Desperate Lives

Abhorrent actions have failed to tarnish my reputation. My art and estimation have continued to thrive through the years. Dear reader, to what extent will you pardon a man? Does great art stem the tide? Can great art make up for the most sordid depravities? My mind, it is true, has not been stable. I grant that I am lucky enough to sit on this table, not composing one of my commended madrigals, but writing a few private biographical notes. One day perhaps, when I am long dead, you will chance upon my private letters. How will my work stand then, dear reader?
    I am count Lodovico, heir of my family’s dynasty. My family acquired the Trenasti principality six years before my birth. I became a prince, but cared very little for power. I was always fascinated by the stringed instruments that abounded all over our castle. Before I could walk, I would plod on the lutes and guitars. I became proficient on the lute, guitar and harpsichord by the age of seven and continue to play these instruments to this day. As I played these instruments, it felt like a kind of creative exorcism. I brooded with anger. To play smooth and exquisite melodies on these instruments was a therapeutic exercise. I loved to improvise on basic scales and create unusual sonorities. Even at this early age I was shaping the form of my future music.
    By the time I turned twenty I was ready for marriage. My cousin, Maria, was a voluptuous young lady whose physiognomy never failed to captivate me. I made my feelings known and it was not long before our marriage was arranged.
    We settled in a newly built castle. Initially Maria wandered through all the chambers and rooms of this spacious dwelling. I, meanwhile, tinkered endlessly with my musical compositions. She proved to be a distant dame. Every time we made love, she passively lay her neck on her pillow, her eyes transfixed on the ceiling. As the months continued to pass, I felt more and more claustrophobic. Every night I would strip her clothes and each time she would look at me with a probing, somewhat perplexed expression.
     Ever since I had lived in this province, people would look at me acquiescently. Now their expressions changed; my authority appeared to have diminished. They seemed to regard me somewhat ironically; I could see it in their eyes. What caused this sudden change of mood?
     Two years into our marriage, I saw less and less of Maria. This left me emotionally isolated. I capitalised on this by devoting as much time possible to my music.
     I decided to go on a hunting trip, which would allow further reflection to my art. By the time the carriage was half-way through its journey I realised that I had left my musical paper behind. I ordered my chaperone to turn back.
    Thunder roared from the sky, rain plummeted and grey clouds prevailed. I took this as a terrible omen. I began to tremble; I could not leave my mind at rest; I uttered obscenities.
    All the doors were closed. I had asked my chaperone to make a skeleton key, so I opened every door before me with remarkable ease.
    I heard fulsome shrieks emanating from our room upstairs. I rushed upstairs and saw something remarkable before me: Maria fucking a frail pliant young man. She had her back to the door, shrieking with all her force. The gentleman, on the other hand, faced my direction. Catching my sight, he seemed stricken. Maria did not notice, continuing to ride his stiff appendage.
     Closing the door, I turned around. I fetched my chaperone. “Eduardo, go get my sword. Also, call my men.”
     Clenching my weapon, I quickly ran back to my chamber. There I saw Maria nervously arguing with her lover. He had evidently informed her of my presence. I withdrew my sword from its scabbard. “Maria...” I uttered, before I sunk it into her back. She let out a cry of distress. “Maria... You are not dead!” I continued to entrench the sword into all sides of her body, as her anxious cries soon withered. I adamantly kept yelling “She’s not dead yet! She’s not dead yet!” rising my blade up and down the bloodied corpse.
     Jerking aside, I saw Maria’s lover huddled in a corner of the room, petrified. The trickles of sweat were visible on his forehead; he nervously murmured and trembled. By now, my soldiers had arrived. “Men! Clothe him in Maria’s dress!” They followed my instructions, the young man whimpering in panic as my corpulent soldiers acted by my behest.
     “Hold him before me!” The young gentleman was kept still. He weakly resisted. Faintly yelling out in alarm, his muffled protestations were scarcely decipherable. His pliant figure seemed adept to women’s clothing. I spat on his face, crying “Swine!” I took my sword and pierced his loins. He purged blood that fell on the dress, intermixing itself with my own wife’s blood. It could not be told if he was dead or not. I ordained my men to bring my rifle. I painstakingly loaded the ammunition and let off the shot which fired into his skull. My men let go of him and he landed on top of Maria. “Good riddance!” I concluded.
    All this commotion made our young child cry out in alarm. I staggered over to the cradle and re-examined its features. I stared into its crying face and saw its auburn eyes. “My God,” I thought. “My eyes are green, Maria’s eyes are blue...” I started rocking the cradle with all my force. It swung from one end to the other, forcing out a protracted cry. I continued doing this until the little creature ceased to live.
