About the arts and ideas - on my novels and literature, music, and art

A new book about Beethoven gathers together (and completely rewrites and supplements) my blog posts on Beethoven into a short introduction to the composer, Ways of Hearing Beethoven, which I hope to see published. My novel The Fall of the Berlin Wall, completed a year ago, is about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist featured in my previous novel Hungry Generations, now fifteen years after those events. Five years ago, my 2015 novel, The Ash Tree, was published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it's about an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family.
There are three other novels of mine, which I would love to see published. One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962. Another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse, which I think would be of value to a conventional publisher. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a full rewriting and expansion of my earlier Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable) is my political novella about Israel and its reactions to the possibility of a war with Iran (with the fear that it will be a nuclear war).
[My blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Comment on the Armenian Genocide in The New York Review of Books

   In the December 9th issue of The New York Review of Books, the brilliant historian Max Hasting writes an essay entitled "The Turkish-German Jihad" in which he comments on the Armenian Genocide as follows: "One of Berlin's most egregious mistakes was its decision dramatically to accelerate investment and effort in the Baghdad railway in the midst of the struggle [of World War One]. In April 1915, an Armenian uprising against the Turks in eastern Anatolia - possibly assisted by the Russians - prompted ghastly reprisals, wholesale deportations of the Armenian people to Syria, Arabia, and Mesopotmia, and deaths variously estimated between 500,000 and two million."
   Hastings' operative phrase - "prompted ghastly reprisals" - neglects to acknowledge the role of racism in the slaughter and deportations of 1915. The genocide of Armenians was an act of racial cleansing, the tragic and horrifying culmination of two decades of racially-motivated assaults on Armenians, intent on destroying this Christian minority in Turkey.
   Hastings goes on to write that the Germans "furiously protested" on grouds that were "not humanitarian but brutally pragmatic...The Turks proved indifferent to German pleas: they were overwhelmingly preoccupied with removing a perceived strategic threat to their lines of communication with Syria and Arabia."
   Again, Hastings' key phrase - "removing a perceived strategic threat to their lines of communication" - fails to recognize the racial and religious prejudice at the core of Turkish "preoccupations," not to mention the massive - perhaps 'total' is the word - dimensions of this genocide, which began with the systematic arrest and the summary hanging or deportation of scores of Armenian community leaders in Istanbul (far removed from the railway to "Syria and Arabia") on April 24, 1915 and ended with the expunging of Armenians from Turkish life.
   While Hastings writes of the Turks' "attitude presaging that of some of Hitler's lieutenants toward the slaughter of the Jews almost thirty years later," even this characteristically understated assessment is antiseptic and again fails to find the words to acknowledge the disease of genocidal "racial cleansing" which afflicted Turkey and Germany in these two periods. It is unfortunate to encounter such a blinkered rendering of the historical record in Mr. Hastings' usually excellent writing, let alone in a publication and intellectual forum as ambitious as The Review.
N.B.: A novel of mine about the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide was published in 2015, the centenary of the Genocide. Its title is "The Ash Tree" and it portrays the lives of the family of a survivor, over half a century in America. A record of my reading the first chapter is on YouTube at  https://youtu.be/kkU5Pyx4BM8

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Alice, the lady in apartment 6

I must include this youtube link in the blog - Alice is a stirring and extraordinary person, enduring and always affirming. If she were not real, it would be our responsibility to imagine the possibility of her. In fact, I wish she were a part of the imagined world in my novel about pianists and composers living in Los Angeles after World War II, Hungry Generations (see September 5th blog entry for excerpt). There is more information about Alice Somer in the film's website (she was a pupil of the great pianist Arthur Schnabel; Kafka was a family friend; and then there are the events from the nineteen forties onward). Click on the flim link half way into the site: http://www.arttherapyblog.com/videos/alice-herz-sommer-dancing-under-the-gallows/.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Opening of "Conrad and Silence" - on Under Western Eyes

See Conrad Page for more of this essay.

Published in Slavic and East European Journal 45:2 (2001): 231-242.

Conrad and Silence:
The View of Russia from Under Western Eyes


In Under Western Eyes, Joseph Conrad—the English novelist of Polish origin—examines both the West’s images of Slavic life and simultaneously his own imagination of “the Slavic.” The contemporary Western views of Russia in particular are both implicated and illuminated by the novel’s deconstruction of a wide range of assumptions about that country. Conrad’s brilliant, challenging performance here is also one of the culminations of his deepest goal for fiction from Heart of Darkness in 1900 to this work finished a decade later. That goal is to envision human life through the lens of a pervasive, complex, and destabilizing perspectivism, from which both modernism and postmodernism can be seen to proceed—a perspectivism which relentlessly exposes and pursues the question of meaning in human life generally. In this way, the encompassing achievement of Under Western Eyes is to subject the novel’s images of the human to a searching examination and to resist any too easy humanistic recuperation of the imagined lives here. The novel’s still relevant imaginative subversions provoke and intentionally challenge an art made of words, a society based in language, for at its core, this novel’s vision of existence confronts us with the opposition between speech and silence, between meaningful language and its potential erasure by a society based in brutalizing manipulation, propagandistic media, and ruinous violence.

There is a related and even more immediate relevance of Conrad’s novel to con-temporary life, specifically to present-day Russia. The novel’s images of East and West echo and participate with the opposition between silence and speech, particularly speech which is interrogatory or coerced: it is this more specific achievement of Conrad’s which profoundly bears on our contemporary understanding of Russia, and we will turn to it first. I note initially that the paradoxical tensions in Under Western Eyes between speech and silence clearly have correspondences to Conrad’s childhood experience of Poland under Russian domination. After the novelist completed his work, he suffered a profound inner crisis and physical breakdown, for in that novel he reimagines conflicts at the center of his early experience from 1857 to 1874, when he left Poland for Marseilles.

Conrad’s critics and biographers—Fleishman, Hay, Karl, Najder, Said, and others—offer rich insights into the context and details of the writer’s crisis in 1909-10. Particularly Najder illuminates the profound alienation toward Russia felt by Conrad, whose Polish inheritance was opposed to the “Slavonic tradition” (358). As Conrad wrote in “The Crime of [Polish] Partition,” Poland should historically be associated not with Russia but with France as one of the true “centres of liberal ideals” in Europe (117). In his novel of 1910, Conrad confronted in fiction memories of when his family life was consumed by the subjection of Poland by Russia, when his father Apollo Korzeniowski—a patriot and gifted translator into Polish of Hugo, Shakespeare and much else—sacrificed on the altar of his revolt the family’s life, the childhood of his sickly son Joseph and the life of his wife, Eva, who died early in their exile to Russia; Apollo had been sent there in punishment for his political activism, his romantic dedication to agitating for Polish sovereignty. Later, as a British citizen and novelist, Conrad took as his last name the middle name his father gave him, marking himself with the mantle of the heroic figure from Polish romantic poetry, an emblem of his consciousness of Poland.

Five years before writing Under Western Eyes with its vision of human lives driven into silence and negation by Russian subjection, Conrad wrote “Autocracy and War,” the most passionate and delving of his essays about Russia, the Slavic world, and “the Polish problem.” In this essay of 1905, he calls our attention to Bismarck’s comment, “La Russie, c’est le neant!” Russia represents negation for Conrad; it was the region in which the human disappears into nothingness. Nothing “human...could grow” there, he writes; Russian autocracy “succeeded to nothing” and has no “historical future” (97). The force of negation embodied by its rule is expressed through not only its destructiveness toward Poland, but the destructiveness of its effects on all its victims, whether Polish or Russian. In the face of Russia’s “blind absolutism,” no “reform” is possible (96); only a self-defeating “rising of slaves” may occur, never “a revolution fruitful of moral consequences for humanity” (102), for such absolute tyranny is answerable only by absolute, self-destructive opposition, negation by self-negation, in an exfoliating pattern infecting the human universe with the sense of nothingness, of the falsity of all human endeavor. In addition, “every mental activity” is “tainted” there by a Pan-Slavism with its “assertion of purity and holiness” (98). The idea of negation—“le néant”—is finally too tame an indictment of Russia, Conrad asserts, for the word savors of infinity, whereas Russian absolutism tastes of the abyss and swallows the human whole (100). This sense of Russia as a ruinous site, of a failed and negated society has characterized the Western view from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century.

