Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 9 (Part 2)

The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

The previous installment begins backstage at the Schweinwald Festival's opening night gala with Rossini's The Barber of Seville. Host Rita Pagliaccio begins the live telecast by interviewing the evening's star, Cora diLetto who's singing Rosina. Unfortunately, her next guests haven't shown up yet. Two of the festival's security team are looking for an old woman who's gotten lost in the parking garage and make a grim discovery.
= = = = = = =

Chapter 9 (continued...)

From around the corner, I noticed the reception area was almost empty, the servers impatiently gathering up empty plates and dirty glasses, clearing off the tables and setting up the dinner chairs.

Handing D’Arcy his phone, I told him, “Get down to the library! It’s LauraLynn – she’s in very serious danger!”

Cameron careened out of the doorway, breathlessly running into us, looking around.

“Quick,” he panted, “they’re right behind me!”

And with that, all three of us headed for the side exit.

Bursting through the stairwell door only seconds behind Cameron, Captain Schäufel, still holding onto his phone after calling for back-up, was followed by two black-clad IMP agents who practically stumbled over him. Small knots of people – board members, the fashionably late – still gathered around, casually sipping the last of the champagne. We hid behind one group, hoping we’d be able to blend in, D’Arcy, in his tux, having a better chance than Cameron or I, still in street clothes after our arrival.

The IMP agents appeared frozen to their respective spots, Schäufel nearly motionless except for clutching at his still-heaving chest. The guests seemed oblivious of their arrival, affording us some momentary cover. It wasn’t going to be easy, breaking away to make our escape, bolting for the next set of doors.

The elevator at the opposite side of the reception area slowly opened, revealing a short figure in an off-beige trenchcoat, wisps of silver hair escaping from beneath a brown and shapeless hat, scowling and eminently displeased, standing beside a proportionately taller IMP agent dressed ominously in black like the other two.

Yoda Leahy-Hu – was she really the International Music Police’s Director of Special Forces? – croaked an order into her phone: “Whatever happens, try not to be disruptive, but I want them alive.”

Cameron, hunching himself over hoping not to stand out in a group of mostly shorter people, noticed Leahy-Hu first, his eyes simultaneously meeting her rheumy gaze, both registering flashes of recognition. Trying not to move, he whispered something about leprechauns at nine o’clock, D’Arcy cautiously turning to follow his glance.

Suddenly, Leahy-Hu’s eyes began to smolder, still smarting from the roach spray. Raising the phone to her withered lips, she spoke a few words. The other agents turned to face us.

D’Arcy suggested acting as nonchalant as possible, shepherding us toward the exit as if he’s giving us a tour. Immediately, I backed into a table, sending glasses crashing to the floor.

We barely made it to the door in time, bounding toward the lobby, the others breaking into hot pursuit.

We raced down the steps, feet pounding, twisting around for two flights, Cameron and I desperately following after D’Arcy’s lead (I’d forgotten Rob told me he’d been a track star in college). We dashed past the lobby entrance, since that would not be safe and headed down toward the main kitchen.

“More options this way,” he panted, pointing down the long, dim hallway. He made a sharp right. “This way!” It looked like any institutional hall lined with offices and meeting rooms.

“Lots of places here to hide,” Cameron noted, “so, why don’t we?”

“Can’t – LauraLynn’s in danger… by the library.”

D’Arcy held a door open for us and we barely scrambled through.

Judging from the clatter of boots behind us, we could hear the agents were not far enough behind us.

Three doorways – which one would we choose? One, he said, led back to the kitchen. The other two were locked. We stopped to catch our breath but the pounding was getting closer. D’Arcy said the middle door led to the library, but he quickly put his hands on all three doorknobs. Swiping his card in the middle door, we followed him through. It clicked shut behind us. “That should help.” But there wasn’t time to slow down: they’re already trying the doors.

A long hall with several sharp turns, lit only with emergency lights, it soon led to three more doors. There was an alcove with two vending machines and a drinking fountain.

“Ooh, cool,” Cameron said, “butterscotch crumpets,” checking his pockets for change, “I haven’t had one of those in months.”

“No time for that!” D’Arcy again touched all three doorknobs, unlocking the right door and locking it behind us. We continued our mad dash down another long and dimly lit tunnel.

“They must have heat censors to follow our trail,” shaking his head. By now, I could barely keep up. “It’s not far from here but we have to keep on going.”

All I could think of was how much danger LauraLynn was in, compared to what danger we were in.

“Hey, wait,” D’Arcy said, stopping up short. I almost spilled over him. “Where’s Cameron? Wasn’t he behind you, Dr. Kerr?”

There was nobody behind me, not even the distant pounding of feet.

I hugged my tote-bag to my heaving chest as if doing so might somehow keep my heart from exploding.

Looking back, I saw nothing, heard nothing and could say nothing. “Evil…”

“What was that?” D’Arcy looked at me.

I waved my hand, unable to speak, shaking my head in disbelief.

Cameron had been my responsibility but here I’d failed him – and myself. I should’ve reached back and grabbed him. He should’ve known not to dawdle, not then, when we’re being pursued.

But I also had a responsibility to Rob and LauraLynn, yet whatever was happening, this could not go on.

“Could he follow us, maybe?”

“The doors would lock automatically behind us.”

“Then the reason we’re not hearing them running after us is, they’ve…”

“Yes,” D’Arcy said, “I’m afraid they’ve caught him.”

Checking the tote-bag to make sure I still had the Maltese Mozart, I said we had to keep going.

“And we have to hurry,” he said. “They must’ve figured it out.”

“What?” I asked. We started running again.

“Someone’s monitoring the key-cards and telling Schäufel. They know where we’re going.”

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

“What the hell?” LauraLynn’s first reaction was as if she’d suddenly seen some hideous monster lurking in the subterranean darkness. Her second reaction wasn’t much more reassuring: was it worth screaming again? She blinked her eyes and stared straight ahead, but still this thing – whatever it was – kept heading toward her. Besides, as she continued cluttering her racing mind with numerous unwelcome thoughts, who’d hear her if she screamed again? Was this Heidi engaging in some prank or was this Rothbart Girdlestone?

No, this was definitely some large hulking man – more like a beast. Some construction worker on a drunken lark? Or someone trying out a costume for a scene from Rob’s opera? She was a rational person and tried to find a rational explanation but temporarily found herself at a loss.

“What the hell?”

This time she said it out loud, annoyed that that was all she could come up with.

“Where is Heidi? Have you seen Heidi?” Right – engage monster in conversation.

He stopped abruptly and quizzically tilted his head slightly to the right, so she repeated her question in German.

Perhaps this was another character from one of Schweinwald’s quaint folk-like celebrations, one that she hadn’t been warned about. Maybe they were doing some up-dated version of Beauty and the Beast.

“She’s making a long-distance call.”

His voice, echoing strangely underground, sounded vaguely familiar, but at least he spoke English.

“Did she say if she’ll be long?” Apparently he must know her.

The 'monster' made some tentative steps toward her, thrusting his hand forward.

He asked, “did you bring the notebook?”

“Wait… what? What notebook…?” She stepped back, gripping her purse. “You are…?”

“Allow me to introduce myself.” He bowed. “I am, believe it or not, Dr. Rothbart Girdlestone, at your service.”

It made no sense, a famous musicologist dressed like… well, like this. He hadn’t struck her as eccentric but it might explain why he didn’t want to meet in the lobby.

“I must apologize,” he said. “You see, I slipped in…” he hesitated, looking behind him, “well, in something slippery.”

She hadn’t reached the library’s reading room yet, but otherwise, looking around her, she didn’t really know where she was. The elevator they’d taken was behind her; weren't the restrooms behind him? Maybe Heidi will be coming back shortly and scare him off, unless… uh oh, something just occurred to her… What if he’d already “taken care of” Heidi? Oh, no, he couldn’t have… now she felt like screaming again. But there’s bound to be security cameras around here somewhere, surely somebody…

While she considered her very few options, LauraLynn noticed the monstrous musicologist (as she now began thinking of him) considered what she might do, like playing chess with a living set-piece. Move too much toward the outside door, he would cut her off. Could she reach the elevator before him?

She should also try to rescue Heidi. Did he tie her up, leaving her bound and gagged in the restroom? No, at this point it would better to escape, alert the police. But he said he’d slipped in “something slippery,” explaining the need to change clothes. Did he mean, like… blood?

She found herself curious about his rather unorthodox manner of dress, looking like he’d raided an old costume trunk. A vaguely recalled whiff came her way, reminiscent of her grandmother’s closets.

It was difficult to know where to start: his towering wig looked like it came out of the 18th Century, the kind a beautiful countess might have worn to a fancy ball. His waistcoat, several sizes too small, left uncovered a massive bare chest, but really, most curious were the pants. She could only describe them as harem pants, the diaphanous genie-like kind, barely hiding the outline of tree-like legs. She wondered if she could outrun him: he was, after all, barefoot.

He was built like a wrestler with a low center of gravity (was he wearing boxers underneath those pants?). She was lithe and slender, winner of several athletic trophies in school. Her over-the-shoulder Belle Ennui cocktail dress with matching heels wasn’t designed for running, but he was wearing harem pants...

