The Piper of Dreams by James Huneker
The desert of my soul is peopled with black gods,
Huge blocks of wood;
Brave with gilded horns and shining gems,
The black and silent gods
Tower in the naked desert of my soul.
With eyes of wolves they watch me in the night;
With eyes like moons.
My gods are they; in each the evil grows,
The grandiose evil darkens over each
And each black god, silent
Under the iron skies, dreams
Of his omnipotencethe taciturn black gods!
And my flesh and my brain are underneath their feet;
I am the victim, and I perish
Under the weight of these nocturnal gods
And in the iron winds of their unceasing wrath.
It was opera night, and the lights burned with an official
brilliancy that challenged the radiance of the Café Monferino across
the asphalt. There, all was decorous gaiety; and the doubles of Pilsner
never vanished from the little round metal tables that overflowed into
the juncture of the streets Gluck and Halévy. Among the brasseries in
Paris this the most desirable to lovers of the Bohemian brew. The
cooking, Neapolitan and Viennese, perhaps explained the presence, one
June evening in the year 1930, of tall, blond, blue-eyed Illowski, the
notorious Russian symphonist. With several admirers he sat sipping
bocks and watched the motley waves of the boulevard wash back strange
men and womenand again women.
Lenyard spoke first. Young and from New England he was studying
music in Paris.
Master, why don't you compose a music drama? Illowski, gazing into
the soft blur of light and mist over the Place de l'Opéra, did not
answer. Scheff burst into laughter. The one who had put the question
became angry. Confound it! What have I said, Mr. Dutchman, that seems
so funny to you? Illowski put out a long, thin hand,a veritable flag
of truce: Children, cease! I have written something better than a
music drama. I told Scheff about it before he left St. Petersburg last
spring. Don't be jealous, Lenyard. There is nothing in the work that
warrants publicityyet. It is merely a venture into an unfamiliar
region, nothing more. But how useless to write for a public that still
listens to Meyerbeer in the musical catacombs across the street!
Lenyard's lean, dark features relaxed. He gazed smilingly at the fat
and careless Scheff. Then Illowski arose. It was late, he said, and his
head ached. He had been scoring all daysufficient reason for early
retirement. The others demurred, though meekly. If their sun set so
early, how could they be expected to pass the night with any degree of
pleasure? The composer saw all this; but he was sensibly selfish, and
buttoning the long frock-coat which hung loosely on his attenuated
frame shook hands with his disciples, called a carriage and drove away.
Lenyard and Scheff stared after him and then faced the situation. There
were many tell-tale porcelain tallies on the table to be settled, and
neither had much money; so the manoeuvring was an agreeable sight for
the cynical waiter. Finally Lenyard, his national pride rising at the
spectacle of the Austrian's penuriousness, paid the entire bill with a
Scheff sank back in his chair and grinningly inquired, Say, my boy,
I wonder if Illowski has enough money for his coachman when he reaches
the mysterious, old dream-barn he calls home? Lenyard slowly emptied
his glass: I don't know, you don't know, and, strictly speaking, we
don't care. But I'd dearly like to see the score of his new work.
Scheff blinked with surprise. He, too, was thinking of the same
dread matter. What, in God's name, do you mean? Speak out. I've been
frightened long enough. This Illowski is a terrible man, Scheff. Do you
suspect the stories are true, after all? Then both men stood up,
shook hands and said: Neshevna will tell us. She knows. ...
Pavel Illowski was a man for whom the visible world had never
existed. Born a Malo-Russ, nursed on Little-Russian legends, a dreamer
of soft dreams until more than a lad, he was given a musical education
in Moscow, the White Cityitself a dream of old Alexander Nevsky's
days. Within sight of the Kremlin the slim and delicate youth fed upon
the fatalistic writers of the nineteenth century. He knew Schopenhauer
before he learned to pronounce German correctly; and the works of
Bakounin, Herzen, Kropotkin became part of his cerebral tissue.
Proudhon, Marx, and Ferdinand Lassalle taught him to hate wealth,
property, power; and then he came across an old volume of Nietzsche in
his uncle's library. The bent of the boy's genius was settled. He would
be a composerhad he not, as a bare-headed child, run sobbing after
Tschaïkowsky's coffin almost to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in
1893but a composer who would mould the destinies of his nation,
perhaps the destinies of all the world, a second Svarog. He early saw
the powerinsidious, subtle, dangerous powerthat lurked in great
art, saw that the art of the twentieth century, his century, was music.
