A Work of Art
INSTANTLY, he remembered dying. He remembered it, however, as if at two removesas though he were remembering a memory, rather than an actual event; as though he himself had not really been there when he died.
Yet the memory was all from his own point of view, not that of some detached and disembodied observer which might have been his soul. He had been most conscious of the rasping, unevenly drawn movements of the air in his chest. Blurring rapidly, the doctor’s face had bent over him, loomed, come closer, and then had vanished as the doctor’s head passed below his cone of vision, turned sideways to listen to his lungs.
It had become rapidly darker, and then, only then, had he realized that these were to be his last minutes. He had tried dutifully to say Pauline’s name, but his memory contained no record of the soundonly of the rattling breath, and of the film of sootiness thickening in the air, blotting out everything for an instant.
Only an instant, and then the memory was over. The room was bright again, and the ceiling, he noticed with wonder, had turned a soft green. The doctor’s head lifted again and looked down at him.
It was a different doctor. This one was a far younger man, with an ascetic face and gloaming, almost fey eyes. There was no doubt about it. One of the last conscious thoughts he had had was that of gratitude that the attending physician, there at the end, had not been the one who secretly hated him for his one-time associations with the Nazi hierarchy.
The attending doctor, instead, had worn an expression amus-ingly proper for that of a Swiss expert called to the deathbed of an eminent man: a mixture of worry at the prospect of losing so eminent a patient, and complacency at the thought that, at the old man’s age, nobody could blame this doctor if he died. At 85, pneumonia is a serious matter, with or without penicillin.
“You’re all right now,” the new doctor said, freeing his patient’s head of a whole series of little silver rods which had been clinging to it by a sort of network cap. “Rest a minute and try to be calm. Do you know your name?”
He drew a cautious breath. There seemed to be nothing at all the matter with his lungs now; indeed, he felt positively healthy. “Certainly,” he said, a little nettled. “Do you know yours?”
The doctor smiled crookedly. “You’re in character, it appears,” he said. “My name is Barkun Kris; I am a mind sculptor. Yours?”
“Very good,” Dr. Kris said, and turned away. Strauss, however, had already been diverted by a new singularity.
Strauss is a word as well as a name in German; it has many meaningsan ostrich, a bouquet; von Wolzogen had had a high old time working all the possible puns into the libretto of Feuersnot. And it happened to be the first German word to be spoken either by himself or by Dr. Kris since that twice-removed moment of death. The language was not French or Italian, either. It was most like English, but not the English Strauss knew; nevertheless, he was having no trouble speaking it and even thinking in it.
Well, he thought, I’ll be able to conduct The Love of Danae after alt. It isn’t every composer who can premiere his own opera posthumously. Still, there was something queer about all this the queerest part of all being that conviction, which would not go away, that he had actually been dead for just a short time. Of course medicine was making great strides, but…
“Explain all this,” he said, lifting himself to one elbow.
The bed was different, too, and not nearly as comfortable as the one in which he had died. As for the room, it looked more like a dynamo shed than a sickroom. Had modern medicine taken to reviving its corpses on the floor of the Sie-manns-Schakert plant?
“In a moment,” Dr. Kris said. He finished rolling some machine back into what Strauss impatiently supposed to be its place, and crossed to the pallet. “Now. There are many things you’ll have to take for granted without attempting to understand them. Dr. Strauss. Not everything in the world today is explicable in terms of your assumptions. Please bear that in mind.”
“Very well. Proceed.”
“The date,” Dr. Kris said, “is 2161 by your calendar or, in other words, it is now two hundred and twelve years after your death. Naturally, you’ll realize that by this time nothing remains of your body but the bones. The body you have now was volunteered for your use. Before you look into a mirror to see what it’s like, remember that its physical difference from the one you were used to is all in your favor. It’s in perfect health, not unpleasant for other people to look at, and its physiological age is about fifty.”
A miracle? No, not in this new age, surely. It was simply a work of science. But what a science! This was Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence and the immortality of the superman combined into one.
“And where is this?” the composer said.
