The Erotic Études Opus VI
Étude XV - Alysso
The carriage had finally stopped jolting. I was exhausted, weepy, and dejected, and had long since crushed my hat shapeless, smoked all of my cigars, and drunk empty the flask of medicine that Reuter had so thoughtfully provided, which was not enough by half for a trip over the Allgäu. Beautiful, but treacherous, winding, endless. And now, the great city, full of crystal and gaslight, tantalizing to the eye in every way -- the promised land of Music. Why had I come? I sagged, wretched, in the seat, my back aching constantly, no matter how I stretched or sat, and I dared not make the carriage stop again for fear of angering my travel companions further. Silently, I wept, and realized what a terrible mistake I made, coming alone.
I was to meet Alessandro Alysso, the Italian impresario, and to take an apartment Reuter had in Wien, occupying it until he joined me the following week. I was nervous lest he be delayed, and leave me alone in his empty apartment, which to me was almost worse than having no place to stay and having to pay for an hotel. I held in my hands an advance schedule for the Alte Oper, and an invitation to meet the conductor of the Esterhàzy's Eisenstadt chamber orchestra the following evening. I would be a wreck.
I prayed myself back to the hills of Grimma, beyond the Allgäu, trapped in a foreign land with clipped foreign accents and filled with wealthy, bold-eyed Italian youth and Bayerischen bourgeoisie. I dabbed my eyes surreptitiously. "No no, all is well," I explain. "The smoke from the charcoal burners, makes me quite teary-eyed, I am from the country after all."
Frau Bickenbach tightens her mouth, she knows I am lying, and murmurs in her husband's ear, he shakes his head. Leave the boy alone, he misses his mother, have some pity for god's sake. While I appreciate his compassionate glances, I am angered. Nine and twenty and I look a boy still? Will I never be taken seriously? I must get a new hat. Perhaps, grow a mustache. Both.
I alighted from the carriage after twenty hours of Frau Bickenbach's frowns, borne down by the weight of her coldly maternal disapproval, shivering and short of breath in the coal-laden air, straight to Reuter's empty apartment. I do not look back, and take the way on foot, wearily.
Alysso was late. I had the address correct, double-checked it six times, then seven. I waited, took a walk along the storefronts in the Marktplatz, considered buying a gift for Thérese. No no, conserve - buy the gifts at the end of the journey, after you are paid. After an income is established. But I could not hold back, and entered the most promising of these, keeping an eye on the café at which Alysso was to meet me. I bought a small book of verses, and hurried back to the café, and inscribed a dedication to her, timing it with a small verse of my own, "Von deiner ergebener Robert, abend, 20 Juni, 1838, Wien." I sighed.
When would Alysso come? I began to pen a terse note to leave with the manager before returning to my lodging, when the harried Italian appeared. At last. I picked up my coffee and raised it to him in greeting - there could be no mistaking him. I hoped I did not still look like a babe at the breast, as the Bickenbachs would have me. I was wearing one of Reuter's more manly hats, and had removed my earring. Not the style in Wien. The mustache would take longer in coming, if at all.
"Is it you? It must be. Who would wear such heavy clothes in summer but someone as ethereal as you!" he gushed. He took my hand, and as I feared, kissed me. I blushed, hoping there were enough Italians around to appreciate that I was not being accosted in public by a lover, but by an insensitive Italian businessman. I tried to pull away in a parody of sexual rejection and repulsion, but he had me by the arms.
I hissed, "You are embarrassing me no end, please stop!" And he dropped his hands. I sat down, agitated, and placed my hat beside my stein. I said nothing for several long moments as he prattled on, heedless of my discomfort.
"I have cancelled the appointment I was to bring you to, for there is someone I must arrange for you to meet. It will take several days. You are not in a hurry I take it?" he exhaled, and with surreptitious skill I do not possess, he beckoned from the thick crowd the barmaid, and ordered his wine.