Only thirteen when the greatest of all musical Russians died, he read
Nietzsche a year later; and these men were the two compelling forces of
his life until the destructive poetry of the mad, red-haired Australian
poet, Lingwood Evans, appeared. Illowski's philosophy of anarchy was
now complete, his belief in a social, æsthetic, ethical regeneration of
the world, fixed. Yet he was no militant reformer; he would bear no
polemical banners, wave no red flags. A composer of music, he
endeavored to impart to his work articulate, emotion-breeding and
formidably dangerous qualities.
Deserting the vague and fugitive experimentings of Berlioz, Wagner,
Liszt and Richard Strauss, Illowski modelled himself upon Tschaïkowsky.
He read everything musical and poetical in type, and his first attempt,
when nearly thirty, was a symphonic setting of a poem by a
half-forgotten English poet, Robert Browning, Childe Roland to the
Dark Tower Came, and the music aroused hostile German criticism. Here
is a young Russian, declared the critics, who ventures beyond
Tschaïkowsky and Strauss in his attempts to make music say something.
Was not the classic Richard Wagner a warning to all who endeavored to
wring from music a message it possessed not? When Wagner saw that
BeethovenAh, the sublime Beethoven!could not do without the aid of
the human voice in his Ninth Symphony, he fashioned his music drama
accordingly. With the co-operation of pantomime, costume, color,
lights, scenery, he invented a new artpatched and tinkered one, said
his enemies, who thought him old-fashionedand so Der Ring, Tristan
und Isolde, Die Meistersinger and Parsifal were born. True
classics in their devotion to form and freedom from the feverishness of
the later men headed by Richard Strausswhy should any one seek to
better them, to supplant them? Wagner had been the Mozart of his
century. Down with the musical Tartars of the East who spiritually
invaded Europe to rob her of peace, religion, aye, and morals!
Much censure of this kind was aimed at Illowski, who continued
calmly. Admiring Richard Strauss, he saw that the man did not dare
enough, that his effort to paint in tone the poetic heroes of the past
century, himself included, was laudable; but Don Juan, Macbeth, quaint
Till Eulenspiegel, fantastic Don Quixote were, after all, chiefly
concerned with a moribund æstheticism. Illowski best liked the Strauss
setting of Also Sprach Zarathustra because it approached his own
darling project, though it neither touched the stars nor reached the
earth. Besides, this music was too complicated. A new art must be
evolved, not a synthesis of the old arts dreamed by Wagner, but an art
consisting of music alone: an art for the twentieth century, a
democratic art in which poet and tramp alike could revel. To the
profoundest science must be united a clearness of exposition that only
Raphael has. Even a peasant enjoys Velasquez. The Greeks fathomed this
mystery: all Athens worshipped its marbles, and Phidias was crowned
King of Emotions. Music alone lagged in the race, music, part speech,
part painting, with a surging undertow of passion, music had been too
long in the laboratories of the wise men. To free it from its Egyptian
bondage, to make it the tongue of all life, the interpreter of the
world's desireIllowski dreamed the dreams of madmen.
Chopin, who divined this truth, went first to the people, later to
Paris, and thenceforward he became the victim of the artificial.
Beethoven was born too soon in a world grown gray under scholars'
shackles. The symphony, like the Old Man of the Sea, weighed upon his
mighty shoulders; music, he believed, must be formal to be understood.
Illowski, in his many wanderings, pondered these things: saw Berlioz on
the trail, in his efforts to formulate a science of instrumental
timbres; saw Wagner captivated by the glow of the footlights; saw
Liszt, audacious Liszt, led by Wagner, and tribute laid upon his genius
by the Bayreuth man; saw Tschaïkowsky struggling away from the
temptations of the music drama only to succumb to the symphonic poema
new and vicious version of that old pitfall, the symphony; saw César
Franck, the Belgian mystic, narrowly graze the truth in some of his
chamber music, and then fall victim to the fascinations of the word; as
if the word, spoken or sung, were other than a clog to the free wings
of imaginative music! Illowski noted the struggles of these dreamers,
noted Verdi swallowed by the maelstrom of the theatre; noted Richard
Strauss and his hesitation at the final leap.
To the few in whom he confided, he admitted that Strauss had been
his forerunner, having upset the notion that music must be beautiful to
be music and seeing the real significance of the characteristic, the
ugly. Had Strauss developed courage or gone to the far East when
youngIllowski would shrug his high shoulders, gnaw his cigarette and
exclaim, Who knows?
