Peter Josef Stolz carefully dipped his brass tipped quill into the inkwell, and after wiping off the excess, gently applied the finishing touches to another concerto. This too, he assured himself, would be received magnificently throughout Europe.
The first movement began with a dramatic Adagio molto that led to a main Allegro moderato announced by the solo violin swirling above a daintily sprung accompaniment in the lower strings. The shadow of a sonata was evoked through a tonal center of B with a modal ‘dominate’ of F. Toward the end of this movement, a building intensity culminated in an abrupt orchestral cut off that revealed the violin suspended on a high D, from whence the cadenza started slowly, and then rose to a climax of increasing power. A brief coda then sent the movement over the edge.
The Adagio second movement, with its F center, began with a gradual ascension that reflected on the first movement and set the stage for a resounding violin cantilena. The violin, which had fallen silent during the turbulent middle section, suddenly returned at its climax, ushering in a return of the first section, with the calm and agitated musical characters now combined. The symmetry was completed by reference to the movement’s variation in keys and a final violin ascent, echoed by a recorder.
The Allegro third movement alternated between the tonal axes of B and F, and featured the horn almost as a second soloist. Anadagio absorption released into a final momentum and, at last, the briefest of codas splintered the concerto into its rapturous conclusion.
As satisfied as Stolz was with the piece, he felt tremendous sadness as well. He desperately wanted to share his work with Mendelssohn, and to read his reaction. Of course, Mendelssohn would be sure to proclaim it another masterpiece, another stone in Stolz’ mosaic of brilliance, and Mendelssohn had never been wrong. But now Mendelssohn was dead, and there was no one Stolz trusted to tell him how great he was. He had begun to feel very alone in the world.
Stolz wondered if it had ever bothered Mendelssohn to have always been in his shadow. Yes, they treated each other as equals, but in the eyes of the world, there was only one Peter Josef Stolz, and it disturbed him that, had the situation been reversed, he would likely not have handled it a gracefully as did poor Felix.
Ah, poor Felix! The premature death of his beloved sister Fanny was more than he could take! Mendelssohn was such a beautiful, fragile creature, and it only seemed fitting that he should die of a broken heart. Stolz remembered receiving the letter informing him of the tragedy, and how he had wept bitterly for many weeks thereafter. He had briefly considered going to Leipzig to bid farewell to his friend, but upon hearing that Chopin was already there, dropped the idea.
Stolz hated Chopin. The Polish expatriate, recently estranged from the French novelist Amandine Aurore Lucile (who wrote under the name of George Sand), was forever sullen, never failing to redirect a cheerful conversation to the bleak sufferings of those in his native land. Stolz had been told that Chopin, while composing, would lock himself in a room for days and days, laboring over one bar, changing it a hundred times, only to eventually leave it as it was in the beginning. This supposedly demonstrated his great devotion to music. Stolz, who wrote with ease, thought that it demonstrated great stupidity. And then there was the coughing.
Chopin suffered from tuberculosis (no doubt as a result of his great devotion to music, Stolz brooded) and spent a good deal of time wheezing and coughing, which, at times, made him a rather unpleasant dinner guest. He had decided long ago to avoid Chopin wherever possible, and so the trip to Leipzig never came to pass.
For reasons he did not comprehend, Chopin was a favorite of Franz Liszt, who Stolz considered to be his only real rival in measure of musical ability. He had seen Liszt perform numerous times throughout Europe, and was amazed at his virtuosity, and envious of the effect it had on the women in attendance. But since then, Liszt had fallen in love with a Russian princess, and had abandoned his career as a virtuoso. Stolz had also heard rumors that Liszt was lately under the influence of Richard Wagner, the radical. Stolz was glad that he had no outside influences on his writing, no one to stop him from working, or to color his music. Yet for some, it was unavoidable, as in Schumann’s case.
Due to a permanent injury to one of his fingers, Schumann had been forced to give up his career as a pianist, and his quite gifted wife, Clara, had become the major exponent of his piano works throughout Europe. She was an invaluable partner to him, and their family was the focal point of their lives. Lately, though, it seemed as if too much of Schumann’s compositions had to do with children. Stolz did not like children.
Unencumbered by family or close friends, and with his health intact, Stolz considered himself free to focus on producing great music, which could then be enjoyed by the world. Peter Josef Stolz was already one of the world’s best known composers of orchestral music, concertos and sonatas. He believed that by the end of his life, he would have created a body of work unparalleled in history, and that his life would be among the most celebrated in civilization. Anything less, he felt, would be a disappointment.
Stolz wrapped the finished concerto in a binder, and gathered up the associated notes and rough drafts. Many composers destroyed everything except the final product, but not Stolz. He firmly believed that every scrap of paper touched by him had value, and that one day, students of music from the four corners of the earth would delight in gazing upon each of them. As a result, his once cavernous music room had been built in, starting on table tops in front of the walls, spilling over in stacks on the floor, flooding around the perimeter, and then finally rolling out toward the center of the room, leaving only a small rectangle of open space.