“In Port York, part of the State of Manhattan, in the United States. You will find the country less changed in some respects than I imagine you anticipate. Other changes, of course, will seem radical to you; but it’s hard for me to predict which ones will strike you that way. A certain resilience on your part will bear cultivating.”
“I understand,” Strauss said, sitting up. “One question, please; is it still possible for a composer to make a living in this century?”
“Indeed it is,” Dr. Kris said, smiling. “As we expect you to do. It is one of the purposes for which we’vebrought you back.”
“I gather, then,” Strauss said somewhat dryly, “that there is still a demand for my music. The critics in the old days”
“That’s not quite how it is,” Dr. Kris said. “I understand some of your work is still played, but frankly I know very little about your current status. My interest is rather”
A door opened somewhere, and another man came in. He was older and more ponderous than Kris and had a certain air of academicism; but he too was wearing the oddly tailored surgeon’s gown, and looked upon Kris’s patient with the glowing eyes of an artist.
“A success, Kris?” he said. “Congratulations.”
“They’re not in order yet,” Dr. Kris said. “The final proof is what counts. Dr. Strauss, if you feel strong enough, Dr. Seirds and I would like to ask you some questions. We’d like to make sure your memory is clear.”
“Certainly. Go ahead.”
“According to our records,” Kris said, “you once knew a man whose initials were RKL; this was while you were conducting at the Vienna Stoatsoper.” He made the double “a” at least twice too long, as though German were a dead language he was striving to pronounce in some “classical”
accent. “What was his name, and who was he?”
“That would be Kurt Listhis first name was Richard, but he didn’t use it. He was assistant stage manager.”
The two doctors looked at each other. “Why did you offer to write a new overture to The Woman Without a Shadow, and give the manuscript to the City of Vienna?”
“So I wouldn’t have to pay the garbage removal tax on the Maria Theresa villa they had given me.”
“In the back yard of your house at Garmisch-Partenkirchen there was a tombstone. What was written on it?”
Strauss frowned. That was a question he would be happy to be unable to answer. If one is to play childish jokes upon oneself, it’s best not to carve them in stone, and put the carving where you can’t help seeing it every time you go out to tinker with the Mercedes. “It says,” he replied wearily, “Sacred to the memory of Guntram, Minnesinger, slain in a horrible way by his father’s own symphony or’
“When was Guntram premised?”
“Inlet me see1894, I believe.”
“Who was the leading lady?”
“Pauline de Ahna.”
“What happened to her afterward?’”
“I married her. Is she …” Strauss began anxiously.
“No,” Dr. Kris said. “I’m sorry, but we lack the data to reconstruct more or less ordinary people.”
The composer sighed. He did not know whether to be worried or not. He had loved Pauline, to be sure; on the other hand, it would be pleasant to be able to live the new life without being forced to take off one’s shoes every time one entered the house, so as not to scratch the polished hardwood floors. And also pleasant, perhaps, to have two o’clock in the afternoon come by without hearing Pauline’s everlasting, “Richardjetzt komponiertl”
“Next question,” he said.
For reasons which Strauss did not understand, but was content to take for granted, he was separated from Drs.
Kris and Seirds as soon as both were satisfied that the composer’s memory was reliable and his health stable. His estate, he was given to understand, had long since been broken upa sorry end for what had been one of the principal fortunes of Europebut he was given sufficient money to set up lodgings and resume an active life. He was provided, too, with introductions which proved valuable.
It took longer than he had expected to adjust to the changes that had taken place in music alone. Music was, he quickly began to suspect, a dying art, which would soon have a status not much above that held by flower arranging back in what he thought of as his own century. Certainly it couldn’t be denied that the trend toward fragmentation, already visible back in his own time, had proceeded almost to completion in 2161.
He paid no more attention to American popular tunes than he had bothered to pay in his previous life. Yet it was evident that their assembly-line production methods all the ballad composers openly used a slide-rule-like device called a Hit Machinenow had their counterparts almost throughout serious music.
The conservatives these days, for instance, were the twelve-tone composersalways, in Strauss’s opinions, a dryly me-chanical lot, but never more so than now. Their gods Berg, Schoenberg, von Webernwere looked upon by the concert-going public as great masters, on the abstruse side perhaps, but as worthy of reverence as any of the Three B’s.