Tolstoy was right after all, this sage, who under cover of fiction
preached the deadliest doctrines; doctrines that aimed at nothing less
than the disequilibration of existing social conditions. Tolstoy had
inveighed bitterly against all forms of artificial art. If the Moujik
did not understand Beethoven, then all the worse for Beethoven; great
art should have in it Mozart's sunny simplicities, without Mozart's
elaborate technical methods. This Illowski believed. To unite the
intimate soul-searching qualities of Chopin and exclude his alembicated
art; to sweep with torrential puissance the feelings of the common
people, whether Chinese or German, Esquimaux or French; to tell them
things, things found neither in books nor in pictures nor in stone,
neither above the earth nor in the waters below; to liberate them from
the tyranny of laws and beliefs and commandments; to preach the new
dispensation of Lingwood Evansmagnificent, brutal, and
blood-lovingah! if Illowski could but discover this hidden
philosophers stone, this true Arcana of all wisdom, this emotional
lever of Archimedes, why then the whole world would be his: his power
would depose Pope and Emperor. And again he dreamed the dreams of
madmenhis mother had been nearly related to Dostoïewsky....
Of what avail the seed-bearing Bach and his fuguesemotional
mathematics, all of them! Of what avail the decorative efforts of tonal
fresco painters, breeders of an hour's pleasure, soon forgotten in the
grave's muddy disdain! Had not the stage lowered music to the position
of a lascivious handmaiden? To the sound of cymbals, it postured for
the weary debauchee. No; music must go back to its origins. The church
fettered it in its service, knowing full well its good and evil. Before
Christianity was, it had been a power in hieratic hands. Ancient
Egyptian priests hypnotized the multitudes with a single silvery sound;
and in the deepest Indian jungles inspired fakirs induced visions by
the clapping of shells. Who knows how the Grand Llama of Thibet decrees
the destinies of millions! Music again, music in some other garb than
we now sense it. Illowski groaned as he attacked this hermetic mystery.
He had all the technique of contemporary art at his beck; but not that
unique tone, the unique form, by which he might become master of the
universe and gain spiritual dominion over mankind. Yet the secret, so
fearfully guarded, had been transmitted through the ages. Certain
favored ones must have known it, men who ruled the rulers of earth.
Where could it be found? The jealous gods have buried somewhere proofs
of the origins of all things, but upon the shores of what ocean have
they rolled the stone that hides them, O Macareus? Thus echoed he the
fatidical query of the French poet....
Illowski left Europe. Some said he had gone to Asia, the mother of
all religions, of all corruptions. He had been seen in China, and later
stories were related of his attempts to enter the sacred city, Lhasa.
He disappeared and many composers and critics were not sorry; his was a
too commanding personality: he menaced modern art. Thus far church and
state had not considered his individual existence; he was but one of
the submerged units of Rurik's vast Slavic Empire which now almost
traversed the Eastern hemisphere. So he was forgotten and a minor god
arose in his placea man who wrote pretty ballets, who declared that
the end of music was to enthrall the senses; and his ballets were
danced over Europe, while Illowski's name faded away....
At the end of ten years he returned to St. Petersburg. Thinner, much
older, his long, spidery arms, almost colorless blond hair and eroded
features gave him the air of a cenobite who had escaped from some
Scandinavian wilderness into life. His Oriental reserve, and evident
dislike of all his former social habits, set the musical world wagging
its head, recalling the latter days of Dostoïewsky. But Illowski was
not mad: he simply awaited his opportunity. It came. The morning after
his first concert he was awakened by fame knocking at his gate, the
most horrible kind of fame. He was not called a madman by the critics,
for his music could never have been the product of a crazy brainhe
was pronounced an arch-enemy to mankind, because he told infamous
secrets in his music, secrets that had lain buried in the shale of a
vanished epoch. And, lest the world grow cold, he drove to its very
soul the most hideous truths. A hypnotist, he conducted his orchestra
through extraordinary and malevolent forests of tone. The audience went
into the night, some sobbing, some beating the air like possessed ones,
others frozen with terror. At the second concert the throngs were so
dense that the authorities interfered. What poison was being
disseminated in the air of a concert hall? What new device of the
revolutionists? What deadly secret did this meagre, dreamy,
harmless-looking Russian possess? The censors were alert. Critics were
instructed by the heads of their journals to drive forth this musical
anarchist; but criticism availed not. A week, and Illowski became the
talk of Russia, a month, and Europe filled with strange rumors about
him. Here was a magician who made the dead speak, the living dumbwhat
were the limits of his power? What his ultimate intention? Such a man
might be converted into a political force would he but range himself on
the right side of the throne. If notwhy, then there was still Siberia
and its weary stretches of snow!
