Those of you who have read about me in my history as it appears below might ask, what I am doing writing mystery novels. Good question, to which I am inclined to answer in my best climber of Mt. Everest manner, because they are there to be written.
The real answer, for the second novel is that the first was so much fun to write. The fact that so many who have read it really enjoyed it and are clamoring for the further adventures of Jeremy Wadlington-Smythe, Lord Pym, 13th Earl of Eakring and Wellow, orchestra conductor and amateur sleuth, must also be taken into account.
But the motivation for the writing of the first is apparent in the musical polemic which serves as the background context out of which the mystery springs. When I was a young man and found myself inclined to complain bitterly about something or other -- it was so long ago the details escape me now -- I was told, "So, go write a book about it, why don't you?" And so, finally, I have, about a problem for which I have very definite ideas for solutions. Our orchestras are going broke. Well, truth be told, they have been for quite some time. And they seem to enjoy it awfully for they tend to do it over and over again, hoping, I suppose, for a different result each time. Dashed inconsiderate of them, if you ask me.
The book is Murder in the House of the Muse, and it is, in a very different way, also about me.
My name is Leni Bogat. I am a passionate music lover who, after having studied composition and conducting quite seriously, spent a lifetime doing something I don't find particularly meaningful for a living. Why? If pigs had wings . . .
I was born of parents each very different from the other. This would actually be an appropriate time to blame it all on them and move on to something else. But mine is a moderately interesting story, so I shall tell it.
My mother, a very successful journalist and only slightly less successful writer of books, had studied piano as a child and played very well. Just to give you a context, one of her teachers was Eugene Istomin. Had Olga Samaroff not told her she was not physically strong enough (what?), she might have had a go at a career as a concert pianist.
My father was a successful business man who thought
being able to play the piano was very nice, but not a serious thing for a
man to do. (while this is about me, this part might just be about you too.)
I took piano lessons at the age of six, hated my teacher, and quit.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I discovered classical music. We had a piano in the house and I began to teach myself to play. By my Junior year I was determined to study music and become a conductor.
I studied with some very fine musicians in college and was taken under a few influential wings. I was fortunate enough to have studied with Louise Talma, a wonderful composer, who sent me off to Fontainebleau to study with Nadia Boulanger. The world is full of successful musicians who studied with Boulanger, but by the time I got to her she was well into her 80's and our lessons consisted of her reliving and recounting a treasure chest full of absolutely fascinating conversations she had had with the likes of Albert Roussel and Bohuslav Martinu. I learned a lot from Boulanger, but not much of it practical. Of course, that what she appreciated most about me was the fact that I always wore a tie to my lessons speaks volumes about what she thought of my compositional talents.
But my path to fame and glory came in the form of Jacques Louis Monod, a truly great French conductor and composer, and the most wonderful teacher I have known. He was invited to our college to substitute for a year for Louise Talma who was off to the MacDowell Colony. On the first day of class, as the students were filing in and taking seats, Monod was sitting at the piano playing. When the bell rang he looked up and his first words were, "Does anyone know what this music is?" Not a hand moved. I raised mine and identified it as the beginning of the first movement of Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 in d minor, the one dedicated to Wagner.
In those days there were only a few recordings of Bruckner available. Monod had only recently discovered Bruckner and was aching to conduct his symphonies. My interest in Bruckner interested him.
He soon began to give me private lessons and after several months of counterpoint, pronounced me a minor 15th century composer. He Attended a concert I conducted and called me at home the next morning to invite me to come to Paris for the summer to study with him. When we got there, he called a friend, Serge Baudo the conductor, to get me into the rehearsals of L'Orchestre de Paris.
In New York, he took me to meetings of the League ISCM, the International Society of Contemporary Music, where I was delighted to discover exactly how significant in the scheme of things he was. I was invited to after meeting dinners with Roger Sessions, Elliott Carter, Ralph Shapey, even Aaron Copland.
And it was at one of these dinners that I discovered what the master plan for me was. Such luminaries as heretofore mentioned were discussing the problem of having their works performed. Not in getting them performed, they were important and recognized composers all, but the difficulty in finding conductors capable of understanding the then new music, and doing it justice, was a constant torment to them. Monod said to them at one point that that was precisely why he had taken such an interest in me. He thought me capable of being developed into exactly the kind of conductor they all needed.
I was a made man.
Or not, there was a problem. I had imagined myself conducting "La Bohème" at La Scala in Milan, Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony in Prague, Rachmaninov's D minor Piano Concerto in New York, but not Webern, not Schoenberg, and certainly not Elliott Carter or Ralph Shapey. The sad truth was that at the age of twenty I did not particularly like contemporary music. And I blew it.
That was 1968. Four years later, in 1972, the City of Paris held a retrospective of the works of Kandinsky: Hommage to Kandinsky from the City of Paris. The entire history of Kandinsky's work, from the early Medieval paintings of Russian damsels on horseback wearing pointed hats with tassels, and castles in the background, through all the experiments with line and color and non-representational forms, to his full blown expressionism, was spread out before me. I was able to see in the detailed progression of his life's work exactly what the 20th Century composers were trying to do in their music. They were turning away from melody and harmony as the sole basis of music, and finding their way to a new music in which tonal relationships, or dynamic contrasts, or percussive elements became as, if not more, important. An epiphany. That exhibition changed my life, sadly too late.
I was doing graduate work in composition at the time and got involved with an electronic studio where I produced some minorly interesting stuff. Then I heard an electronic piece by a fellow student composer, a Persian who was on a scholarship sponsored by the Shah of Iran. And I knew that I would never do anything like it. He, Massoud Pourfarroukh was his name, had somehow managed to create an electronic work of such incredible beauty. I knew he had understood what the rest of us had barely glimpsed: the new language.
Within weeks of this event, I got a phone call from a friend asking me if I wanted a job. I said yes without asking what the job was. And now, thirty-five years later and looking ahead at the short end of the life curve, I will try to recoup the beauty lost. I have returned to the world of music and the piano, and I am creating an online universe inhabited by the great pianists and composers to whose heaven I would like to adjourn at the end of my days.
For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background
Murder in the House of the Muse
which is also available as an audiobook.
And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:
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