here to appreciate this, I thought, knowing it would take his mind off so many things, but the last thing the poor boy needed was a long-distance romance spanning some 130 years.
Paine, impatient with this woman's all-too-common arguments, turned to his student with an enigmatic smile I assumed to be supportive in the face of such opposition. The woman may not have been unsupportive of her studying music but had doubts why a woman should want to compose it. “There are, to my knowledge, no great composers of the female sex, certainly not among those on our program tonight, Dr Paine; and have there been any on those concerts given here by the Boston Symphony?” Before Paine could answer, she continued, “No, I thought not.”
With a not-so-subtle nudge, the Kapellmeister edged me closer toward Paine and the formidable Mrs Pennywise in the belief crowds at receptions like this needed to circulate, and Mrs Pennywise had managed to dam up the flow to monopolize Paine's time for quite long enough. With a quick look of relief and an even quicker look of surprise, Dr Paine saw us heading toward him, as unsure how he should end this one conversation as begin the next.
Wearing pale grays and blues with little in the way of distracting flounces as her chaperone wore, the girl who'd been partially hidden came more directly into view the closer we'd moved. If she was dressed more plainly, she was herself not at all plain, strikingly blonde under her pale blue bonnet and strikingly blue-eyed in that Nordic look we today would traditionally associate with Scandinavians.
“I have to admit Mr Foote's trio has given me quite a headache,” Mrs Pennywise fluttered, staunch on her platform. Catching Paine's wince, she laughed at her own pun. “Well, I do say, that was very good – very good, indeed, don't you agree, Cousin Emaline?”
“Perhaps you should take me back to the house, Cousin Kate, so you can return home and rest. It has been, I admit, a long evening for you, especially as you did not care for any of the music.” Personally, I found the lilt of her speech refreshing after the almost strident tone of her chaperone.
As the Kapellmeister introduced us to Dr Paine whose head tilted slightly to the left in anticipation of what appeared to him a novelty – someone he clearly had not yet met in a roomful of people he was acquainted with on an almost daily basis – I overheard our handsome young student, making way for the women, refer sweepingly and rather redundantly to “our most acclaimed lady composeréss,” at which the young lady blushed and her companion's prow rose ten degrees higher into the path before them. The other students had meanwhile also moved in to fill the void left in the wake of the two women when this same handsome young student sneered about their having been “outflanked” by two foreigners. Paine quickly reminded them he had founded Harvard's music department so students like them did not have to travel to Europe to study and be foreigners themselves, “though,” he added with a twinkle in his eye directed at us, “the experience would no doubt have been good for your narrow perspective.”
He turned to introduce us to his students, indicating I was a composer unfamiliar to him, “a Mr Geoffrey Crayon – but then, who among us would not have read what may be perhaps your father's Sketch Book,” he added with another twinkle. He apologized for not having caught my companion's name.
“They call me The Kapellmeister,” he offered with a slight bow, clicking his heels (did Germans, I wondered, do that in the 1880s?). Seeing this only perplexed Dr Paine even more, I added, “that's because his real name is otherwise unpronounceable.”
“Now that is definitely a foreign name,” our handsome young student offered.
“And this impertinent young man, whom I hesitantly admit to being a student of mine, is Jeckelson Billingsly Hyde.” Before he could introduce the rest, a tall, thin fellow, probably in his early-thirties, with a hard-won mustache and a long, shallow face walked past us, giving Paine a friendly wave.
Young Mr Hyde looked clearly impressed. “Mr Foote,” he called out, “Mr Foote!”
“Arthur,” Paine said, pumping his friend's hand in hearty congratulations, “I do like this new version of your trio so much better.”
“Yes, well, I hate to admit being able to unwind in France didn't hurt.” They both shared a laugh at this, how he'd been able to study composition right here in Boston but then found inspiration in Europe after all.
As Hyde and his friends gushed over Mr Foote and the success of the piano trio just performed, Paine confided to us, “Mr Foote had been one of my very first 'official' students here and then my first Masters graduate. A bit of a late-bloomer when it came to composition, but well on his way, now,” he beamed. Once Foote moved on, Paine told his students he'd just had his Suite for Strings played by the Boston Symphony with a new orchestral piece called “In the Mountains” scheduled for a February concert. It was easy to see Dr Paine was quite proud of his student's accomplishments, the implication intended to be more inspirational than competitive to his current crop.