    Seizing the corpses, I lugged them out onto the castle’s gates, for all to see. The rain poured over me, the thunder crashed down. I odiously intoned the word “Strumpet.”
    The next day, the entire local community gathered in front of my premises, with horrified expressions. I felt justified; I had exposed my wife’s infidelity.
     My faithful chaperone, Eduardo, brought the latest newspaper over to my boudoir. Its headline was COUNT LODOVICO SALACIOUSLY MURDERS WIFE AND LOVER. “My good sir,” he addressed me.
    “I am aware that, due to your social standing, you are barred from prosecution. But... You must watch your every step from now onwards.”
    I examined his features, which looked at me with alarm. “You cannot discount revenge...” he uttered.
     “Revenge!” I exclaimed. “By God, yes, revenge... Eduardo, you are a precautious fellow,” I said, ironically.
    “Sir, for murders, it is a common procedure...”
    His expression was flat, his delivery deadpan. “Common procedure...” It sounded odd. Are ‘salacious murders’ a common practice? Was Eduardo himself a veteran murderer? Whatever the case, he was right. I was too caught up in my own music – I was writing a piece just as he addressed me – to realise the enormity of what had transpired. Either the acquaintances of this rat of a lover, or Maria’s family relations, might be seeking revenge.
    “In that case... I better return to the castle in Trenasti... Eduardo... Take me there, with the utmost precaution. I will pack my music paper, my lutes, my guitar and my harpsichord. My very own murderer might be dwelling in this very room... Let’s go already!”
    Eduardo steered the carriage; I settled in the back, concealing all the entrances with capes. As we set off, through a small crevice, I peered out on the local community, who gazed at the rotting corpses. “Parasites...” I uttered.
    I followed Eduardo’s advice and ensured that I was under protection at all times. Swathes of soldiers protected the gates of the castle. I took refuge in a secluded room, warded off by a corpulent executioner. It was in these conditions where I composed my greatest madrigal, Ah, Desperate Life.
    I bravely experimented with musical language, banishing the heralded rules of the past. I went as far using the twelve tones of the chromatic scale within a single piece.
    To accompany the melodies I attached the following lyrics, which brilliantly summarised my mind-state at the time:

Ah, desperate life,
whilst absconding from the memory of slain loved one,
it ebbs away, dissolving into manifold shadows, profuse and rife,
and never grants me comfort or redemption.

It was in this room where I composed my most cherished pieces. I obsessively stuck to my duty, never shy to stray away from the languages of the past.
     A whole year had passed and I could not help feeling constrained by the room. I called Eduardo, whom I hadn’t seen in all this time. “Eduardo… I wish to leave. Also… I want a new wife.”
    With an ironic expression (and ironic intonation), he said “Are you sure you will not murder her, sir?”
    “Pretty sure, my good sir.”
    I left Trenasti and settled in a new castle in Ferrara. I took my entire army of men, my executioner (who proved to be adept in his new role as bodyguard) and my ever faithful chaperone Eduardo.
    My new wife was called Leonarda, a withdrawn, shy, distant woman. This was of secondary importance; she captivated anyone with her staggering beauty. Her red hair fell onto her waist, lending her a sense of ethereality. Her angularly shaped face was coloured by the odd freckle or two. Making love to this woman was also a rewarding exercise. It was as therapeutic as writing my madrigals.
    My desire to move to Ferrara had two motives. The first motive been that it was a very remote locality, miles away from the nearest city; the second was that this was a centre of musical activity. My madrigals had amounted during my stay at Trenasti, but I could not get them performed. They were too harmonically complex for the local players. Ferrara not only was home to the most accomplished singers, it was a very progressive enclave, championing the ideas and dialectics of the renaissance.
    In my castle I designated the large dining hall as our performance suite. I located the most virtuosic musicians in the province. They arrived, all sixty-five of them, in the large hall. I auditioned all of them, making a note of each player’s strengths and weaknesses, and assigned them distinct music.
    I described this enclave as ‘progressive’, however I had not accounted as to how far they were willing to stretch the rules and dictates of music theory. They enjoyed improvising, so, I took the podium and, along with my lute, we played the most exciting dissonances ever conjured by man.
    Thoroughly enjoying my stay in this castle, and enjoying composing and arranging, this was set back by an unexpected visit. One day, as the thunder struck and the rain fell from the sky (which I again took as an omen), a gentleman named Pozzi introduced himself. He seemed contemptible from the outset, with scraggly hair and a shabby moustache. There was something verminous about his appearance, as if he had just emerged from the sewers.