In such a ruined society, communication itself is seen to be negated, all acts of questioning become hobbled or corrupt, and all answers driven into silence. Language becomes invalidated. For Conrad, Polish—the language of his original culture—had been subjected to a deforming and decisive trauma, so he sought alternative languages, first like so many other Poles in French, and finally English. But in writing this novel of Russia and its impact on human lives, Conrad had to seek new strategies in the language of English fiction to explore the negative universe of silenced lives, and despite his often expressed revulsion for Dostoyevsky, he modeled that part of Under Western Eyes based in a confessional journal on the Russian’s use of deeply searching inside views, his tormented voicings of inner struggle, and his openness to the dark region of psychic suffering; even Conrad’s narrative structure is linked to that of Crime and Punishment, specifically to its parallel action of crime compounded with moral isolation, then extended public as well as private self- interrogation, provisional and protracted upwellings of confession, finally expiation. To note this debt is, however, again to be reminded of the Polish émigré’s agonized crisis in writing his novel during 1909-10, for Dostoyevsky’s vision was—to Conrad—complicit with the Slavic obliteration of humanity and culture Russia represents for him. Among Russian writers, Conrad preferred the “non-Russian” “lucidity” and humanism of Turgenev’s achievement in rendering the “perplexed lives” of “oppressed and oppressors” in Russia; so he writes in an essay of appreciation for that most Flaubertian of Russian writers, admiring his avoidance of Dostoyevskian “extremity” and his refusal to turn his characters into “strange beasts in a menagerie or damned souls knocking themselves to pieces in the stuffy darkness of mystical contradictions” (46-7).

Yet to read Under Western Eyes is to encounter just such “damned souls” and “strange beasts.” Razumov, its focal character, is the nearly identity-less illegitimate son of vague ‘noble’ connection; even before he plunges into suffering, we find him profoundly isolated and abjectly dependent on the covert support of his aristocratic protector, as he attends university in St. Petersburg. Conrad appropriates the Dostoyevskian model in creating Razumov and his confessional journal, though the novelist’s mirroring of such a model is ironic and critical. Conrad’s Russian hero possesses a coolly self-protective “English” manner; he is an orphan, himself ironic and temperamentally detached. A vaguely liberal-minded student, he is intent on ‘creating himself’ as a professor, and for the contemporary reader a subversive mirroring is achieved, since—in the English-speaking world—many of the novel’s readers are university students and scholars. (As I photocopied this page, the machine provided by the Administration to the Department obliterated all but the following sentence: Possessing a mediocre soul and an adequate intellect, Razumov planned to become an academic bureaucrat serving what he rationalized to be the necessary order of the current system. Conrad’s text holds the mirror up to interrogate the possibility of betrayal within any academic who would read and face Razumov’s fate.)

The fate of this “damned soul” is to be cut off from origins; initially detached from life and unformed as a human being, he can identify himself with nothing but the abstract patrimony of autocratic Russia; “I am it!” he says at a key moment (148). His detached and uncreated quality of mind is mistaken for profound sympathy by a revolutionary fellow student, Victor Haldin, whose being is utterly focussed on opposition to Russia’s absolute tyranny. Haldin assassinates the head of the Czar’s “notorious Repressive Commission,” he who had written that “‘God was the Autocrat of the Universe’” (8). Haldin arrives then in ill-conceived flight at his acquaintance’s apartment. Razumov is instantly aware that any future career has been obliterated by the suspicion which Haldin’s visit will arouse. In despair about this erasure of his future, he seeks out his protector, Prince K--, who in turn consults with one General T--. With his “goggle-eyes,” the General embodies “the power of autocracy, grotesque and terrible,...the incarnate suspicion, the incarnate anger, the incarnate ruthlessness” (61-2). The two men turn Razumov’s fate over to Councilor Mikulin, in charge of ‘undercover’ work. The Councilor interrogates him and finally appropriates Razumov for his own purposes, and this completes the job of erasing the young man.

Conrad’s creations—Haldin with his fate sealed and Razumov with his tortured and disappearing sense of existence—are just such “damned souls” as Conrad protested against in Dostoyevsky; Razumov exists from then on in the moral isolation arising from both his betrayal of Haldin and the destroyed, destructive identity the establishment offers him—as we find out by novel’s end: the identity of a spy working, exiled from Russia, among Geneva’s Russian émigrés (a community which included Lenin before his journey to the Finland Station). The pressure of his moral solitude increases as he faces experiences which constitute “the revenge of the unknown” (239), intimacies at least of communication particularly with the Russian women he is expected to betray in Geneva: Haldin’s mother and his sister Natalia and a brilliant Russian feminist revolutionary Sophia Antonovna. It is of course Natalia Haldin who provides the epigram on the novel’s title page: “I would take liberty from any hand as a hungry man would snatch a piece of bread” (97). After a series of provisional and deceptive self-disclosures, Razumov finally confesses his betrayal to Natalia and then to the community at large; ironically, then, one of the “strange beasts” among them—appropriately a secret police counterspy—deafens Razumov’s ears: he will live from then on in a physical silence enacting the moral and societal silence already present in his life.

[And here's an Amazon link to this great novel: Under Western Eyes . Conrad is a powerful influence on my own novel about political extremity - my "nuclear fable" about Israel - here's an Amazon link to that novel  Acts of Terror and Contrition: A Nuclear Fable .]

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some great performances of Beethoven's last piano sonatas and other music in HUNGRY GENERATIONS

Please see my latest posts on Beethoven and four June 2011 posts about modern music and recommended performances. Also, Beethoven appears as a character in my novel "Hungry Generations" (about the friendship between a young composer in L.A. and a great emigre virtuoso pianist in the early 70s) - an excerpt is in one of my early blog posts.

Piano Sonata No. 29 in B Flat Major (Rudolf Serkin playing the Hammerklavier Sonata);
Beethoven: Piano Works, Vol. 3 (Arthur Schnabel playing the Hammerklavier sonata); also there is Sviatoslav Richter's performance of the Hammerklavier on Praga (not the inferior alternative recordings).

For additional recommendations, look at my recent "modern music" posts 23-25. The following recordings of more modern music, along with the Beethoven below, are important to my novel Hungry Generations.
Murray Perahia Performs Béla Bartók (Piano Sonata; Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs; Suite; Out of Doors; Sonata for 2 pianos & 2 percussion) (Murray Perahia playing Bartok's Sonata)
Stravinsky: Serenade In A, Sonata / Lieberson: Bagatelles / Wolpe: Pastorale, Form IV ("Broken Sequences"), Four Studies on Basic Rows, IV: Passacaglia (Peter Serkin playing Stravinsky's Sonata)
Glenn Gould Plays Schoenberg, Berg, Webern (Gould playing Schoenberg's Suite, op. 25, etc.)
Also: Beethoven: The Last 3 Piano Sonatas, Nos. 30-32 (Rudolf Serkin playing the late sonatas)
Richter the Master, Vol. 1: Beethoven - Piano Sonatas (Sviatoslav Richter playing the late sonatas)
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor Op. 111 (Arthur Schnabel playing the last piano sonata)

Let me add a few more recordings of music important for my novel "Hungry Generations." There is Penderewski's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima: http://www.amazon.com/Penderecki-Anaklasis-Threnody-etc-Krzysztof/dp/B000002S5H/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1296338836&sr=1-1. Also, Zimmermann's piano works: http://www.amazon.com/Zimmermann-Piano-Works-Tony-Wirtz/dp/B000CCS9B8/ref=sr_1_4?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1296339063&sr=1-4.

