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The Immortal Composer

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The Immortal Composer

Fiction by C.K. Garabed

The Armenian Weekly

September 28, 1991

Alexander Corinthian scanned the directory on the ground floor of the Danbury Office Building. “Dr. Leonardo Ponti -- 5th Floor -- Room 555.” He pressed the button for the elevator and waited.

“Can he help me?” Alex thought. “He’s my last hope.”

The elevator came. He entered and pushed the button for the 5th floor. The doors closed and the car lifted. He was alone, with his person and his thoughts. He had never felt so lonely before in his life.

The car stopped and he got out. Signs helped him find Room 555.

He entered. Although there was a desk for a receptionist in the outer office, no one was seated there. He closed the door and began to take a seat when the door to the inner office opened and a tall man with a beard dressed in a white jacket entered, extending his hand. “Mr. Corinthian, I believe.”

“Yes; Dr. Ponti?”

“Of course; I was expecting you. Good of you to be prompt. Shall we enter my office?” [Gesturing to the inner room]. Alex walked in and Dr. Ponti followed, then closed the door.

“You were referred by Dr. Doppelkopf.”

“Yes. He did all he could. He felt, if anyone were left to help me, it would be you.”

“Did he explain why he felt that way?”

“Yes, he said that hypnosis was the only resort left for me and that you specialized in that technique.”

“Do you believe in hypnosis?”

“I believe in the unusual workings of the mind, so I guess my answer would be yes.”

“Good. Let’s begin by your telling me exactly what your problem is, or perhaps what you believe your problem to be.,”

“Well, I felt I was destined to devote my life to music, and especially to the composition of serious music. I have been able to gain a livelihood by playing the violin. I was able to qualify for a position in the city’s symphony orchestra, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past ten or twelve years. However, my need to compose has been obstructed by a psychological block. Ideas come to me readily enough. But, in trying to pursue these ideas to completion, I run out of steam, so to speak. I know I can do it. But something up here [pointing to his head] prevents me.”

“Did Dr. Doppelkopf tell you about my interest in classical music?”

“Yes. That’s another reason why he recommended you. He felt that you could appreciate my problem more. He told me that you are an accomplished amateur pianist.”

“I thank Dr. Doppelkopf for that compliment.”

“He also told me that Beethoven is your favorite composer. Perfectly understandable. But my own favorite is Mozart. What a talent! What a mind! He occupies the pinnacle in the music of Western Civilization. All that’s been written about his childish crassness is stuff and nonsense. His was a great and noble character. With all the hardships he suffered, I would gladly have lived his life in order to tap the wellsprings of his genius.”

“What is it that you hope to accomplish, especially with the aid of hypnosis?”

“I am convinced that a psychological block is what prevents me from fulfilling my ambition. The traditional methods used by Dr. Doppelkopf have not produced results. I’m hoping with the aid of hypnosis, to sound my subconscious and to exorcise the demon that’s harbored there.”

“What makes you think that that’s your problem?”

“I’m conversant enough with Freudian theories and methods to recognize and understand obsessive and compulsive behavior in myself. My attention suffers from relentless preoccupation with the rhythm and arithmetical representations of words, whether heard or read. It takes the form of beating time by depressing the toes of the feet, alternating between right and left, striving to come out even; or the symmetrical placement of vowels in an imaginary square, with the object of achieving perfect balance. But, of course, there’s no end to it. Once balanced, continuation throws it right out of balance. So I have to continue, as well. These are some of the symptoms that convince me that my psyche is chained, and that I need help.”

“How important is it to you that you free your psyche to be able to devote yourself to the composition of music?”

“It’s the meaning to my life. I can no longer tolerate my imprisonment. Better that I were dead!”

“Sounds deadly serious.”

“You used the right words.”

“Very well. Let’s see if you are susceptible to hypnosis. It doesn’t work with everyone. Lie down here. I will test you.”

Alex did as he was told. Dr. Ponti turned off the lights and produced a pocket flashlight. He turned it on and placed it above Alex’s head, and shone the light downward on a medallion he held suspended form a chain in his other hand.

“Look at the medal and relax. I will make suggestions to you and you will try to comply.”

“As he spoke he caused the medallion to swing gently across the beam of the flashlight, thus causing the medallion to alternate between the darkness and light, casting an intermittent reflection. As he did this, he spoke slowly in low tones.

“Take a deep breath and exhale. Relax. Abandon all thoughts and concentrate on your quiet repose. You feel restful. You want to sleep. Your eyelids feel heavy. Close them. Close your eyes. You cannot open them, even if you wished to. They are locked shut. You are sleepy, sleepy, sleepy. You are asleep.”

At this point, Alex’s eyes are indeed closed. Dr. Ponti proceeds to test the effectiveness of his actions.

“We will now see if you are truly asleep. Your eyes are closed. You are asleep. You cannot open your eyes. Try it, try it right now.”

Alex opened his eyes.

He was disappointed. The doctor, however, was not surprised.

“Not all patients can be hypnotized, even if they seem to want to. Deep down something doesn’t want to let go. Perhaps it’s fear of losing control. Whatever it is, there’s little likelihood of success.”

“So we failed? There’s no hope?”

“Oh, we’ve ruled out this mode, but there are others.”

“Such as?”