“Well, I don't want to wait till I'm that old before having something played by the Boston Symphony,” Hyde blustered. “They'll be playing my music long before I reach that age!”
“Oh, and I suspect that'll make you the Greatest American Composer before you're 25, will it?”
“Now, Mr Spalding,” Paine laughed, “who knows whether Mr Hyde will or will not become a great composer in his lifetime?”
“No, I can't say I'm aware of the name,” I said, before realizing I was giving myself away. The Kapellmeister looked sharply at me: what harm I could be doing by telling this young man his dreams of fame and fortune will not come to pass! I immediately, for once, stopped talking.
“No, not yet, perhaps,” Hyde said, looking at me intently, “but hang around a few years, you'll see!” He was, if anything, confident, but I certainly didn't care to be “hanging around” for even a few days...
“Dreams, Mr Hyde, are always useful, but a little more of the hard work such as Miss Norton applies to her lessons would be far more helpful to your cause than making arrogant boasts in public.” Paine, despite looking like everyone's friendly uncle, tried to sound as serious as possible and apparently cut Hyde's ego down to size: the other students were now laughing at his expense and this was certainly worse to him than being chastised in public by his teacher.
The Kapellmeister leaned in toward Paine and asked him a question I couldn't hear but judging from his quizzical expression, I could only imagine it had something to do with narrowing down his quest.
“I'm surprised you know anything about that,” Paine whispered, drawing us away from his students. We soon found ourselves standing against a wall, well away from anyone else in the room. “Frankly, I haven't thought about that thing in over fifteen years!”
Glancing uncomfortably toward Hyde and his friends who were beginning to sound a bit boisterous by the punchbowl, Paine said in a deep whisper, “in fact, no, I never had shown them to Mr Foote or, for that matter, anybody else, after I found the thing. The last time I saw it myself was when I put it away in the library, wondering if I'd ever really use it in my theory classes. After that, I completely forgot about it.” One could argue the need for such codification, he continued, with students who found themselves challenged by the simplest rules of harmony, but he wondered if it would be too simplistic to think it helpful to any young composer new to the discipline his craft required, an easy way out, a lazy short-cut which could prove negative in the long run. “Basically, I realized if you follow the rules religiously – which is what I'm assuming this Belcher fellow intended – it's not going to make you a better composer; and if you have the talent to become a composer in the first place, well... I doubt you'd need rules like these to follow.”
The number of people at the reception was dwindling rapidly and what circulation there had been by this point was primarily around the table with the punch bowl and a tray of unidentifiable snacks which Hyde and his friends seemed to be polishing off as if it were their only meal of the day. Foote and the other musicians had already gravitated toward the doorway, in preparation to their escape, momentarily detained by someone I guessed might be an administrator of the university, judging from his dress and attitude. Though it was difficult to tell from where I stood, it seemed Miss Norton's presence this evening was quite the topic for Hyde's friends who stood just out of ear-shot, so I decided perhaps I ought to circulate a bit more and try out these otherwise unidentifiable snacks and leave the shop-talk to the Kapellmeister.
“A composer,” Paine continued, “essentially learns how to compose music by composing it. He – or in the case of Miss Norton, she – prepares by studying past masters, developing certain skills from studying works by Beethoven or Mozart starting with smaller forms or, in the case of more advanced skills like counterpoint, the fugues of Bach. Just as a student of painting spends a large part of his formative years copying the works of past masters and in actuality painting in studios himself – he does not read books about painting.”
Paine relished the idea of discussing his educational philosophy with someone new for a change and not having to defend his views as he often must with antagonistic, meddlesome bureaucrats or those who taught the old-fashioned didactic way, by memorizing rules to be regurgitated on command, whether students understood how to apply them or not.
As an example, Paine was telling the Kapellmeister that Mr Hyde, pointing him out with a not so subtle nod toward the young men at the punchbowl, would not be able to benefit from these “commandments” no matter how well he had studied and memorized them, or displayed them on the wall of his room. “Unfortunately, studious application and a capacity for hard work are not going to help you if you have no demonstrable talent.”
While I was no further along toward identifying the few remaining snacks laid out by the punchbowl – they could have been some genteel variation on a small cake made from Indian corn and molasses once called “hasty pudding” – the young men quieted down immediately once they realized I was close enough to overhear them. I had the impression they were goading Mr Hyde into marrying the young woman so he could force her to stop composing because it was unacceptable for a gentleman's wife to be publishing music.