There was one wing of the conservatives, however, which had gone the twelve-tone procedure one better. These men composed what was called “stochastic music,” put together by choosing each individual note by consultation with tables of random numbers. Their bible, their basic text, was a vol-ume called Operational Aesthetics, which in turn derived from a discipline called information theory; and not one word of it seemed to touch upon any of the techniques and customs of composition which Strauss knew. The ideal of this group was to produce music which would be “universal”that is, wholly devoid of any trace of the composer’s individuality, wholly a musical expression of the universal Laws of Chance.
The Laws of Chance seemed to have a style of their own, all right; but to Strauss it seemed the style of an idiot child being taught to hammer a flat piano, to keep him from getting into trouble.
By far the largest body of work being produced, however, fell into a category misleadingly called “science-music.” The term reflected nothing but the titles of the works, which dealt with space flight, time travel, and other subjects of a romantic or an unlikely nature. There was nothing in the least sci-entific about the music, which consisted of a m61ange of cliches and imitations of natural sounds, in which Strauss was horrified to see his own time-distorted and diluted image.
The most popular form or science-music was a nine-minute composition called a concerto, though it bore no re-semblance at all to the classical concerto form; it was instead a sort of free rhapsody after Rachmaninofflong after. A typical one”Song of Deep Space” it was called, by some-body named H. Valerion Krafftbegan with a loud assault on the tam-tam, after which all the strings rushed up the scale in unison, followed at a respectful distance by the harp and one clarinet in parallel 6/4’s. At the top of the scale cymbals were hashed together, forte possibile, and the whole orchestra launched itself into a major-minor, wailing sort of melody; the whole orchestra, that is, except for the French horns, which were plodding back down the scale again in what was evidently supposed to be a countermelody. The second phrase of the theme was picked up by a solo trumpet with a suggestion of tremolo; the orchestra died back to its roots to await the next cloudburst, and at this pointas any four-year-old could have predictedthe piano entered with the second theme.
Behind the orchestra stood a group of thirty women, ready to come in with a wordless chorus intended to suggest the eeriness of Deep Spacebut at this point, too, Strauss had already learned to get up and leave. After a few such experiences he could also count upon meeting in the lobby Sindi Noniss, the agent to whom Dr. Kris had introduced him, and who was handling the reborn composer’s outputwhat there was of it thus far. Sindi had come to expect these walkouts on the part of his client, and patiently awaited them, standing beneath a bust of Gian Carlo Menotti; but he liked them less and less, and lately had been greeting them by turning alternately red and white like a toti-potent barber pole.
“You shouldn’t have done it,” he burst out after the Krafft incident. “You can’t just walk out on a new Krafft composition. The man’s the president of the Interplanetary Society for Contemporary Music. How am I ever going to persuade them that you’re a contemporary if you keep snubbing them?”
“What does it matter?” Strauss said. “They don’t know me by sight.”
“You’re wrong; they know you very well, and they’re watching every move you make. You’re the first major composer the mind sculptors ever tackled, and the ISCM would be glad to turn you back with a rejection slip.”
“Oh,” said Sindi, “there are lots of reasons. The sculptors are snobs; so are the ISCM boys. Each of them wants to prove to the other that their own art is the king of them all. And then there’s the competition; it would be easier to flunk you than to let you into the market. I really think you’d better go back in. I could make up some excuse”
“No,” Strauss said shortly. “I have work to do.”
“But that’s just the point, Richard. How are we going to get an opera produced without the ISCM? It isn’t as though you wrote theremin solos, or something that didn’t cost “I have work to do,” he said, and left.
And he did: work which absorbed him as had no other project during the last thirty years of his former life. He had scarcely touched pen to music paperboth had been astonishingly hard to findwhen he realized that nothing in his long career had provided him with touchstones by which to judge what music he should write now.
The old tricks came swarming back by the thousands, to be sure: the sudden, unexpected key changes at the crest of a melody; the interval stretching; the piling of divided strings, playing in the high harmonics, upon the already tottering top of a climax; the scurry and bustle as phrases were passed like lightning from one choir of the orchestra to another; the flashing runs in the brass, the chuckling in the clarinets, the snarling mixtures of colors to emphasize dramatic tension all of them.
