Deveau-ted Friends

Thanks to the Jewish New Year–can you believe it’s already 5777?–today was a rare midweek day off for the Boston Symphony. I celebrated by having lunch with a dear colleague who I hadn’t seen for far too long.

David Deveau is a highly acclaimed concert pianist, professor at MIT, and until recently stepping down, artistic director of the Rockport (MA) Chamber Music Festival. We’d been good friends when I lived in Boston but had only been on each others’ peripheral vision for decades. It was only by happy accident that we’ve touched base again.

David Deveau

David Deveau

I’m currently working intensely on my Danse Macabre audiobook, and I desperately needed some excerpts from the fourth movement variations of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet for a critical moment in the plot. My own former quartet, the Abramyan String Quartet, had never recorded it. Unlike many other quintets, the “Trout” is absent a second violin; in its stead is the string bass. I asked a bunch of my string bass friends if they had recorded it, but I came up with blanks. So I went to that last refuge of the desperate researcher, YouTube, hoping to find a recording that included a colleague who I could beg for permission to use a minute or two of the music.

Eureka! Or maybe not eureka. I did discover a performance that included several of my Boston Symphony colleagues–Elita Kang, Jonathan Chu, Owen Young, Tom van Dyck, and David Deveau on piano–from the 2014 Rockport Festival. However, what was indicated as movement four was in reality, movement five–not the variations movement. Bummer! But it’s an understandable error, as most chamber music compositions have four movements, so whoever uploaded the performance assumed movement four was the finale. So I was still stuck. Only partially daunted, I emailed Elita, who had just finished the BSO Tanglewood season with me and was now vacationing in Iceland, to find out if she might have the audio file of the variations, and if so could she give me permission to use it.

Elita Kang

Elita Kang

Elita graciously took a moment out of her glacier hiking to email me that I’d be welcome to use it, but she didn’t have the file. She directed me to David. Though I was reluctant to make such a bold request of someone I hadn’t seen for so long, I figured the worst he could say is to get lost.

Amazingly, David responded to my email within hours! (That’s what real friends do, by the way.) Yes, I could use the file AND he would have his recording engineer send it to me! Cloud Nine–wherever that is. I was in business, and you’ll hear bits of the their wonderful performance of the “Trout” when the Danse Macabre audiobook is released later this fall.

But the best part is that David and I reconnected, set up a time to get together, and today we had lunch at Santouka, a great new ramen shop on Hereford Street. We talked old times and new times between slurps, and promised not to let years go by until the next time–maybe we’ll even perform together. Something to look forward to.





A New Saga Begins

Today began my three week stint with the Boston Symphony, which begins its 2017-18 season this weekend. The reason: I’ve been invited to join the band for their tour to Japan in November, the tour repertoire is on the docket for the first three weeks, and it makes good sense for the musicians on the tour to have the substantial repertoire under their belt. Today’s rehearsals included Mahler First and the Haydn “Drumroll” Symphony, and although the orchestra hadn’t played together for since the end of the Tanglewood season a few weeks ago, it didn’t take long for everyone to get back into the groove.

The older I get, the more Haydn’s clarity and inventiveness appeal to me in comparison to Mahler’s extra thick barbecue sauce angst, tasty though it might be. (Though among Mahler’s nine symphonies the first is my favorite–perhaps because it’s the closest to Haydn.) But also the older I get, as the novelty of being a wandering minstrel wears off, it’s replaced by the deeper, if less adventurous pleasure of playing great music–yes, of  course that includes Mahler, too–with a great orchestra.

