MUSED Literary Magazine.
Fiction

The Last Performance

Susan P. Blevins

Maestro Enrico Caroselli sat in his high-backed armchair in the late afternoon, contemplating what lay ahead of him. He had conducted a major orchestra for over forty-five years. Now he was due to retire at the end of the current winter season, and make room for a new, younger conductor from God knows which Third-World country the board seemed to be focusing on.

He stood up and walked to the window, looked out briefly over the irregular array of old tile rooftops, burnished by the setting sun, before pulling the curtains closed to keep out the bleak early winter.

"I think Iíll light a fire", he muttered to himself. "Why not? Which reminds me, I must order some more firewood to be delivered. They say itís going to be a hard winter, and I do enjoy the company of a crackling fire."

After heíd got the fire going, he sat down and contemplated what he would play for his all too rapidly approaching final concert. He had to make a splash, a final flourish, go out with a bang, so it had to be something big. Mahler? Beethoven? Brahms? Heíd performed them all so many times. Ah, he muttered as he raised himself again from his chair. I forgot to get my mail. Seems like itís arriving later and later every day.

He opened his mailbox, and saw that amid the usual flyers and bills, was a large, brown paper wrapped package. Thatís odd. I havenít ordered anything. I wonder what it is. Hope there isnít a bomb in there. He gave a wry snort. You just never know these days, with so many crazies running around.

He padded back indoors in his slippers, and decided to pour himself a drink before settling down to check the package. His Chivas poured, the fire prodded and a new log thrown on, he settled himself down comfortably to open the package.

He gazed in stunned silence at what lay revealed. God, he thought. Is this an answer to my unspoken prayer?

Attached to the front page of the stack of paper, was a post-it with the words, For your last performance. You will make history.

For a moment he felt he could not breathe. There in his hands was the score of a Beethoven symphony which had never been found. "Beethovenís 10th Symphony," he intoned out loud.

He started leafing through the mound of pages, studying the margin annotations. He had read all of Beethovenís original scores, so he knew the masterís writing and how he liked to make his prompts. It all looked authentic to him. The paper was somewhat brittle and yellowing, and there was some fading around the edges, but apart from that it was a perfect score. It was dated, 1803. How can that be? That was the year he composed the ďEroicaĒ. Surely it would be impossible to compose two huge symphonic works in the same period? But that was an intense period for Beethoven, when he was grappling with his incurable deafness. Yes, heíd even contemplated suicide, so that might have driven him to a greater outpouring of composition.

He got up and poured himself another whiskey. A stiff one this time. He gave the fire another poke, now blazing merrily. Then he seated himself comfortably, and started to read the score. He could hear the orchestra in his head, overwhelming amazement sweeping over him at the magnitude of the work in his hands. Where in Godís name did this come from, he mused. And why send it to me, now? Who on earth was in possession of this treasure and felt they could give it to me? Such trust. Such an honor.

He continued to read the score, and then laid the pages down and thought about his final concert, birthing this lost masterpiece to an astonished musical world. A performance of this work would ensure that he, Maestro Enrico Caroselli, went down in history as one of the greatest conductors ever, up there with Toscanini and Furtwaengler. Oh yes, he nodded to himself, the author of the post-it is right. I will indeed make musical history. This will be my ultimate triumph.

He sipped the last of his whiskey and closed his eyes, envisioning the final performance. Even though he could now be considered old, he knew he would be invited to conduct this work all over the world, with the finest orchestras. Such an unimaginable discovery! And I shall be the one to rock the musical establishment to its foundation. My name will be connected to this for the rest of history.

He allowed himself to drift off into a happy sleep, looking forward to starting work on it the following day. Pages of the score slipped from his knees and surrounded him like a thousand-petaled lotus. Hearing the music, even as he drifted off, his fingers twitched as he conducted this massive work.

In the dying light of the day, the flames leapt high, and dark shadows stretched around the room. He failed to notice a spark leap from the fireplace and settle on a scattered page of the score, or to see it spread rapidly across the tinder-dry sheets of ancient paper. Too late he stirred himself, aware only that, like Dido, he was about to die for love on a funeral pyre of his own making. The flames surrounded him, the score raging fortissimo around him.

What a magnificent way to die, he thought, before he lost consciousness. To hell with the world, and their loss. This was sent to me. This is my final performance.

He started to laugh madly before the flames took him to his ultimate home.