Sinfonia 22

by Forrest Aguirre

"He had the innocent face of a boy, the frame of a man, the spryness and libido of a teen. Women liked him very much. And he liked women, many women, very much; almost as much as he liked writing music."

—S. Sylvestra on Allesandro Livetti, in his Early Modern Savants.

"The 22nd Symphony, his last, is comprised of six segments of varying texture and tempo. While the whole of the work displays a large-scale temporal continuity stemming from historical antecedents, elements of modernity far ahead of their time rise up and through and above the musical foundation, forming a sort of alternative time stream which was dammed up on Livetti's death, only to be reopened like a floodgate by such late 20th-century composers as Arvo Pärt, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Henryk Górecki."

—J. Leub, liner notes to Somesuch Records' edition of Livetti's 22nd Symphony.

"A clear case of biographical rapine, which should be treated with equal contempt, more so because this play consists not of only one act, but three. A triple rape! Nonseur deserves nothing less than a triple-life sentence. Seeing that the courts of popular opinion would never issue such a sentence—the drivel laden 'sensibility' of the masses having already been numbed by the playwright's many over-romanticized, under-researched shadow plays—it is hoped that, having witnessed the travesty themselves, the audiences will at least show the societal decency of allowing Nonseur to fade into ignominy."

A portion of critic L. Davison's review of Georges Nonseur's play "Viva Livetti," appearing in Sunflower Yellow, vol. II, 1872.

"My dear Marjorita,

"Impropriety, you correctly point out, can, indeed, be detected by the keen observer. And, it seems that we might be observed, from time to time, should we fail to use proper discretion as occasion dictates. You are right to worry, to some degree.

"But let us contemplate, for a moment, the notion so popular now, of sympathetic attraction. Pavo himself has resurrected the idea, from the most esoteric of Ovid's poetry, that like attracts like and that the fruit of a tree arises from another fruit of another tree, and so on.

"It does not, my dear, take a sophist to convince one so familiar as you [are] with the world and things, that fear begets fear and love, in turn, begets [love].

"Let us, therefore, celebrate our passion. Vows are [formed] with the mouth, the same mouth that forms deceit. Love, however, blossoms from the heart and produces only the fruit of love. 'And by their fruits ye shall know them,' no? We shall show our love to the world, and the world will reciprocate that love, turning all things to our good.

"Now, I will turn in my journey, detouring from Rome to be, again, with you in Genoa.

"My heart rides ahead of me.
"I am, your servant, your slave of love,
"A.L."

Last letter written by Allesandro Livetti, to his lover, Marjorita Montegarde, December 1681, with interpolations where the words are unclear or smeared.

"The first movement is pregnant with subtle expectation. It reaches the ears like the sound of rustling leaves at first wakening—will the day bring a soft breeze or the whirlwind? There is no way to tell, so the listener must wait, patiently flowing along in repressed anticipation. It is a feeling at once reverent and enticing, like that of a bride-to-be approaching the altar."

—J. Spinoza, music review section, Mannaseh Capitol Journal, July 29, 2009.

Montegarde—"I'll poke out his pecker, auger his Augen, in short, I will stabbly his gibblies."

First Accomplice—"Giblets?"

Second Accomplice—"Gliblets?"

Third Accomplice—"Ah, no, I don't think so."

The others, turning—"Wha?"

Third Accomplice—"No, nein, uh-uh."

The others, looking disgusted—"No?"

Third Accomplice—"Look, you kooks, put down your books and look at my Stück."

The others, looking even more disgusted—"Hah?"

Third Accomplice—"Listen to my piece!"

The others, looking at his codpiece—"Ew!"

One of them vomits.

Third Accomplice—"Not that piece, this piece." He points to his mouth.

Montegarde approaches, intrigued.

Third Accomplice—"You must be wary of his parry lest he stab you in your hairy pair of…"

Montegarde, interrupting—"Yes, yes, I get your meaning. What to do? What to do? I know! I'll kick his assassin!"

The others—"With what?"

Montegarde—"My own!"

The others, with looks of disgust—"Ew!"

The Third Accomplice vomits.

Montegarde—"Not that!" He points at his rear. He raises his finger in the air, looking very pleased with himself. "I know a man…"

The others begin to vomit. He cuts them off mid-heave.

Montegarde—"NOT in the Biblical sense…"

The others look at him, puzzled.

Montegarde—"…but in the Koranic sense. A man I met on my travels to Marrakesh, half Italian, Half Arabian, wholly addicted to hashish, the son of a whore and a swordsman, a most excellent swordsman."

First Accomplice—"The man?"

Second Accomplice—"Or his father?"

Montegarde—"It doesn't matter, give him a sharp stick, for all I care, so long as it pierces Libretti's heart. Yes, this man, this Hashashim, he owes me a great debt. It's time I collected."

From Euce Seymour's "Viva Nonsense," a parody of Nonseur's "Viva Livetti."

"The second section, at first blush, seems to be your basic short fugue. But then the music slows, the violins pluck a slow pizzicato, much slower than one would typically hear from a work of this period, almost a plodding, as if the audience is being invited to view a stalking from afar."

—Doug McKage, Seeking Rhythm, NPR, June 2008.

Miss Precentia: "He was looking at me lewdly through the window."

Andretto (Livetti's lawyer): "And you claim this was on the morning of the 20th of April, at about ten?"