“But it wouldn't make any difference, you see,” one of Hyde's friends said, “because, first of all, you'd have to be a gentleman!” And with that, there was an outburst of laughter catching several other people's attention. Another added fuel to the fire by saying if she instead published her music under his name, “it's the only way you'd ever gain any recognition, Hyde!”
“Yeah? Well, you wait, Spalding, and we'll see which of us gets a piece performed by the orchestra first!” And with that, Hyde, making a rude gesture I'd not seen before but thoroughly coveted, stormed toward the doorway.
“Mr Hyde,” Paine called over to him, as if ignoring the outburst, “don't leave just yet – come join us. Our new friend here and I have been discussing some rather interesting ideas you might enjoy.”
“I was just asking your professor if he were familiar with Mendelssohn's song, Italien.” (Judging from the quizzical look on Paine's face, I assumed that was not what they'd been discussing.) “It's set to a poem by Grillparzer, and goes something like this...”
The Kapellmeister began singing a sprightly phrase in his clear and surprisingly pleasant tenor voice before breaking off and resuming his tale.
“Anyway, when Felix Mendelssohn was visiting England, he'd met Queen Victoria at the palace and she sang him this song, telling him it was one of her favorites. Well,” he continued, despite Hyde's complete lack of interest, “you can imagine his embarrassment when he had to confess that that wasn't one of his songs, after all. Oh yes, it was 'by Mendelssohn,' but actually it had been composed by his sister Fanny and he just happened to publish it under his name because, well... according to the custom of the day, she was unable to publish it herself.”
A smile crept across Paine's face as he realized what the Kapellmeister had just implied: not only was the Queen's favorite song not Mendelssohn's own, it had been written by a woman! “Wasn't it Madame Plaggio who sang that here recently – last May, I think – from the Op. 8 set of songs, if I recall. A very delightful song, too: I always thought it was the best in the set. So, it's actually by Fanny Mendelssohn? You know, I'd heard some of her piano pieces when I was in Berlin, of course, but I'd never heard that story.”
Hyde, meanwhile, seemed unimpressed either with the Queen's preferences or his teacher's glowing endorsement. “But a woman who composes music,” he muttered distastefully, “is like a dog walking on its hind legs. So what if she could write a 'nice' song? It's still no Scotch Symphony... If women are allowed to compose, what will happen to the sacred realm of Music? Why, next they'll be letting poor people into the opera houses: what will happen, then?”
It was clear Hyde – and he was not the only one to think this because, for no other reason, he couldn't have been that original – believed music was a priestly brotherhood where the rules and traditions were looked after by carefully trained men and that he, someday, for all his youth and inexperience, expected to become one of its saints.
After considerable hemming and hawing, the students turned to leave, Hyde giving the Kapellmeister and me one last but increasingly suspicious glance.
“Oh, and Mr Hyde,” Paine called out to him, “you really must work on developing a thicker skin against your critics, you know – if you're to become a successful composer? There are few who face the world without having to deal with some level of animosity – even from one's friends.”
Hyde nodded begrudgingly, shaking Paine's hand and nodding at us with the barest necessity of civility.
It was then I noticed the odd ring Hyde wore on the little finger of his left hand which had a square-cut garnet stone embossed with a golden alto clef. I wondered if playing the viola might have stunted his growth, either physically or psychologically, but then I thought, like so many university students, perhaps he belonged to some secret society and this was their insignia?
As we, too, moved toward the door, although less determinedly, Paine expressed his concern for “the future of American music.”
“It's been twenty-five years since I'd returned from my own studies in Germany and began offering music courses here, but I was somehow hoping for a more immediate response, I guess, finding at least a few prodigies hiding under the rocks like the ones that grow everywhere in Europe. I am impatient to bring forth a crop of composers equal to or better than Arthur Foote, yet I have to admit, even after twelve years and at the age of 33, he has so far not reached what I once considered his potential. Who knows what someone like Jeckelson Hyde might grow up to become, but I hold forth little hope in his case: so far none of my other students from the past few years indicate anything better.” He sounded despondent, a man wondering whether or not he had failed and wasted his time.
I tried to sound philosophical as I watched the catering staff clear away the trays of tasty little snacks and the punchbowl. “Dr Paine, you have to consider that while you've been pioneering here in this musical wilderness for barely two decades at a university that may be, what – two centuries old, you have only transplanted part of the equation.”