“Such as chemically induced states of unconsciousness. We’ve gotten some success with the use of sodium pentothal. But it can be dangerous.”

“I’m not afraid. Besides, I’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

“There have been cases where the consequences have been fatal.”

“I don’t care. I’ll sign papers, if necessary. I have to see this thing through. I’m determined.”

“Very well. I’ll make an appointment for next week in the office of a colleague of mine. With the aid of an assistant, he will administer the chemical. How is November the 5th? Shall we say 9 am?”

“That’s fine. The sooner the better.”

On the appointed day, Alex found himself lying on his back in the office of a Dr. Aiguille. His assistant had just inserted the needle in his arm, and Dr. Ponti was speaking. “Dr. Aiguille and Ms. Ader will monitor the rate of flow of the pentothal in your vein. We’ve got standby oxygen, just in case. Now, I want you to count backwards, starting with 100.”

Alex started counting. “100, 99, 98, 97, 96, 95…” That’s all he remembered. When he awoke, it was all over. What had taken place? What was the outcome? He was anxious to know. Dr. Ponti led him to an anteroom and seated him down.

“Wait here. Sit down and rest for a few minutes; then we’ll talk.”

Five minutes later, Dr. Ponti reappeared. Alex, in the meantime, was singing at the top of his voice, and what he was singing wasn’t anything he had ever heard before.

“Easy, quiet down,” said Dr. Ponti. “Let’s go over here to another room.”

After they were alone together, Dr. Ponti asked Alex if he had any recurring nightmares. Immediately, Alex jumped forward.

“Why, yes, I do. I guess I didn’t realize it until now. I must have shut it out so completely that I didn’t ever remember dreaming the same dream night after night.”

“Tell me about it.”

“There’s not much to tell. It’s very simple, really. It involves a huge hand grabbing me by the arm above the elbow, and torture.”

“What kind of torture?”

“You’re going to think it’s crazy.”

“All dreams are crazy.”

“Well, the torture consists of the application of a blowtorch to my private parts.”

“That’s not so crazy. In fact, it’s close to the truth you’re going to know about yourself.”

“It is?”

“It is. Tell me, what’s the derivation of your name and your national background?”

“My father was Greek, my mother, Armenian. He liked the idea that Armenian names ended in IAN, so he added it to Corinth. My mother’s family came from Smyrna originally, but her mother was visiting relatives in Diarbekir when the massacres began. She was among the deportees who found themselves in the Aleppo orphanages. Later she married an Armenian man who had lost his first family in the massacres. So, with her, he started a second family. My mother was raised in Aleppo. She met my father, who was there on business from America. He eventually brought her to the U.S.”

“So your mother was steeped in the near east traditions.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“That would include principles of child-rearing.”

“What are you driving at?”

“Just this. Have you ever heard of the time-tested method for toilet training infants who are uncooperative?”


“A lighted match applied to the buttocks?”

It was as if a thunderbolt had struck. Alex knew just then that this was the missing clue, the key to the locked up psyche for which he had been searching for so long without success. He suddenly felt exhilarated, as if a tremendous weight had been lifted off his being. He wanted to fly, to soar. He knew that there would be no bar to the free flow of musical ideas welling up within him, and that there would be no crippling of the will that would leave him tired and listless. Suddenly he turned to Dr. Ponti. “I’ve got to go now. I’ve got work to do. We’ll talk more when I see you next week.” He left hurriedly.

A week later, Alex kept his standing appointment with Dr. Ponti.

“I expect to hear great things from you,” said Dr. Ponti.

“I have great things to report,” Alex replied. “I’ve been writing a symphony and I expect to complete it in another three weeks.”

“That’s great! What style re you composing it in?”

“Classical period.”

“Do you think it will go over?”

“Oh, you’ll love it when you hear it. It’s as if the spirit of Mozart were resurrected in me.”

Alex did not show up for his next appointment. Instead, his sister came to Dr. Ponti’s office. “Where is Mr. Corinthian?” inquired the doctor.

“He’s dead,” she replied.

“What? When? How?”

“Yesterday. We rushed him to the hospital, but he was already gone. They’re still trying to determine the cause of death.”

“Did he finish the symphony?”

“That very morning.”

“How odd!”

“A few days ago, he had shown the first three movements to Maestro Tortamente, conductor of the orchestra Alexander plays in. Do you know what his reaction was?” Not waiting for a reply to her rhetorical question, she continued, “He didn’t believe that Alexander wrote them. He said that Alexander must have discovered it somewhere, as it undoubtedly was Mozart’s Symphony No. 42, composed at the end of his life, and of which no one knew. He admonished Alexander for attempting to establish his authorship of the work, and if and when Alexander were to produce the remaining movement, the Maestro would prevail upon the orchestra society to perform it in concert.”

Dr. Ponti was quiet, mulling over what he had been told. Then he spoke.

“Yesterday was Thursday, December 5, 1991.”

Suddenly he rose and walked over to his bookshelves, took down a volume on Music & Musicians, turned the pages to the entry on Mozart: There it was: Born January 27, 1756. Died December 5, 1791.

Alexander’s sister looked up at him and asked, “What is it? Did you find something?”

The doctor looked straight into her eyes and said, “Nothing. Nothing at all.”