Precentia: "Yes."

Andretto: "And how do you know it was 10 a.m.?"

Precentia: "I'm guessing that Mia told me."

Andretto: "You're guessing. Mia? Your maid?"

Precentia: "Yes."

Andretto: "And what if I told you Mia was not present?"

Precentia: "That would be quite a bother."

Andretto: "A bother."

Precentia: "Mmm."

Andretto: "Do you not wonder, Miss Precentia, how I know that Mia was not present?"

Precentia: "Ah, no. Not really."

Andretto: "And why not?"

Precentia: "Ah…"

Andretto (interrupting): "Let me tell you how I know, Miss Precentia. The reason you do not recall why your maid was not there is because you fail to remember, or you failed to remember when giving your statement to the constabulary two weeks after the fact, that you were away on a trip to Aviano."

Precentia: "Ah, it's coming back to me now."

Andretto: "Coming back to you. Probably in much the same way that you were seen coming back from Aviano two days after you claim my client made unwanted advances on you in Genoa, namely, arm in arm with him, in his own carriage, of your own volition, according to the driver and several other witnesses, including the hostel owner whom you paid for a room."

Andretto holds up a receipt.

General shouting.

Judge Aravetto: "Order! Order!"

Court proceedings, Precentia v. Livetti, Genoa Municipal Court, August, 1677.

"The politics and epidemiology of the late 17th-century Italian states were out of scale with one another, yet intertwined, like the sweeping motions and mincing steps of a ballroom dance. The states, some of them no larger than a mid-sized metropolis, grated on their neighbors through tariffs, price wars, and, at times, outright invasion and occupation. The plague was the engine that moved this dynamic cycle along. Of course, with increased contact—friendly or otherwise—came increased contagion, which caused further pressure and, in turn, a wider spread to the infection. The plague was, in essence, a biological perpetual motion machine.

"Thus, when Venetian troops—many of them mercenaries of Germanic stock—invaded Genoa, they brought within them a greater conqueror than themselves."

—Ian Miller, Plague and Politics: A Social History of Epidemiology, p. 144.

"I was delighted to find a bit of culture amid the chaos. A local composer had concocted a bit of violin music, quite charming at the beginning, which we saw performed in a large hall half-emptied by the plague. The composer himself was in attendance, though I can't say that he seemed to be enjoying himself. He had a disgusted look to his face whenever he looked over the audience. I'm not sure if the musicians were making mistakes—they seemed to be adequate to the piece performed—or if the look was one of disdain for a rival in the crowd, but either way, his feelings of unease were clearly evident. Beside his incomprehensible looks at the crowd, the man would frequently look over his shoulder as if scrying the curtain behind his box for hidden foes.

"The music itself began quietly enough, but in the second and fourth sections, the sinfonia betrayed its master. The fourth section, particularly, struck me as a struggle between spontaneous joy and plodding despair. It was, by definition, a jig, but a very odd jig, not airy or light, but dark and driven, like soldiers being marched through the night to fight in the morning under a blood-red rising sun near some fetid swamp. The tension between form and feeling was stimulating in a most disturbing way and gave the place an eerie feeling, given the not-so-distant past invasion and the arrival of the plague."

Dominetti Vicenza, representative of Venice to Genoa, writing to his wife while he was away on administrative duties.

"Bruno Montegarde of Genoa hereinafter bestows upon Abdallah Inda a portion of land equal to ten square acres, ceding all rights to land, mineral, or water and giving full legal and lawful ownership to Mister Inda to retain or sell said property as Mister Inda sees fit."

Transfer of deed from Bruno Montegarde to Abdallah Inda, 1687, City of Genoa historical archives.

"Master Livetti,

"My mistress, the Lady Montegarde, has asked that I pen this missive warning you to stay away from the opening of your Sinfonia 22. While she will be delighted to attend and enjoy the presentation of your no doubt beautiful music, she has become aware of a certain risk should you attend the performance. She begs of you, also, to destroy this note after reading it."

"Sincerely,"

"Maria Calparsone,"

"On behalf of her mistress,"

"The Lady Montegarde"

This letter was found, unopened, in Livetti's coat pocket on the night of the Sinfonia's first performance.

"Music is not my life; my life is music."

—Headstone engraving, Allessandro Livetti.

"The final segment of the symphony distantly reflects, yet contradicts the sentiments of the fourth section. It is a minuet that unfolds like a flower from the preceding movements, a cheerful musical blossom that nobly shoots forth from the remains of its earlier struggles. It is a dance, a triumphal celebration, as if Livetti himself had spit a musical raspberry at the plague, the vicissitudes of war and love, authority, the social status quo, and even those who sought for and engineered his demise. One must wonder what Livetti thought as he lay in his box, his assailant fleeing, as he heard his last notes at the simultaneous close of his magnum opus, his career, and his life. Perhaps, through this pain, he sensed the irony of it all and, with his dying breath, laughed his last musical laugh."

—Leub, op cit.


Forrest Aguirre pens strange stories in his Madison, Wisconsin basement. His work has appeared in over fifty venues, many of them defunct, but including such illustrious titles as Asimov's, 3rd Bed, Exquisite Corpse, Apex, and Gargoyle. His debut novel Heraclix and Pomp is available from Resurrection House publishing. He is a World Fantasy Award-winning editor and a proud member of the Farrago's Wainscot alumni association.