The Dying Composer

Having been discovered on the floor of his loge after a Wagner opera, the dying composer is snatched up by friends and taken to his town house.

The stern doctor arrives, applies the stethoscope, gives the gathered fellow composers a grave look, and takes one of them aside. A shake of the head. The composer collapses onto a chair, rises again, returns to the sickroom and whispers into ears. The other composers one by one collapse onto chairs. One by one they rise again, nobly resolved to say nothing to the dying man. They joke with him, albeit with trembling voices. He guesses the worst.

His wife now falls upon him, unable to contain herself.

A visitor arrives: the dying man’s worst critic, now shamed and resolved upon redemption. The critic kneels at the composer’s deathbed. The raised frail hand of forgiveness. The critic’s ne’er before seen tears. All marvel.

Now ensue speeches of farewell, reminiscence, and indebtedness. The wife recounts courtship memories.

The arrival of invisible angels. The composer’s last words: “Yes! I am ready!” The wife’s remonstrance: “No! You may not have him!” She summons servants to drive out the angels. Their furious blows fall upon air.

The noble man’s spirit is parted from his body as screams of grief erupt from all who have assembled. The death room is small. The reception room below is also crowded, the front door opened, friends sitting on the stoop, their carriages waiting in the street.

The word comes down: he is no more. The cry goes up: “No! It cannot be!” Messengers depart. Soon church bells begin ringing. Choruses of dismay erupt in distant quarters of the city.

The Emperor’s audience is interrupted as a messenger enters and whispers in his ear. He rises in consternation. “There will be an inquiry! The secret police must be called in, their reports read aloud in committee!”

All is to no avail. There was no plot, no poison, no infernal machines. Only 6 hours of leitmotifs, love duets, choruses, and splendid orchestral climaxes. The conductor tenders his resignation. It is declined.

Now the funeral cortege creeps along the avenue. Wreath wagons are drawn by horses draped in black. These are preceded by celebrated marchers: the tall Grand Duke in uniform, a fervent supporter of the arts, the Mayor, the Director of the Conservatory, and a phalanx of music professors and uniformed students.

News reaches foreign capitols. Newspapers are cast aside as the readers slump over cafe tables.

A bust is unveiled in the proscenium of the Conservatory. The Conservatory is renamed. The composer’s opus list is ransacked for a series of memorial concerts. The program leaflets are bordered in black and prefaced by an invocation by the nation’s most admired poet.

The composer’s wife, a former Imperial Opera star, agrees to sing in a benefit performance, urged by friends, the opera management and the Emperor. She appears in the role of Desdemona. Her drunken brute of a father has been found by Imperial agents, cleaned up and placed in the front row. Audience response to the principal aria is so prolonged that the conductor at length addresses words to the unruly shouters, stamps his foot, fumes, and finally throws his baton to the floor and walks out. Proceeds of the performance go to the Sts. Peter and Paul Asylum for Consumptives.

If there are followers of Wagner in the audience you will object to my implying that the composer’s death had somehow been caused by the length of the Maestro’s opera. You will say, no doubt, that the opera should have revived him with its never ending freshness, rather than done him in. Point taken.


photo by Julian Parker Burns

author bio:

Richard Wayne Horton has published in Southern Pacific Review, Danse Macabre Online, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Meat For Tea and others. He was nominated for a Pushcart Award, and has published his first book of flash fiction, Sticks & Bones, with Meat For Tea Press. He has written book length research documents about integrative 30s politics, and Russian music. He is working on a second book of short fiction set in 1950s Texarkana.