Weaving back and forth, hoping her indecisiveness would confuse her would-be attacker – technically, he’d made no overt moves as yet – she considered his obvious power compared to her greater speed and agility. She might fake him out, darting toward the back: instead, she lunged for the elevator, pounding the 'up' button.

But the elevator was taking too long, in a few bounds the beast would be on top of her. She pivoted on her heel – shades of high school basketball – and ran.

When the elevator opened, Peter Moonbeam, running behind schedule, was not amused.

“Jeez, kids playing with elevator buttons? Really?”

They’d skipped the lobby and were now in some grimly creepy basement.

“Hey, you – dirtbag,” Moonbeam called out after the oddly dressed figure running off into the shadows. “Thanks for nothing!”

“What was that,” an older lady asked.

Someone suggested maybe an exotic dancer, perhaps for that scene from Faust.

“Yes,” another offered, “maybe it was for the Helen of Troy scene?”

“Ugh, really,” he shuddered, “I can’t say what I just caught a glimpse of would launch very many ships…”

Any more delays, and he was afraid they’d miss the opera's overture.

As the elevator door closed, he thought he heard a distant scream: someone met Helen in a dark alley?

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

Rita Pagliaccio had pulled herself together once Schmerzleid, having gotten himself back together, managed to talk her down off the pedestal she had retreated to, threatening to fling herself, Tosca-like, into oblivion. Not realizing her makeup needed considerable attention, she was thrust on camera after quickly primping her grotesquely bedraggled hair. Her mascara had run, her pancake looked streaked, her lipstick was smudged. Once he saw her on the monitor, Schmerzleid knew his career was toast, if she didn’t kill him first.

She was greeted by two gentlemen dressed in tuxedos who introduced themselves as board members of the Schweinwald Festival, both enthusiastic about being here if not exactly sure as to why. The tall, middle-aged one on the left was Barry Scarpia and the younger, much cuter one was Christopher Babbila.

Looking at her list, she said, “I see you’re not on my list – as you can see, I have a little list,” she tittered, holding an index card up to the camera. Scarpia, for his part, was trying not to focus on what role she might have been made up for. One of the Eumenides came to mind, or possibly Katisha in The Mikado except that was an alto role. Was someone doing The Little Mermaid and she was the Sea Witch?

“I apologize unanimously for my brief indisposition,” she simpered, her mouth drawn up in such a moue that Babbila stepped back, knocking over an end table set for the next scene. “What sorts of things,” she continued, batting her eyelashes, “would two board members be interested in talking about, hmm?”

Scarpia, momentarily speechless, wondered if this once famous diva wasn’t trying to fit in with the modern fashion world, thinking she’d look younger, more relevant by going for the glam-rock style.

Babbila stammered a bit trying to get himself started, mentioning, though he was a first-year board member, he had been asked to chair the search committee looking for a new director.

“D’you think an over-the-hill opera singer (speaking for myveryself, of course) would have the qualifications for whom you’re searching?”

To cover Babbila’s understandable inability to respond, Scarpia stepped forward and mentioned the two previous directors had many long-range plans which now might be left hanging once a new director was appointed. There was the commitment to transform the festival into a year-round institution with a concert hall and a school. Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist considered it an important step for Schweinwald to remain viable despite numerous funding difficulties and economic risks. Babbila noted, somewhat sourly, that perhaps the timing is not sufficiently fortuitous.

The new wing of the Festspielhaus – here, Scarpia waved his arm in its general direction – was scheduled to open with this summer's season but this is now, unfortunately, already in jeopardy, as was the world premiere of the late former director’s new opera which was left incomplete at his death.

“But wasn’t there something about the old school…” Pagliaccio chewed on her lip trying desperately to recollect a past conversation.

“Some board members, unfortunately, are rather ‘old school,’ that’s true,” Scarpia smiled.

Babbila suggested she meant the old Schweinwald Academy, legendary in its time, once located out at the old castle.

“Ah,” she said, “yes, the old castle. Never underestimate an old ruin, I say. But why did it close?”

“Ancient history, basically – lost in the mists of time,” Scarpia responded uneasily.

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

What Grandma would’ve done to be here in a grand opera house, preparing herself to head into this magnificent theater, getting ready to experience a live performance starring this internationally famous singer. Her whole day would’ve turned into panic in case she should miss even a minute of an opera broadcast. If she didn’t have a radio broadcast to listen to every week, she’d go take out a library recording or listen to one of her own again, one of her favorites. Fictitia remembered how her Da always hated these, being forced to listen to them when he was a kid, getting so angry one time he’d smashed one of her favorite LPs, not sure her tears were for the broken record or realizing he could do something so hurtful as that.

It was probably a bit of both whether he was acting out of rage or rebellion. Fictitia totally got Da’s point of view, you know, being forced to do something he hated. Warbling like wounded crows, his mates always made fun of him because his ma made him listen to opera. That was hardly what a boy dreaming of playing football wanted to do, “better” himself by hiding behind the skirts of some overweight prima donna yodeling her eyes out on stage.

Fictitia saw it as much a “class” thing as a “cultural” thing: this stuff was meant for the aristocrats, those pompous lesions on society, parasites of the bloody workers and all. What right did Grandma have, a poor old widowed housewife, putting on airs liking all this high society muck? Her grandmother still listened to these huge recordings weighing a bloody ton when everything she ever needed to listen to in this world – anywhere, too – fit into her tiny light-weight iPod.

She didn’t mind a lot of classical music, even enjoyed some of the faster stuff though sometimes “pretty” wasn’t all that bad, either, if you didn’t tell your friends about it. But this time, she wouldn’t worry much about the music: she knew something far more “rad” was going down.

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

“What luck,” Cameron thought, finding just the right change left over from that snack he’d gotten at the train station. He waited patiently as the vending machine slowly released his butterscotch crumpet. But when he turned around, Dr. Kerr and Mr. D’Arcy had disappeared behind one of three doors. Which one?

He tried the door on the left but it was locked (should he have tried the right one, first?). The clattering of boots was getting louder. The middle door’s locked, too.

“Halt, right there,” a woman’s gruff voice shouted. “Agents of the IMP!”

Turning, Cameron tried to look thoroughly innocent.

Three people in tight-fitting uniforms, rifles drawn, blocked the only exit left.

“Uhm, is there a problem?” he asked. “I was only trying to find my way back to the lobby.”

“You’re under arrest for stealing…”

Another of the agents cleared her throat.

“…for allegedly stealing or conspiring to steal… something.”

The other officers tried not to grimace. This wasn’t going very well.

“But I didn’t steal anything,” he said, holding out his snack. “I had the right change for the machine.”

The three agents conferred, keeping their rifles drawn and their stances ready, the one closest grabbing the snack cake.

That’s when Cameron decided, “not another word,” and they marched him away.

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

The opera had begun.

Looking across the empty lobby, Fictitia recalled the tuxes and evening gowns, realizing how her own torn fishnet stockings and black t-shirt were more than out of place. She wasn’t sure she dreaded being branded “uncouth” or felt emboldened because she was invading their hallowed sanctimoniousness – whatever.

She never understood why “dressing up” meant “culture,” as if whatever you're doing was made suddenly better, more enjoyable. What was the point of everybody wearing posh clothes and behaving “properly”?

When Da went to the fights, he wore the same grubby t-shirt and torn pants he wore at home. Wasn’t it grand, going out to hear some killer band with her mates, all of them dressed in Goth Black, everyone screaming and dancing, all part of giving society the finger?

She wasn’t even sure why she was here, covering this event for GothArts, the e-zine she often wrote for. Was she covering it as a straight-forward event or making fun of it? What possible interest could they have, especially in this opera which lacked a certain, shall we say, Gothic sensibility?

Just then, Fictitia saw several security guards file into the lobby, one of them heading right in her direction. She got her press pass ready, her passport into their exclusive world.

Looking over to the far right, near that bank of elevators where she’d last seen him, there were more security guards and some black-clad soldiers (totally cool) escorting that cute guy, Cameron.

Fictitia felt a hard grip on her shoulder, a guard wheeling her around like he’s about to expel her.

“You were seen talking to that young man. Did he tell you anything of interest about, say… a murder?”

“What drugs are you on? What killer would confess to a reporter?”

Turning to walk away as defiantly as possible, thinking, “go ahead, try and arrest me,” she found her way blocked by a tall gentleman in a tux. It was Barry Scarpia.

“Everything’s all right, Officer,” he smiled. “The young lady is with me.”

With that, he held out his hand.

= = = = = = =
to be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Lost Chord: Chapter 9 (Part 1)

 The Lost Chord

(a classical music appreciation comedy thriller by Richard Alan Strawser: you can read it from the beginning, here.)

In the previous installment, Dr. Kerr is in Rob Sullivan's office at the Schweinwald Festspielhaus along with Cameron, V.C. D'Arcy and the festival's chief of security, looking for whatever they could find when he locates a headless bobble-head doll probably meant to be Mozart. They also meet the diminutive Yoda Leahy-Hu, Director of the International Music Police's Special Forces Unit who wonders what it is they've found. Cameron makes a dash for it, Kerr and D'Arcy run after him and then Leahy-Hu and her agents are off after them. It seems LauraLynn Sullivan is in the basement of the building, between the parking garage and the temporary location of the Library waiting to meet the musicologist Rothbart Girdlestone: something about the old Harrison Harty journal. Heidi Gedankgesang runs into someone waiting for LauraLynn but it doesn't quite go the way she'd planned.
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Chapter 9 (Part 1)

Trying to keep out of everybody else’s way, a whole crew of TV engineers swarmed the backstage of the Festspielhaus, quickly pulling cables into place, checking sight-lines and double-checking lights and headsets. The dress rehearsal had not gone well which was probably good news because everybody would be on their toes.