That’s not to say that spending three weeks in Boston doesn’t have its charms. I’m renting a little studio apartment on Newbury Street, and on the 15-minute walk from the apartment to Symphony Hall I pass approximately 400 restaurants I’d wouldn’t mind sampling. But when I say “little” apartment, I do mean little. Here’s a photo of m”kitchen”:IMG_4553  Yep, that’s it. (That’s the fridge on the left under the 2-burner stove.) Nevertheless, it is my temporary home–not the fridge, the apartment–and to tell you the truth, I’m not relishing the idea of eating out all the time. So tonight I decided to eat in and managed to find enough utensils to do some cooking: fetuccini with a sauce of sauteed peppers, onions, and garlic from our garden in the Berkshires, olive oil, and shaved parmigiana from DeLuca’s Market next door.


After dinner, I worked on bowings to the string parts of the Sinfonia to the oratorio “La Susanna,” by the underappreciated 17th century Baroque composer, Alessandro Stradella, which I’m conducting in December; watched an episode of House of Cards; communicated with the producer of my soon-to-be-released audio book of my mystery novel, “Danse Macabre;” and am now watching the Yankees take the lead against Minnesota.


My dining room, office, and entertainment center.

All in all, a fine way to start the concert season.



A Controversial Interpretation of the Fermatas in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

Beethoven 5 excerpt

Opening of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony; first edition of the 1st violin part

It has always been a matter of interpretation and some mystery. What is the proper length of the four notes under fermatas in the most famous first two lines of classical music, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?  Conductors usually hold those notes in direct proportion to the size of their egos, and I don’t mean to suggest there’s anything inherently wrong about that. Holding those notes to dramatic lengths certainly keeps us in suspense.

And then there is the question–which will never be definitively answered–if the meaning of the fermata is to hold a note to some indeterminate length, why did Beethoven add a half-note to the second and fourth of those fermatas? (You can read the startling answer below.) The typically reasoned answer is that he wanted those to be longer than the first and third. There is some sense to that, but if that’s what he wanted wouldn’t it have been a lot easier just write the customary word, lunga, over those fermatas?

I think the real answer requires some awareness of the history of the fermata. Perched on our 21st century practice stools we’re used to the notion that the meaning of the fermata is to hold a note longer than indicated. Indeed, that’s the way it’s been for the past 150 years or so. But before that it isn’t so clear.

Here’s the key: The Italian word fermata has nothing to do with length. The word comes from the verb fermare, to stop. In the Baroque era, the fermata was an indication, like the double bar, of the end of a movement. Nothing more, nothing less. And this was an important indication because composers, always an economical lot who didn’t want to waste valuable paper, would start writing the next movement on the same line of music as the preceding movement. The musicians needed to know where one movement ended and the other began. Hence, the fermata. Stop!

Here are a few examples:

Example 1

JB Bach, Overture in G minor, Passepied

Passepied from the Overture in G minor by Johann Bernhard Bach (2nd cousin to JS) 1676-1749

In this Passepied by JB Bach you can see the fermata dead center, right before the repeat sign. This was a common use of the fermata in two-part dance movements in which each part is repeated and then the musicians return to the beginning for one more go at the first part. The fermata indicates where JB wants the movement to end. Whether he also wanted the last note to be held longer is both speculative and secondary. 

Example 2

Veracini, Fugue w:4 subjects, excerpt

Fugue on 4 Subjects by Francesco Veracini (1690-1768)

In this example, Veracini places the fermata not over the last note, but over the last rest. Clearly, the length of this rest is immaterial. The piece is over! If the fermata was meant to indicate holding the silence out, one can only imagine the chagrin of the musicians as the conductor kept his arms up while the audience was already applauding the dramatic ending of the Fugue. 

Example 3

Sarti, Sinfonia in E, excerpt

Sinfonia in E by Giuseppe Sarti (1729-1802)

You can see here that Sarti was not only a skinflint with paper, he also was hard up for ink and put repeat signs all over the place instead of writing out the music. As in the JB Bach example you can see the fermata in the middle of the music (this time over the entire measure) to indicate the end of the movement. What is particulary noteworthy about this example, however, is that Sarti lived until 1802, when Beethoven was already 32 years old. Beethoven started composing the 5th Symphony only two years later, in 1804. 

