Tuesday, July 05, 2022

The Salieri Effect: An Introduction

"Tom Purdue's been accused of murdering a composer who calls himself Trazmo and asks his friend, Dr. Richard Kerr, music detective and sometimes consultant for the International Music Police, to clear his name."

You might recall the uproar about “The Mozart Effect” back in the 1990s when people were claiming, if your child listened to Mozart's music, he or she would grow up to be more intelligent. Initially, the claim focused on the brain's ability to process complex musical patterns and their interworkings which, at least temporarily, would improve an adult's IQ score or creative problem solving. Later, the theory was, as the child developed over long-range listening, it could enhance various skills pertaining to mathematics and science, not just music. 

Whatever the impact may have been, what might the impact have been of “The Salieri Effect”? Would people listening to music composed by the man most famous for having killed Mozart – judging from the popularity of Peter Shaffer's play, Amadeus, and the 1984 movie based on it – find themselves inclined to... what, commit murder?

In this new second novel of The Tom Purdue Trilogy which happens to explore that question, we continue the adventures of Dr. T. Richard Kerr, a composer and sometime consultant for the International Music Police – he's joked he's a natural “music detective” since his name, Richard Kerr, echoes the old Italian term, ricercar, “to search” – and his friend from grad school, Tom Purdue, who, in recent months, had been accused of several murders and, with Kerr's help, eventually proven innocent.

But there's an even older incident in his past: the 1983 disappearance of an arrogant young prodigy then in his early-20s, Philips Hawthorne (who called himself “Trazmo,” an anagram of Mozart) who vanished during a blizzard after leaving a small Iowa artist's colony. Purdue was soon implicated as a potential suspect if indeed there'd even been any foul play. Since no body was ever found, there really was no case for murder, but the rumors developed. Here it was, 2016, and it's still an unsolved case. Despite the lack of evidence, these rumors have plagued Tom's life since that fateful night at the Express Motel in Orient, Iowa.

Once again, Dr. Kerr – with his trusty assistant Cameron Pierce – finds himself caught in the middle of plots involving SHMRG, the evil music licensing corporation out to corner the music world for their own profit, torn by a power struggle between the now disgraced N. Ron Steele and his usurper, Lucifer Darke; and the Aficionati, a secret organization of intellectual extremists out to counter SHMRG and save classical music for the Music-Loving Elite, headed by the apparently deathless agent known only as Osiris.

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

In the first novel of the trilogy, In Search of Tom Purdue, Dr. Kerr was tracking down a friend and fellow composer from their days in graduate school who has been reported missing not long after he'd perfected an Artificial Intelligence program designed to help a composer with basic elements of creativity, an assistant programmed with the composer's own stylistic traits and influences to follow through numerous possibilities to allow the composer to choose the best options. Named “Clara” (after Clara Schumann, the wife of Robert Schumann and muse of Johannes Brahms), the program went far beyond Purdue's expectations and was soon able to compose her own music “from scratch.” When Purdue's assistant, a student named Amanda Wences, contacted Kerr – he had left a note warning her “if anything happened” to him, she should call this number – they discover a coded message in which Purdue fears SHMRG is after Clara. Worse, it turns out a young secretary at Purdue's publisher's office has been brutally murdered and the clues lead to a disgruntled client named Tom Purdue.

Along the way, Kerr meets an odd character dressed in Scottish tweeds who calls himself “The Kapellmeister,” who's looking for the mysterious Belcher Codex, a kind of “Ten Commandments of Harmony” written by a Colonial American composer known as the “Handel of Maine,” Supply Belcher, which, it is rumored, codifies the basic rules of “how to write music.” At various inopportune moments, the Kapellmeister whisks a reluctant Dr. Kerr off into the past and in the process meets Supply Belcher in 1814, as well as John Knowles Paine at Harvard in 1886 (where they meet two of Paine's composition students, Emaline Norton and the arrogant Jeckelson Hyde), as well as Charles Ives in the 1920s on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

In the meantime, Purdue's publisher, Belle diVedremo, has been similarly murdered, leading the local police and Detective Laura Narder to assume Purdue is again the most likely suspect. Kerr runs into London-based detective Sarah Bond of the International Music Police, doing her own investigating; and Kerr and his assistant Cameron Pierce soon discover Tom Purdue and Clara have been abducted not by SHMRG but by the Aficionati and is being held captive in the basement of an old Civil-War-era farmhouse next door to Tom Purdue's home. And the Aficionati have their own plans for Clara...