Werner Schmerzleid, the broadcast’s director, checked the timings with his assistant when guests should arrive, only hoping they would. His hostess, soprano Rita Pagliaccio, was finishing her make-up, ready to go.

“Don’t use too much pancake,” she warned, checking her profiles in the mirror, “or I’ll look like a clown.” One thing she hated was looking like some bozo in a gown.

“Ms. Pagliaccio, ready for your close-up,” the voice said through the intercom.

Ever the diva, she strode into place.

It had been years since the great Pagliaccio last sang in public, her adoring fans still abundant all across Europe – her farewell performance as Tosca in Munich brought the audience to tears – but she still knew how to work a camera and, standing tall, bring her full personality into the character. She blew the cute cameraman a kiss (unfortunately it was already on-air), welcoming viewers backstage for a delicious treat, this special broadcast of the opening night gala at the Schweinwald Festival.

Delighted to see she was ready to go, patiently waiting in place, the hostess warmly introduced her first guest, “one of the great stars of today’s opera world, mezzo-soprano Cora diLetto.”

Already in costume, Cora waved to the camera, tugging at her ear, thrilled to be backstage for the interview.

“Thank you. It’s so wonderful to be able to share the stage with the Divine Miss Rita,” she bubbled.

“Oh, my gracious!” Pagliaccio laughed, fanning herself. “You had me at ‘divine’!

“Though you’re known for pants roles like Cherubino and Octavian where you pretend to be a boy,” Pagliaccio continued, quickly checking her notes, “tonight you’re ‘all girl’ as the quick-witted Rosina.”

“One of the great things about making a living being a liar!”

(The camera fully caught Pagliaccio’s arching eyebrows.)

DiLetto continued how one night she could lie about having a bad day while playing a comic character or dying a tragic suicide another night while feeling perfectly content with the world.

“The whole trick is to lie so convincingly, the audience believes everything you do or say – I mean, sing!”

“And what is it you’re lying about, tonight?” Pagliaccio asked, shoving the mic into her face. “Anything in particular?”

“I’m a little nervous, given the occasion, and Rosina is very confident...”

DiLetto asked her if she weren’t a little bit nervous before going on-stage herself, even in a familiar role, but Pagliaccio, extremely self-confident, said she’d never really thought about it before.

Looking over to the side and seeing no more guests lined up there, she began thinking about it now.

She continued asking diLetto about favorite roles, new recordings and future plans – meanwhile extremely aware how much she missed someone asking her these questions – when her guest politely excused herself to 'prepare.'

Then, stepping aside for a view of the busy preparations on the stage, Pagliaccio announced they would return shortly.

Off-camera, the director handed her a list of topics she could mention when the stage-manager’s voice went out on-air, “Check the long shot for that fucking anvil in the first finale!”

Reluctantly, Rita Pagliaccio stepped back before the camera, prepared to do something she never did on stage before – wing it – mentioning how she hoped to talk with the festival’s acting director soon and with the legendary maestro, Luigi Maéstro, whom she fondly remembers from his conducting her debut many years ago.

She peered anxiously at the director’s notes, everything becoming a hopeless blur since she wasn’t wearing her reading glasses, then looked around helplessly, knowing she still had fifteen minutes to fill.

Suddenly she just stomped off, muttering curses that would’ve aroused Mephistopheles’ admiration, running headlong into Cameron who, having managed to escape from Schäufel and the two IMP agents, was hiding backstage. She tossed him the notes, stuffed the microphone in his hand and pushed him in front of the camera.

Standing like a deer in headlights and realizing being on nationwide TV was not the best place to be hiding, Cameron glanced down at the notes, turned them right-side-up, and swallowed nervously. After a deep breath, he launched into his best high-school German delivery, Schmerzleid burying his head in his hands.

“This fall, Schweinwald will a whole new chapter in its history begin, when the new building, to the beautiful Festspielhaus a mirror with its halls for symphonic and chamber music, opens.”

His sing-song delivery and misplaced emphases, plus the fact he often had no idea what he was actually reading, made it difficult to understand, people watching the monitors stopping to laugh. He mentioned tomorrow morning's rehearsal and the composers’ round-table with Peter Moonbeam then gave up on the next items.

“Sadly, there’s tomorrow’s memorial service for Robertson Sullivan, the composer, whose opera, Faustus, Inc., will this summer premiered be – he briefly as festival director following the death of Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist served.”

Cameron glanced up in time to see Schäufel and the two black-clad IMPs sneaking in behind the second cameraman. Shoving the mic at a stage-hand, he said “Your turn,” and fled.

“Remember,” Schmerzleid said to his speechless assistant, “if I ever agree to do live TV again, please shoot me.”

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

P.K. Arabesk and Tom LeVay, both recent graduates of the police academy who couldn’t find jobs with the local Landespolizei, were still acclimating themselves to the dull life of an arts festival. Here they were, patrolling a parking garage looking for a lost old lady like it was some terrorist alert. Maybe their boss, ‘Schäufel der Teufel,’ had finally lost it, cracking under the constant strain of nothing ever happening, even though the Festival lost two directors in little over a month.

“Not like any of that excitement happened anywhere near here,” Arabesk complained. “Zeitgeist wiped himself out on a ski slope in Austria and then Sullivan got murdered someplace in the States.”

“At least we’re prepared if any old ladies turn belligerent. What,” LeVay scoffed, “we’re issued one bullet between us?”

The radio crackled into existence. “Come in, Officer Arabesk. Any sign yet of the old lady,” Chief Dispatcher Agitato asked.

“No, sir,” he replied sheepishly. “Peeling our eyes as we speak, sir.”

“Do that,” Agitato replied. “Just remember, if you happen to see her, which one of you has the bullet.”

“Roger, that,” LeVay responded with due gravitas, rolling his eyes at Arabesk, carefully shutting off his radio before continuing. His partner nodded and did the same, hoping to avoid further embarrassment.

“Wasn’t it Agitato who had to deal with that little old lady last year, the one complaining how she didn’t get the seat she wanted for the last performance of Boheme?”

“Right – she ended up groining him with her cane when he escorted her away from the box office line.”

No wonder he was on dispatch now. It may be boring and safer – and he can sit down, too – but it does pay a little better than being on foot patrol.

“It’s not like Al-Qaida would target some opera house in the rural outback of Bavaria for any terrorist attack.” Arabesk surreptitiously checked his gun: “Yes, I’m the one with the bullet.”

“Not Barber of Seville. Now, Siege of Corinth or Turk in Italy, maybe,” LeVay nodded, “given their anti-Muslim stereotypes…”

Checking to make sure their two-way radios were off – this out-dated equipment always managed to make things more complicated – they laughed how Mobilé described Schäufel’s face when he saw BandanaMan’s wet clothes. The old guy, they agreed, was really beginning to slip: “What is he, now,” LeVay chuckled, “mid-forties or something?”

Arabesk asked if he’d noticed that list of names beside Mobilé’s phone.

“You mean all her ex-boyfriends?” LeVay snorted. “Can’t tell a player without a program. Still, she’s quite a knock-out…”

And if that wasn’t bad enough, they were all crammed into this tiny trailer, half their equipment malfunctioning daily, banished to the remote back parking lot, far from the main lobby. Of course, it was only temporary, until the new construction was done, but it could be a long summer.

It was the silver hair they saw sticking out of a trash dumpster around the corner from the lady’s room, alerting them to the problem. Fearing the worst, they drew their guns. While Arabesk quickly secured the immediate area, LeVay checked out the dumpster, hoping the old woman was still alive.

It turned out to be a wig; instead of a body, only the gloves and dress Schäufel had described.

LeVay hastily reported back to the security trailer, “We have a situation.”

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

She took a deep breath and tried looking confidently into the camera, imperceptibly nodding to resume the interrupted backstage broadcast, knowing that Rita Pagliaccio’s melt-down was assured a long life on YouTube. She knew she had to do better but was comforted by knowing it was unlikely she’d do any worse.

Elsa Poppen, Schmerzleid’s directorial assistant, smiled broadly and improvised an apology for the indisposition of the regularly scheduled host, knowing her boss was in the men’s room, heaving his guts out.

“Being backstage,” she continued, “it’s busy at the best of times but with an opening night gala, there’s so much going on, not just getting the stage ready for a performance. With any luck, there’s even a chance we’ll get to talk with the festival’s Acting Director, Mr. V.C. D’Arcy.”

Nodding at the cameraman to zoom in on the stage, the crew finishing with the last of the opening’s set, she wondered how she could direct and talk at the same time. If only she could remember more of the talking points D’Arcy and Schmerzleid went over at the earlier walk-through.

“The big news is the world premiere of Robertson Sullivan’s opera, Faustus, Inc., following the composer’s recent, tragic death. He had been so close to finishing the opera before he died...”