When he reached Moscow rioting began in the streets. Leaving, he
went with his dark-skinned Eastern musicians to the provinces. And the
government trembled. Peasants threw aside spade, forgot vodka and
rushed to his free concerts, given in canvas-covered booths; and the
impetus communicated to this huge, weltering mass of slaving humanity,
broke wave-like upon the remotest borders of the empire. The church
became alarmed. Anti-Christ had been predicted for centuries, and
latterly by the Second Adventists. Was Illowski the one at whose nod
principalities and powers of earth should tremble and fall? Was he the
prince of darkness himself? Was the liberation of the seven seals at
handthat awful time foretold by the mystic of Patmos? The
Metropolitan of the Greek church did not long hesitate. A hierarchy
that became endangered because a fanatic wielded hypnotic powers, must
exert its prerogative. The aid of the secret police invoked, Illowski
was hurried into Austria; but with him were his men, and he grimly
laughed as he sat in a Viennese café and counted the victories of his
It has begun, he told his first violinist, a stolid fellow with
black blood in his veins.
It had begun. After a concert in Vienna, Illowski was politely
bidden to leave Austria. The unsettled political condition, the
disaffection of Czech and Hungarian, were a few of the reasons given
for this summary retirement. Yet Illowski's orchestra did not play the
Rakoczy march! The clergy heard of his impieties; a report obtained
credence that the Russian composer had written music for the black
mass, most blasphemous of missal travesties. When he was told of this
he smiled, for he did not aim at attacking mere sectarian beliefs; with
Bakounin, he swore that there must be total destruction of all existing
He went to Germany believing the countrymen of Nietzsche would
receive with joy this Overman from the East. There was no longer any
Bayreuththe first performance of Parsifal elsewhere had killed the
place and the work. In Munich, the authorities forewarned, Illowski was
arrested as a dangerous character and sent to Trieste. Thence he
shipped to Genoa; and once in Italy, free. On the peninsula his
progress was that of a trailing comet. The feminine madness first
manifested itself there and swept the countryside with epidemic fury.
Wherever he played the dancing mania set in, and the soldiery could not
put it down by force of arms. Nietzsche's dancing philosopher,
Zarathustra, was incarnated in Illowski's compositions. Like the
nervous obsessions of mediæval times, this music set howling, leaping
and writhing volatile Italians, until it began to assume the
proportions of a new evangel, an hysterical hallucination that bade
defiance to law, doctors, even the decencies of life. Terrible stories
reached the Vatican, and when it was related that one of his symphonic
pieces delineated Zarathustra's Cave with its sinister mockery of
prelate and king, the hated Quirinal was approached for assistance, and
Illowski vanished from Italy.
In the British Isles, the same wicked tales were told of him. He was
denounced by priest and publican as a subverter of morals. No poet, no
demagogue, had ever so interested the masses. Musicians of academic
training held aloof. What had they in common with this charlatan who
treated the abominable teachings of Walt Whitman symphonically? He
could not be a respectable man, even if he were a sane. And then the
unlettered tiller of the soil, drunken mechanic and gutter drab all
loved his music. What kind of music was it thus to be understood by the
The police thought otherwise. Illowski gathered crowdsthat was
sufficient to ban him, not as the church does, with bell, book and
candle, but with stout oaken clubs. Forth he fared, and things came to
such a pass that not a steamer dared convey him or his band to America.
By this time the scientific reviews had taken him up as a sort of
public Illusionist. Disciples of Charcot explained his scoresthough
not one had been publishedwhile the neo-moralists gladly denounced
him as a follower of the Master Immoralist, a sublimated emotional
expression of the ethical nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche. Others, more
fanciful, saw in his advent and in his art an attempt to overturn
nations, life itself, through the agency of corrupting beauty and by
the arousing of illimitable desires. Color and music, sweetness and
soft luxuries, declared these modern followers of Ambrose and
Chrysostom, were the agencies of Satan in the undermining of morals.
Pulpits thundered. The press sneered at the new Pied Piper of Hamelin,
and poets sang of him. One Celtic bard named him Master of the Still
Stars and of the Flaming Door.