But none of them satisfied him now. He had been content with them for most of a lifetime, and had made them do an astonishing amount of work. But now it was time to strike out afresh. Some of the tricks, indeed, actively repelled him: where had he gotten the notion, clung to for decades, that violins screaming out in unison somewhere in the stratosphere was a sound interesting enough to be worth repeating inside a single composition, let alone in all of them?
And nobody, he reflected contentedly, ever approached such a new beginning better equipped. In addition to the past lying available in his memory, he had always had a technical armamentarium second to none; even the hostile critics had granted him that. Now that he was, in a sense, composing his first operahis first after fifteen of them!he had every opportunity to make it a masterpiece.
And every such intention.
There were, of course, many minor distractions. One of them was that search for old-fashioned score paper, and a pen and ink with which to write on it. Very few of the modern composers, it developed, wrote their music at all. A large bloc of them used tape, patching together snippets of tone and sound snipped from other tapes, superimposing one tape on another, and varying the results by twirling an ela-borate array of knobs this way or that. Almost all the composers of 3-V scores, on the other hand, wrote on the sound track itself, rapidly scribbling jagged wiggly lines which, when passed through a photocell-audio circuit, produced a noise reasonably like an orchestra playing music, overtones and all.
The last-ditch conservatives who still wrote notes on paper, did so with the aid of a musical typewriter. The device, Strauss had to admit, seemed perfected at last; it had manuals and stops like an organ, but it was not much more than twice as large as a standard letter-writing typewriter, and produced a neat page. But he was satisfied with his own spidery, highly-legible manuscript and refused to abandon it, badly though the one pen nib he had been able to buy coarsened it. It helped to tie him to his past.
Joining the ISCM had also caused him some bad moments, even after Sindi had worked him around the political road blocks. The Society man who examined his qualifications as a member had run through the questions with no more interest than might have been shown by a veterinarian examining his four thousandth sick calf.
“Had anything published?”
“Yes, nine tone poems, about three hundred songs, “Not when you were alive,” the examiner said, somewhat disquietingly. “I mean since the sculptors turned you out again.”
“Since the sculptorsah, I understand. Yes, a string quartet, two song cycles, a”
“Good. Alfie, write down ‘songs.’ Play an instrument?”
“Hm.” The examiner studied his fingernails. “Oh, well.
Do you read music? Or do you use a Scriber, or tape clips?
Or a Machine?”
“Here.” The examiner sat Strauss down in front of a view-ing lectern, over the lit surface of which an endless belt of translucent paper was traveling. On the paper was an immensely magnified sound track. “Whistle me the tune of that, and name the instruments it sounds like.”
“I don’t read that Musiksticheln,” Strauss said frostily, “or write it, either. I use standard notation, on music paper.”
“Alfie, write down ‘Reads notes only.’ ” He laid a sheet of grayly printed music on the lectern above the ground glass.
“Whistle me that.”
“That” proved to be a popular tune called “Vangs, Snifters and Store-Credit Snooky” which had been written on a Hit Machine in 2159 by a guitar-faking politician who sang it at campaign rallies. (In some respects, Strauss reflected, the United States had indeed not changed very much.) It had become so popular that anybody could have whistled it from the title alone, whether he could read the music or not.
Strauss whistled it, and to prove his bona fides added, “It’s in the key of B flat.”
The examiner went over to the green-painted upright piano and hit one greasy black key. The instrument was horribly out of tunethe note was much nearer to the standard 440/cps A than it was to B flatbut the examiner said, “So it is. Alfie, write down, ‘Also read flats.’ All right, son, you’re a member. Nice to have you with us; not many people can read that old-style notation any more. A lot of them think they’re too good for it.”
“Thank you,” Strauss said.
“My feeling is, if it was good enough for the old masters, it’s good enough for us. We don’t have people like them with us these days, it seems to me. Except for Dr. Krafft, of course. They were great back in the old daysmen like Shilkrit, Steiner, Tiomkin, and Pearl … and Wilder and Jannsen. Real goffin.”