Looking around to see if anyone else scheduled for an interview before the performance might be hanging around nearby, Elsa, seeing nobody, decided to skip the gruesome details of Sullivan’s murder. “Only recently appointed the festival’s new director, Mr. Sullivan died weeks after the death of long-time director Franz-Dieter Zeitgeist. Sullivan's cousin, noted philanthropist LauraLynn Harty, is in attendance tonight and was originally scheduled to talk with us briefly but her schedule’s been very busy with preparations for tomorrow’s memorial service.”

She tried stepped back from the camera though the cameraman kept following her despite her brusquely shaking her head. Someone handed her a slip of paper she read with obvious relief.

“Let’s go now to the traditional ‘Blessing of the Waters’ held at the fountain in front of the Festspielhaus.”

Unfortunately by now, the plaza was too dark in steep shadows for much of the festivities to be seen clearly, the engineer arguing that the setting was the same as last year’s. Also, no one realized the new building now blocked the evening sunlight after money-saving decisions canceled seemingly unnecessary test-runs. It didn’t matter to most of the younger viewers since the picture’s grainy quality and out-of-focus forms dancing about were similar to many barely visible things they viewed regularly on YouTube.

The older viewers, assuming it was probably part of a low-budget home-made movie produced and acted by local students, hoped the nonsense would end soon so they could enjoy the opera. The reporter stood next to several pre-pubescent girls screaming over a Justin Bieber video they’d downloaded to their phones.

Several of the children were still laughing about the expression on that old woman’s face when she opened the door, finding herself nearly trampled by their mad dash toward the plaza entrance. They’d spun her about until she almost became part of their dance: it would’ve been funny, if she had.

The priest – a rotund baker playing a part – intoned a prayer thanking God for the art that inspires us and the children danced, singing nonsense rhymes the tourists thought perfectly quaint.

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Officers Arabesk and LeVay meticulously described the remnants of the old lady they had discovered stuffed into a remote dumpster – her wig, the dress Schäufel described, even the shoes, but no body – until Officer Mobilé pointed out this was not a real old lady but apparently another of BandanaMan’s ingenious disguises. No one had any idea what this was all about, much less what disguise he might be wearing now: what was he up to and where did he go from here?

Officer Agitato interrupted them, telling them not to worry about it now: Schäufel had just phoned in for back-up, running down the stairwell from the Director’s office with several IMP agents. He was in pursuit of another suspect who allegedly tried to steal something right out from under his nose.

“All available officers were to cordon off the main lobby and the mezzanine where a reception was being taken down, and apprehend the two Americans posing as friends of Director Robertson Sullivan. They’ve kidnapped Acting Director D’Arcy and may be involved in Sullivan’s murder. This,” Agitato concluded, “is your top priority.”

With that, the remaining officers swarmed out of the temporary security trailer, Arabesk and LeVay running toward the lobby. Assuming them armed and dangerous, Arabesk verified he still had the bullet.

The clatter of their boots reverberated through the emptiness, dying away once the door to the lobby stairs slammed shut, stifling the screams of terrified children rushing back from the plaza’s festivities. In a brief moment, everything left behind them turned to restful silence and the fleeting chaos was quickly forgotten.

The scrape of the metal grate, by comparison, sounded incongruously loud, pausing as if to adjust to the silence. Slowly, as a vent pushed open, a man dropped to the ground.

A large man, too bulky to fit easily through such a vent, unfolded himself awkwardly and cautiously looked around, dressed in black – turtleneck, jeans, sneakers, a ski-cap pulled over his face.

Breathing heavily, he reached for his phone and answered the in-coming call.

“Garth Widor, here – yes, almost ready... Good...”

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Last minute arrivals were picking up their tickets at the “Will-Call Window” while others were disappointed the only seats the box office had left for tonight were in the auditorium’s remotest reaches. There was a great deal of excitement, several people coming from Munich and Salzburg just to hear Cora diLetto.

“She doesn’t play the provinces often,” one dowager explained to her granddaughter, “but even music lovers from major cities can’t get enough of her. You’re in for an experience, my child.”

As people milled about in the lobby or streamed into the auditorium, anticipation was nowhere higher than in a corner of the mezzanine where a major donors’ reception was winding down. Near the back of the space, caterers moved in, ready to convert the reception into the post-performance gala dinner.

Two members of the Festival’s board were deep in discussion about the economics of art with fellow captains of industry, CEOs of some of the biggest corporations located in the immediate region. Barry Scarpia and Christopher Babbila both knew the importance of convincing others to increase their contributions supporting the Festival. Babbila, one of the younger board members, had seen his grandfather’s sheep farm transformed into a major wool-producing factory. Scarpia was delighted he’d talked him into joining the board last season.

Peter Moonbeam, meanwhile, brought his tour-group to the reception’s edge, treating them to the remains of sweets and champagne, talking about how great art can often be like a beautiful woman, fine wine that you can drink with your eyes or beautiful music which you can devour with your ears. A self-described “jolly fat man,” Moonbeam, a Native-American who thrived on turning recent initiates into life-long classical music aficionados, often found food similes a great help for people to understand music.

“Someone once told me opera was like ice-cream, but a lot of people don’t like opera the first time. So many people say you have to learn how to like opera. Now, truthfully, how many times did it take you to try ice-cream before you realized, ‘hey, I like this’?”

Moonbeam toasted his guests, lifting his champagne glass while quoting a few lines from Franz Schubert’s song, “An die Musik,” then began leading them back to the lobby, realizing they’re running late. Tomorrow, he’ll host a panel discussion with several guest composers focusing on the up-coming world premiere of Faustus, Inc.

Scarpia, receiving a frantic call from backstage – the director’s just decided to pre-record the intermission interview, just in case – suggested to his friend Babbila he should join him in meeting Schmerzleid.

“I can’t figure out D’Arcy: he didn’t even make it to the reception,” Scarpia said, clucking his tongue disapprovingly.

“Perhaps,” Babbila said, barely keeping up with him, “something else came up?”

“Bah,” Scarpia scoffed, “what’s more important than a roomful of major contributors?”

Then he caught a glimpse of Fictitia.

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To be continued...

posted by Dick Strawser

The novel, The Lost Chord, is a music appreciation comedy thriller completed in 2013, and is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.
© 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Beethoven's Eroica: The Music & the Hero, Part 3

Another Heroic Monument
You can read the two earlier segments to this essay about Beethoven's 3rd Symphony here and here. This segment was originally entitled "The Hero Within the Music."

While Bonaparte – that is, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte (born Buonaparte), not the Emperor Napoleon – was the impetus behind the Symphony in E-flat Major Beethoven began working on in 1802, I'm wondering if Haydn wasn't closer to the mark when he allegedly said, “He's placed himself at the center of his work. He gives us a glimpse into his soul. ...But it is quite, quite new – the artist as hero – quite new... Everything is different from today.” (– quoted as it was used in the BBC/Pro Arte film Eroica which was imbedded in the previous post.)

Haydn (from BBC's "Eroica")
The idea of the “artist as hero” is entirely antithetical to the “artist as craftsman” of the Classical Era of which Haydn is generally considered the ultimate example. Yet he had already begun pushing these boundaries, now that he had retired after nearly thirty years as a court composer for Prince Nicholas Esterházy and had few requirements to fulfill for his successor. He composed two immense oratorios – completing The Creation in 1798 and The Seasons in 1801 – and six monumental masses between 1796 and 1802, his last major works. And there is certainly something of the sublime far beyond the classical craftsman in these works.

Haydn teaching Beethoven
Beethoven arrived in Vienna in 1792, a year after the death of Mozart – whose own music, especially in things like his D Minor Piano Concerto and the opera Don Giovanni challenged 18th Century Classical proprieties with an abundance of Romantic emotions – and studied with Haydn until he left once more for London in 1794. Though their relationship was never friendly – in fact, Haydn treated the young composer with some disdain if not jealousy and didn't seem to take these lessons seriously (Beethoven refused to list Haydn as his teacher on his first publications because he felt Haydn had taught him too little; another composer, examining Beethoven's counterpoint notebook, found several errors that Haydn had not bothered to correct) – Haydn was, after all, the most celebrated living composer in Europe at the time. One could point out many similarities in their works – the opening of “Winter” in Haydn's Seasons and the introduction to Beethoven's 4th Symphony, both in the same key, for instance – but then the “common language” of 18th Century classicism was so “common,” it is difficult to say how much of this is influence or coincidence much less imitation.

But there was something so startlingly new in the Eroica for 1803, it's impossible not to ask “where did that come from!?”

Yet if we examine the symphony in terms of its overall structure, it turns out not to be that different from the models that inspired Beethoven's first two symphonies between 1800 and 1802: instead of a slow introduction, typical with Haydn, Beethoven uses two peremptory chords to get out attention (no chance to settle comfortably into “listening mode,” here), but after that, the overall concepts are not unfamiliar – just incredibly expanded, especially in the middle section's development which is the hallmark of Sonata Form (in the 18th Century, this might be so brief as to be no more than a digression, but in Beethoven, it becomes the dramatic focus of the struggle between leaving the tonic key and its eventual return.

This first movement – full of excruciating dissonances and nearly as long as any of Haydn's earlier symphonies entirely – is followed, as expected, by a slow movement, but again one of immensely expanded proportions and intense drama – a funeral march, no less.