Will Kerr be able to rescue his friend in time and prove his innocence? Will the Kapellmeister find the Belcher Codex? What do SHMRG and the Aficionati have in store for their next projects?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * *

Months later, Kerr has reconnected with a young prodigy named Toni, the great-great-granddaughter of his old friend Frieda F. Erden, whose ex-husband, conductor Hans-Jörg Schnellenlauter, one of Kerr's mentors, was brutally murdered at the outset of The Labyrinth of Klavdia Klangfarben. Frieda, it turns out, is related to Burnson Allen, a great-grandson of the 11th Marquis of Quackerly and lives at Phlaumix House in the Surrey countryside outside London. Burnson's going to marry LauraLynn Hardy, a childhood friend of Dr. Kerr's and cousin of the composer Robertson Sullivan who had been brutally murdered in The Lost Chord.

In the course of both novels – part of The Klangfarben Trilogy – Kerr is sorting out a mysterious journal written in code by an ancestor of LauraLynn's who'd been a student at Schweinwald, the famous music school in the Alpine foothills of Bavaria in the 1880s, where one of the teachers, Rainer Knussbaum, had secretly run errands for Beethoven which, it turns out, involved messages back and forth between the Master and his Immortal Belovèd – and their child, Amalie.

When the child was born, an old gypsy woman prophesied a descendant “descended from twins” will become a composer to rival Amalie's father. Frieda has discovered she is Amalie's 2x-great-granddaughter and, as a young woman, had twins out of wedlock who were left with a local orphanage. Schnellenlauter had just tracked them down, discovered their grandchildren are the parents of young Antonie, known as Toni. Shortly before his murder, Schnellenlauter arranged for the newly re-orphaned Toni to join her great-great-grandmother at Phlaumix House where she is then adopted by Burnson and LauraLynn.

But there's dirty work afoot because, soon after Beethoven's death, a secret society originated to protect Beethoven's reputation and deny the Belovèd's existence and obliterate all reference to their child. Now called “The Guidonian Hand,” they are intent on killing all of Beethoven's supposed descendants, including Toni, if they can find her.

But they have to contend with the Unsterblichesverein, “The Immortal Society,” founded by Knussbaum and Dudley Böhm at Schweinwald, intent on keeping the Belovèd's and her descendents' identities secret. Frieda, convinced Toni is the descendent of the twins in the old gypsy's prophecy, has recruited Dr. Kerr and Cameron into the “Society of Watchers,” the modern-day extension of the Unsterblichesverein. When she died at the age of 94, Frieda named the butler at Phlaumix House, Vector, to be head of the society, and assured Kerr would spend much of each year supervising Toni's musical training. Toni, of course, has no idea of her heritage or what impact it might have on her, but she has already exhibited a prodigious talent. Also, of course, no one else knows the girl's secret – or do they...?

So now, The Salieri Effect begins with Kerr (along with Cameron) dividing his time between his home in suburban Philadelphia – on Conan Drive in Doylestown, to be exact – Phlaumix House in England, and the cabin in the woods outside Swanville, ME, which Tom Purdue recently inherited from his cousin Burt Norton.

And this is where the second volume of The Tom Purdue Trilogy: Echoes in and out of Time begins. It is the spring of 2016 and Dr. Kerr finds himself in London, off to The Muse & Squirrel, a well-known park-side pub for artists and artist-watchers, to meet a friend from grad school who, it seems, has some sad news.

Dick Strawser

You can read the first installment, here

P.S.  The usual disclaimer: The Salieri Effect, like 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 rather warped imagination, frequently inspired by elements of parody. Many of the places are real (or real-ish) like London or Venice, but not always "realistically used." For instance, the towns of Doylestown and Marple in Pennsylvania do exist though I've never been there and my use of them – having found sites in such proximity unlikely to be associated with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or one of Agatha Christie's more endearing creations – is purely fictional. 

Any similarity between people and places, living, dead, or somewhere in between, is entirely coincidental. And then of course I would be completely remiss if I failed to thank Marcel Proust and his novel, In Search of Lost Time, which will be found frequently popping up in the oddest placesfor instance, the town of Swanville, ME though to many readers he may well be, like Waldo, merely another face in the crowd. (Did I mention Swanville is in Waldo County, Maine...?)


©2022 by Richard Alan Strawser for Thoughts on a Train.

No comments:

Post a Comment