"And you, another?" I shook my head. I had already had quite enough of him, and would not drink with him to assuage his rude manners. When he turned back again after placing his order he regarded me brightly. "I didn't quite think you would be so handsome. You would be a smash with the ladies of this town. You do bed ladies, I hope…"
I was appalled. In a single motion I rose and threw my napkin on the table, making sure that I had paid for my last round, and turned wordlessly on my heel, forgetting Reuter's hat on the table. I fled as fast as I could down the Marktplatz until Alysso's sharp hand caught my elbow and I whirled and rounded on him, enraged.
"Don't be so sensitive. I was complimenting your appearance."
"Are you a professional music agent or a procurer?" I snapped, loud enough for anyone to hear. "You had best decide quickly, for I am about to change my plans!"
He colored, ashamed, and let me go. "Roberto, prego… " He wrung his hands. "I have gone about this all wrong, I am sorry. Please accept my apologies."
He looked truly distraught, and I softened. I did not want to endure the carriage ride through the mountains to certain defeat, and have to explain to Reuter why I fled like a rabbit, back home. But neither would I let him handle me so facilely.
I opened my mouth. "Listen to me, Alysso. You are not dealing with Franz Liszt. I am not from this nation, and I am not a plaything for your social entertainments. I am a composer, a publisher, and a critic. I deserve at least that level of personal respect. If you do not have it in you to provide me that courtesy, let us part now and speak no more."
"Of course, Signore Schumann," He bowed, changing his manner completely, to one of almost royal respect. Around me several people glanced at the silk-clad Italian bowing to the nondescript German in the Marktplatz and looked away, murmuring. This, in its way, was almost worse than kissing me.
"For god's sake!" I cried, and led him back to the café. There seemed to be no end to his posturing. There, I discovered Reuter's hat and also, my portfolio, and grew very concerned that I would begin losing things at cafés if I was not extremely careful and disciplined. I sat, glaring at him.
"First off I wish to say…" he began, smiling pleasantly, not the least offended, "that I am glad you passed my little test. I could hardly endure another cock-sucking adventurer from Germany hopping in a carriage to come chasing the ghost of Schubert, and dying in the Hospice of St. Peter because I didn't get to him soon enough to avoid the bathhouses."
I stared at him. "You do this on PURPOSE?" Oh, now I was truly angry. I began to tremble.
"Of course!" he laughed. "This city attracts the weak, the vulnerable, and the highly talented. I have advertisements in every German newspaper, hoping to turn away the most vulnerable with a spank on the bottom before they are ground up and spit out. I owe it to my Emperor and Lord de Galanthà to attempt to repair our reputation somewhat. He has even passed a law preventing expatriates and foreigners from doing business here without a partnership with a reputable firm."
"Foreigners? You mean, Germans."
"Yes. I mean Germans."
"So they cannot… what?"
"Get corrupted by our decadent late Hellenic style."
"Well I might as well return home forthwith. For that is exactly what I had intended to do, to reestablish my magazine, here."
"Oh! Well I thought it was to become famous for all of your excellent piano publications," he rejoindered brightly.
I wished, wearily, that his play-within-a-play would end.
"Who is this man you wish me to see?" I asked, rubbing my eyes. The coal-burners were bothering them. The noise, even moreso. At least, the night was growing a bit cooler, and I would soon stop sweating so terribly under my coat.
"He is the grandson of Bach."
I stopped rubbing my eyes and stared at him. "They… but they are all dead!"
He shook his head firmly. "No, not dead. You know Leopold Mozart, I presume."
"No, I know no one here but Reuter and the Conservator Fischof. Reuter has a summer home he does not use and I am staying there. Klara is writing to the Censors on my behalf, but I hold little hope of her success with the Metternichs, despite her popularity with them."
He winced. "That was premature. You might have consulted me first. Most of the censors are in their pay, to skew the favor of businesses here toward their friends and family."
"It is done. There is nothing I can do about it now," I replied, disappointed. I hated politics. And politics here were thicker than the score of a Haydn symphony.
"Well, in any case…" he began to reply, and just then the barmaid came with his wine, an entire bottle of an incredibly expensive - French - perhaps, vintage. I regretted my earlier outburst and refusal, for this discussion was becoming vital quickly, and I needed something to drink.
"May I get something now?" I said rather meekly to the girl.