As Stolz bundled the documents together, he noticed how dim the natural light had become in the room, and after finding a box of matches, he lit each of the five oil lamps that were scattered atop the stacks. With the illumination of the final lamp, Stolz became aware of a presence in the room, and turned to see a thin man standing just inside the chamber door.
Startled, Peter Josef Stolz took a moment to take in the appearance of his visitor, who was, by all standards of fashion, impeccably attired, and Stolz presumed him to be a man of great wealth, or at least, of great taste.
The man’s clothes were so fresh and smooth as to give the impression of coming straight from the tailor’s to Stolz’s apartment, making the composer wonder if the man had not bought a new suit just for the occasion of meeting him. The coat was a fur broadcloth of the most wonderful olive green color, set off by a large black velvet collar. His brilliantly white shirt collar was almost completely covered by a radiant green satin cravat, which fell upon a waistcoat of a somewhat lighter shade of green than the jacket.
The man’s rather small legs were covered tightly by bright white pantaloons, which were strapped around a pair of nondescript black shoes, the shoes being pointed in such a way as to make them appear painful to the occupier. The visitor carried with him white gloves, and Stolz noticed that he had no watch in his pocket. Overall, he was a handsome, well-dressed young man, and Stolz thought that he might be the representative of a royal court, but he could not guess which one. There was softness in the visitor’s eyes that seemed to betray affection, and Stolz considered for a moment that he knew this person, but he could not be sure.
“My good Stolz! How lovely it is to be seen by you again! And might I tell you that you are quite correct in surmising that your latest concerto will be well received. In fact, my good sir, I can unequivocally assure you that it will be hailed as the best you have ever produced. It will be, so to speak, your Grande Finale. You are pleased with it, I trust?”
Stunned, Stolz stared at the young man. For a moment, he began to speak, but stopped when he could not form a complete thought in his mind. The visitor just stood there, smiling sweetly at him, as if in expectation that Stolz would suddenly recognize him and then meet him with an embrace. For what seemed like an eternity, the two existed in a vacuum, completely caught up in the nature of the other. Slowly, the excitement melted away from the young man’s face and a look of disappointment replaced it.
“Peter Josef, how long have I labored at your side,” the man said wistfully. “Lo, these twenty years have I crafted some of man’s finest music through you, and now, you do not even recognize me.” The visitor’s voice echoed with hurt. “I had anticipated this moment for so many years, Stolz. In my dreams I saw our great reunion, I felt your fond greeting, and I accepted your grateful thanks. But, now…”
Crafted music? Through me? This man is taking credit for my work! Grateful thanks, indeed! At last Stolz’s head cleared with familiar anger, as he felt his stomach muscles tightening. “Do I know you, sir?! I don’t believe that I do. Explain yourself immediately, for I do not suffer fools gladly. And how dare you make claims upon my gift! I -”
“Your gift! Yes, my good Stolz! At least you acknowledge that! You do have a gift, and I am the giver! But you have not always had the gift, have you Peter Josef? Twenty years ago you had not the gift, oh yes; you had love of beautiful music, but were perfectly incapable of creating even a single bar of it. Do you not recall yourself, the desperate young man, consoling himself in a lowly inn? Do you not recall, Peter Josef, the desperate young man telling the kind stranger that such was his love that he would do anything, give anything, if only he could write music like that? Did not the kind stranger reveal his essence to the desperate young man, and agree that, for consideration, he would bestow that very gift upon him for not less than twenty years? Speak to me, Peter Josef! You cannot deny me now!”
Gradually, Stolz did remember. He was once a poor, ill fed, prolific composer of unpopular music. The child prodigy, conditioned for success upon success, had become a failure at the age of nineteen. The rejections, the lashes of a whip upon his raw and bleeding ego, had driven him to moody isolation, and even thoughts of suicide. The child prodigy was nineteen, and his life was over.
His life was over, that is, until that night in Vienna. He could not afford good food, but he could still manage to acquire strong drink. The friendly stranger had listened patiently all night to Stolz pitying himself, and was sympathetic as Stolz made vague allusions to ending his existence. After a few hours, however, the nice man had turned delusional, or so Stolz had thought. The smiling stranger insisted that he was Lucifer himself, and that, in exchange for Stolz’s soul, he would give him twenty years of unparalleled brilliance in his field. Partly due to disbelief, and partly because he placed no value whatsoever on his soul, Peter Josef Stolz quickly assented to the arrangement, and just as quickly forgot about it.
“Is it all coming back now, Peter? You didn’t really think that all of this,” Lucifer swept the breadth of the room with his arm, “was your doing? Come now, Stolz. All of your contemporaries strive so mightily in their writing, yet for you, it was all too easy. The notes seemed to hemorrhage from your pen, didn’t they? For you, composing music of historic proportions involved very little real work at all. You didn’t imagine that you were working alone did you? You know better than that. I know that you do.”
