CON FORZA, PART I: HAMMERKLAVIER

The following play Hammerklavier – fantasia quasi una biografia, is the first part of Con Forza, variations on music and power in four parts. (Parts II, III, IV).

Gruppo del Laocoonte (CC BY 2.0)

CHARACTER
SOLOIST Soul acrobat. Maestra of mind and body.

TIME The instant of performance.

PLACE The stage itself.
NOTES
The actor also speaks the stage directions.

Hylarius Lupe is pronounced Hu-lah-rius Loop-uh.

In 1818 The London Times reported a rumor of Napoleon's escape from St. Helena.

Immer die alte Geschichte! Die deutschen Dichter können keine guten Text zusammenbringen!

(Always the same old story: German writers cannot put together a good libretto.)
L. van Beethoven



(A piano stool. More precisely, a bench. A piano bench.)

(The SOLOIST, in formal concert dress, enters, bows, sits, adjusts the bench, and settles in.)

SOLOIST
(Pulls feet up onto bench.)
Vienna, 1818. Winter carnival. Shivering on an attic beam,
peeking through lath and plaster, juggling telescope, ear
trumpet, pencil and manuscript paper, a copyist in shabby
overcoat and fingerless gloves spies on the scene below.
(Jumps down, grabs manuscript paper from
inside bench, stands at attention.)
Herr Lupe, Your Illustriousness. Hylarius Lupe. If Your
Highborn would permit?

Yours to command, Your Lordship.
(Sings opening bars of the as yet
unfinished Hammerklavier sonata.)
Duh-daa daddle-aah duh da-da, duh-daa daddle-aah duh da-da,
daddle-daa-da, daddle-daa-da—

I assure Your Illustrious Highness “the unlicked bear
cub” did indeed “bash away so hastily”. Metronome 138.

Your High Ancestry is undoubtedly correct. If he would
allow?

The Count is most gracious. Coffee house whispers between
persons of informal and unconventional social habits
alerted me to a clandestine meeting between the fugitive
Napoleon Bonaparte and the aforementioned Ludwig van
Beethoven. Hastening to the latter’s lodgings, I concealed
myself—

Verbatim, Your Highness? Certainly, of course. Regrettably,
the Corsican’s contributions were inscribed only in the
composer’s notebook. Nonetheless ...
(Clears throat. Reads. Deaf and drunk.)
“Agreed, Citizen Bonaparte, imagination rules the world.
And as you say, by that alone can man be governed,
without it he is but a brute.”

“Pshaw! As long as the Austrian still has his dark beer
and his sausage he won’t revolt.”

“Capital, capital! Power is your instrument, music my
army. Ha!”

“Our nobility, citizen, is here and here.”
And, most scandalous: “Shh! Shh! I am become a father
without a wife.”

Mistaken, Your Excellency? But—

Here?
(Sits. Con acrobazia.)
The copyist will be racked till the truth undoes him.
Introduced: a woman he recognizes as one of the coffee
house whisperers. Transpires she is Johanna van Beethoven,
widowed sister-in-law of the composer, the two contesting
custody of her son, his nephew. A turn of the screw: enter
the “Napoleon”, no fugitive usurper, merely a costumed
player. The desperate mother had hoped by this charade to
discredit Ludwig’s privilege in the courts.

Played. Played like a cheap fiddle. Those shysters worked
my grudge against that maestro of smear, that cacographic
smudge, L. van highfalutin’ Blotch-hovel. ”Mistake!
Mistake! You, Lupe, are a unique mistake!”

You may go now, Herr Lupe. In future, kindly remember that
whilst music may make men feel powerful ...

The shame, the shame.

(The SOLOIST comes to rest, bows, milks
the applause. Then, because the script says so, or, because the script says so, or, because the script says so, exits at last.)