For women his music was as the moth's desire. Wherever he went were
womenwomen and children. Old legends were revived about the ancient
gods. The great Pan was said to be abroad; rustling in the night air
set young folk blushing. An emotional renascence swept like a torrid
simoon over Europe. Those who had not heard, had not seen him, felt,
nevertheless, Illowski's subtle influences in their bosoms. The
fountains of democracy's great deeps were breaking up. Too long had
smug comfort and utilitarianism ruled a world grown weary of debasing
commerce. All things must have an end, even wealth; and to the
wretched, to those in damp mines, to the downcast in exile and in
prisons and to the muck of humanity his name became a beautiful,
illuminated symbol. The charges of impiety were answered: His music
makes us dream. Music now became ruler of the universe, and the earth
hummed tunes; yet Illowski's maddening music had been heard by few
Humble, poor, asking nothing, always giving, he soon became a
nightmare to the orthodox. He preached no heresies, promised no future
rewards, nor warred he against church or kingdom. He only made music
and things were not as before; some strange angel had passed that way
filling men's souls with joy, beauty and bitterness. Duties, vows,
beliefs fell away like snow in the sun; families, tribes, states grew
restless, troops were called and churches never closed. A wave of
belated paganism rolled over the world; thinkers and steersmen of great
political and religious organizations became genuinely alarmed. So had
come the downfall of the classical world: a simple apparition in a far
away Jewish province, and the Cæsars fell supinetheir empires cracked
like mirrors! To imprison Illowski meant danger; to kill him would
deify him, for in the blood of martyrs blossom the seeds of mighty
religions. Far better if he go to ParisParis, the cradle and the tomb
of illusions. There this restless demagogue might find his dreams
stilled in the scarlet negations and frivolous philosophies of the
town; thus the germ-plasm of a new religion, of a new race, perhaps of
a new world, be drowned in the drowsy green of a little glass.
Illowski, this Spirit that Denied, this new Mephisto of music, did
not balk his evil wishers.
Paris, why not? She refused to understand Berlioz, flouted Wagner,
and mocked Rodin's marble egotisms, the ferocious, white stillness of
his Balzac! Perhaps Paris will give me, if not a welcome, at least
repose. I am tired.
To Paris he went and excepting a few cynical paragraphs received no
attention. The Conservatoire, the Académie de Musique did not welcome
officially this gifted son of the Neva; the authorities blandly ignored
him, though the police were instructed that if he attempted to play in
front of churches, address mobs or build barricades, he must be
confined. Paris had no idea of Illowski's real meaning; Paris, even in
the twentieth century, always hears the news of the world last;
besides, she conceives no other conquest save one that has for its
object the several decayed thrones within her gates. Illowski was not
molested and his men, despite their strange garb and complexion, went
about freely. The Russian composer of ballets was just then the mode.
Some clever caricatures appeared of Illowski representing him as a
musical Napoleon, cocked hat, sleek white horse and all. Another gave
him the goat's beard of Brother Jonathan, with the baton of a Yankee
band-master; and then it was assured that the much advertised composer
was a joking American masquerading as a Slav, possibly the vender of
some new religious cure born in the fanatical bake-ovens of Western
America. Faust alternated with Les Huguenots at the Opéra, Pilsner
beer was on tap at the Café Monferinowhy worry over exotic stories
told of this visitor's abnormal musical powers? And little did anyone
surmise that he had just given a symphonic setting to Lingwood Evans's
insurrectionary poem with its ghastly refrain: I hear the grinding of
the swords, and He shall come Thus did Paris unwittingly harbor the
poet, philosopher, composer and pontiff of the new dispensationPavel
Illowski. And Lenyard with Scheff was hastening to Auteuil to see
Neshevna, whose other name was never known.
Lenyard disliked Neshevna before he saw her; when they met he made
no attempt to conceal his hatred. He again told himself this, as with
Scheff he pursued the gravel path leading to the porter's lodge of
Illowski's house. In Auteuil it overlooked the Seine which flowed a
snake of sunny silver between its green-ribbed banks. Together the pair
entered, mounted a low flight of steps and rang the private bell.
Neshevna opened the door. In the flood of a westering sun the accents
of her fluid Slavic face and her mannish head set upon narrow
shouldersall the disagreeable qualities of the womanwere
exaggerated by this bath of clear light. Her hard gaze softened when
she saw Scheff. She spoke to him, not noticing the other:
The master is not at home. Lenyard contradicted her: He is; the
concierge said so.
The concierge lies; but come in. I will see.
Following her they reached the music room, which was bare of
instruments, pictures, furniture, all save a tall desk upon which lay a
heap of music paper. Neshevna made a loping dart to the deskshe was
like a wolf in her movementsand threw a handkerchief over it. Lenyard
watched her curiously. Scheff gave one of his good-natured yawns and
Neshevna, we come to ask!
What? she gravely inquired. There was a lithe alertness in the
woman that puzzled Lenyard. Scheff lounged on the window-sill. Now,
Neshevna, be a good girl! Don't forget Moscow or your old adorer.
She answered him with sarcastic emphasis: You fat fool, you and
your clerical friend there, what do you both want spying upon Illowski
like police? Her voice became shrill as she rapidly uttered these
questions, her green eyes seemed shot with blood. If you think I'll
tell either of you anything concerning the new music
That's all we are here to learn.
All? Imbeciles! As if you or your American could understand
Illowski and his message!
What message? Lenyard's grave face was not in the least
discomposed by the Cossack passion of the woman. What message has
Illowski? I've heard queer stories, and cannot credit them. You are in
his confidence. Tell us, we ask in humility, what message can any man's
music have but the revelation of beauty?