“It’s not true!” Stolz stammered. “Lies! All lies!” He felt his greatness being demeaned, discounted, and rage swept over him. “I am Peter Josef Stolz! The world knows of my talent! Yes, it was easy for me, but that is because I am above them all! You may be who you say you are, but you wrote nothing! I was here, alone in this horrid little room, writing until my hand cramped. Where were you? When did you dip my pen in the inkwell? When did you put pen to paper? Where were you?” Stolz sank back in his cushioned chair, and for the first time in a very long time, began to pity himself.
The Devil watched him for a few seconds, and then spoke very gently, as though to comfort his wounded pride. “Peter, you are not alone. Many others, and not just in your particular field, have made similar arrangements, and they also struggle with this. I am an inspiration to millions, and a partner to quite a few. To compete on this plane without my assistance is to struggle against the tide, so common is my influence. Without my help, your life would almost certainly have been wasted, and quite possibly ended by now. I have given your name immortality, by adding it to the pantheon of the titans of human achievement, whereas you could have done nothing on your own. The name of Peter Josef Stolz will live forever, and is that not the dream of your heart? Have I failed you, Peter? If I have, tell me, and I will make amends.”
Stolz said nothing, instead staring vacantly across the room. Lucifer thought that he might not be listening, but pressed on anyway.
“This is your last day on earth, Peter. Tonight you will be stricken in your heart, and you will die very suddenly. Tomorrow the world will awaken to mourn your death, and their loss. There will be many tributes to you across the globe, and not a few will declare you to be the most outstanding author of melody to yet enter this realm. Your body will perish, but not your celebrity. Hundreds of years from now, generations yet unborn will continue to celebrate your life and my work.
“So,” the Devil said triumphantly, “are you ready to go now Peter? Come to me.” He stretched out his arm toward Stolz. “Immortality awaits.”
Feeling strangely tired, Josef Peter Stolz lifted himself slowly from his chair. As he gazed upon the smug, smiling visage before him, Stolz expected to feel submission, but instead got only anger and defiance. His massive ego was fighting back, refusing to bow before anyone, not even the Prince of Darkness himself. Stolz surged with energy, and Satan sensed the change.
Standing erect in an almost military fashion, Stolz pointed a finger at his patron. “I don’t need you or anyone else to write for me. I am Peter Josef Stolz, the great composer, and I reject you.” The words were as flaming arrows shot through the Devil’s chest. “You are nothing to me. You base your claim upon some insignificant discourse of twenty years ago! Ha! I gave that night little heed then, and I give it less now. I am Peter Josef Stolz, the great composer! I have, and always will, work alone. My work is celebrated because I wrote it, not you. And I will continue to write great music as I always have – from within myself, without any outside influences. I don’t need you. Leave me in peace and find yourself some feeble minded-”
“Leave you in peace!” Lucifer howled the words. “Tonight I will leave you dead! Have you convinced yourself that you can bluster your way out of this, the way you blustered your way through life? The deed is done, my friend, and the time is long past for reconsideration.” The Devil’s face was no longer beautiful, his ways no longer gentle. “I will, however, grant you one concession. Peter, you have persuaded me that you never needed me. So, I will remove my influence from all of your work, and I will extract my charm from every bar you ever penned.” His eyes narrowed into mere slits. “Your name will be blotted out from the remembrance of all who once praised it, and the brilliant concerto that you finished not an hour ago, will never be seen by the eye of man. Not only will you cease to be a composer of music, no, it will be as though Peter Josef Stolz never existed.”
At the mention of his concerto, Stolz’s gaze drifted to the mountain of paper where he had left his latest masterwork, and his heart raced. “You sick, demented creature!” He exclaimed, stepping quickly in the direction of the concerto. “Get out of my sight!” With those words, Stolz was knocked to the floor by a fierce wind that swirled through the room, though no windows were open.
As the Devil shrieked with laughter, Stolz’s precious papers came to life, flying through the air and then falling again, creating a blizzard-like atmosphere between them. Soon there were flames, and then heavy black smoke, as the oil lamps came crashing to the floor, igniting the tinderbox of song that coated the floorboards.
Peter Josef Stolz saw his concerto through the dense, inky fog, lying amidst the inferno, and crawled, coughing as he moved, to retrieve it. Reaching it, he gripped it tightly, and still crawling, turned toward the door. He had only made it a few feet when he collapsed, choking on the soot in his nose and mouth. Covering the concerto to protect it from the flames, Stolz’s legs erupted in searing pain, and he looked back in horror to see that his pants were ablaze. Kicking and screaming, the last thing Peter Josef Stolz saw were a pair of sharply pointed black shoes, surrounded by a sea of fire.
It took the local fire brigade only a short time to extinguish the flames, and they considered themselves lucky that the fire had confined itself to one room in the building. It did seem, however, that every combustible thing in that room had been consumed in the holocaust, for nothing remained within its walls, except for the body of an adult male, charred beyond recognition. They concluded that the man must have been a recluse, as no one in the town could remember ever having known the man’s name, and no records existed to supply the cadaver with an identity.
The next day, the blackened remains were interred in a nearby potter’s field. There were no mourners present.