Oct/Nov 2021  •   Fiction

The Green Lion and the Sun

by Greg Sendi

Artwork borrowed from Unsplash.com

Artwork borrowed from Unsplash.com

In 1794, he was forced to accept the humiliating position of music teacher in the small central German town of Jena. In the last years of his life he worked on several ambitious compositions, which, however, never materialized. His fervent enthusiasm for the pursuit of alchemy remained the only joy of his final years.
          —Mikael Helasvuo

Hey, I listened again to the audition excerpts. For whatever your old man's opinion is worth, I thought they were winners. When I hear you practice now—just anything, the Bach, the Bartók, whatever you've got going on that day—I think I hear what you're trying do with the voices. They're not very often the soaring kind, although sometimes, when I think you're not trying or not expecting it, they really will! They're the everyday kind, like from taverns and truckstops. Plenty of wet slaps, gagging, and screams. Old men sucking their teeth. A toddler losing her shit in a uriney PlayPlace ballpit in Wilkes Barre or Tulsa. I hear all that. Grosse Fuge for sure. I see what you're about with the on-purpose messy. All I'll say is it's important not to make a religion out of one's limitations, right? I'm not saying, you know, I mean. What's the difference between a viola and a coffin, right? The coffin has the dead person on the inside. Brutal. Funny. But, at this point, who's dead and who's alive is an open question. Fuck the soarers, anyway.

As for those last couple Charlie lessons, think about how, early on, flirty Fraulein Pilz, over a game of Doppelkopf, believing she had herself a catch, might have held back her Jack of Clubs to take a trick and then called him Charlie, too—Karlchen—around a gilt little table. They both laugh like dopes. He thinks he's courting her, but anyone with eyes can see who's running that show. Look, everyone is bumping up against something, finding the boundaries of a lockup—a confinement—not exactly one built in our own image but in the negative space that's the inverse to the emergence and advance of our encroaching monsters. It's always the place not-quite-yet-but-soon-to-be occupied by our approaching miscreants and demons. In his (your Charlie, not hers), I think he just doesn't want you to be blasted by the haboob of catastrophe he's convinced will sweep in with them—in the same way he doesn't want you to be shot to death (presumably by a gang of Chinese or Korean violists) near the Art Institute lions or the Bean. It's the last gift of his Isora—toxicum ex machina—all spectrumy madness and rooted in a bitterness crying out for magic to set it right. Near the end, I think maybe everyone starts putting all their chips on magic. Atheists and foxholes, &c.

Mozart met him (her Charlie, not yours)—I guess in Paris?—and thought he and his brother Anton were degenerates. Maybe they were. On the other hand, think about how it's just about that time that he becomes so painfully aware of the limitations of his own voice. He's hearing something like that heartbreaking E minor violin sonata and realizing the jig is up. Let's say all of it is true—the gambling, drinking, debaucheries with doll-like, lead-addled, Venetian ceruse-covered deformities in Rococo palace halls—and it's then, perhaps, he first starts to steer himself into those bizarre and gorgeous, exotic, gnostic volumes full of codes and mysteries, the illuminated books. He's thumping against guardrails and succumbs to the temptations of shortcuts to those high places he is just realizing he can't reach on his own. He had no eyes (how could he?) for what I think you're trying to do. In the end, I wonder if gold had anything to do with it at all. I wonder if, in his mind, it wasn't more of a Robert-Johnson-at-the-Crossroads type deal. Faust, of course, like Dracula or Darth Vader today, would have been known to every schoolchild.

Or think about how at The Hague, I guess, they say he performed with a 12-year-old Beethoven. That makes him 38. He's been clawing at it for as long as he can remember, since he himself was a boy, at Mannheim, in his father's shadow, and doesn't know any other life. Then here's this scowly child, this little shit, who makes him look like an organ grinder monkey.

But most of all, I'm thinking about later, at Jena, nearer the end. Imagine the scolding for coming home to Maria Josepha with the weird, dusty old book instead of the table linens she had sent him for. After all the confinements and dead babies (four in a row—four!—Christ), she might have clutched her abdomen and asked for Antonia to take her away from "this cloddish old Bohemian." No more Karlchens for him. She's now as sore as he's ever seen her. With the linens, they could perhaps host Gottschald and perhaps secure him something at the Garnisonskirche or, at a minimum, lessons with the children of that quarter. Could he not do even the simplest thing? Imagine how he might, for a moment, have tried to show her the lush and careful diagrams and imagery inside—the green lion devouring the sun, maybe—before feeling the full descent and compression of futility and shame. Her vitriol for his, a ritual of purification, Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem. He would have taken his medicine. It was all just such a magic beans situation for the old boy.

I'm coming around to understanding that the messy is where compassion lives. The dirty as I think you call it. It's not going to be an easy path, obviously. It's like listening to a child squirming and not quite holding it together at a funeral maybe? The live person on the outside. That's going to be where the real sorcery happens. That's the story, I think. A blind fiddler in a tavern playing Voi che sapete. Anyway, I'm proud of you. You're doing something interesting. How many of us can say that? Like you, I really just love it. I mean I. You know. Biggest fan.