Swan Song

January 27th, 2006, 1:31 AM. Manhattan, New York City.

“Tibor, you don’t look well. You should probably take it easy.” Sergei Gavrilov’s voice was such an irritation to his younger brother’s ears. Tibor looked up from his desk, and rolled his eyes at his sibling. Since last January, he had been sharing his New York apartment with his brother so he could once again pursue another career goal at NYU. Tibor secretly hated having him around, but felt obligated to put him up.

“You know, Sergei… we’ve been living here for some time. You could try to do something about your accent,” Tibor responded, ignoring his brother’s concerns. Sergei looked hurt.

“I for one, am proud of my heritage, Tibor. I don’t feel the need to assimilate as you have,” he replied. “And don’t change the subject. You’ve been up working on that piece all night. You look pale, and you need to consider your health. When you don’t rest, you get stressed out, and if you get stressed out too much, you might have a relapse,” Sergei explained.

Tibor groaned. “Damn it, Sergei, I don’t have time for your useless concerns. I’m fine. I can beat whatever limitations my body presents me, and I will. I need to finish this.” Sergei rubbed his temples.

“You are going to kill yourself over a piece of music, Tibor.” Tibor stood up abruptly, the chair making an unpleasant scraping sound across the floor. He whirled around, his face locked in indignation.

“Get out of my room now,” Tibor growled. “This isn’t some piece of music. This is my life, my ambition, my dreams. You wouldn’t understand, though. You don’t know what it is like to be consumed by something like this. The only reason I exist is to give this melody form.” Tibor’s voice, while icy in tone, was forceful and backed with a great deal of spite. “It requires a certain discipline, something you would know nothing about, brother.” The two siblings exchanged looks for a moment- Tibor’s hazel eyes flashing with cold criticism, Sergei’s blue eyes looking wide and sad.

“You know…” Sergei began… “It’s just that…” He fumbled over his own words, and looked down at his feet. Tibor rolled his eyes and sighed.

“Forget it. I know already. You have concerns. But I have obligations that must be kept. Now, please let me continue my work.” Sergei didn’t look up, but silently retreated from the room. Tibor went back to his desk, and sat back down. He took up his pen, and looked back to his score.

D’Ascensione di Phoenice, the title read. It was more than just a piece of music to Tibor… it was the compilation of his dreams, his hopes, his very views on life. It was his spirit given form in music and sound, a record of his climb from obscurity in his own country to the top of the classical music world and into the light of recognition. It was the proof of his accomplishments, and thus he couldn’t rest until he completed it.

Around 5:00 AM, Tibor finally retired for the evening. As he crawled into bed, exhausted, and lay staring at the ceiling. He had managed to complete the third movement this evening, so only the last movement remained. He smiled to himself, as he had been looking forward to the finale since he began writing the piece. He had it all planned out in his head. It would be glorious, a tour de force that would someday be as universally recognized as Pachebel’s Canon in D. It was his immortality.

May 28th, 2006. New York City, Carnegie Hall

Several months passed, and Tibor had managed to complete his sonata. It had been hard work- many long nights had been spent in the process, but he managed to complete it, and had been slated to premier his piece in Carnegie Hall. It was the most magnificent of acknowledgements, especially considering his age.

Despite all this, Tibor had been feeling under the weather lately. All the late night practices and extra hours he had spent over the past few months had begun to catch up with him, he feared. He found himself to be short of breath often, and had difficulty climbing stairs or exerting himself for any real duration of time. Sergei was concerned, naturally, as were his parents, but he told them to pay it no mind. He was just weary from his schedule, and his body was manifesting his anxieties for the upcoming performance. It was nothing, he told them.

Finally, the night came. The hall was packed with music aficionados from the world over. Tibor wasn’t nervous, however. They had come to witness him in his moment of greatness. They had come to watch him achieve his immortality. The first movement spellbound the audience. Tibor worked the bow and performed complicated rhythms that would have perplexed even the most seasoned violinist, and tied them together into a cohesive theme that was as much a display of the mastery of his art as it was an epic poem of sound and imagery.

The second movement was more intense. Tibor could feel his heart racing, and sweat made his shirt cling to his back. He continued his piece, playing wildly like some sort of demon of music.

Badump badump badump… his heart pounded in his eyes and chest, a fierce countermelody to his performance. Tibor grinned… his body was as one with his work. He was a living vessel for his melody, a conduit of his own creation. Still, he had to wonder why the intensity had come on so suddenly. Could it just be the electricity of the moment, or something more?

He shoved the thoughts aside as the third movement began. The color had flushed from his face, and his brow was damp with perspiration. For a moment, the bow almost slipped from his damp fingers, but he managed to save himself the embarrassment. He could feel the pressure building up in his chest- cursing himself for a moment, he attempted to ignore it. He had felt this before, many times, during his youth, but he refused to allow his body to hold him back. The third movement was coming to a close, and he could see the raw emotion of the piece reflected in the eyes of his audience… very soon, he would have his immortality.

The third movement ended, and suddenly, a sharp pain overtook him. His body seized control of his actions, harshly tearing apart his resistance. He paused onstage, wracked in pain. The audience, assuming he had stopped for dramatic tension, was riveted.

No… I will not allow myself to do this… I will not let my body defeat me… this is my song… my spirit… my very soul… He fought the pain with all his might, but it was not enough. Tibor collapsed to the floor of the stage. The last thing he could see was the blur of the spotlights in his eyes, and Sergei as he fought his way to the stage.

Tibor tried to smile, but couldn’t. Sergei had been right to show concern. If he had listened to his brother’s worries, he wouldn’t have failed like this. Now… his song would never be finished… at least not by him. His immortality would be for someone else to savor.

I thought… I thought my spirit was stronger than this. In the end, I suppose, though… the flesh conquers all. The concrete will crush the abstract, and the material will hold the ethereal down, in eternal bondage…

Tibor drifted away… it all vanished… Sergei, the lights, his song… all of it. He floated through ambivalent darkness for what felt like a million years. And then suddenly, he heard something.

There was a sudden dinging, followed by the sound of elevator doors closing…

Swan Song

Rise: Cogito photoneater