“Dock gewiss,” Strauss said politely.
But the work went forward. He was making a little income now, from small works. People seemed to feel a special interest in a composer who had come out of the -mind sculptors’ laboratories; and in addition the material itself, Strauss was quite certain, had merits of its own to help sell it.
It was the opera which counted, however. That grew and grew under his pen, as fresh and new as his new life, as founded in knowledge and ripeness as his long full memory.
Finding a libretto had been troublesome at first. While it was possible that something existed that might have served among the current scripts for 3-Vthough he doubted it he found himself unable to tell the good from the bad through the fog cast over both by incomprehensibly technical production directions. Eventually, and for only the third time in his whole career, he had fallen back upon a play written in a language other than his own, andfor the first timedecided to set it in that language.
The play was Christopher Fry’s Venus Observed, in all ways a perfect Strauss opera libretto, as he came gradually to realize. “Though nominally a comedy, with a complex farcical plot, it was a verse play with considerable depth to it, and a number of characters who cried out to be brought by music into three dimensions, plus a strong undercurrent of autum-nal tragedy, of leaf-fall and apple-fallprecisely the kind of contradictory dramatic mixture which von Hofmannsthal had supplied him with in The Knight of the Rose, in Ariadne at Naxos, and in Arabella.
Alas for von Hofmannsthal, but here was another long-dead playwright who seemed nearly as gifted; and the musical opportunities were immense. There was, for instance, the fire which ended act two; what a gift for a composer to whom orchestration and counterpoint were as important as air and water! Or take the moment where Perpetua shoots the apple from the Duke’s hand; in that one moment a single passing reference could add Rossini’s marmoreal William Tell to the musical texture as nothing but an ironic footnotel And the Duke’s great curtain speech, beginning: Shall I be sorry for myself? In Mortality’s name I’ll be sorry for myself. Branches and boughs.
Brown hills, the valleys faint with brume, A burnish on the lake . ..
There was a speech for a great tragic comedian, in the spirit of Falstaff; the final union of laughter and tears, punc-tuated by the sleepy comments of Reedbeck, to whose son-orous snore (trombones, no less than five of them, con sor-dini?) the opera would gently end… .
What could be better? And yet he had come upon the play only by the unlikeliest series of accidents. At first he had planned to do a straight knockabout farce, in the idiom of The Silent Woman, just to warm himself up. Remembering that Zweig had adapted that libretto for him, in the old days, from a play by Ben Jonson, Strauss had begun to search out English plays of the period just after Jonson’s, and had promptly run aground on an awful specimen in heroic couplets called Venice Preserv’d, by one Thomas Otway.
The Fry play had directly followed the Otway in the card catalogue, and he had looked at it out of curiosity; why should a Twentieth Century playwright be punning on a title from the Eighteenth?
After two pages of the Fry play, the minor puzzle of the pun disappeared entirely from his concern. His luck was running again; he had an opera.
Sindi worked miracles in arranging for the performance.
The date of the premiere was set even before the score was finished, reminding Strauss pleasantly of those heady days when Fuerstner had been snatching the conclusion of Elek-tra off his work table a page at a time, before the ink was even dry, to rush it to the engraver before publication dead-line. The situation now, however, was even more complicated, for some of the score had to be scribed, some of it taped, some of it engraved in the old way, to meet the new techniques of performance; there were moments when Sindi seemed to be turning quite gray.
But Venus Observed was, as usual, forthcoming complete from Strauss’s pen in plenty of time. Writing the music in first draft had been hellishly hard work, much more like being reborn than had been that confused awakening in Barkun Kris’s laboratory, with its overtones of being dead instead; but Strauss found that he still retained all of his old ability to score from the draft almost effortlessly, as undis-turbed by Sindi’s half-audible worrying in the room with him as he was by the terrifying supersonic bangs of the rockets that bulleted invisibly over the city.
When he was finished, he had two days still to spare before the beginning of rehearsals. With those, furthermore, he would have nothing to do. The techniques of performance in this age were so completely bound up with the electronic arts as to reduce his own experiencehe, the master Kapell-meister of them allto the hopelessly primitive.