My startling conclusion: There is reasonable historical evidence that Beethoven did not intend for those notes below the fermatas to be held out at all! That they should be held only for their proper metric duration, and not an iota longer. This answers the question of why he added a half note of length to the second and fourth fermatas: Those notes should be exactly twice as long as the first and third.

So what then should be done with the fermatas? I believe the dramatic effect would be far greater if we take the meaning of fermata literally and historically. Stop the music! Stop those fermata notes in time and abruptly, creating a deafening silence, and then make the ensuing silence–which follows every one of those fermatas–of suspenseful, indeterminate length. That would give the audience that titillating sense of “What is coming next?” that is so missing from contemporary performances and so integral to Beethoven’s esthetic of surprising the listener. The next time I conduct Beethoven’s 5th that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

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Beethoven’s manuscript of the 5th Symphony

Beethoven and a Quirk of Fate

One of the greatest and most monumental sonatas in the violin repertoire was composed by Beethoven and is usually referred to as the “Kreutzer” Sonata. The reason for that is an intriguing story in itself and has great bearing upon my novel, Danse Macabre.

Beethoven actually composed the piece in great haste for a black violinist who was the European sensation of the day and whose name was George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower. Bridgetower was on a concert tour that took him to Vienna and Beethoven wanted to impress him and the public with a new, grand sonata. It was so hot off the press that at the premiere he and Polgreen sight-read some the piece off the piano score.

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower
George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower

Nevertheless it was a huge success, and after the performance the new buddies, Ludwig and George, went off to the beirstube to celebrate. Unfortunately, they both probably drank too many lagers, because they got into an argument–some say it was something that Bridgetower said about one of Beethoven’s lady friends. Regardless of the exact reason, Beethoven tore up his dedication. But always the pragmatist, decided that Rodolphe Kreutzer, the great Parisian violinist, would make his new sonata famous (and profitable), and so rededicated it to him.


The irony is that Kreutzer, when he finally saw the piece, didn’t like it and never played it! Yet, it is one of the main things that has made his name famous, and at the same time, Bridgetower’s name has faded into the annals of dusty music history.

Rodolphe Kreutzer
Rodolphe Kreutzer

How does this relate to Danse Macabre? Well, we have a young, somewhat brash African American violinist who has rebranded himself by the name of BTower. He’s a super talented violinist, but has made his fame as a crossover artist, much to the dismay of the  concert world establishment. At a critical point in the story, after being challenged by our hero, Daniel Jacobus, BTower becomes fixated on the opening note of the “Kreutzer” Sonata. His rivalry with the beloved virtuoso, Rene Allard, is the source of public gossip, so when Allard is brutally murdered…

You’ll be able to hear excerpts of my performance of the “Kreutzer” Sonata and much more on the Danse Macabre audiobook, but for now enjoy the entire first movement:

Thank you so much if you’ve supported my Kickstarter campaign to make DANSE MACABRE into a unique audio experience. If you haven’t yet made a pledge, we have only two weeks and $3,000 to raise!

A Devilish Endeavor

Recording the music in Devil’s Trill. A story within a story.

We wanted to do something different.

Something creative. Something artistic. Something that had never been done before. With Devil’s Trill, we wanted to make an audio book that integrated music and narrative.

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And there was so much music to go with the mystery! Hours of it. Should the music be performed in full? Should the compositions come at the end of the chapters in which they had been part of the story? At the end of the book in the form of a recital or master class, perhaps? My producer, Alison Larkin, and I discussed countless possibilities.

Ultimately, we decided that for the sake of the story we’d adhere to the philosophy, “Less is more.” The story was king, and the music must serve the story. We would use excerpts of the music to augment, to highlight, and to provide clues to the listener regarding the theft of the infamous Piccolino Stradivarius and the murder of Victoria Jablonski.