“Two hundred and fifty years old, to be exact, but what is it you mean, Mr Crayon? That I could not bring with me the intangible legacy of a universe that included in its luminous past the likes of Mendelssohn or Beethoven, Mozart or Bach, a span of a mere one hundred and fifty years? That generations of children here had not grown up being aware of what we now consider the greatest music ever composed?”
It had not been my intention to turn quite so philosophical but perhaps it was best to remain silent: the less he knew about what actually happens to American music, no doubt, the better. I'm sure trying to explain Schoenberg and John Cage to him would only depress him more.
We had reached the outside of the building, facing south toward the numerous buildings of Harvard Yard. Did the sky look so different at what seemed such a great distance in time from when I'd visited here as a young man, even though the light I viewed this night originated barely a fraction of a moment earlier, according to the stars' sense of time, whatever a “light-year” meant or when the term was first used. How brightly do those greatest of stars still burn in the musical firmament – Beethoven, yes, as well as Bach and Mozart. How faint were those who paled by comparison, whose destiny was to be outshone by them, nearly forgotten names like – well, say Spohr or Mercadante (or for that matter, John Knowles Paine himself)? Is it fair, at this point, to judge someone – even Brahms – who is still alive and not yet finished with their life's work?
A brightly glowing light flared up so close to me, I nearly jumped back into the bush beside the steps we were standing on. Paine had lit a cigar and, puffing it with extreme satisfaction, turned to the Kapellmeister.
“It has been a long day, sir, and I have been glad of making your acquaintance – yours as well, Mr Crayon – but it is getting late and I still have work to do before tomorrow's classes. Where are you gentlemen going from here? Are you staying in Cambridge? Or perhaps you've a hotel room awaiting you in Boston?”
“For the moment, we are staying at a boarding house nearby,” the Kapellmeister said, pointing off in a general westerly direction, “but as neither of us are particularly tired...”
I was about to mention for me it felt only like late-morning but I would soon need some lunch until it occurred to me how does one explain with time-travel there probably isn't the usual sense of “jet-lag”. What impact, I wondered, did time-travel have, for instance, on the bladder? What would I even ask for, here in the 1880s, if I needed to use the bathroom? Did they even have toilet paper back then? So many questions, not the least of which was “how do I get back?”
“I was going to go over to the library to pick up some papers I need for tomorrow,” Paine was explaining to the Kapellmeister, “so if you would care to walk along, you're welcome to join me. Have you ever been inside Gore Hall?”
The Kapellmeister held his arm out in the universal gesture for “lead the way.” We turned right, walking down the length of Memorial Hall, though I thought the Yard was across the street from us, on our left. Paine pointed toward a massive hulk of a building ahead of us which he said was the largest gymnasium in the nation. He could barely remember the old Holmes Farm on which it was built, the house torn down “during the war,” and everything eventually absorbed into the ever-expanding college.
“Harvard is constantly changing,” he said, somewhat wistfully, “and I often wonder how far it will be able to go.”
Knowing something about that, I mentioned how the empty spot between us and the gym would be a good spot for a music building. Paine laughed – he would, unfortunately, be long dead before they eventually got around to that – and said he was lucky to be teaching his classes in a chemistry lab when its schedule permitted, “mixing Mozart with the lingering fumes of sulfuric acid.”
When we passed the hulking shadow of John Harvard's statue which Paine pointed out with pride, I suggested going over to rub the statue's toe “for good luck.” Paine looked at me as if to say “what a silly thing to do.” Standing near the base of Mr Harvard's statue – this isn't where I remember it, from my own visit; it must've been moved, later – our host, apparently thinking of the future, began to talk more quietly, as if confiding his deepest fears.
“It's not even the style these young composers might write in that worries me, you know,” Paine began, “speaking of the future, I mean. As students, they imitate me and I imitate Schumann and Brahms. Where it goes from there, who can imagine? But Hyde – he is an odd one, and I cannot yet tell if it's a 'good' oddness or a bad one. I fear, more and more, the latter.”
“Odd?” I echoed. The moonlight was indeed magical but in the shadows I could imagine seeing spirits lurking under every tree, the ghosts of past Puritans or the imps of Satan they were intent on rooting out. “In what way, 'odd'?”