Haydn's third movements are often earthy and more dance-like than the standard courtly minuet of his earlier works, but Beethoven's takes this peasant-like energy to a new and often frenetic level, a return to life after the slow movement tragedy.

Haydn's finales were often light-hearted, full of tricks or jokes, but also capable of hiding intellectual details, but none of them were ever as long or as commanding as the Eroica's finale: here, a set of variations on what seems to be a simplistic, almost inane idea later turns out to be the bass of a theme introduced almost as an afterthought, but simple or not, it is full of “learnèd counterpoint” and out-and-out fugues, the culmination of the intellectual.

And it was the tradition in the 18th Century approach to variations that the next to the last one would be in a slow tempo (a way to inform the audience the end is near) which is exactly what Beethoven does here except, again, it is greatly expanded, almost into a slow movement of its own. It becomes an emotional climax if not of the whole piece, then at least the second half of the symphony (nothing could be more emotional that that funeral march's final disintegration). And how to end it? With an uproarious “happy ending,” a triumphal dance that, to a proper 18th Century classicist, would be vulgar in the extreme, pounding away at the final resolution to the home tonic – repetitive but also drunk with joy!

The skeleton of the classical symphony is still there but the surface of it – its scope and dimensions and what activates it as a work of art – are almost unrecognizable, certainly on first hearing. Yet it is not so revolutionary as we tend to think, embedded in the past as it is.

So it is interesting to read someone writing about the “sublime” in music:

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“In music, only that can be sublime which exceeds the conceptual powers of the imagination: which appears too large and significant, too foreign and strange, for the imagination to grasp it easily...”

“The feeling of sublimity in music is aroused when the imagination is elevated to the plane of the limitless, the immeasurable, the unconquerable. This happens when such emotions are aroused as... prevent the integration of one's impressions into a coherent whole.”

– Christian Friedrich Michaelis, “Some Remarks on the Sublime in Music” (Leipzig, 1805) quoted in James Webster's essay, The Creation, Haydn's Late Vocal Music and the Musical Sublime in the Bard Music Festival Series, Haydn and His World (Princeton, 1997)
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It is interesting to read this because it very much describes the music we associate with the huge emotional – indeed, “sensual” – leap into 19th Century romanticism which, as any music student has been told, essentially began with Beethoven's Eroica in 1803. Outside of a close circle of friends of Prince Joseph Maximilian Lobkowitz, no one else heard this symphony until April, 1805, when it was first performed at Vienna's Theater an der Wien.

And yet Michaelis published his “Remarks” in Leipzig in 1805: had he been in Vienna and heard Beethoven's startling new music? It's almost as if he were describing the Eroica's impact on its listeners:

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“Firstly, by uniformity so great that it almost excludes variety: by the constant repetition of the same note or chord... by long, majestic, weighty, or solemn notes, and hence by very slow movement; by long pauses holding up the progress of the melodic line, or which impede the shaping of a melody, thus underlining the lack of variety. Secondly, by too much diversity, as when innumerable impressions succeed one another too rapidly and the mind is too abruptly hurled into the thundering torrent of sounds, or when (as in many polyphonic compositions involving many voices) the themes are developed together in so complex a manner that the imagination cannot easily and calmly integrate the diverse ideas into a coherent whole without strain. Thus in music, the sublime can only be that which seems too vast and significant, too strange and wonderful, to be easily assimilated by it.”

– Michaelis, ibid
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The first idea certainly seems to pertain to Beethoven's epic Funeral March – even to that mysterious, unexpected D# interrupting the 1st Movement's opening cello melody, though not a “long pause,” which holds up the progress of the melodic line and expands it in such a way, there is this harmonic hiccup before the phrase cadences where it's expected to.

And the second idea – too much diversity – is another element of Beethoven's development sections, one thing after another thrown at you – melodic fragments, harmonic implications, striking dissonances and rhythmic irregularities – before you're back on any kind of solid (expected) ground.

Yet Michaelis is no doubt responding to elements of Haydn's oratorios – especially The Creation which already begins pushing beyond mere craftsmanship: the opening depiction of chaos was, to an 18th Century listener, sheer chaos, harmonically; the appearance of Light a stroke of brilliance that, though obvious to us (especially tame compared to today's special effects we witness daily in television, movies and video games) was thrilling to first-time listeners.

But it's all about expectations and how they're met: how did Beethoven get from being the Student beginning his studies with Haydn at 21 to the Master who wrote the Eroica at 32?

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Cherubini & Muse (by Ingres)
It is tempting to write about the influences on Beethoven' style we don't usually think about, especially composers of his time whom we no longer know. There was a whole school of French artists active in post-Revolutionary Paris who painted, sculpted and composed on an epic scale, composers like Cherubini, an Italian transplant who became the leading French composer and dominated the musical style of his generation. Beethoven's sole opera, Fidelio, premiered in 1805, is based on a French "rescue" drama and heavily inspired by Cherubini.

But the musical style of Gossec, Gretry and Mehul was known to Beethoven whether or not he was aware of the paintings of David and Ingres. But this would take another sizable post of more interest to scholars than listeners, so let's leave that for now. It is, however, an area little written and less talked about in the Beethoven literature.

After producing six string quartets by 1800, his first symphony and a series of piano sonatas – including the very Romantic “Pathetique” in 1798 and the so-called “Moonlight” in 1801 (which could easily have been called the “Tempest” after its stormy finale) and the very next sonata, the placid “Pastoral” – Beethoven said to a friend, “I am only a little satisfied with my previous works. From today on I will take a new path.”

The next works he composed were the 2nd Symphony, the three violin sonatas of Op. 30 (dedicated to Tsar Alexander I), the “Eroica” Variations for solo piano which made use of a successful dance tune from his ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus of the previous year (a view of Creation from the perspective of classical Greek mythology, by the way), and the three piano sonatas that includes the very unusual one actually known as the “Tempest” (from a chance remark he made about Shakespeare's play when asked what its opening movement meant without ever really explaining how it applies). And then he started working out some new ideas for another symphony.

But something else happened in Beethoven's life that year.

A far from heroic-looking Beethoven walking in the woods near Heiligenstadt
He had begun experiencing symptoms that indicated something was wrong with his hearing and the idea of a concert pianist, indeed a composer, going deaf came at a time just as Beethoven's reputation was growing, that his new pieces were bringing in a good income. He was nearly 30 – what did it mean if he would soon go deaf and all this would come to a sudden halt?

In October, 1802, in the midst of the last movement of the 2nd Symphony, Beethoven wrote a heart-rending letter to his two brothers, intended to be opened after his death, which is known as “The Heiligenstadt Testament.” In places, it reads like a suicide note.

He had been troubled by the first symptoms around 1796, enough to worry about it. In a letter to a friend back home in 1801, he wrote “I will seize fate by the throat; it shall certainly not bend and crush me completely.”

When he wrote his 5th Symphony – which he started sketching probably while he was working on the Eroica and had completed the opening movements before he'd begun the 4th Symphony – he used that famous motive he described to his student Ferdinand Ries as “fate knocking at the door.” This gives rise to the idea the symphony is clearly about Man overcoming Fate and celebrating a great victory in the finale. It doesn't matter if that Man is actually the man Beethoven because the music itself transcends whatever inspired it, but certainly his own experiences dealing with what Fate has dealt him – in this case, his deafness – might have given him the dramatic inspiration whether he's writing an autobiographical piece or not.

Another fanciful image of Beethoven
And just as the Hero of the Eroica Symphony probably isn't a musical portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte – after all, how do you make sense of a hero who has a funeral in the second movement when the hero it is supposed to be dedicated to is very much alive? – is it any more possible the struggle in this music is the first stage of Beethoven coming to terms with his own deafness, becoming his own hero in grabbing Fate, two quick knocks at the door to start the symphony on its way?

Perhaps not. It's always dangerous to read anything into what Beethoven may have been thinking because he never told anyone what was specifically on his mind – even the reference to the “Tempest” is so vague, it hardly begins to answer the question.

But whether it is a musical portrait of Beethoven – or more likely his state of mind – or of Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France, is immaterial. You may hear great armies marching across battlefields in the first movement or hear in it a portrait not of Bonaparte but of Alexander the Great (as one writer insisted) but that may have nothing to do with what Beethoven was thinking about when he composed it.

What it comes down to is more like what Arturo Toscanini said: it is Allegro con brio, the tempo Beethoven gave to the first movement. It is about music and how it's put together: what you make of it is your own side of the equation.

- Dick Strawser

This three-part essay was written as a companion post for the Harrisburg Symphony's opening concert of the 2014-2015 Season with conductor Stuart Malina, which featured Beethoven's 3rd Symphony as well as the 4th Piano Concerto, October 18th & 19th. It is not intended as a scholarly or analytical article and is designed merely to augment a listener's appreciation of the music, the time in which it was composed, and the life of the composer who wrote it. Other essays in this on-going series can be read by following the tag up close.

Beethoven's Eroica: The Music & the Hero, Part 2

Beethoven in 1803
You can read the first segment of this essay, an introduction to Beethoven's Third Symphony, here.

This segment could be entitled "Some People & Places Behind the Eroica."

Given the news today – pick your horror story: Ebola, ISIS, gun violence, political campaigns, what-have-you – it's sometimes difficult to imagine yourself living in some other era that could be any worse (your good-old-days or someone else's).