So the first task was to decide: What music to record? During the course of the book there were performances or discussions of countless repertoire, including the Mendelssohn Concerto, the Beethoven Concerto, the Paganini Concerto in D, Sicilienne by Paradis, the Sarabanda from the Bach Partita in D Minor, Zigeunerweisen by Sarate, and of course, the most important composition relative to the story, the Devil’s Trill Sonata by Giuseppe Tartini.

Oh, and I’m leaving out an unknown composition by the legendary (and mythical) diminutive 17th century violin virtuoso, Matteo Cherubino (aka Il Piccolino). I would have to compose three minutes of a wistful Sarabanda which he improvised for his lover, the Duchess of Padua, as he stood naked in a cold bedchamber.

With these tasks in hands I started practicing months in advance of our goal of finishing the project by the end of 2016.  As I practiced all this music I had to not only hone my technique, but also distill the hours of music to the essential excerpt for the purpose of the story. They had to fit within the story.

When I was finally ready for that I went to a recording studio in Utah which provided incredible state of the art equipment and a first rate recording engineer who created the sound of a European chamber music hall as the context of my recording. He gave me the cue to start and let me go. Most of the music was for violin alone, but there were a few things that required piano. A local pianist, Jayne Galloway, whose able playing I’d known for many years, arrived at the studio. We started to record without even rehearsing, but within a half hour we felt we had accomplished what we needed to for the Paradis Sicilienne and Paganini Concerto. Then, for the next few hours I just played and played and played each excerpt–each of which was anywhere from 20 seconds to three minutes–until I had a sufficient number of takes for each composition from which I could select one that was good enough. At least that was my hope.

The engineer sent me a single audio file, several hours long, to my computer. I put on the headphones. I  had to listen to each take endless times to make sure there were no flaws, either technical or musical. For example, for Piccolino’s Sarabanda, I used a different violin tuned down a half step to reflect the intonation of 17th century Italian Baroque music, and played with selective vibrato that was the performance practice at that time.

Once the excerpts were selected was the next crucial step: where exactly to insert them into the reading of the story. (The reading, by award-winning audio book reader Jim Frangione, had already been completed at a studio in Massachusetts.) So again, with my headphones on, I stopped and started the playback of Jim’s reading to decide upon the exact split second, noting where each excerpt should start, how long it should go on before the reading recommenced, and whether at that point the music should end or simply taper under the voice.

Having made all those decisions, I shared my ideas with Alison and Jim for their input and we further refined the process. I then got on a plane and went to Massachusetts to huddle with them in a tiny studio in the basement of recording engineer, Jason Brown. I had my fingers crossed that Jason could accomplish a couple of special special effects I requested. For Piccolino’s Sarabanda he was able to create the echoey sound of the violin resonating in a stonewalled room with a high ceiling, and for the Paradis Sicilienne he was able to add the distinctive scratchy sound of an old 78 recording. We spent hours haggling over timings, volumes, and fades. Everyone had their own opinion, voiced from the perspective of their own expertise. It was a fascinating process and though we were exhausted by the end of it, we emerged still friends and with a unique and amazing Devil’s Trill audio book. You can listen to a sample HERE. And between now and August 21, for every download purchased on this link $5.00 will be donated to the Stockbridge Sinfonia, a wonderful amateur chamber orchestra, for its student scholarship fund.

Having gone through the process, we’re ready to move on to the next book in the Daniel Jacobus mystery series, Danse Macabre. Some of the great music in Danse Macabre is the spectacular Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven, the elegant Sonata in D Major by LeClair, and of course, the diabolical Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens in which the devil raises the souls of the dead from the grave with his beguiling violin. I hope you will enjoy my performance by clicking on the link HERE.

To raise money for the production costs of Danse Macabre, I’ve established a KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN, which in its first weekend raise more than 25% of our goal! I invite you to become one of the backers of a unique musical literary experience and be a part of mystery!