My novel's main character the aging pianist Alexander Petrov achieves some incredible effects in his performances, particularly of Schoenberg, who is one of 'the three bald geniuses' haunting the other main (and younger) character Jack Weinstein's imagination (along with Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok). The significant effects achieved by the playing of the novel's pianist Petrov are suggested by, among others, Vladimir Horowitz's incredible performances (for example, he recorded the Scriabin Sonata #3, which the son Joseph Petrov performs in the novel: http://www.amazon.com/Horowitz-Plays-Scriabin-Alexander/dp/B0000CF325/ref=sr_1_2?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1296340283&sr=1-2 or http://www.amazon.com/Horowitz-Plays-Scriabin-Alexander/dp/B000003EOZ/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1296340283&sr=1-1, which contains the third sonata). Similarly, there is Sviatoslav Richter's powerful performance, for example, of Scriabin, Debussy, and Prokofiev (with a range of sound from immensely forceful to terrifically gentle, a range akin to that imagined for Sasha Petrov): http://www.amazon.com/Scriabin-Debussy-Prokofiev-Sviatoslav-Richter/dp/B00000E3ZX/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1296340158&sr=1-5

Finally, the first recording I heard of Beethoven's late sonatas was by Egon Petri: http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Sonatas-Egon-Petri-Recital/dp/B00005Q636/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1296339508&sr=1-1

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pathological States - a novel - first chapter (novel revised - 2016-7)

I'm glad that now over seven thousand of you have connected to this blog post, and it would be wonderful if any one of you know of, or have contact with, a publisher (or agent) who might be interested in a novel like this one; if so, or in any case, please do leave a comment, perhaps about what draws you to this post, or email me at danielcmelnick@gmail.com.
--a novel in the form of a family memoir

“It is strange. If you talk to the good gentleman about anything that does not touch on his madness, far from talking nonsense, he speaks very rationally and shows a completely clear and calm understanding.”
—Cervantes, Don Quixote

Part One: Phlegmatic 3
i. Jupiter or Neptune 4
ii. Phlegm and Torpor 23
iii. Sandra Perez Weisberg 36
iv. A Sac Within A Sac 48

Part Two: Choleric 57
i. Elsinore 58
ii. A Bilious Brew 74
iii. Albert Weisberg 92
iv. A Sinister Hammering 109

Part Three: Melancholic 119
i. Montecito 120
ii. A Black Mood 135
iii. Gene Weisberg 148
iv. The Chemistry of the Brain 171

Part Four: Sanguine 181
i. Cuba 182
ii. A Bloody Mess 195
iii. Dr. Morris Weisberg 208
iv. Coda 223

             The best way to put yourself in a novel, a wise friend once told me, is to leave yourself out. Not only have I removed myself here, but this prologue also leaves out my hero, spry but aging as he is, Dr. Morris Weisberg, pathologist and sometime Chief of Laboratory. Here, instead, you are to meet an antagonist, Dr. Bill Smith, who will appear again later but significantly at the Montecito Veterans Hospital, located on the northern rim of Los Angeles in the desiccated hills some miles from suburban Northridge. Of course, these designations – hero or antagonist – are provisional, even questionable, and you must exercise your inalienable right as reader to revise and even to reverse them. For example, it would be possible to present Dr. Smith as a wielder of knife and scalpel, a slayer of disease, a marbled statue of power and grandeur.
            In the event, however, the surgeon - other than being a drunk - seemed perfectly ordinary: not too short, nor too tall, and not too fat, though with a round face which was sometimes clouded, for his mouth could appear disapproving, and his brown eyes were somewhat assessive behind corrective lenses. On this June morning, dressed in his surgical garb, he wiggled his stiff fingers into latex gloves and felt how recalcitrant they were as he forced them in. Last night had been what he called a long, hard night, but let bygones be bygones, he thought. Smiling and a bit bleary, he strode confidently into the brightly lit surgical theater. He would perform an exploratory, which he invariably enjoyed.
            The poor girl was dying, but now prepped and anaesthetized, she was stretched out on the operating table.
            “Good morning, Dr. Smith,” the nurses said as did the new anesthesiologist, Dr. Maury – he was a handsome man; swarthy was the term. The line of his strong neck led down to broad shoulders and what looked to be a lean, fine physique below. Dr. Maury smiled politely at him, and Dr. Smith immediately turned to look at what was on the menu today.
            The skin of the abdomen was bared before him as he picked up the scalpel with his stiffened fingers. Perhaps he would give her a few months more of life, he thought as he automatically cut through flesh, fat, and muscle. His nurse placed clamps and a drain so no profusion of blood would well in the cavity. At its bottom, there it was, the pancreas riddled with cancer. Searching for spreading metastases in liver and spleen, his rough fingers pushed the pancreas aside.
            The heart monitor began irregularly to beep, and it stopped.
            “Dr. Smith, her heart has…”
            A slight tremor convulsed the body on the table, and Dr. Smith pulled his bloody gloved hands away.
            “Adrenaline. Syringe,” he said as he glanced about, numb and unsteady. Dr. Maury was staring alarmed at him.

            He plunged the needle into the heart. Immediately, he knew it had missed its target, and he lifted, shifted, and plunged it once more into the heart’s chamber.

                                                Part One: Phlegmatic
Jupiter or Neptune

2-20-62: John Glenn—riding in Mercury-Atlas capsule—is first American to orbit Earth.