“It is not that I fear originality because the boy does not appear to have an original bone in his body. It is, I guess, his choice of imitation, the Barnum-like vulgarity of Franz Liszt, that worries me, for I see no direction in that – not to speak ill of the dead, of course.”
It was 1886, I kept forgetting, and hadn't Liszt just died that summer? It was a challenge keeping track of what was past, present, or future.
“Mr Hyde has an aunt who is currently traveling in Europe and she keeps sending him scores and manuscripts she finds, especially copies of these unpublished works by Liszt. I mean, I wonder if the man hadn't gone mad. Honestly, I feel I must wash my hands after handling them, just the kind of music to make poor Mrs Pennywise faint dead away, I'm afraid. There are some piano pieces that sound like ink-splashes on a page, no sense of key nor harmonic direction. Hyde's shown me a few of his own pieces, what he calls his 'private music' – piano pieces and some rather unwholesome songs – which imitate these... things, but for the most part, he only brings in what he deems acceptable to earning his degree, most of which, I'm afraid, is drivel. And yet, maybe he might be better suited to this... this chaoticism that seems to come more naturally to him, if he can only figure it out, make sense of it – I mean, that sense which all music must have, even if it doesn't make sense to Mrs Pennywise... or me, for that matter. But still, it's like he has two entirely different personalities: one I know is pointless (because, you see, it's so insincere) and the other is... well, mayhem.”
He heaved a heavy sigh as a deep shiver passed over his face, barely noticeable in the moonlight. Another horsecar jingled by on its way to Boston.
“I can hardly imagine it's less than two weeks until the 'Big Do' and there's so much work still to be done to get ready for it!” Paine became suddenly animated, as if consciously trying to change the subject. He proceeded to explain some of the festivities about the impending celebration of Harvard's 250th Anniversary, especially the concert that Sunday with the Boston Symphony which will open with the prelude to his Oedipus Tyrannus (“rather a serious bit of tragedy for such an occasion, but who am I to say no?”). He invited us to come to the concert, at least, if we were still in town, not to mention the chance to hear a “sterling oration” from Harvard's President, Mr Charles Eliot. The Kapellmeister was quick to convey his regrets, but we had to leave for New York in a day or two.
Paine seemed genuinely disappointed but decided to “muddle on.” We had started to turn back toward the street when I saw him turn quickly, looking into John Harvard's face as he reached up to give a clandestine rub across the toe of Harvard's left foot.
For some reason, once we reached the edge of the walkway, words I hadn't thought about in years came to me with such a strong sense I could only describe it as “inspiration.” Generally, I'm very bad at memorizing poetry but I could not avoid their resonance tonight.
“At the still small point of the turning world...” I could not remember more except for “...there the dance is.” Too late, then, it occurred to me it was from a poem T.S. Eliot wrote in the 1930s called Burnt Norton.
“...'There the dance is...' I rather like that,” Paine said, smiling up at the moon. “I don't recognize the poem. Your own? Do you have a copy of it? I would very much like setting that to music!”
“Uhm... no,” I hesitated, “no, I can't remember where... just some lines rumbling around in my brain, sorry.”
As we headed off toward the Yard, he asked me to send him a copy of it if I remember what it's from. I could see the Kapellmeister's smirk even in the shadows under the elm trees.
We needed to get home – I mean, I needed to get home; I had no idea what the Kapellmeister called “home.” We needed to find this Codex the Kapellmeister was chasing and the sooner, the better. I took a deep breath of cool, crisp fall air and sighed.
Yet no matter how still the night or how small the point it turns on, I suddenly realized I didn't need to worry how long we spent here, whether it's a few minutes or a few days, though it made me uncomfortable thinking about staying here for days (after all, what would I do for a change of clothes?). The Kapellmeister would return me, as he had before, to the very second I had left Purdue's house in the first place, or close to it. There was no sense being impatient and no reason not to enjoy the experience. After all, here I was, standing at the center of Harvard, talking with the man who started the first university music department in America: had it not been for him and his standing up for what he believed the nation needed, even a hundred years after the Revolution, would I still have had to go to Europe to study or had a music department to teach in once I'd earned my degrees?
“We had been talking about these 'Commandments,' Doctor,” the Kapellmeister resumed, impatient to get back to the primary topic of interest: after all, it was why we were here and the quicker we found what he's looking for, the sooner I would get back to finding my friend, with or without his help.