We often view Art as a means of escaping from our daily travails, a chance to forget about reality and lose ourselves in the glories of some past century.

But we often forget about the composer's reality at the time this music was being written and usually dismiss it as unnecessary to our enjoyment of it.

Granted, one can enjoy Beethoven's Eroica without knowing what was going on in his life or beyond hearing how it had once been dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte.

But if, after you've heard this composition – regarded as the first major work to unleash what became known as 19th Century Romantic Music – you wondered “where did that come from?”, then read on.

To open last season, Stuart Malina programmed Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring which is credited as being where 20th Century Music began. This season, he begins with Beethoven's Eroica which is usually given the credit for being the starting point for the 19th Century, dividing what's become standard classical music fare from the 18th Century's Baroque and Classical styles.

Heroic, indeed, whether it was inspired by Napoleon or not. It was longer than any symphony written before it and it was far more dramatic than anything Haydn had ever written. The demands on the listeners – not to mention the players – were unprecedented. What must it have been like to hear this for the first time in 1804, knowing only what listeners in Vienna knew? How can we, today, forget everything we've heard that's been written since then – written, mostly, in Beethoven's shadow?

Prince Lobkowitz
I'd recently discovered this 2003 BBC film – it lasts less than 90 minutes – which attempts to do just that: it takes place on the day Beethoven rehearsed his new symphony with an orchestra hired by his friend and patron, Prince Lobkowitz. Considering how Hollywood usually treats the arts – classical music, in particular – this is not a bad representation of the possibilities (at least no St. Bernards were harmed in the filming of this program). Many comments (whether they occurred that day or not) are factual or at least taken from historical documents. But it gives you a reasonable idea as far as “historical fiction” is concerned what could have happened.

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The BBC/Opus Arte film “Eroica” (2003) directed by Simon Cellan-Jones with Ian Hart as Beethoven:

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What discrepancies exist are minor – the room it was filmed in may not be the music room of Lobkowitz's Vienna palace (see below) and the military gentleman, Count Dietrichstein, could not be the same Count Dietrichstein who exists in Beethoven's biography, a man five years the composer's junior who, aside from being artistically astute and a close friend, was also a composer himself.

Yes, Beethoven was in love with the young woman, Josephine von Deym, née Brunsvick (who arrives late with her older sister, Therese – both were piano students of Beethoven's and both have been considered candidates for the Immortal Belovéd who figures in Beethoven's life in 1812 - you can read more about the women in Beethoven's life in my blog post, here). Yes, she was recently widowed with four children (though one of them was only a few months old at the time, despite the scene where all four of them romp through the music room). Hopeful of marrying her, Beethoven was well aware of the laws which forbade her, an aristocrat, from marrying a “commoner” like Beethoven, despite his being a genius and being – well, Beethoven!

And yes, since the composer often styled himself in French, signing his name as Louis van Beethoven, his close friends are calling him Louis – not Louie...

Ferdinand Ries
Keep in mind Beethoven was 33 years old at this time – we tend to forget that he was only 56 when he died. His student, Ferdinand Ries (the son of Beethoven's first violin teacher back in Bonn), he who makes the hapless comment about the horn player coming in early, would have been 19, then. A month later, Ries made his debut as a concert pianist playing Beethoven's C Minor Piano Concerto (No. 3) with his own cadenza. Though he left Vienna in 1805, it is his account, written 34 years later, that supplies most of the information we have about this particular day along with several other anecdotes which give us such a wonderful view of the human who was The Master.

The biggest doubt about the film, of course, is the level of the performance. Ries remarks that the rehearsal was “terrible” and indeed here it begins that way. It is hard to imagine that, after a particularly bumpy start, this sight-reading session of such new and strange music should suddenly become a performance any ensemble today would be proud of – and kudos to the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique for supplying the musicians of the orchestra (except for one of the bass players and perhaps the second horn player) who are, in fact, led here by their actual concertmaster if, in the soundtrack, by John Eliot Gardiner. Still, it would be excruciating theater to subject modern audiences to what the actual rehearsal may have sounded like.

One of the things I like about this presentation is watching the faces of those people hearing this music for the first time – and not just hearing it but hearing music like it for the first time. There are those who are confused by it or perplexed by certain passages – especially the more dissonant ones – and those who are excited by it. For instance, Princess Caroline, Lobkowitz's wife, has an eagerness about her listening: clearly the music thrills her and she is up on the very latest of what is “new.”

There are those who clearly have no clue what is going on here, musically or otherwise, and can only compare it to what they know (“if this were by Haydn, it would be over by now,” someone – a footman? – says near the end of the first movement). There are those who have no clue what is going on, either, but are somehow aware whatever it is is something significant.

Count Dietrichstein, depicted here as an old fuss-budget clearly out of sorts over Beethoven's dedication to Bonaparte, is deeply affected by the slow movement, its funeral march: perhaps he is remembering friends he has lost on the battlefield? And the young woman – who is Josephine von Deym, the woman Beethoven is disappointed had not, at the beginning, arrived yet – is no doubt thinking about her late husband who'd died that January.

Prince Lobkowitz, historically described as “absent-minded,” is at times unsure what he is hearing, closing his eyes to better concentrate, perhaps, or is he nodding off, a bit? Suffering from gout? Perhaps.

Typical would be the discussion heard after the first movement – what each listener heard in the music, whether inspired by knowing it was a “Bonaparte Symphony” or simply in hearing great armies marching across history to do battle. Listeners have always heard music their own way, trying to create some story, perhaps, to hang on to, to explain what they're listening to when all the composer may have been thinking about was how to lead up to these particularly dissonant chords at the climax of the development section.

Haydn arrives at Beethoven's rehearsal
I don't know, frankly, if Haydn did show up at his student's rehearsal – and if he did, why not late, after all? – but I love the shot where Beethoven is standing in front of the orchestra (not as a conductor: conductors with batons didn't exist at the time!) and we see the old man Haydn entering behind him, like a ghost peering over his shoulder. Brilliant. Even more brilliant is the expression on Haydn's face as the camera moves in to focus on him, as Beethoven commits something his teacher (and many in those first audiences) would have viewed as a mistake – “why would he do that?”

What he says at the end is perhaps the most telling line in the entire film. Attributed to Haydn, I'm not sure (since I can't verify it anywhere other than having heard it so often) if it is factual or one of those mythological statements created by the well-meaning Anton Schindler years later, but it does sum up an attitude about Beethoven that transcends the usual misunderstanding between the Old Guard and the New.

“He's placed himself at the center of his work,” Haydn tells his hosts after the rehearsal has concluded. “He gives us a glimpse into his soul – I expect that's why it's so... noisy... but it is quite, quite new – the artist as hero – quite new... Everything is different from today.”

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

To help imagine the mortal who could create such music, here is a video-montage of still photographs of a house in Döbling, now a section of Vienna. It is here that Beethoven lived when he composed most of his Third Symphony during the summer of 1803.
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(The soundtrack is part of the slow movement of the C Minor Violin Sonata, Op. 30/2 – here with Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel Barenboim – which was composed in the summer of 1802 when he was in Heiligenstadt, though I've never seen it referred to as the “Eroica Sonata” before. It's from the set I'd mentioned in a previous post as having been dedicated to the Russian tsar, Alexander I.)

The apartment Beethoven occupied that summer is accessible through a door off the courtyard just off the street. Presumably, he had a view of the fields and woods beyond though today, one can see only the house across the street.

The house itself – much less the grounds – is different from what it would have been during Beethoven's stay here, a house built in the 1790s on the main street of a quiet country suburb. The second floor was added in 1840 and the ornate lamp post is certainly later still. The house is currently a museum – apparently it was not open the day the poster of this video visited – and contains little actual material about Beethoven beyond some period furniture and informative displays, but you can find a little more about it and see a couple images from the inside at the official Vienna Museum website, here.

The Palace of Prince Lobkowitz (left), Vienna
The Palace of Prince Josef Maximilian Lobkowitz still stands in Vienna though the main family castle is in Prague. The Prince who was Beethoven's friend and patron (and, for a time, landlord) was the 7th prince of the family and lost much of the family fortune not only in supporting the arts in Vienna, maintaining his own orchestra, but in the political instability and economic downturns that affected Europe during the Napoleonic Wars.

The music room where this first “read-through” of the symphony took place is now called the “Eroicasaal” (or Eroica Concert Hall). In the photograph here, it is a scene of a lecture. It figures also in a scene from the PBS “Keeping Score” episode on the Eroica with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas walking through the space.

Though you would think the Viennese palace would be the spot for this, the family's collection of Beethoven memorabilia as well as numerous instruments and other manuscripts is housed at the castle in Prague. Here is a Viking Tours promotional video about the Lobkowicz's Palace. The Beethoven Collection begins c.3:20 into the clip:
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Beethoven also dedicated his 5th Symphony to both Prince Lobkowitz and Count Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador who commissioned the three string quartets bearing his name (he also had household musicians which frequently played and premiered Beethoven's newest works). Among other works dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz are the Op. 18 String Quartets (first heard in 1800) as well as the “Harp” Quartet, Op. 74 (published in 1810), the Triple Concerto (written, however, for the Archduke Rudolph, the Austrian Emperor's youngest brother, who as both a piano and a composition student of Beethoven's and who was a frequent performer at the Lobkowitz's), and the song cycle, An die ferne Geliebter (“To the Distant Belovéd”) in 1816.