             Imagine we are now giant doctors, the size of Jupiter or perhaps Neptune, and that we had at our disposal the necessary massive instruments for magnification. We would direct them at the Earth, and each of us would peer through our lens at the continental rim of the western United States, where the Pacific surges. There we would behold a rectangular cell, one among many, a hundred feet wide by a hundred-fifty deep, the lot sited forty miles east of the lapping ocean. The wintry clouds would part like receding leukocytes to display a carefully measured suburban nucleus, and we would wonder whether the slight trembling we all observed were due to some pathological disturbance in the California landscape or to the conditions of our gaze, perhaps the imperfection of our device. In any case, before us within that suburban cell on Simshaw Avenue in Southern California, we see the semblance of persons. They are like chromosomal strands of life (are these viruses?), like nucleic acids, yes, a nuclear family within the cell lot. They are the home's inhabitants, but silent: from our electric and celestial distance, we cannot hear the whispers they exchange or the beautiful string sounds vibrating from the curved hollow boxes of wood three of them hold in their hands and a fourth between her legs.
            To hear them, let’s try a new vantage point.
            In our city, there stood a house—oddly ramshackle, yet recently built and surrounded by newly planted trees—a house owned and occupied by the Weisberg family, or rather now only by the doctor and the doctor's wife (the two sons currently residing in France and in a Redondo beach duplex, respectively). In our family’s neighborhood, Dr. Weisberg was especially respected for the fact that he never ventured from his house without a tie, a white shirt, and usually a suit coat to boot. This familiar uniform earned him, he thought, respect at work, though in fact his overly polite manner and rather tensely formal appearance were rebuked by some as peculiarly patronizing and European. It must be said, at the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, that the doctor’s co-workers – particularly his Hospital Director – would soon be the source of a rather dire crisis; in a few months, Dr. Weisberg would dissect the corpse of an otherwise healthy Caucasian female on the autopsy table, only to discover that her surgeon had effectively killed her. Whether the act was inadvertent or not, the result was the same: death. The resourceful pathologist would attempt to confront the crisis in his characteristic manner, at once phobic and quixotic.
            To resume our story, it was winter here in Northridge; hence deciduous trees lacked leaves, garden beds lacked extensive blooms, and the heavens were without their wide sun-white canopy of light. From horizon to horizon, there were high, gray, rainless clouds. It was the evening of February 28, 1962, and music wafted from the Weisberg windows. Yes, there was sound, and it could be heard even by neighbors across the street, faintly but distinctly. Beethoven, yes, it must be, only odd—not the big racing momentum and climaxes of a Napoleon symphony, but the experimental and transcendent coherence of a late work.
            Morris—such was Dr. Weisberg's first name—sat in his living room, with windows open to the sixty-five degree evening stillness, and in his hands he gripped and played a violin with a bow of horsehair and wood. He was the second violinist, playing the lento variations Beethoven had composed one hundred thirty six years earlier, in the epochal year of 1826. With gratitude and wonder, Morris played his part in the grave flow of sound, transcendent though imperfect in this performance. To his right, the first violin was played by Michael Kramer; then, kitty-corner from Morris—a tall two hundred watt lamp centrally placed between them—sat Joan Ruggles, the blonde violist with her one eye, the other glass. To Morris's left sat a burly cellist with large hands, Edith Lowenstein. The music, quite slow, quietly sang. Its perfectly balanced melody was a sort of hymn, and this hymning core was steadily present throughout the movement, always underpinning each variation, no matter how desperate, broken, reduced to only the fewest two or three tones or, as now, elevated to the heights where the hymn's vaulted grandeur was rung round with ecstatic wreaths of soprano sound, where Michael Kramer's high violin tones lived a separate, inspired life while just below, Morris's second violin played a sort of lullaby, a companionable hum, which quieted as the movement drew to its close.
            There was silence, respectful, punctuated by Edith’s coughing into her large hands and Michael’s turning a tuning peg to sharpen his E.
            Then the stark, mysterious introduction to the last movement of Beethoven's last quartet (the sixteenth, written a few months before his death from massive liver failure). The strings played in unison, asking the question Beethoven had penned above the notes:
            Must it be?
            It must be! So answered everyone, as the movement's main melody flew out in fine form. Episode after episode, affirming or questioning, anxious or insouciant, were all punctuated by the recurrent phrase: It must be (and each time, among the listeners, someone's hand gave three supportive slaps to a chairarm). Always the quartet's happysad, sadhappy voice declared that life, even amid death, keeps leaping forth, keeps on rolling and rollicking, life and love, yes, love despite everything: It must be.
            “Beau-tee-ful, just beautiful,” Daisy Kramer said, from the couch, a smile full of teeth blossoming in her face. (Morris saw that his Sandra sat nowhere in the room; where was she?)
            “Hear, hear,” Dr. Lowenstein said from an armchair, next to Daisy; he sounded as if he were a backbencher encouraging a fellow dissenter. It had been Max Lowenstein's hand which rapped his chairarm in time to each it must be.
            Morris Weisberg, his violin and bow carefully balanced on his lap, laced his fingers together it seemed in prayer. “Wonderful music,” he said to Michael Kramer, who smiled back at the doctor's wide eyes gazing from hooded brows and a long, thin, wondering and appreciative face. Before they'd begun, Morris had reached to hold Michael's left hand, and clinically but gently he traced the lines of bone and sinew, saying to the first violinist: “It amazes me, such extraordinary small muscle development.”
            Now Morris's own less amazing yet serviceable hands were woven together in what looked like prayer. Each month Michael Kramer (a gifted professional violinist, and a knight among chamber players) found time to play with this group of amateurs, Dr. Weisberg's friends Joan Ruggles (violist tonight and accountant by day) and Edith Lowenstein (Mrs. Dr. Max Lowenstein in life, cellist in art) and last but not least Dr. Morris Weisberg himself (pathologist and chief of laboratory in life, otherwise second fiddle).
            Edith Lowenstein, a big athletic woman, leaned to lay down her cello and then rose to stretch. “That was quite a workout,” she said to all and sundry. “Soon you'll be competing with Isaac Stern,” she directed her joke to Kramer, who raised his eyebrows. Forty year old Kramer, who had been a concertmaster of the Columbia Symphony for Bruno Walter's magnificent recordings of 1959-61, who had sat in with the Budapest String Quartet on their South American tour (trying out for second fiddle to replace Gorodetsky), who only played with these amateurs out of love for Morris Weisberg—yes, this Kramer was being mocked by Edith, the cellist.
            Morris sensed some distress, and he awoke from his vague meditation. “Dear Edith, there should be no competition in such matters. Let's just be grateful such music exists.”
            “I'm grateful, Morris; it's just that I think my friend Isaac better watch his backside.” Edith had been a family friend of the Sterns, when she lived in San Francisco and Isaac was then a teenager taking lessons from Nathan Blinder. “Michael is catching up!”
            “It's not a race,” Michael said.
            “Dear Edith, listen to me, you mustn't,” Morris said. “You mustn't speak of competing. What we played is transcendent music, pure and simple.”
            “Okay, okay,” she said, and turned with a big smile to Joan Ruggles, slight and blond. “Are you feeling transcendent this evening, Joan?”
            “Oh yes, my dear,” Joan said, lowering her voice to Morris's pitch and emphasis. “I'm feeling positively transcendent.” Her face seemed oddly divided, the glass eye immobile on the left, the living right eye animated with laughter, a flashing blue orb.
            “You do look radiant tonight,” Morris said, smiling his compliment to Joan, and the two women burst into laughter.
            Joan Ruggles, her functioning eye beginning to tear from laughing, thought back for a moment to a night of drunken stupor after her divorce, when she walked into the metal edge of her upper kitchen cabinet door, carelessly left open. Sudden blinding pain, blood on her face, her stomach churning to the brim, her lungs suffocating, hysteria in her heart, confusion in her brain. Only Morris's phone number came to mind. “Morris,” she had screamed into the line, “help me, help me.” And he had told her what to do, directing her, reassuring her, hanging up to dial an ambulance, meeting her at the hospital forty minutes away to the southeast corner of the Valley. Now she laughed, with a sort of glee that he had helped and that, more or rather less intact but sober now, she lived on to tease him this evening.
            “Oh yes, Morris,” she said, irony in her voice, “I'm positively radiant!” She unwittingly gestured with the hand holding her viola bow to the left side of her face. Then she laid her bow by the viola in its case and walked with the other musicians and listeners out of the living room, through the central hall to the dining room, and up to a table filled with abundant appetizers, drinks, and desserts.
            Morris stayed behind. Putting his violin and bow in the case at his feet by his chair, he got up and felt a bit light-headed, though only for a moment. He walked around the circle of stands, retrieving the sheet music on them. Carefully he put the four parts of Beethoven's last quartet—It Must Be, opus 135 in F major—into its outer sheaf. The fine smell of the paper, decades old, was in his nostrils. The ream of music had a heft and thickness in his hand, with the tens of thousands of coded notes scattered like stars through the myriad sheets: it was another dimension into which they had stepped for half an hour. Sheaf in hand, he moved toward the wooden shelves built into the wall at the end of the room, and he suddenly found he could not slow his pace. The room began to tilt. His shoulder bounced against the wooden shelves, and his free hand grabbed one to right himself. For several seconds, he stood absolutely still. His body had of its own animal volition plunged forward; of course, the body had its own surfaces and depths, and this symptom may have been associated with a deeper condition, perhaps the sporadic cough besetting him lately. The vertigo subsided. Though his shoulder ached a bit, he felt he was back to normal, and he placed the sheaf he held of music on the shelf at the end of the row of Beethoven quartets.