He did not mind. The music, as written, would speak for itself. In the meantime he found it grateful to forget the months’-long preoccupation with the stage for a while. He went back to the library and browsed lazily through old poems, vaguely seeking texts for a song or two. He knew better than to bother with recent poets; they could not speak to him, and he knew it. The Americans of his own age, he thought, might give him a clue to understanding this America of 2161; and if some such poem gave birth to a song, so much the better.
The search was relaxing and he gave himself up to enjoy-ing it. Finally he struck a tape that he liked: a tape read in a cracked old voice that twanged of Idaho as that voice had twanged in 1910, in Strauss’s own ancient youth. The poet’s name was Pound; he said, on the tape
… the souls of alt men great
At times pass through us,
And we are melted into them, and are not Save reflexions of their souls.
Thus I am Dante for a space and am
One Frangois Villon, ballad-lord and thief Or am such holy ones I may not write, Lest Blasphemy be writ against my name; This for an instant and the flame is gone.
‘Tis as in midmost us there glows a sphere Translucent, molten gold, that is the “I”
And into this some form projects itself: Christus, or John, or eke the Florentine; And as the clear space is not if a form’s Imposed thereon,
So cease we from all being for the time, And these, the Masters of the Soul, live on.
He smiled. That lesson had been written again and again, from Plato onward. Yet the poem was a history of his own case, a sort of theory for the metempsychosis he had under-gone, and in its formal way it was moving. It would be fitting to make a little hymn of it, in honor of his own rebirth, and of the poet’s insight.
A series of solemn, breathless chords framed themselves in his inner ear, against which the words might be intoned in a high, gently bending hush at the beginning … and then a dramatic passage in which the great names of Dante and Villon would enter ringing like challenges to Time… .
He wrote for a while in his notebook before he returned the spool to its shelf.
These, he thought, are good auspices.
And so the night of the premiere arrived, the audience pouring into the hall, the 3-V cameras riding on no visible supports through the air, and Sindi calculating his share of his client’s earnings by a complicated game he played on his fingers, the basic law of which seemed to be that one plus one equals ten. The hall filled to the roof with people from every class, as though what was to come would be a circus rather than an opera.
There were, surprisingly, nearly fifty of the aloof and aristocratic mind sculptors, clad in formal clothes which were exaggerated black versions of their surgeon’s gowns.
They had bought a bloc of seats near the front of the auditorium, where the gigantic 3-V figures which would shortly fill the “stage” before them (the real singers would perform on a small stage in the basement) could not but seem monstrously out of proportion; but Strauss supposed that they had taken this into account and dismissed it.
There was a tide of whispering in the audience as the sculptors began to trickle in, and with it an undercurrent of excitement the meaning of which was unknown to Strauss.
He did not attempt to fathom it, however; he was coping with his own mounting tide of opening-night tension, which, despite all the years, he had never quite been able to shake.
The sourceless, gentle light in the auditorium dimmed, and Strauss mounted the podium. There was a score before him, but he doubted that he would need it. Directly before him, poking up from among the musicians, were the inevitable 3-V snouts, waiting to carry his image to the singers in the basement.
The audience was quiet now. This was the moment. His baton swept up and then decisively down, and the prelude came surging up out of the pit.
For a little while he was deeply immersed in the always tricky business of keeping the enormous orchestra together and sensitive to the flexing of the musical web beneath his hand. As his control firmed and became secure, however, the task became slightly less demanding, and he was able to pay more attention to what the whole sounded like.
There was something decidedly wrong with it. Of course there were the occasional surprises as some bit of orchestral color emerged with a different Klang than he had expected; that happened to every composer, even after a lifetime of experience. And there were moments when the singers, entering upon a phrase more difficult to handle than he had calculated, sounded like someone about to fall off a tightrope (although none of them actually fluffed once; they were as fine a troupe Of voices as he had ever had to work with).
But these were details. It was the over-all impression that was wrong. He was losing not only the excitement of the premiereafter all, that couldn’t last at the same pitch all eveningbut also his very interest in what was coming from the stage and the pit. He was gradually tiring; his baton arm becoming heavier; as the second act mounted to what should have been an impassioned outpouring of shining tone, he was so bored as to wish he could go back to his desk to work on that song.