Lenyard's diplomatic question did not fail of its mark. Neshevna
pushed back her flamboyant gray hair and walked about the room.
Mummies! she suddenly cried. As if beauty will content a new
generation fed on something besides the sweetmeats and pap of your
pretty, meaningless music! Why, man, can't you see that all the arts
are deadsave music? Don't you know that painting, literature,
creedsaye, and the kingdoms are dying for want of new blood, new
ideas? Music alone is a vital force, an instrument for rescuing the
world from its moral and spiritual decay. Nietzsche was a potent force
in the nineteenth century, but not understood. They condemned him to a
living death. Lingwood Evans, poet, prophet, is now too old to enforce
his messageit is Illowski, Illowski alone who shall be the
destructive Messiah of the new millennial. 'He cometh not to save; not
peace, but blood!'
The fire of fanaticism was in her eyes, in her speech. She grasped
Lenyard by the elbow: You, you should serve the master. Scheff is too
fond of pleasure to do anything great. He is to give the signalthat's
glory enough for him. But you, discontented American, have the stuff in
you to make a martyr. We need martyrs. You hate me? Good! But you must
worship Illowski. Art gives place to life, and in Illowski's music is
the new life. He will sweep the globe from pole to pole, for all men
understand his tones. Other gods have but prepared the way for him. No
more misery, no more promises unfulfilled by the rulers of body and
soulonly music, music like the air, the tides, the mountains, the
moon, sun, and stars! Your old-fashioned melody and learning, your
school-boy rules of counterpointall these Illowski ignores.
Lenyard eagerly interrupted her: You say that he does away with
melody, themes, harmonyhow does he replace them, and how does he
treat the human voice? Neshevna let his arm fall and went slowly to
the tall desk. She leaned against it, her hand upon her square chin.
Scheff still gazed out upon the lawn where splashed a small, movable
fountain. To Lenyard the air seemed as if charged with electric
questionings. His head throbbed.
You ask me something I dare not tell. Even Scheff, who knows some
things, dares not tell. If Illowski's discoverywhich is based on the
great natural laws of heat, light, gravitation, electricityif this
discovery were placed in the hands of fools, the world would perish.
Music has been so long the plaything of sensuality, the theatre for
idle men and women, that its real greatness is forgotten. In Illowski's
hands it is a moral force. He comes to destroy that he may rebuild. He
accomplishes it with the raw elements themselves. Remember'I hear the
grinding of the swords, and He shall come!' Neshevna made a nervous
gesture and disappeared through a door near the tall desk covered with
music-paperthe desk whereon Illowski plotted the ruin of
Now since you have seen the dread laboratory, don't hang around
that desk; there's nothing there you can understand. The music-paper is
covered with electrical and chemical formulæ, not notes. I've seen
them. Lenyard, let's go back to Paris and dine, like sensible
men,which we are not. Scheff dragged his friend out of the house,
for the other was in a stupor. Neshevna's words cleaved his very soul.
The American, the puritan in him, swiftly rose to her eloquent
exhortation. All life was corrupt, he had been taught; art was corrupt,
a snare, a delusion. Yetwas all its appalling power, its sensuous
grandeur to be wasted in the service of the world, the flesh, the
devil? Lenyard paused. Oh, come on, Len. Why do you bother your
excitable, sick heart with that lunatic's prophecies? Illowski is a big
man, a very big man; but he is mad, mad! His theories of the
decomposition of tonehe only imitates the old painter-impressionist
of long agoand his affected simplicitywhy, he is after the big
public, that's all. As to your question about what part the human voice
plays in his scheme, I may tell you now that he doesn't care a farthing
for it except as color. He uses the voice as he would use any
instrumental combination, and he mixes his colors so wonderfully that
he sometimes polarizes themthey no longer have any hue or scent. He
should have been a painter not a composer. He makes panoramas,
psychological panoramas, not music.
You heard them, saw them?
Yes, said Scheff, sourly. Some of the early ones, and I had brain
fever for months afterward.
Yet, challenged Lenyard, you deny his powers?
I don't know what he has written recently, was the sullen answer,
but if the newspapers are to be believed, he is crazy. Music all
color, no rhythm, no themes, and then his preaching of Nietzscheit's
all wrong, all wrong, my boy. Art was made for joy. When it is anything
else, it's a dangerous explosive. Chemically separate certain natural
elements and they rush together with a thunder-clap. That's what
Illowski has done. It isn't art. It's sciencethe science of dangerous
sounds. He discovered that sound-vibrations rule the universe, that
they may be turned into a musical Roentgen ray. He presents this in a
condensed art, an electric form
But the means, man, the methods, the instruments, the form?