            Manuscripts had been on Morris's mind all day, for he was facing the fact that he had not yet completed his magnum opus, had not even truly begun, and yet for what did he live? To discover something of value, to make a difference for future understanding, to leave behind his contribution. How old was Dr. Jaffe, his finest professor when he was chief Pathology resident at Cook County General in Chicago, when he died—forty-nine? And here Morris was, already sixty! Suddenly he recalled the first time he had observed Dr. Jaffe conduct an autopsy, or perhaps it was the first time he observed an autopsy forty years ago. At the base of the amphitheater, a corpse was stretched under the sheet. The professor pulled back the covering and began to speak a litany of description. The features of the naked man were noted with an attentive eye to every detail of size and surface: the skin—mottled or pallid, taught or slack—and the external organs, from the bald pate to the drooping genitals to the swollen, calloused feet. Another cloth was pulled back to unveil several, carefully enumerated instruments: the seven-inch knife, the vibratory saw, the scalpels and scissors, the forceps and chisel, the pump and hose, the basins and gloves. The doctor held up the knife and inserted it into the man, slitting him open from chest through belly to just above the pubic hair and then from nipple to nipple. The peeling layers of skin and fat were exposed, and liquid seeped out and into the table drain. All the while, with breathtaking care and precision, the professor narrated what he did.
            Now Morris had become the professor and the Chief of Laboratory, and he had done so many autopsies, he had not realized how many he would perform. A new job offer—not to be Laboratory Chief, but Head of Research in Pathology—had come from the U.S. government research installation at Oak Ridge in Tennessee. So last August he and Sandra had taken a long, leisurely trip, driving across the country to visit friends, old haunts, and finally to interview at Oak Ridge. If truth be told, his current position did not altogether please him (and particularly his smarmy and politic Hospital Director); he had let it be known in certain circles that he was open to an alternative. The call had issued—rather late in his career—from the Institute for Nuclear Studies and, amassed behind it, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the combined forces of American Intelligence—for the FBI had even given him a security clearance for Oak Ridge (despite fifteen years ago at the dawn of the McCarthy era, his having with some trepidation signed Linus Pauling's Stockholm petition, opposing the use, testing, and proliferation of nuclear weapons). The official written offer had been delivered by courier; with the letter had come a document which had disturbed him: the Oak Ridge Report on Acute Radiation Syndrome in American Nuclear Accidents—from the Manhattan Project to the Y-12 accident a few years ago. For Morris's eyes only. He had needed time to make up his mind, however, more than time.
Last August, when he toured the round-domed research facility with its sealed insularity, he had realized irrevocably that he was a clinical pathologist and not only an academic researcher; he could never relinquish his daily confrontation with death, the histological diagnosis of the body’s struggle against it, and the autopsy’s revelation of its causes. As well, he had been repulsed by the monomaniacal faith in technology on the part of the Oak Ridge Director with his team of scientists: as if studying the cellular effects of acute radiation poisoning was merely a step toward perfecting the technology rather than the study and exposure of the nuclear horror, of skin burned and peeling off the body, roasted flesh falling from the bone, an eternity of birth defects and mutant genes. It was that same blind faith in technology—whether to create or destroy—which Morris saw at work in so much of his society: as if weaponry alone could prevail against Cuba, or in the skirmishes lately in Vietnam, or in the confrontation at the new Berlin Wall, with each side's nuclear missiles bristling just miles or it seemed yards from each other; most recently, there was the criminal stupidity of the atmospheric nuclear testing, one just a month ago—a 50 megaton H bomb in Russia, answering a similar test in the U.S. It was not merely the billion pound explosive force, but the radiation loosed lethally into air by the fools.
            That August, Morris refused the call from Oak Ridge. Afterwards, he and Sandra had driven north from Tennessee to visit their Cleveland friends—Julius Weinstein, the fine cellist, and his effervescent wife, Sophie, and their son, Jack (who was so much like the Weisbergs' sons, sullen, with Elvis sideburns and music of all types blaring from his bedroom record player).
            Then, driving toward Chicago on the trip home, they stopped for lunch in Toledo, a big dusty town on Lake Erie's western rim; after lunch, Morris had wandered down the main street into a nearby used book shop specializing in medical texts, and there on a backroom shelf he had found the title “Pathological Conferences” by R. B. Jaffe, M.D. Morris's breathing stopped at the sight of the words and then the photo on page one: the bald, intent, plump, brilliant face of his teacher, Robert Benjamin (yes, Benjamin, Morris’s father's name) Jaffe, 1888-1937. Gulping for breath, he leafed through the browning pages. Starting on page 1074 and thereafter for the final hundred pages, the dialogue of each Thursday afternoon in 1937 was reproduced between himself—Dr. Morris Weisberg, Chief Resident in Pathology—and Dr. R. B. Jaffe, Director of Laboratories at Cook County Hospital. First came a page of Morris's account of the initial facts for each case (“this patient came to a sudden and dramatic end by a profuse hemoptysis; she was nineteen year old girl who...”) and then Dr. Jaffe's magisterial report of the autopsy findings (“the patient was a well-nourished and well-built woman from whose mouth and nose much blood was exuding; the left pleural cavity was completely obliterated by...”). The last conference had taken place on December 16th (my god, it had been Beethoven's birthday). The eminent clinician had conducted his usual revelation and on the 17th had dropped dead of a cardiac infarction. Morris was not allowed to assist at the autopsy: no students had been given leave to gut and saw their teacher's corpse.
            Morris bought the aging volume in Toledo, and over these last six months had re-read the book for evidence of the voice he had and the life he had led in the thirties in Chicago, for clues as to why in the ensuing years no hefty volume—say, a histological study of cancer—had emerged from his pen; all his thoughts (stray, illuminating, furtive, penetrating), why had he not collected them into a sustained discourse?
            Manuscripts—both existent and non-existent—were on Morris's mind, then, as he shelved Beethoven's opus 135 between the opus 133 Grosse Fuge and Schubert's a-minor quartet.
            “Where are you keeping yourself!” Sandra Weisberg said from the entrance to the living room.
            “Where have you been, Sandra?” Morris asked in response. He looked up from the shelf of chamber music, and there she was, walking toward him and still wearing the dress he had objected to before their guests arrived. He had been instinctively repelled by its pattern. The enemy had manifested itself in a woolen shroud obscuring his wife's body: from out of a blueblack ground of Azocarmine dye signaled the bright Tetrazolium blue blots of squamous cell carcinoma, each with giant tentacled arms revolving around a dense blue nucleus. The cancer enveloped Sandra, covering her breasts, her stomach, her precious thighs. “Remove that dress at once, Sandra. You must not wear it.” And he had even reached to her back and begun to fumble with her zipper, urgently attacking the problem. She had wrested herself away. “Why? Why must I change my dress?”
            “Morris, your guests are missing you. Come have a bite to eat; please, come,” Sandra said to him now. With her fine, light brown hair (the gray magically gone), her smooth, plump, olive skin, and her short ample Mediterranean body, she smiled at him and gestured for him to come join the group.
            “Yes, dear,” he said placidly and followed. She had been right about the knit dress of merino lamb's wool. What had possessed him? He had mistaken its print for a cancer's stained microscopic image. Yes, it was merely a wool dress, and the print was in fact a beautiful, abstract, flowing, floating pattern, like beautiful blue windmills cartwheeling on a dark horizon.
            Morris followed her across the wide, modern, glass-roofed central hall, which opened to the living room, the hallway to bedrooms, the front door, the glass door to the backyard, and the noisy dining room, which he entered. Everyone talked as if in a fever, the voices over-loud, happy and serious, teasing and earnest. Everyone felt heightened by the proximity of the music played in the immediate past and to be played in the near future.
Sandra watched her husband move to the laden table and fix himself a small plate of creamy clam dip and an open-faced rye bread sandwich of buttery chicken liver. His metabolism was phenomenal, his cholesterol fine, his head of black hair still full and shiny as a twenty year old's. He was a prince of health, her wiry husband. Though she had noticed a slight dry cough lately; also, his light Ashkenazi skin was especially pale. “A natural,” he would call her, “a brilliantly intuitive diagnostician: Mrs. Dr. Weisberg.” Her brilliant prince, rugged in stamina, maniacal in metabolism, could her prince be ill? Of course, there had been no sign of slack at dinner, when he practically ripped her dress from her body. “Why? Why must I change my dress?” she pleaded. “You have no understanding of these matters, Sandra,” he had said coldly; “it's a medical concern.” Finally she realized what his concern was, and she cried out: “Who is your wife? Medicine is! No, not your wife. She is your mistress.” He had winced at that. “Your mistress, yes, and must I, your wife, always take orders from your mistress!” In silence, they had sat down to have a snack of cold roast beef; as usual, he had refused to carve the slab of peppery meat, so kin was it to flesh. As they ate, he had mumbled across the kitchen table where they sat: “I think there's a severe case of the meanies going around this house.”
            “I feel sorry for Van Doren,” Edith Lowenstein was speaking to Sandra, who had not realized it.
            “Father or son?” Sandra asked.
            “Why, the son, of course. To grow up with such pressure from a hoity-toity father. Who could live up to the expectations of a Mark Van Doren! Poor Charles, and then to be offered the blandishments of the Sixty Four Thousand Dollar Question.”
            “Blandishments, shlamdishments,” Daisy Kramer interrupted, her bright and generous set of teeth decorated with crumbs from the brownie she ate—it's delicious, she'd said, brimming. “I feel sorry for the father. For a fine man like that to have a son convicted of such deceit and now going to prison...”
            Sandra looked from one woman to the other, smiling her assent to each, divided in sympathy between Mark and Charles. Yes, thievery had occurred, and deceit. Of course, fakery and deception were what television was all about, according to Morris. He disapproved when she watched any of it, even the news, let alone The Sixty Four Thousand Dollar Question. But who were these people anyway, the MC, the television producers, that young light bulb, and the old ivy-league professor? Everyone was maintaining such an image. Where was reality?