Then the act was over; only one more to go. He scarcely heard the applause. The twenty minutes’ rest in his dressing room was just barely enough to give him the necessary strength.
And suddenly, in the middle of the last act, he understood.
There was nothing new about the music. It was the old Strauss all over againbut weaker, more dilute than ever.
Compared with the output of composers like Krafft, it doubt-less sounded like a masterpiece to this audience. But he knew.
The resolutions, the determination to abandon the old clich~s and mannerisms, the decision to say something new they had all come to nothing against the force of habit. Being brought to life again meant bringing to life as well all those deeply graven reflexes of his style. He had only to pick up his pen and they overpowered him with easy automatism, no more under his control than the jerk of a finger away from a flame.
His eyes filled; his body was young, but he was an old man, an old man. Another thirty-five years of this? Never.
He had said all this before, centuries before. Nearly a half century condemned to saying it all over again, in a weaker and still weaker voice, aware that even this debased century would come to recognize in him only the burnt husk of greatness?no; never, never.
He was aware, dully, that the opera was over. The audience was screaming its joy. He knew the sound. They had screamed that way when Day of Peace had been premiered, but they had been cheering the man he had been, not the man that Day of Peace showed with cruel clarity he had become. Here the sound was even more meaningless: cheers of ignorance, and that was all.
He turned slowly. With surprise, and with a surprising sense of relief, he saw that the cheers were not, after all, for him.
They were for Dr. Barkun Kris.
Kris was standing in the middle of the bloc of mind sculptors, bowing to the audience. The sculptors nearest him were shaking his hand one after the other. More grasped at it as he made his way to the aisle, and walked forward to the podium. When he mounted the rostrum and took the composer’s limp hand, the cheering became delirious.
Kris lifted his arm. The cheering died instantly to an intent hush.
“Thank you,” he said clearly. “Ladies and gentlemen, before we take leave of Dr. Strauss, let us again tell him what a privilege it has been for us to hear this fresh example of his mastery. I am sure no farewell could be more fitting.”
The ovation lasted five minutes, and would have gone another five if Kris had not cut it off.
“Dr. Strauss,” he said, “in a moment, when I speak a certain formulation to you, you will realize that your name is Jerom Bosch, born in our century and with a life in it all your own. The superimposed memories which have made you assume the mask, the persona, of a great composer will be gone. I tell you this so that you may understand why these people here share your -applause with me.”
A wave of assenting sound.
‘The art of mind sculpturethe creation of artificial personalities for aesthetic enjoymentmay never reach such a pinnacle again. For you should understand that as Jerom Bosch you had no talent for music at all; indeed, we searched a long time to find a man who was utterly unable to carry even the simplest tune. Yet we were able to impose upon such unpromising material not only the personality, but the genius, of a great composer. That genius belongs entirely to youto the persona that thinks of itself as Richard Strauss.
None of the credit goes to the man who volunteered for the sculpture. That is your triumph, and we salute you for it.”
Now the ovation could no longer be contained. Strauss, with a crooked smile, watched Dr. Kris bow. This mind sculpturing was a suitably sophisticated kind of cruelty for this age; but the impulse, of course, had always existed. It was the same impulse that had made Rembrandt and Leonardo turn cadavers into art works.
It deserved a suitably sophisticated payment under the lex talionis: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a toothand a failure for a failure.
No, he need not tell Dr. Kris that the “Strauss” he had created was as empty of genius as a hollow gourd. The joke would always be on the sculptor, who was incapable of hearing the hollowness of the music now preserved on the 3-V
But for an instant a surge of revolt poured through his blood stream. I am I, he thought. I am Richard Strauss until I die, and will never be Jerom Bosch, who was utterly unable to carry even the simplest tune. His hand, still holding the baton, came sharply up, though whether to deliver or to ward off a blow he could not tell.
He let it fall again, and instead, at last, bowednot to the audience, but to Dr. Kris. He was sorry for nothing, as Kris turned to him to say the word that would plunge him back into oblivion, except that he would now have no chance to set that poem to music.