Lobkowitz, one of three aristocrats to guarantee Beethoven a pension to keep him in Vienna, was nearly ruined in the Depression of 1811 and was forced to renege on his contribution, much to Beethoven's displeasure. He wrote a small cantata for the Prince's birthday in 1816 to be sung to him by members of his family – he and the Princess had, by the way, twelve children – but the performance did not take place. The prince was “deathly ill” at the time and died a week later.

After Prince Joseph Maximilian's death, the family usually rented out the palace before selling the building in the mid-19th Century. It was for a while (with a bit of irony) the home of the French Embassy from 1869-1909: Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew ruled France as the first popularly elected President in 1848 who then staged a coup and overthrew his own government, naming himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1851 and ruled until 1870. From 1945-1980, it housed the French Institute of Vienna before becoming a government building which, since 1991, has been part of Vienna's Museum of Art and History, the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

As for Beethoven's pupil, Ferdinand Ries went on to become a well-known composer and pianist, if forgotten today beyond his association as Beethoven's Student. As Beethoven said of him, "He imitates me too much." As Grove's Dictionary put it, he caught the style and phrases but not the immortality of his master. For instance, the second symphony he composed - written in 1813, it was later published as No. 5 in D Minor - uses the famous Fate-Knocks-at-the-Door rhythm from Beethoven's 5th.

Opening of Ferdinand Ries' Symphony #5 (arr. as a Septet) 1813
(One should also point out, so did Gustav Mahler in his 5th Symphony...)

Ries spent a busy decade in London where he was also instrumental in helping secure a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society for what became Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Then he returned to Germany and became a respected composer and conductor in Frankfurt where he died in 1838 at the age of 53. He composed eight symphonies, eight piano concertos, three operas and two oratorios plus a large amount of chamber music and piano music, all of it forgotten today.

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Continue reading Part 3 of Beethoven's Eroica: The Music & the Hero, here...

- Dick Strawser

Beethoven's Eroica: The Music & the Hero, Part 1

Taking a brief break from posting my Beethoven-inspired novel, The Lost Chord, a classical music appreciation comedy-thriller, here is an essay in my up-close and the behind the music series. These are not intended to be scholarly works, but hope to explain the background of the music you may be listening to in a way different than your standard program notes or technical analyses.

Some years ago, I heard a radio announcer (no one I knew) say, “Beethoven is one of the few composers you could make an All-Beethoven program with” – and while that may seem obvious, I think what he meant was that there's enough variety in Beethoven's music, you can create an interesting, varied program of great music all by just one composer. And that's not something you can do with every composer.

Though it's easy to be overwhelmed by it, too – too much of a good (or great) thing, perhaps. So usually programmers balance their concerts by selecting from the three basic food-groups: Early-, Middle- and Late-Beethoven.

Stylistically, you've got the very “classical lines” and leaner textures of Early Beethoven, still emerging from the shadow of his teacher, Haydn; the larger emotions and epic proportions of Middle Beethoven, the “Romantic Beethoven,” say; or the more internal, more spiritual explorations of Late Beethoven, particularly in the late Sonatas and Quartets, which never seem to have been duplicated since.

And then there's “Heroic Beethoven,” the hero striding across the landscape of history, larger than life, with an intensity that can be shattering to us mere mortals, the Beethoven of myth and magic – in short, a composer comparable to today's comic book action heroes out to save the universe from evil.

And yet this music – and the myths we associate with it – came from somewhere more normal. The fact that it transcends normality is what gave birth to the myths that surround it – (insert deep and deeply awed announcer's voice, here) – the suffering, misunderstood artist, the loner, the genius – the composer who went deaf. The one who must be approached with reverence and... well, awe.

What is it about Beethoven – more to the point, his music – that affects us like this over 200 years later? And for over 200 years, that's something people have been asking, something every composer since then has been dealing with (or ignoring). It's that idea of a “giant treading behind you,” the way Brahms felt his legacy.

It's the same thing, for many people, one can feel after an exceptional performance of Shakespeare: how could any man create something like that? And why has it rarely, if ever, been equaled since...?

Beethoven's 3rd Symphony has always been known as “The Eroica” and it would seem obvious once you've heard it. The Hero – Napoleon Bonaparte, specifically – that inspired the music may be less important to it than the idea of a hero.

Certainly, Beethoven's Eroica is a ground-breaking work of immense proportions, compared to what people were expecting when he wrote it in 1803, but it is more than a depiction of a historically significant person (and a perception that radically changed from the time Beethoven began it to the time the audience first heard it two years later). And part of the impact of this piece (calling it a “piece” sounds so trivial...) can be heard in the 4th Piano Concerto that opens the concert – and which he began not long after he'd completed the Eroica.

Music, somehow, was going to be different, now.

Beethoven had his fans and he certainly had his detractors. Most of the audience, then, supporters and otherwise, probably didn't "get" what it is we feel about Beethoven today. It's not like Beethoven wrote a new piece and every other composer went and did likewise. It took a while for his innovations to become part of the musical landscape. It's just that we don't know much about all the other composers who lived and worked during Beethoven's lifetime or even the generation that followed his death. Except for the last few years of Schubert's life, the Marvel Comics version of Classical Music tends to jump right from Mozart (who died in 1791) and Haydn (whose last symphonies were written in 1795) to Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner and Brahms, whose careers all began between the 1830s and the 1850s.
It's a bit sobering to think that, while Mendelssohn was 16 when he composed his Octet in 1825, two years before Beethoven died, Brahms' 1st Symphony (dubbed "Beethoven's 10th") wasn't finished until 1876.

Here's a performance from the 2012 BBC Proms with an orchestra created by Daniel Barenboim from young musicians of the Middle East including Israel, Egypt, Palestine and Iran, among others. I chose this particular clip as much for the performance (even the context of the performers) as for the interview segment that precedes it.

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The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim (BBC Proms, 2012) (with interviews beforehand)

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If you're interested in finding out more about the world behind this music, check back for subsequent posts, including one featuring yet another BBC effort, a 2003 film called Eroica which is about the day Beethoven's new symphony was first heard.

Though I can't embed it here, you can also check out Michael Tilson Thomas' highly recommended “Keeping Score” episode from PBS with Beethoven's Third Symphony, here.

Here's a promo:

Within the comparatively small world of Classical Music, given the greater aspects of the Music Business in general, there's a whole “Beethoven Industry” out there that has turned the opening notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony from the writer “E. T. A. Hoffmann’s vehicle of awe and terror [...] into a meaningless blur of disco beats, hip-hop samples, jingles, and ringtones.”

an epic Beethoven monument by Max Klinger, 1902

I'm quoting from Alex Ross' new column in the New Yorker magazine about the influence of Beethoven where he describes the final chapter of Matthew Guerrieri's book on the impact of Beethoven's most popular piece, a book called “The First Four Notes,” and I recommend both.

There are probably more books written about or inspired by Beethoven and his music than any other classical composer – no doubt the least of them being my own novel, The Lost Chord, a "classical music appreciation comedy-thriller" which you can read on the installment plan at my other blog – and in addition to Guerrieri's book, there's a new biography by Jan Swafford – appropriately entitled Beethoven: Anguish & Triumph – I can also highly recommend, as yet sight unseen, just on the basis of two earlier biographies, one of Johannes Brahms, the other of Charles Ives, that manage to make their subjects much more human than the typical, academic biographies that are generally available and generally of interest only to other typical academics.

I've just ordered mine and though it won't arrive before this weekend's concert – nor could I read much of its 1,100 pages in time, either – it is something I expect to enjoy in the coming months of what will no doubt be a dreary time of year for me.

And that's primarily because Beethoven is one of those composers who is a composer for all times and all seasons, not just the occasion of a concert.

Oh, I know there are more Beethoven Festivals and All-Beethoven concerts in the Classical Music World, but there are few composers who could reach more people (in whatever way one cares to “reach” people, these days) and few works that can be embraced by more listeners beyond those “classical music aficionados” that Beethoven's 5th and 9th Symphonies – or, for that matter, the 3rd, the one known as “The Eroica.”

The Heroic Symphony – it's one of those defining works that give us a glimpse of Beethoven the Creator, that epic genius, suffering and misunderstood, striding across the landscape of mortal mankind, the composer who went from being Haydn's student to become first a marble bust and then the God of Classical Music.

That mysterious journey from mere mortal to mythologized hero begins with the opening chords of his Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55 which, admittedly, doesn't sound as grand as calling it “The Eroica,” does it?

It is difficult to separate the man from the deity he became.

How does one “come to terms with” this music when music, generally speaking, was rarely something one needed to “come to terms with” before him?

As well-crafted as a Haydn Symphony may have been, it was always perfectly entertaining. The difference between what Haydn and Mozart composed, at least in the best of their works, and all those works by their contemporaries whom we no longer know or bother to remember is similar to what might be considered “art” and what we regard as “kitsch,” the idea of seeing Leonardo's Mona Lisa at the Louvre and the ubiquitously reproduced image that has come to mean “art” hanging on someone's living room wall.