            “It all seems so unreal,” she said. “Let's judge gently—both the father and the son. Because it's a question, what is just in this situation, don't you think, Edith?”
            “I should say so. After all, that kind of money...” she went on, and Sandra thought of how kind Edith had been to them over the years, in her rough and tumble way. They met her through Sandra's sister, Teresa, who had been Edith's violinist friend during her San Francisco years. Poor Teresa, living alone now in her apartment far out on Clement toward the Pacific. Sandra must visit her soon.
            “I have something I want to give you,” Michael Kramer said to Morris.
            “You do?” the doctor said, staring expectantly at the violinist, twenty years his junior. “I should give you gifts, not you me. I'm so grateful you play with us.”
            Michael—balding and heavy, wearing a bulky brown sweater, scuffed shoes, and carefully pressed black pants—handed Morris a flat cardboard record album. The words Walter and Brahms' Second were emblazoned in red and white over silver.
            “I told you about those sessions in '59.”
            “Of course. You played a tape of it for me, on your reel to reel—three years ago, yet hearing your solo on the Adagio, it's like yesterday. Your phrasing, perfect, like breathing. Remind me again how Walter chose you to be concert master.”
            “There was a competition; it was me or Israel Baker,” Michael said, smiling, with a glint of pride in his eyes, mouth, voice. “Like a tournament,” he explained, as if he were a son reporting what he accomplished to a father. Yes, like a son, Morris thought, and a pang of feeling jolted him, inside, pleasure and pain combined. Albert, his true son, had also played the violin and possessed a gift of tone miraculously like Michael's, a beauty of sound completely independent of any hollow of wood his hands held. But Albert, with his wondrous potential, had stopped playing in college, and on his twenty-first birthday last May, he had sold his violin at an incredible loss, the Amati copy Morris had bought him when he was seventeen. With the money, Albert had sailed on the Queen Mary to Europe. Such distress Morris had felt, and there was more to come, though at the moment the doctor could not foresee that both Albert and Gene would be returning home and that filial rage and resentment, pain and breakdown, would soon descend.
            Morris coughed now. He felt a bit feverish, and there was an amorphous, intermittent pain not in his shoulder but in his chest, just a slight ache but worth examining in greater detail.
            “You know, Michael, I think I need a bit of fresh air,” he said, and the violinist looked concerned. “It's nothing. Nothing to worry about,” Morris said in a chipper voice, ruling out any seriousness of ills or distemper.
            Perhaps the trouble was having children later in life. Both of his sons seemed unhappy, though both were physically sound (despite Gene's asthma and Albert's tendency toward obesity, sinusitis, and nose-bleeds). Gene, his elder son, was given occasionally to sudden rages, and whenever he visited an onslaught was always possible. Even as a child, stubbornness and tantrums had erupted in him. All the same, though, he was not as troubled as Albert—or as gifted. Certainly not dull, only a little literal-minded, Gene was a photographer for the record industry, with pretensions to artistic expression. A few years ago, he had gotten married—when he was twenty-two: too young. (Morris himself had waited until he was almost thirty and already a resident in Pathology.) What a beauty Gene’s wife was, though. Deborah of the dark and flowing hair, perceptive and polite, sharper than Gene, and the true breadwinner, as far as Morris could tell; she worked as a pastry chef at a restaurant in Westwood.
Of course, Gene had posed problems from birth. The baby’s body was immensely vulnerable to disease, and the possibility of his death threatened Morris, looming over him, an unspeakable enormity. Their tiny first-born son absorbed Sandra’s attention, even to a fault, and it brought his demanding mother-in-law into their apartment. So the infant’s arrival had been an alarming disruption to the family, though Morris had of course kept himself under control. The latest child-rearing orthodoxy was based on Watsonian Behaviorism, and intelligent parents were placing their babies in Skinner Boxes. The Weisbergs followed suit, and it was a godsend, isolating the infant from contamination and releasing the mother from the drain on her energies.
Morris had sometimes caught Sandra disobeying the Box rules and removing Gene from the crib outside of the feeding schedule. A sense of rage had arisen in him, almost blind outrage – but at what? At his wife’s violations of the Skinner protocols: it was intolerably naïve of her and oblivious to the harm done by excessive holding of the infant. What was even more galling was her absorption in the moods and needs of this newborn protoplasm. He insisted that the behavior cease. Such was the purpose of the lectures he was compelled to give his otherwise fine and pliant wife. Of course, now, there were new child-rearing orthodoxies, which oddly shifted over the decades and even censured what was gospel in the thirties. Lately Morris had wondered whether Gene’s asthma, a disease of often psychogenic origin, stemmed from those early supposed deprivations, and there was Gene’s temperamental spirit, developing later and potentially so destructive, so in need of regulation and control. But on reflection, these idle speculations seemed of no import.
“How are you doing?” Dr. Max Lowenstein grabbed his host's arm. Morris had begun walking through the central hallway. He coughed slightly and flinched a bit: the amorphous pain returned and again vanished.
            “You'd better watch that cough, Morris,” the ophthalmologist advised the pathologist.
            “Oh, it's nothing, Max. I'm taking care of it.”
            “You know the adage, the doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”
            Morris attempted to restrain another cough, and his right hand unwittingly reached to his chest to soothe the fleeting pain. Max noticed the gesture, and the two men peered at each other, each through thick glasses to correct myopia. With a glint in his eye, Max said, “Lungs are precious, Morris, and you know we only have two.” Brimming with laughter, he reached his hand to hold Morris's arm, to keep himself from guffawing at his own bon mot.
            “And the new technology of pulmonary study! Way beyond mere x-rays: it's amazing,” Max said. “But who am I to tell you about what they can do today? This new generation, Morris, it's pushing the limits of science.”
            “That’s true, Max,” Morris said in a mild, detached voice. “Of course, before antiseptics and antibiotics, doctors killed more patients than they saved. Now, to be a good doctor, one should implicitly be a good scientist too.”
            “And a good businessman, as well,” Max said. “Nowadays, you have to be aware of market factors, or you won't survive. Today, doctors must be merchants,” Max concluded and rapped his hand twice on Morris's arm at the syllables “must be,” just as he had rapped his chairarm as he listened to each “it must be” earlier.
            “You mustn't say that, Max,” Morris answered, straightening himself to his full sixty eight inches, extricating his arm from Max and interlacing the fingers of his hands now in front of his chest as he spoke. “Doctors must not be mercenary.”
            “Did I say mercenary?”
            “Medicine must be unaffected by concerns of social privilege or the mercantile world,” Morris said and then began to lecture his colleague and friend on the primacy of truth-telling from the beginnings of their profession.
            “Right, right, Morris. Just as I said in the first place,” Max interrupted with ironic and forced bonhomie toward his difficult, relentlessly serious colleague. Morris felt suddenly how much the cellist's husband was patronizing him. “The pursuit of scientific truth knows no limits now,” Max continued. “It's the golden age of technology, Morris. Look at that astronaut last week. Far out in space, he orbits the earth, more than once! Glenn—he must be one of your heroes.”
            “Max, you mustn’t,” he replied, leaving vague what Max must not do. “This is no golden age; it's an age of technocrats. What do they know of a lifetime dedicated to serving truth and opposing death? What do they know of honesty, of ethics? Just now the tests of H bombs in the atmosphere. The nuclear radiation released will blight the growth of unborn fetuses, the bones of growing children, the bodies of the aging. Those bomb blasts are butchery! And did you read the propaganda generated by the servants of technology, the cover-up from the mouths of paid-off doctors and technicians? Science is irresponsible today.” Morris's voice was icy and detached.
            He began edging toward the central hall, his eyes on the sliding glass door in back. He was not feeling well and needed fresh air and the canopy of cloudy sky.
            “What are you, Morris, a god, some Jupiter or Neptune gazing down at us from on high!” Max loosed mocking laughter at his startled host; Daisy Kramer heard and took a concerned, protective step toward the two doctors. “You judge all of science, looking down at us dwarfish minuscule beings through your superior microscope!”
            Morris turned and smiled palely to his guest, who seemed to be snickering. “I hope I don't put on airs, Max; does it seem so?” Morris said, stopped now in his tracks and again tightly interlacing his fingers, as if to keep his hands from flying into the air between them. “I am no Neptune, and I don't set myself up as particularly wise, Max. I'm a flawed, imperfect person. All I want is that doctors remember the values of our profession. What a mistake to forget the joy and glory of simply opening your eyes and speaking what you see. Truth-telling, Max—though I agree it's not an easy task.”
            Max's eyes no longer narrowed into a glint of mockery and irritation, and he was once again pleasant and avuncular. “For sure it's a tall order,” he said. “I share that creed with you. I know it by heart; it's our liberal faith in freedom of perception, expression...whatever. But, Morris, who actually wins and loses in the history of medicine—from the time of Bichat and Hunter, Rokitansky and Virchow, into perpetuity? It's the go-getters, Morris!” Max mentioned Art Kornberg's Nobel prize three years ago, awarded for the discovery of an enzyme which copies the gene's nucleic acids, so that growth can occur; unfortunately, the enzyme Art discovered was not the one which helped life to thrive or be at all. “Tell me, Morris, he's your colleague: did he give back the money? No. Did he delay progress? Yes. But did he intend to obstruct it? Of course not. He was doing what comes naturally: he's a go-getter!”
            “I need some fresh air, Max. I think I'll just step outside. Would you tell Edith I'll sit this next one out. I know she wants to play the Mozart String Trio. Tell your wife, it's on the shelf, would you?”
            “Are you okay, Morris? Let me help you,” Max asked with pleasant kindness as Morris walked into the central hall and began to slide open the door to the California evening.
            "No, no, it’s nothing! Tell Edith about the Mozart. Now's her chance to make some glorious music."