“You said you'd 'put it away in the library,' then forgot about it. Would you happen to remember where you'd put it?”
“Oh, yes, I filed it away very carefully with that letter from Mendelssohn explaining it. You see...”
“From Mendelssohn?” The Kapellmeister quite literally stopped in his tracks. “What does Mendelssohn have to do with it?”
“Well,” Paine said, scratching his clean-shaven chin, “if I recall he had found it when he was in London and not long after he died, my teacher found it among his papers and books.”
“I was... I mean, we were quite sure it originated here in Boston with composers named Supply Belcher and William Billings. How did it end up in Berlin?”
Despite the slight breeze riffling through the leaves, I became aware of a figure standing quite near us in the shadows of one of the larger trees near the street. Catching the Kapellmeister's attention, I nodded over my shoulder to where I thought the figure stood, my eyebrows arched in concern just as his were out of curiosity.
“I'm sorry, Dr Paine, I didn't mean to eavesdrop,” said a soft, lilting, thoroughly feminine voice, “but did your friend just say 'Supply Belcher'?”
“Ah, Miss Norton,” Paine smiled as he turned toward her. “How did you manage to ditch your illustrious chaperone? You shouldn't be out alone at night.”
“Oh, I know that,” she said, and I could imagine her blushing in the darkness regardless. “I do feel a bit rebellious, telling Aunt Kate I would go right to my room, but once she had sailed off toward Brattle Street, I wanted to come back to talk to you, especially after Mr Hyde and his friends had left.”
I could imagine her trying to look inconspicuous, if that's even possible, walking back toward campus. It was highly irregular for a young girl to be out on her own unchaperoned at any hour, much less this late when students were all expected to be in their rooms; but even more irregular for a young girl to be seen out in public with not one man but three.
“And yes, my friend here did mention Supply Belcher and William Billings, both, in the same breath. Are these names of interest to you?”
“Well, for one, I was born in Farmington, Maine, the hometown of Supply Belcher.”
“Ah, so you grew up hearing a lot about the Handel of Maine, then, I would imagine?”
“Hearing about? Yes, you could say that,” she laughed. “My grandfather's brother told all of us stories about those days when he was growing up – and Supply Belcher was his grandfather. In fact, he was named for him,” she added proudly. “He was Supply Belcher Norton – and my full name is Emaline Belcher Norton.”
“And that would make,” I said as I tried to compute the genealogy in my head, “Supply Belcher your great-great-grandfather.”
She looked at us and smiled.
“Ah,” both the Kapellmeister and I sighed, as if on cue.
“Then,” Paine said, offering Miss Norton his arm, “it would seem reason enough to take you to the library where I can show you all this most curious item. If you'll come with me...? I only hope it's where I'd left it.”
And with that, we crossed the street and entered the legendary Harvard Yard.
= = = = = = =
to be continued... [with the next installment to be posted on Wednesday, October 31st]
Of the works performed on the program Kerr and the Kapellmeister just missed, here is the opening movement of the 1st Piano Trio by Arthur Foote, composed in 1882 and revised in 1884:
Dr. Paine's "delightful fugue" referenced by Mrs Pennywise was most likely his "Fuga giocosa," Op.41/3, published in 1884 (it is presumably based on a then-popular "street song" associated with baseball, "Over the Fence Is Out, Boys," a reference I'm sure which would have sailed completely over Mrs Pennywise's formidable head):
One of Paine's more famous works, his incidental music for Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus was given its premiere in 1881 in Harvard's Sanders Theater - located in the Memorial Building where this installment is set - as part of the first performance of an ancient Greek tragedy in the United States. The prelude would be given by the Boston Symphony at the concert Paine mentioned coming up in early November, 1886, to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of Harvard's founding:
= = = = = = =
The usual disclaimer: In Search of Tom Purdue is, if you haven't figured it out, a work of fiction and as such all the characters (especially their names) and incidents in its story are more or less the product of the author's so-called imagination, sometimes inspired by elements of parody. While many locations may be real (or real-ish), they are not always "realistically used” and are intended solely to be fictional. John Knowles Paine, Arthur Foote, and the student named Spalding (a future Harvard music professor) are historical persons, but Jeckelson Hyde and Emaline Norton (and certainly Mrs Pennywise) are not. Any similarity between them as well as other people, living or dead, real or fictional, is entirely coincidental.
©2018 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train.