“A musical feast for mystery and music lovers.” Library Journal

A Touch of Jacobus

HERE is the introduction to one of the zaniest characters in my six Daniel Jacobus novels: Shakespeare-spouting Drum Stick Man, a denizen who lurks in the murky recesses of the New York City subway system in Danse Macabre. Jacobus, with his mind other things, wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing and has gotten himself lost, when he hears some odd tapping.

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As he mulled over just what he would say to Hennie, Jacobus suddenly realized that the usual sounds and smells of humanity had ebbed into the ether.  No voices, no scuffling, no car horns, no sweat, no perfume, no exhaust fumes.  All he could hear was an echo of dripping water, some jazzily rhythmic tapping off in the distance, and his own uneven footsteps.  His arthritic hip responded like a barometer to cooler, musty and dank atmospheric conditions.  Where the hell am I? he thought.  I shouldn’t try to do two things at once, dammit.  He stopped to reconnoiter, instincts momentarily befuddled.  He decided to turn left.

“Hold Mortal, lest thou will surely perish!” declaimed a voice, followed by a drum riff on what sounded like a set of paint cans and cement.

Jacobus stopped.  “What are you talking about?” he asked.

“A yawning abyss beckons ye, of which thou art presently astride.”  Bdop-bah.

“Who the hell are you?” asked Jacobus.

“Men have called me the Drum Stick Man, and honored be I to make your acquaintance.  Welcome to my dark domain.  ’Tis dark here, yea, but I perceive ’tis darker for you still.  Thou canst not see this dormant track bed unused, lo, in the memory of man.  One more step and thine earthly coil will surely be kaput.”  Bop-bop-bop, bop-bdop-baaaah.

Jacobus turned to his right.

“Egad!  Go not that direction, neither, gentle Sir.” Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-op.

“Why the hell not?  And knock off that ridiculous tapping.”

“But ‘tis my very nature to tap, Sir!  I tap on cans.”  B-dang, b-dang, b-dang.  “I tap on walls,” Knk-knk-knk.  “I e’en tap ’pon my head.  Ow!!

“‘The man that hath no music in himself,

        Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.

“If thou goest right, M’lord, thou wilst ne’er return.  Right is wrong.  A community of Gatherers awaits ye yon.”  Bp-bp-bding.

“And what, may I asketh, gather they?” asked Jacobus.

“Everything, kind sir.  Everything . . . But fear not!  For I will lead you from these things of darkness and this precipice, just as stout Edgar did lead the orbless Gloucester.  Follow me.  Perchance my tapping will please you now.  Dawdle not!  It be not far.”

“You live down here?” asked Jacobus, following the Drum Stick Man’s tapping.

“Verily.  Long has it been since the light of day has crossed my path.  Passageways without number abound within these dank, dark depths.  Forsooth ’tis a world unto itself.  Aha, here is the end of the line for me.

“‘Walk now thou straight and true,

                        and the world above ’twill be there for you.’”

Within moments Jacobus began to hear the familiar sounds of civilization within easy distance.

“How much do I owe you?” he asked, putting his hand into his pocket.

“Never a beggar nor chooser be!  Now get thee to a bunnerie.  I am awaaaay!”

Jacobus heard the tapping nimbly recede into the distance.  Now again with the type of humanity to which he was accustomed, in short order he was shoved up the escalator towards what was—for everyone else but him— the light at the end of the tunnel.

Walking the few short blocks from the station to the Bonderman Building, jostled by people in too much of a hurry to slow their pace even for a blind man, Jacobus contemplated the nature of insanity.  On one hand was this individual he just encountered who lived underground, talked funny, and liked to bang on things.  That person had undoubtedly saved his life out of the goodness of his curiously perverse heart.  On the other hand was a society which killed people, occasionally the wrong ones, as punishment for killing other people.  BTower and Allard, for example.  Jacobus wasn’t sure which side of the sanity fence he was on.  He had little need for creature comforts and since the world was black to him anyway—in more ways than one—the prospect of living a peaceful subterranean existence, like Ziggy’s, far away from all the things which daily annoyed him, didn’t seem all that unreasonable. That’s one reason he had never given up his hovel in the Berkshires.  No one bothered him except for those who he desired to bother him, like Nathaniel and his dwindling cache of students.