    “What do I make of your visit?” I quizzed him.
    Sprawled on the sizable arm-chair, it was evident that he was no stranger to nobility. “Count Lodovico,” he mumbled. “What are your feelings at present?”
    I turned to him; I did not understand the full implication of the question. “I will let you know that I have never felt better. I am at my most productive musically and I feel calm and at rest.”
     This made him produce a faint smile. “Really? Usually, calmness and peacefulness comes about when… when nothing is weighing over your mind?”
     I started trembling and sweating profusely. “What… what are you getting at!”
    He lurched out of his seat, smiled and said “I will leave you to ponder, my dear count. You seem most unsettled. I will drop in to your recital tomorrow. The musicians here have nothing but praise for you.” He left.
     The next day I felt downtrodden. I could not figure out why. I turned to a portrait of Christ and I suddenly realised the self-evident reason. I was wracked by guilt. I was guilty of an unpardonable calamity. I needed absolution.
     I turned to Eduardo, bluntly telling him that “I feel terrible.”
     “Sir, guilt is bound to afflict a murderer…”
     I looked up; he said it with such surety and conviction as if he were well-versed in murder. “Eduardo… call my executioner. Assign him the role of torturer. Do as I say!”
     My virile worker pinned me to several manacles. He wielded a metal chain, which he scourged me with. I cried out in pain “I deserve this! Maria! Maria! I deserve this!” Scorching wounds covered my entire body.
    I emerged completely dizzied, degraded and devastated. I told myself that I deserved this and that I would have it inflicted upon my body every day.
    Leonarda was lying over our bed. I sat on the chair opposite. Noticing my presence, she started caressing me. I uttered her name as she undid the buttons of my vest. She uncovered one of my scorching wounds and let out a cry of alarm. For some reason, this angered me.
     “Oh… So you won’t make love to me, you slut?” I screamed. I hit her repeatedly on the face as she meekly yelled and resisted. She ended up ensconced in a corner of the room, entangled within the outgrowth of her abundant hair. “Slut!”
    I buttoned up my vest and hastened to a remote room of the castle. This room was entirely nondescript, completely bare, a tone of bricks. It was the only room with no religious adornments of any sort. This was for the better – it allowed me to shield the world and imagine the melodies residing within my inner ear.
    Once the melodies shifted in and out of my mind, I thought of the big day ahead. These melodies, these strange syncopated melodies, would finally be revealed to me. Yes, it would be my ultimate absolution.  
    The big day came. The eight musicians – six singers, a harpist and a lutenist – held the scores I had produced. The crowd of Ferrara, mostly musicians, came along to hear them. Leonarda, her entire face bruised, solemnly lay at the side. Eduardo eagerly smiled. And the gentleman I had met the day before, Pozzi, facetiously sniggered.
    “So, my good count, have you received absolution?”
    “Shut up, you fiend.”
     “Count, let us not… evade… the real truth of the matter. Both of us know why you are here in Ferrara.”
     I looked up to his disgusting face. “To have my music performed!”
    “Oh, really? Happen to be familiar with the salacious murders of Count Lodovico of Trenasti?” He guffawed endlessly, slowly walking away.
     The musicians were ready to perform. The baritone singer intoned an F natural, the lowest pitch in his voice. The rest of the players joined in, all at different metres, creating a contrapuntal mosaic of sound. The music continued in this vein throughout the entire evening.
    Eventually I lost my sense of time and place. My eyes closed throughout the entire evening, the music poured into my mind. The heavenly voices ceased, followed by applause. I re-opened my eyes.
    The entire Ferrara crowd congratulated me, claiming that here lied the future of music. Leonarda contemptuously sneered and stormed off.
    The verminous creature known as Pozzi approached me. “Lodovico…” he uttered. “May the devil forgive you, that was beautiful.” Tears smeared his face. “I will bluntly tell you… I came here to murder you, Count. But I now realise that I can’t. I can’t murder the creator of such moving sounds.” He turned around andwalked off into the middle of the night.
     I am writing these notes twenty years later, my dear reader. I have lived in isolation for the last thirteen years of my life. As soon as that man confessed his intentions I peregrinated across the country. Since that period I moved to this castle where I am currently writing these notes. I never speak to a single person by morning, day or night. I have a crew of twenty men whose sole purpose is to inflict torture upon my body.
    My scores shall survive for posterity’s worth. Hopefully my reputation will be that of a composer, not a murderer. Hopefully God will forgive my sins. And these notes… to hell with these notes! I will burn these God-forsaken notes!
July, 2012

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