1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 39

Chapter 22

          Logau cursed as he trotted down the street, feet crunching on the gravel, one hand holding his hat on his head and the other grasping his walking stick. He was supposed to have met with Frau Marla and her friends a quarter-hour ago, and he was late. It was his own fault, too. If he hadn’t started doodling with another epigram, he would have been there in plenty of time. Of course there wasn’t a cab for hire within sight. And he’d come away from his rooms with his evening walking stick, instead of his morning walking stick.

Some days the world just conspired against him, he was sure of it.

He was headed for the Royal Academy of Music, which was located across a plaza from the new opera house in the southwest corner of the Neustadt section of Old Magdeburg. Rather than take one of the narrow bridges across the Big Ditch into the Altstadt, then have to cross it again to get to the Neustadt, he turned north on the boulevard that paralleled the canal and followed it, dodging women waving broadsheets and newspapers for sale, wagons, carts, drays, animals and swearing teamsters alike until he got to the cross road that ran through a gate in the rebuilt city walls into the Neustadt.

Once he was through the gate Logau slowed to a fast walk. It would not do to arrive at the rehearsal out of breath, after all. He adjusted his jacket, flicked a bit of lint from his lapel, and tilted his hat to its proper angle just as he reached the steps to the academy.

Inside the building, not having a clue where he was to go, he stopped a student. “Can you tell me where to find Room VI?” he asked.

“Down this hall, turn right at the first cross-corridor, then about half-way down it on the left,” the young woman replied.

“My thanks. I’m to meet Frau Linder there.”

“In that case,” the student laughed, “just follow your ears after you turn the corner. She’s already in full voice.”

Logau touched his walking stick to the brim of his hat in acknowledgment, and the young woman dropped a curtsey before scurrying on her way. He in turn made his way to the designated corridor and rounded the corner. No sooner had he done so than he realized why the young woman had laughed. The unmistakable sound of Frau Linder’s voice filled the hallway, even though the door to Room VI was shut. “They need to invent a way to deaden the sound,” he muttered to himself.

He knocked on the door just as the singing stopped. A moment later, the door was opened by a young man that Logau didn’t recognize. “Ah, Friedrich, you’re here. Let Herr Logau in, Rudolf. He’s playing a part in this.” The young man stepped aside, and Logau entered the room, doffing his hat as he did so. There was a table conveniently by the door already burdened by coats, so he laid his hat atop the pile. He unbuttoned his coat, but left it on as he was still feeling the chill from his brisk walk.

Marla came and took him by the arm. “Everyone, this is Friedrich von Logau, writer, poet, and epigrammist. He’s the wordsmith who gave us the German words for this song. Friedrich, let me introduce you to the guys.”

Friedrich paid close attention as Marla introduced the men in the room: the brothers Tuchman, Rudolf and Josef, who smiled and nodded; Thomas Schwartzberg, tall and lanky, who gave an easy grin; Hermann Katzberg, short enough to almost be a dwarf; Isaac Fremdling, dark and intense, standing with arms crossed; Paul Georg Seiler, dour but still giving a nod; and three of the Amsel brothers, Matthaüs, Marcus and Johann, alike as three sons of the same parents could be, with only the difference in their years providing any solid clue as to which was which.

These were the men in Marla Linder and Franz Sylwester’s inner circle. He noted them and made sure he knew the names and faces. These were the men who had come to Magdeburg and coalesced into a nucleus of musicians around which the new music seemed to pour out like water from a fountain. It behooved him to know them, and know them well.

“My thanks to you all,” he responded to the introductions. “I am here to simply see how my words fit with the music. Do not let me stop or interfere with anything.” He looked around for a chair, but saw they were all occupied. There was only a stool in one corner. He strode over and took a seat, resting his chin on his clasped hands atop his walking stick.

For the next half hour he was a silent witness to a master at work. The Amsels and Paul Georg Seiler were also just observers, but the others provided three violins, two flutes, and a harp. Marla worked with them as separate groups first: beating time; leading them to phrase certain notes together; adjusting the tempo here, the volume there; cajoling, urging, driving them to achieve a fusion of sound. Friedrich noticed that both Franz and Matthaüs Amsel were making notes along the way.

At the end of the half hour, Marla brushed an errant strand of hair out of her face, looked at them all, and said, “All right, let’s try it together. English first.”