Essays (book reviews)

Deadly Cadenza
by Paul Myers
(London: Constable, 1986)


Do you remember the wonderful Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), actually a remake of one of his own earlier works? The climax of this murder mystery occurs in London ’s Royal Albert Hall – with treacherous gunshots brilliantly timed to coincide with the crashing of cymbals in a symphony being played on stage. Hitchcock cleverly constructed the scene so as to perfectly mesh the shape of a musical piece – the way it comes to its high dramatic moment – with the shape of the film’s plot. That is a bravura showbiz effect which Hitchcock liked so much, he made the film twice so as to get full mileage out of it.


Paul Myers’ thrilling novel Deadly Cadenza outdoes Hitchcock at the same game. It, too, ends with a shoot out in the Royal Albert Hall. But it gets its first great effect in at the very start of the plot. The famous conductor Konstantin Steigel is conducting the Beethoven violin concerto at a recording session. The acclaimed soloist, preparing to play his virtuoso part, is Sandor Berman, an arrogant young man. Myers skilfully and realistically builds his details the way a piece of music might – the preparations in the sound booth where all the major characters are swiftly introduced, the rituals of classical musicians preparing to play, the evocation of the concerto as it sweeps along to … to the delicious pause between the full orchestral section and the beginning of Berman’s solo. What this pause, in fact, prepares us for is a mysterious bullet which rings out in the vast studio and passes clean through Berman’s head.


Between the two big moments of the start and the end, a plot unfolds. It unravels the mystery of Berman’s death and also the mystery of his life. Those who are caught up in the plot are not primarily musicians, but others who are attached to the music industry – agents, record company executives, spouses or lovers of star performers. Some other hangers-on to the music world are more shadowy and ominous – criminals, drugs dealers, patrons who require appropriate sexual favours. The fun and interest of Deadly Cadenza lies in this world that it paints around music and musicians. If, at times, this world seems to be a pretty fanciful invention on the part of the author, in most cases you feel you can trust his inside knowledge – Myers has been a classical music record producer of some twenty-five years standing.


The book is peppered with anecdotal information concerning the world of classical music. You will find between the covers of Deadly Cadenza very precise facts on everything from the restaurants which musos prefer to haunt in Europe, to the differences between a Stradivarius and a del Gesù violin. Most amusingly, Myers sketches the worldly difference between the British arm of the classical music world – stately, formal, seriously committed to the ideals of music – and the American money centre. Record company capitalists from the USA are forever on the phone with bright suggestions – such as the idea to release a special version of the Beethoven Violin Concerto complete with the gunshot which ended the soloist’s life!


Fortunately, throughout all this, Deadly Cadenza makes every concession to the reader who is relatively innocent in relation to classical music (as I am), or new to it. Whenever a special term is introduced, or a historical reference made, there is always on hand a charming novice to ask the question that we ourselves might want answered.


Finally, the book has a few very good musical jokes (although it is a long way, in this league, from the Heavy Metal rock music film This Is Spinal Tap, Rob Reiner, 1984). Some of them I couldn’t or wouldn’t repeat on this ABC radio program, Music Bookshop, but one I cannot resist.


A man walks into a bar with his dog, hoping to win free drinks with his act. He catches the bartender’s eye, and then, very theatrically, asks his dog: “Now tell me, Rover, how does sandpaper feel on your skin?” The dog pipes up: “Rrough!” The bartender is unimpressed. The man tries harder to please, cueing: “And, Rover, a hi-fi speaker is made up of a tweeter and a … ” – and Rover completes the sentence: “Woof-a!” The bartender is still unimpressed. The man tries his killer trick: “And who, Rover, is the greatest composer of the twentieth century” – “Orff!” says Rover. The bartender, feeling thoroughly duped, throws them both out on their behinds. As they walk dejectedly down the street, the dog turns to his master and asks: “Do you think I should have said Stravinsky?”


© Adrian Martin 1986

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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