If you enjoyed this excerpt from Danse Macabre, please support my project to make it into a spectacular audio book!





Be A Part Of Mystery!

Danse Macabre, the Audio Book!

I’ve just launched an exciting project on that I want to share with you.

I’ve got 36 days to raise $6,000 for production costs for a unique audio book version of the second novel in my Daniel Jacobus mystery series, Danse Macabre. I’m writing to you first, my blog followers, in the hope that in the next few days you’ll consider becoming a backer, which will create the momentum necessary to reach my goal, before opening up the project to the general public.

I’m sure you have some questions. After you’ve had a chance to read the answers below, please click HERE to go the site, see what rewards you’d like to receive, and become a backer. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!




What’s so unique about the audible book? I’ll be recording excerpts from the music that’s intrinsic to the mystery, including the eerie Danse Macabre itself, providing clues to solving it. The music will be recorded separately from the spoken narrative, and then the two will be magically interwoven to create a seamless audio fabric. Actually, I have to admit, it’s not quite unique. It has been done once before–with my first mystery, [click on Devil’s Trill for a sample] earlier this year. This is what Audiofile had to say: “Violin performances by the author sprinkled throughout provide clues to aid in solving the mystery, which will be appreciated by those musically inclined and provide a pleasant backdrop for those who are not…a solid mystery.”


What do backers get out of this? If you go to my project site, you’ll see a whole list of rewards depending on your contribution level–everything from a handwritten thank you letter from Daniel Jacobus himself, to free autographed books, to your own private performance of music and reading. As a kickstarter backer, you won’t need to worry whether your investment will return a profit or not. You’ll get your reward upfront as soon as we reach our fundraising goal. But mainly, you’ll have the satisfaction of having had a hand in creating something of unique literary and artistic value.
What are the production costs? Basically, paying for a world-class audio book reader in Jim Frangione, a top notch recording engineer, and the studio time. All of my time recording the music is gratis, and we’ve got funds set aside for marketing and distribution.

Isn’t it standard practice for the production company to pay for it? The major production companies were not interested in doing anything out of the cookie cutter mold. Alison Larkin Presents is a young, small, independent company with a boldly artistic vision. That’s why, for now, we need to build upon the success of Devil’s Trill and Danse Macabre with your support, and are looking at the possibility of recording the entire six-book series!

Who is Daniel Jacobus? He’s a blind, curmudgeonly, reclusive, and brilliant violin teacher who has a knack for solving murders, but only after getting himself into very deep hot water.


What is Danse Macabre about? Just after his Carnegie Hall swansong and before his imminent departure for retirement in France, beloved violinist and humanitarian Rene Allard is brutally murdered with a mysterious weapon. Jacobus is dragged into the case kicking and screaming, and reluctantly follows a trail of broken violins and broken lives as it leads inexorably to the truth, and to his own mortal peril. Among the strange and wonderful characters in Danse Macabre is one of my favorites from all my books. He goes by the name of Drumstick Man, and is a Shakespeare-quoting denizen who lurks within the deepest subterranean recesses of the New York City subway system. Is he friend or foe? Or both?


Any good reviews? Glad you asked:
…the twists and turns of his plotting will keep readers guessing.  The real hook here, however, is the insider’s view of the musical world.” [Booklist]
And then there is one-of-a-kind virtuoso Jacobus, perhaps one of the most unique protagonists in mysteries. Elias’s debut, Devil’s Trill, was a great reading experience; his new book is outstanding. A musical feast for mystery and music lovers.” [Library Journal]