Lenyard's voice was tense with excitement. The phlegmatic Scheff
noticed this and soothingly said:
The means? Why, dear boy, he just hypnotizes people, and promises
them bank accounts and angel-wings. That's how he does the trick.
Here's the tramcar. Jump in. I'm dying of thirst. To the Monferino!
* * * * *
Paris laughed when Illowski announced the performance of his new
orchestral drama named Nietzsche. The newspapers printed columns
about the composer and his strange career. A disused monster
music-hall, near the Moulin Rouge on Montmartre, was to be the scene of
the concert and the place was at once christened Théâtre du
Tarnhelmfor a story had leaked out about the ebon darkness in which
the Russian's music was played. This was surpassing the almost
forgotten Richard Wagner. Concerts in the dark must be indeed
spirituelle. The wits giggled over their jokes; and when the kiosks and
bare walls were covered by placards bearing the names of
Illowski'Nietzsche,' with a threatening sword beneath them, the
excitement became real. Satirical songs were sung in the cafés
chantants, and several fashionable clerics wove the name of Illowski
into their Sunday preachments. In a week he was popular, two a mystery,
three a necessity. The authorities maintained a dignified silenceand
watched. Politics, Bourbonism, Napoleonism, Boulangerism ere this had
crept in unawares sporting strange disguises. Perhaps Illowski was a
friend of the Vatican, of the Czar; perhaps a destructive,
bomb-throwing Nihilist, for the indomitable revolutionists still waged
war against the law. Might not this music be the signal for a dangerous
uprising of some sort?...
Lenyard was asked to sit in a box with Neshevna that last night.
Scheff refused to join them; he swore that he was tired of music and
would remain in town. The woman smiled as he said this, then she handed
him a letter, made a little motionthe signal.
It was on the esplanade that Neshevna and Lenyard stood. The young
man, weary with vigils, his face furrowed by curiosity, regarded the
city below them as it lay swimming in the waves of a sinking sun. He
saw the crosses of La Trinité as molten copper, then dusk and dwindle
in the shadows. The twilight seemed to prefigure the fading of the
human race. Neshevna walked with this dreamer to the rear of the
theatrethe theatre of the Tarnhelm, that was to darken all
civilization. He asked for Illowski, but she did not reply; she, too,
was steeped in dreams. And all the streets were thick with men and
women tumbling up to the top.
We sit in a second-tier box, she presently said. If you get
tired, orannoyed, you may go out on the balcony and look down upon
the lights of Paris, though I fear it will be a dark night. There is no
moon, she added, her voice dropping to a mumble....
They sat in a dark box that last night. The auditorium, vast and
silent with the breath-catching silence of thousands, lay below them;
but their eyes were glued upon a rosy light beginning to break over the
space where was the stage. It spread, deepened, until it fairly hummed
with scarlet tones. Gradually emerging from this cruel crimson the
image of a huge sword became visible. Neshevna touched Lenyard's hand.
The symbol of his power! she crooned.
Blending with the color of the light a musical tone made itself
seen, heard, felt. Lenyard shuddered. At last, the new dispensation was
about to be revealed, the new gospel preached. It was a single
vibratile tone, and was uttered by a trumpet. Was it a trumpet? It
pealed with the peal of bells shimmering high in heaven. No occidental
instrument had ever such a golden, conquering tone. It was the tone of
one who foretold the coming, and was full of invincible faith and
sweetness. Lenyard closed his eyes. That a single tone could so thrill
his nerves he would have denied. This, then, was the secret. For the
first time in the Christian world, the beauties of tonal timbres were
made audiblealmost visible; the quality appealed to the eye, the
inner eye. Was not the tinted music so cunningly merged as to impinge
first on the optic nerve? Had the East, the Hindus and the Chinese,
known of this purely material fact for ages, and guarded it in esoteric
silence? Here was music based on simple, natural sounds, the sounds of
birds and air, the subtle sounds of silk. For centuries Europe had been
on the wrong track with its melodic experimenting, its complex of
harmonies. Illowski was indeed the saviour of musicand Neshevna, her
great, green, luminous eyes upon him, held Lenyard's hand.
The sound grew in volume, grew less silken, and more threatening,
while the light faded into mute, misty music like the purring of cats.