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hungry Generations - a novel: here's Chapter 1 of this novel about a composer new to L.A. in 1972 befriending an emigre virtuoso pianist there

Jack sat in the middle of the cavernous hall. All around him men in suits were seated beside women in gowns and furs. Occasionally there were young people, students who must have had passes or generous parents or enough desire to scrape up the cash to hear Alexander Petrov, the reclusive virtuoso pianist, at this October first concert. Jack had arrived in L.A. a few weeks ago, a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music in search of a studio job as well as time to compose. He remembered his parents’ stories about the pianist, who was a distant relative of Jack’s father. When he read about the concert, he wanted to hear the great musician, and he decided to go. Petrov was one of that select group of performers who had the power to stir even a resistant listener. On records and, it was said, especially live, the heavy old pianist seemed almost a godlike force—a Neptune bringing shape and order to the ocean of energy pouring through the music he played, as if all that wild risk and passionate surge were containable in a bowl of gold or a brimming goblet of glass. Petrov would be playing Beethoven’s Hammerklavier after intermission; the pianist had made a classic recording of the sonata in the fifties. Now, twenty years later, he played in concert only once a year—in October at UCLA.

Janice occupied the seat next to Jack. Her long purplish hair circled her face so that she kept smoothing it from her cheek, and the strap of her black velvet dress kept falling from her brown shoulder. He had met her three weeks ago, on the day he looked for a Venice apartment, walking up and down the grid of pedestrian paths which sufficed for streets in the beach-front neighborhood between Rose and Venice. Several times, he had trekked past the Ellison Hotel when Janice leaned out the window of her first floor apartment and pointed across the Paloma walkway to the dilapidated stucco bungalow, a shack of a house on the corner.

“They’re about to move out,” she had said; her hair, dyed purple over brown, had hung below her shoulders, her black bikini loosely circling her. She was completely tanned, and her face had the weathered cast of a woman who had given months and years to the sun. She looked to be forty, about a decade older than Jack. She had asked his name, and she gave him the name of the landlord. When he moved in, Janice had been fascinated by the music pouring from his windows. She couldn’t understand his obsession but she had wanted to attend when she heard he was going to this Sunday concert.

Now, as the hall lights dimmed, three people appeared at a doorway near the stage. A short, graying woman with a black fur folded over her arm must be Petrov’s wife, Jack thought, and the blonde woman and the man were his children. The younger woman headed them toward three vacant aisle seats close to the stage. The man had unruly black hair; he would be Joseph, a pianist like his father, only just beginning his career. Suddenly there was a roar of applause, and Alexander Petrov emerged onto the stage. His neutral walk had the art the occasion demanded, with all the hungry souls clapping at him, many of them, it seemed, celebrating the fabric of their gowns and suits.

Petrov was big and stout, with a horseshoe of trim white hair rimming his shiny head. His face—familiar from record jackets—gazed blankly out at the only audience he allowed now in this yearly concert at UCLA. Suddenly he stepped forward to the verge of the stage and raised his hands to silence the crowd: “This concert,” he said in an accented voice, “I want to dedicate it to the memory of my friend and great pianist who passed away this last month. Robert Casadesus.”

He sat down and immediately struck his large and graceful hands on the piano keyboard: Bartok’s Allegro Barbaro, designed to draw in without appeasing the audience. His clanging, plangent tone was astonishing, each note incredibly clear and full. The improvisatory liberties he took seemed always on the verge of exploding the work, yet every manic detail was balanced, in place. Then Stravinsky’s Three Scenes from Petroushka: the heavy man became a circus master playing presto and with complete detachment the technically impossible work, as if it were a demonic joke, a throw of the dice. Finally, Schoenberg’s Three Pieces opus 11. He played so quietly and with such clarity that Jack felt the auditorium recede, recede, and all the city leveled to its original silence; then Petrov would visit this silent world with moments of such dissonant shouts of tone immediately subdued that Jack smiled tensely to keep from crying out. Yet all the while he waited, his soul tightening. He kept recalling the sound of Petrov’s historic recording and the score of the sonata which the pianist was to play after intermission.

The paneled foyer of Royce Hall was packed with people during the break. They stood by columns, under arches, crowding out into the evening air. Janice stood with him on the plaza under the clouded sky.

There was an odd static in the air, and the rim of nearby Bel Air hills seemed edged by a fluorescent charge. He remembered first seeing the Santa Monica mountains when he flew in from Cleveland three weeks ago; the plane descended over this squat ridge of mountains, floating and dipping over the etched and inhabited canyons and then skimming toward the great gray mass of Pacific water. On stereo earphones, he had listened to Beethoven’s Eroica. “Welcome to Los...,” the stewardess had cut in, and the music’s homage to freedom vanished into silence. Inside LAX, Jack had bought the Los Angeles Times for September 6, 1972: Black September Attacks Israelis at Munich Olympics. Eleven Dead. It was not a summer of love. Another toll, an uncounted one, had begun with the bombing of North Vietnam, and just three months ago, twenty-five died in a bombing at Lod Airport in Tel Aviv. He had visited Israel as a boy, after his bar-mitzvah: the thin pine trees, the peeling eucalyptuses, the dark hallucinatory cypresses, the oleanders with waxen leaves and pink flowers, the billowing bougainvillea with veils of massed deep purple flowers and little trails of them amid the upreaching limbs of cactuses on apartment balconies in Tel Aviv. The arid beauty and expansiveness reminded him of L.A., yet this memory—like his sense of being Jewish—was dream-like, fragmentary, and remote.

“Hey,” Janice said on the plaza now, “are you okay?”

“Sure. How’d you like the music?”

“Strange. Especially the last piece. Strange music,” she said.

“You wanted to come.”

“Why do you smile? You’re laughing at me.”

“What about the music I hear you playing?” He was wearing his jeans and blue sweater with a brown tweed coat, and he began to shuffle out a rhythm on the gravel, to dance. She tightened her psychedelic shawl around her black dress. Amid the blare of the crowd he began chanting a travesty of an Iggy Pop travesty—“It’s nineteen seventy-two, okay”—and she laughed. She reached toward him and held him against her laughing body, her arms tight around his back to stop him. The Hall lights were blinking and the crowd returning now. At the open doors stood the young man with unruly dark hair, finishing a cigarette. He had Petrov’s face and nose, yet there was an odd blankness to his eyes, not like his father’s, not German Jewish or Russian. He looked at Jack, as if he recognized someone, and then calmly turned away.

The lights dimmed again, and the seventy year old pianist—his head shining—sat before the keys. Rapidly and at once, he relished Beethoven’s opening leaps and the athletic intensity of the Hammerklavier. In the fugato development, chords slammed one after another over the keyboard, and dissonance held the air. Then the sonata’s opening leaps returned at the unleashed pace Beethoven prescribed, and the Allegro raced to its end. Jack watched the sweating old man pause and begin to draw the stumbling Scherzo out, its assai vivace rhythm resistant and off beat.

Then the pianist hunched in the glare and silence before the Adagio. He raised his thick hands, and the slow music began to escape from the piano and spread out—appassionato e con molto sentimento—into the evening stillness where the audience sat poised. In the middle of the Adagio, Jack leaned back, his eyes shut, to hear Beethoven’s variation, four notes for each pulse, twelve in each bar hovering, luminous and quiet. Finally the rhythm fragmented again and admitted to stretches of silence; the pathology of the sonata was carefully exposed, the long-breathed serenity of its yet living lungs, the still slowly pulsing heart. Then, the Adagio sostenuto ended.

Tentative tones arose: weak, curtailed breaths, an irregular pulse, and then the old man’s hands acquired new sporadic life, improvisatory and unpredictable. Here notes disregarded the priorities of symmetry, free now to draw new breath. Here the sonata rose up, ghostly and vital by turns, and the spontaneous exhalations grew. Here, at the point of death, fierce spirits were stirred and unleashed, and suddenly the final fugue flew from its Largo introduction.