We have become addicted to Beethoven. Generations have been trained to “fear” Beethoven. As Ross mentions in his article, he walked into Boston's Symphony Hall as a young would-be composer and saw the “name BEETHOVEN emblazoned on the proscenium arch [–] 'Don't bother,' it seemed to say.”

It's like those signs at amusement parks that were the bane of many a child's existence: “You must be this tall to ride.”

How different Brahms' life would've been – or at least his music – if Robert Schumann hadn't crowned him “Beethoven's Heir” when he was 20 years old. "You have no idea how the likes of me feels with the tramp of a giant like him behind you!" That's why it took him over 20 years to complete a first symphony – no pressure, right?

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About 3½ minutes into the PBS program Keeping Score's episode about Beethoven's Eroica, Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony's conductor, said how much of his life had been spent coming to terms with this piece while showing you an incredibly marked up score that leaves little uncircled, unhighlted, unquestioned.

Part of the problem is it's so often performed “ponderously, seriously, perhaps because it's called the 'Heroic'” and certainly because... well, after all, it's by Beethoven! But Tilson Thomas didn't think that way, studying the score: he found it at times “light, breezy, confident, frustrating, dangerous – even comic” and so we go from trying to depict Napoleon in the first movement to understanding a composer dealing with life and all the things that can affect one's life.

Of course, it's difficult to remove images of Napoleon – speaking of marble busts – from our minds, given the famous story of Beethoven dedicating his new symphony to Napoleon (originally, it was the “Bonaparte Symphony”) then tearing up the title page when he heard his hero had crowned himself Emperor, erasing the word “Bonaparte” so vigorously, there's a hole in the paper. Later, it became a work dedicated to the “memory of a hero.”

But was the music “about” Bonaparte, then “First Consul” of France following the revolution, or inspired by what he stood for, elements of freedom after years of tyranny under centuries of French kings? The fact he became Emperor a few weeks before Beethoven's new symphony was first played through is a historical detail: I'm talking about the writing process, when the symphony was being composed.

It's true that Beethoven viewed Bonaparte (to distinguish him from the Emperor Napoleon) as a hero bringing the ideals of the French Revolution to The People. The fact that Beethoven lived in Vienna, an imperial city, and depended on its aristocrats for their patronage, it seems counterintuitive that Beethoven should support what people considered the “anti-aristocratic” policies of the French. But politics – then as now – were more complex than that. Beethoven was most interested in what was good for Beethoven and the fact that Vienna was proving to be a dead end, financially, had him thinking about looking for a new place to live – perhaps Paris?

In 1798, he had briefly been befriended by the French Ambassador, Bernadotte – a general who would later become King of Sweden, by the way – and there's little doubt that at some point in their conversations, the ambassador might not have suggested the composer write a symphony “about Bonaparte.” That's at least what Beethoven's later secretary Schindler recalled, though much of what Schindler seemed to recall is always suspect.

But if Beethoven would go to Paris, how would he get Bonaparte's attention? How did an artist get anybody's “attention” except by dedicating a work to them? A copy of the score would be sent to the dedicatee with an appropriate letter and in return the artist hoped for some gift, some form of remuneration. The trick was being allowed to dedicate a piece to that person – seeing that name on the title page was like an endorsement and would influence people who would buy and/or perform his new work.

It was expedient, given the musical politics of the day, that a young composer like the recently arrived Beethoven dedicate his first piano sonatas to the Great Man with whom he studied, Franz Josef Haydn. The first violin sonatas were dedicated to another important composer in Vienna, in fact the most powerful composer in a very politically aware musical society – Antonio Salieri.

It also had very little to do with gratitude. Even when he dedicated a new symphony to his patrons Prince Lobkowitz or Prince Lichnowsky, the composer expected something in return usually in the form of a gift of money.

In 1803, Beethoven dedicated his Op. 30 Violin Sonatas to the Russian tsar, Alexander I, whom he'd just been introduced to by the Russian ambassador, Count Razumovsky (who would soon be asking for three new string quartets for his house musicians). Nobody calls these the “Alexander Sonatas.” Beethoven simply anticipated a gift in return – if not cash, perhaps a ring or a jeweled snuff box which the composer could then sell or pawn. It seems crass, but how, then, did a composer like Beethoven – essentially a free-lancer – expect to pay his bills?

I've never understood why people think the Eroica is “about” Napoleon. Those Op. 30 Violin Sonatas are certainly not “about” Tsar Alexander I nor are those three string quartets “about” their namesake, Count Razumovsky, though his being Russian instigated the use of some Russian melodies in the first two.

And wasn't that what Beethoven was doing with his third symphony – initially dedicating it to Bonaparte, the First Consul of France, hoping that, with a positive enough response, he might find it worth his while to move to Paris and perhaps receive patronage from France's ruler.

1st Consul Bonaparte, 1801
Certainly, it's of a grand scale, suitable for a musical depiction of the great revolutionary leader of the French. Remember the epic style of painting that was a hallmark of French style following the Revolution, especially the grandeur of Jacques-Louis David whose portrait of Bonaparte, then First Consul, crossing the Alps in 1801 (see right), edifies the hero on the level with Hannibal – not to forget the official portrait of Napoleon's coronation completed about two years after the fact, harking back to the grandeur that was Rome.

A “Revolutionary Piano Sonata” as had been suggested by the publisher Hoffmeister in 1798 wasn't going to cut it, nor, for that matter, would an ordinary Haydnesque symphony. No, it would have to be something on a scale unheard of in Vienna at the time, something immense – something, like the painting equating him with Hannibal (who, it was overlooked, lost the war when he invaded Italy with his elephants, by the way), something epic - something French: the musical equivalent of a painting by David!

People could hear the stature of the general in this dynamic and highly dramatic music, in the sheer scope of the piece, unlike any symphony written before – as people wrote after first hearing the piece, imagining great armies marching across battlefields and so on.

But was that what Beethoven was envisioning when he wrote this music? A heroic portrait in music of the great general, Napoleon Bonaparte?

According to the famous title page – which was not “ripped in two” upon hearing the news of Napoleon's crowning himself Emperor – the text reads

Sinfonia Grande
Intitolata Bonaparte (erased so roughly as to leave a hole in the paper)
[1]804 im August
de[l] Sigr.
Louis van Beethoven
auf Bonaparte

The lines in Italian were written by a copyist (and the date, [1]804 August, added by another hand) and Beethoven's name Ludwig was styled, as he often did, in French as “Louis” – at other times he used “Luigi” instead.

But the German lines – “Written for Bonaparte” – were added in pencil by Beethoven himself and were not erased.

To make it more complicated, though, even before he had completed the score Beethoven indicated to his would-be publisher, through his student-secretary Ferdinand Ries, he had planned on dedicated the symphony to Bonaparte but this created a problem because Prince Lobkowitz offered to pay him a considerable fee for six-month's “exclusive usage” – ultimately, the symphony was performed privately several times at his palace before its official public premiere on April 7th, 1805 – and so he would give the dedication to Lobkowitz in honor of the fee but entitle the work “Bonaparte.”

By this time, Beethoven may have thought less of the idea of leaving Vienna for Paris. Even so, in August of 1804, three months after removing Bonaparte's name from the title page's second line, he wrote directly to his publisher describing what he was working on, including the Triple Concerto, some new piano sonatas and a new symphony.

“The title of the symphony is really Bonaparte.”

By the time the work was officially published, however, it was called “Sinfonia Eroica, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.”

Who Bonaparte had been in 1803 was different from the Napoleon who unleashed almost constant warfare on the rest of Europe for the next twelve years.

Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French in December, 1804, and then attacked and occupied the city of Vienna in September, 1805, before defeating them and their Russian allies at the Battle of Austerlitz that December.

It would hardly do to be the composer of a work bearing the name of Austria's enemy...

Still, in the autumn of 1808, Beethoven received an invitation from Jerome Bonaparte, youngest brother of Napoleon and newly named the King of Westphalia, created out of various German states with Kassel as its capital. It was a job offer – to become the royal court composer with a hefty salary. Jerome was intent on creating a great cultural center in his capital – the Brothers Grimm were already the royal librarians.

It was unrealistic for Beethoven to accept the position, given his by now anti-Bonapartist views, but he let it be known he was considering it. As a result, the Austrian emperor's youngest brother, the Archduke Rudolph (a student of Beethoven's), along with Prince Lobkowitz and Prince Kinski, guaranteed Beethoven a pension if he would stay in Vienna. He did.

But perhaps there's more to the “Hero” in this symphony than the name Bonaparte implies?

There is an old quote from Haydn which, at the moment, I can't verify or find, and which might just as well be one of those mythological details associated with Beethoven and his teacher.

It is used in the 2003 BBC film “Eroica,” set on the day the new symphony was first heard in a rehearsal at Prince Lobkowitz's – I'll get to this in my next post – in which Haydn, arriving late in the midst of the scherzo, tells his hosts afterwards,

“He's placed himself at the center of his work – he gives us a glimpse into his soul – I expect that's why it's so... noisy... but it is quite, quite new – the artist as hero – quite new... Everything is different from today.”

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continue reading Beethoven's Eroica: The Music & the Hero: Part 2....

- Dick Strawser

This essay is adapted from a series of posts written for the Harrisburg Symphony's first concert of the 2014-2015 Season, "Heroic Beethoven" which paired the 3rd Symphony with the 4th Piano Concerto (written the year after he completed the Eroica).