A swelling roar assaulted their ears; nameless creeping things seemed
to fill the tone. Yet it was in one tonality; there was no harmony, no
melody. The man's quick ear detected many new, rich timbres, as if made
by strange instruments. He also recognized interior rhythms, the result
of color rather than articulate movement. Then came silence, a silence
that shouted cruelly across the gulfs of blackness, a silence so
profound as to be appalling. Sound, rhythm, silencethe material from
which is fashioned the creative stuff of the universe! Lenyard became
restless; but the grip on his fingers tightened. He felt the oppressive
dread that precedes the flight of a nightmare; the dread that mankind
knows when sunk in shallow, horrid sleep. A low, frightened wail
mounted out of the darkness wherein massed the people. Another tone
usurped the ear, pierced the eyes. It was a blinding beam of tone,
higher and more undulating. His heart harshly ticking like a clock, he
viewed, as in a vision, the march of the nations, the crash of falling
theocracies, of dying dynasties. On a stony platform, vast and crowded,
he knelt in sackcloth and ashes; the heavens thundered over the weeping
millions of Nineveh; and the Lord of Hosts would not be appeased.
Stretching to the clouds were black, basaltic battlements, and above
them reared white terraced palaces, as swans that strain their throats
to the sky. The day of wrath was come. And amid the granitic clashing
of the elements, Lenyard saw the mighty East resolving into dust.
Neshevna pressed his hand.
By the waters of Babylon he wandered, and found himself at the base
of a rude little hill. The shock of the quaking earth, the silent
passing of the sheeted dead, and the rush of affrighted multitudes told
him that another cosmic tragedy was at hand. In a flare of lightning he
saw silhouetted against an angry sky three crosses at the top of the
sad little hill. He reeled away, his heart almost bursting, when
Neshevna grasped him. You saw the death of the gods! she hoarsely
He could not answer, for the music showed him a thunder-blasted
shore fringing a bituminous sea. This sea stirred not, while the air
above it was frozen in salty silence. Faint, thin light came up through
the waters, and Lenyard caught a glimpse in the deeps below of
sparkling pinnacles and bulbous domes of gold; a dead sea rolled over
the dead cities of the bitter plain. He trembled as Neshevna said, with
a grinding sob, That was the death of life.
Lenyard's sombre soul modulated to another dreamthe last.
Suffocating and vague, the stillness waxed and ran over the troubled
edges of eternity. The Plain, gloomy and implacable, was illuminated on
its anonymous horizon by one rift of naked, leering light. Over its
illimitable surface surged and shivered women, white, dazzling,
numberless. As waves that, lap on lap, sweep fiercely across the
sky-line, as bisons that furiously charge upon grassy wastes, as the
rill that runs from Bulicamé to be portioned out among the sinful
women, these hordes of savage creatures rose and fell in their mad
flight across the Plain. No sudden little river, no harsh accent of
knoll or hill, broke the immeasurable whiteness of bared breast and
ivoried shoulder. It was a white whirl of women, a ferocious vortex of
terrified women. Lenyard saw the petrified fear upon the faces of them
that went into the Pit; and he descried the cruel and looming figure of
Illowski piping to them as they went into the Pit. The maelstrom of
faces turned to their dream-master; faces blanched by regret, sunned by
crime, beaming with sin; faces rusted by vain virtue; wan, weary faces,
and the triumphant regard of those who lovedall gazed at the Piper as
vertiginously they boiled by. The world of women passed at his feet
radiant, guilty, white, glittering and powerless. Lenyard felt the
inertia of sickness seize him when he saw the capital expression upon
these futile facesthe expression of insurgent souls that see for the
last time their conqueror. Not a sign made these mystic brides, not a
sound; and, as in the blazing music they dashed despairingly down the
gulf of time, Lenyard was left with eyes strained, pulses jangled,
lonely and hopeless. He shivered, and his heart halted....
This is the death of love, shouted Neshevna. But Lenyard heard her
not; nor did he hear the noise of the people beneaththe veritable
booming of primordial gorilla-men. And now a corrosive shaft of tone
rived the building as though its walls had been of gauze and went
hissing towards Paris, in shape a menacing sword. Like the clattering
of tumbrils in narrow, stony streets men and women trampled upon each
other, fleeing from the accursed altar of this arch-priest of
BeelzebubIllowski. They over-streamed the sides of Montmartre, as
ants washed away by water. And the howling of them was heard by the
watchers in the doomed city below.
Neshevna, her arm clutched by Lenyard's icy fingers, shook him
violently, and tried to release herself. Finding this impossible she
dragged her silent burden out upon the crumpling balcony.
Paris was draped in flaming cloudsthe blood-red smoke of mad
torches. Tongues of fire twined about the towers of Notre Dame; where
the Opéra once stood yawned a blackened hole. The air was shocked by
fulminate blaststhe signals of the careless Scheff.
And the woman, her mouth filled with exultant laughter, screamed,
Thou hast conquered, O Pavel Illowski!