Now Petrov’s temperament found free expression, a willingness to take the greatest risks. At moments, he played the Allegro risoluto with a ruthlessness, which seemed to stamp and hurdle with steeled cruelty. Dissonances and sforzandi, trills and leaps, were all absorbed into the shock and momentum of the unfolding fugue. Suddenly there was the boom and crackle of a disintegratingly violent climax, and Petrov grabbed the body of the piano. When his hands let go there was absolute silence, and in this silence he began the canon, barely audible, with a gentleness which was intolerable in its control of touch, and Jack had to keep himself from laughing aloud or crying out. Finally, the rigorous counterpoint returned, and wave after wave of music renewed itself in the face of the sonata’s death.

At the final chord, there was a standing ovation. After the fourth, Petrov lifted his hands toward the audience like a surgeon wriggling his fingers at a patient, shaking them at the crowd and the Steinway behind him. He grinned and walked off, not to return.

Dazed, Jack made his way to the aisle with Janice. He felt compelled to go to Petrov’s reception, and he walked with her against the flow of the exiting crowd. With a group of other fans or friends, they walked up onto the stage, past Petrov’s black grand, and found their way to the room where the pianist held court, a lit cigar in hand. Sweat still poured from his face as he shook the hands of people who filed past him, received the embraces of furred ladies; warm and voluble, he passed some of these people on to his wife and daughter, who stood near him. Jack had been right. Mrs. Petrov was this small, gray woman who met those who came to her politely, with a detached, perceptive gaze.

The daughter stood next to her. She wore a suede suit, and her blonde hair was pulled tight around her head, though there were some untamed wisps at her slender neck. Her glance had a clarity and intensity suggesting a life apart from the social ritual in which she was engaged. Her eyes were dark brown, almost black, quite unlike those of the mother, pale and gray, or of the brother, who was nowhere to be seen. Petrov’s daughter looked to be Jack’s age.

He stood before Petrov and shook his hand. “Thank you for a wonderful concert,” Jack said softly. “I’m Julius Weinstein’s son.”

“What?” the pianist boomed. “I remember Julius! The cellist. With the Cleveland Orchestra now. My second cousin. I’m delighted to see you! Meet my wife Helen. And your name?” He told them. Petrov asked to whom he should sign his autograph when Janice thrust her program toward the pianist, who carefully assessed her. “I like your shawl,” he said. Mrs. Petrov told Jack he must call and visit. Their daughter Sarah stood before him.

“Good to meet you,” she said. Jack was astonished by the beautiful resonance of her high voice as she spoke her greeting. She shook hands firmly with her thin hand.

* * *

“You smile when you’re listening at the concert, you know?” Janice said as they drove in his sixty-two VW through the night fog down Santa Monica to Main.

“I smile? Probably from pleasure,” he said.

He felt outside the present. He glanced at her face, thin and weathered brown, the fine long nose, the high bones of her cheeks, the purplish hair. She began to tell him about herself—her mad Italian family, her past relationship to a folk singer in the sixties, and in the fifties the years she spent in San Francisco, the beat scene in North Beach, the protests against HUAC. Now she worked at a café on Rose, baking bread and pastries in the back kitchen. She survived, with afternoons off for the beach.

When she asked him in, Jack took automatic steps up the Ellison’s front stairs and into her first-floor apartment. She handed him a glass of bourbon with ice and sat next to him on the couch. “Do you want something else—there’s some hash around somewhere.” He lifted his glass and drank—it was enough. The Hammerklavier still pulsed through him as they talked; in a while he would walk across the cement path of Paloma and work to compose some as yet unheard and unimagined music. She lowered the straps of her velvet dress; she smiled and said, “Welcome to Los Angeles.” Later their bodies joined on the couch and moved together in an intricate, leaping rhythm.

* * *

Beyond the beach a block away, the Pacific was clearly visible from Jack’s bungalow on the corner of the Paloma path. The windows of the living room were open to the ocean shimmering in the October sun, and hot Santa Ana air pulsed through the room. He wore only cut off jeans, sitting at his table by the open windows and looking through the swaying lace curtains. His back was sunburned, and his reddened legs were tender against the armless wooden chair. In the room there were second-hand chairs, a stuffed couch, a rented upright piano, and shelves with books, records, and a stereo. The volume was turned up, and Beethoven’s music absorbed Jack. On the table were his journals—wire-bound, cardboard-backed volumes of music paper—in which he composed and occasionally wrote notes to himself.

The final fugue ended, and Beethoven’s leaping cadence left him in silence. The phonograph stopped. He rose from his chair and walked barefoot to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee from the pot he heated on the stove. He cut a slice of raisin-pumpernickel and began chewing the heavy peasant bread, savoring the seeded wheat, smelling its sweetness.

In the living room, he turned over the record, and pushed the lever to turn on the machine. The player’s needle edged into the circumference of the vinyl, and again the Hammerklavier sonata leapt from the speakers—it was Petrov’s great recording of the sonata. In the three days since hearing the pianist play, Jack had been drawn back to his writing desk and to this recording, to the glimpsed idea of a new composition.

He reached to the pile of journals for an old one, which he placed over the current 1972 notebook before him on the table. The earlier volume contained musical sketches and diary entries from 1970, the year he received his Masters at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Jack turned to the last pages where he had begun work on a sonata for piano. He was ready now to return to these beginnings. He could imagine the entire promised structure, and he transposed from the old notebook to his latest one the initial ideas for the sonata’s first movement.

As he closed the 1970 journal, he noticed the final diary entry: “Dec 31: I’ve written down my first musical ideas since getting my MA in May. Spurred by listening to the immense and wonderful Hammerklavier sonata (Petrov’s great recording, the wizard). Not an homage to Beethoven: it will be a confrontation. Not with shadows, but presences, for I continually feel his presence.” And then a postscript: “Molly and I have broken up. Shit, the long and winding road is permanently closing. She always claimed I didn’t respect her going to law school. But I did respect her and the intensity of our love, or was it the intensity of our lovely love-making? I don’t know now, sitting here at midnight, staring out the window at snow falling, eddying in the light as if under water, like an ocean current.”

His professor’s office had overlooked a snow-clogged street, which bordered the squat, green, glassed-in building of the Music Institute in Cleveland. It was 1966 when Marcel Dick had first invited Jack into the stuffy office strewn with papers. Dick had a thick face, and a narrow upper lip knifed across it; glasses masked the refinement and intensity of his eyes. He had been the first violist at Vienna, Detroit, Cleveland, had studied with Schoenberg and helped found the Kolisch Quartet at Schoenberg’s suggestion, and finally had headed theory and composition at the Institute. He addressed Jack, a new Masters student and son of his cellist friend from the Cleveland Orchestra, as Mr. Weinstein: “This much I can do for you,” Marcel Dick said, “because you already have something yourself, Mr. Weinstein. You already know that the theme comes first. But then what do you do with it! In Vienna, Schoenberg looked at the first piece I showed him. ‘Dick,’ he said, ‘you must pare this down. Prune and cultivate: you’ll see what wonders that will do.’ Why did he say that? Because a piece of music must be a unit, an organic whole. This was Arnold’s view, and it is mine. Today the language we speak is dissonance. But that doesn’t mean imagination and craftsmanship are no longer in cahoots!” So Jack had begun his four years at the Institute, from 1966 until two years ago. With Dick, Victor Babin, and Donald Erb. Earlier this year, when he decided to move to L.A., Erb had agreed to call an old friend, a studio composer, for Jack.

On the stereo now, Jack heard Beethoven’s resounding leaps—Petrov’s protean fists in flight above the piano keyboard—as they built toward the climax of the Allegro’s development. He inked a corresponding leap over the bass clef at the opening of his new work. The Hammerklavier would speak out, an oblique resurrection, from Jack’s sonata.

Three bald geniuses entered in a gust of laughter. Ashen and aflame in the September sun, Schoenberg, Bartok, and Stravinsky cast moving shadows over the living room. They sat on the overstuffed chairs and couch, and asked Jack for brandy to pour in three cups of coffee. They spoke all at once. He heard the Viennese Jew, solid and tanned, say, “I discovered the space between. The chasms in cliché.” The pale, fragile Hungarian said: “Into all abysses, I bear the blessing of my saying yes.” And the thin Russian shouted: “We belong nowhere now, so recently dead, possessing sixteen languages between us and we’ve not come this far to hear you grasp at nothing.”

The opening notes of Jack’s sonata lay before him in the early autumn sun, and he held the table’s edge as Beethoven’s final leaping cadence left the room in silence.