"Of course, Herr von Heine…"
I blushed, remembering that I had given the girl a false name. Alysso was amused, grinning mischievously, but said nothing.
"I am an admirer of his, that is all..." I stammered.
"False names, you must be nervous!" Alysso replied lightly.
"No, I always do this in foreign places. I do not wish to be known."
"Ah. So you use the name of a famous German poet. How very secretive." I nearly scowled at him. "A titled one."
"It is obviously not an Austrian name, which was my point." Why was I explaining to him? Was it illegal to give an assumed name in public to a messenger or a barmaid? Maybe it was. I gulped nervously.
"Herr von -" the girl repeated patiently.
"Pils" I snapped, if only to shut her up from saying the name again.
The girl went away, snapping her apron angrily.
"About the… yes Leopold Mozart, I would like to meet him. Fischof is going to introduce me to some others after the opera on Saturday. But who was it you had in mind? A Bach?"
"Johann Gottfried Bach. Grandson of the composer, and a son of Carl Philippe-Emmanuel."
"He lives in Wien?"
He nodded. "Plays the piano, like you, and I dare say would be a companionable sort to share his tales of his family. He took lessons from Johann Sebastian himself, before his death. A fascinating story at the very least. Use it in your magazine. Make a thousand thaler."
"Yes, perhaps… " I felt appeased, somewhat. He knew where I was going.
"But about this censorship issue? You are saying there is no hope if I do not become an Austrian… this cannot be for the reasons you cite. There has to be another reason."
"No other reason will be forthcoming in this café, Herr von Heine." I blushed furiously at his use of the invented name.
"Would you cut that out?"
He smiled mischievously.
At length, after his wine and my beer were gone, I followed him to his home. With misgivings. And there, I had an uncanny premonition about my brother Eduard, and heard the piercing tone of the funeral horns. I held my head, while he poured the wine, and when he saw me swoon, rushed over to me, to lay a cool hand on my brow. He said gently, "Travel does not agree with you Herr von Heine."
"Schumann will do."
"Will you do?" he equivocated, raising my chin with a gentle hand to gaze at him.
I searched his eyes. "What is this, what is all this infernal play, Alysso?" I could see what he would do, before he did it, and I reached out a hand to capture his before he laid a caress upon me. "I asked you… a question. I am not a whore. Do not treat me as one."
"My my my, you are older than you look." He smiled, undaunted.
"Yes and I am no fun at all. And I have an abominable headache," I muttered, disgusted with myself and him.
"I know you, Roberto. I know… what it is you want. Your engagement, and your woman and your posturing aside."
"That is very percipient of you," I retorted.
"I can protect you here. From them. From the de Galanthàs. You will need it. Johann is a terrible whoremaster of the pretty. He will tear you up, and leave nothing for the crows."
That did intimidate me. Johann - Esterhàzy? The same as Schubert fled from… Oh Schubert, annihilated in the dust. I had an idea what had happened to him now.
"Then protect me. But I am not going to fuck you. I am not a whore!"
"Of course not. You are still somewhat young for even me."
"Young? I am eight and twenty…" I objected, understating my age, bizarrely.
"Young," he intoned.
"Then protect me. I will honor our contract. Keep me away from the…"
"Wolves, Herr von Heine. The wolves in the forest. I believe we understand one another."
He opened a new bottle of wine, and over the bottle, we spent the entire night discussing the hidden, and horrible side, of the music industry in Wien. And at the end of it, he walked me safely back to Reuter's rooms, with a list already in my hand, memorized and later destroyed, which would keep me safe from a great city full of Esterhàzys and Liszts, eager to devour a young, naïve German rabbit, and bid me good night with a slight, chaste embrace at the door.
I did not sleep that night. I wept.
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The Erotic Etudes Index
[ I ]
[ II ]
[ III ]
[ IV ]
[ V ]
[ VI ]
[ VII ]
[ VIII ]
[ IX ]
[ X ]
[ XI ]
[ XII ]
[ XIII ]
[ XIV ]
[ XV ]
[ XVI ]
[ XVII ]
[ XVIII ]