The tale of Old Horowitz
George Klawitter | Sunday, February 9, 2014
Old Professor Horowitz is a much loved and much revered tenured professor of Sacred Music at Notre Dame. He has taught here for 47 years, and his specialty is the sacred cantata. He has written dozens of sacred cantatas, many of which have had their world premier in the Basilica on campus. Some of them, however, have premiered at cathedrals in Europe and one actually premiered to great acclaim at the Vatican, where the pope was seen tapping his foot during the Stabat Mater section.
Old Horowitz is a popular teacher, his seminars always filled, his workshops attracting the brightest and the best of the music majors. His students, however, occasionally try a little prank on Horowitz. Once a graduate student submitted his doctoral cantata with a musical motif by The Rolling Stones worked in: “I Don’t Get No Satisfaction.” Old Horowitz, of course, did not recognize the tune (he has never heard a thing by The Stones), but he did sense something awkward at that point in the composition and required that it be excised before the cantata was performed at juries.
Old Horowitz has recently been ensconced in his new office in the brand new “academic” building erected to enhance the south end of the football stadium. Some of his colleagues have noted that the new edifice has made Notre Dame the laughingstock of academia around the world. They describe the building, and its two sister buildings, as “slapping lipstick on a pig.” But such twaddle does not bother Old Horowitz. He is quite delighted with the lovely view he has of the parking lot and the rooftop of Legends. Not for him is the sylvan setting of the School of Music at the University of Michigan or the megaplex Music School at the University of Indiana. He does not even dream of the lovely music building at Oberlin of Ohio with its wing of practice rooms each outfitted with a small pipe organ. No, he is quite happy in his new digs hugging the football stadium.
Cantata composition is a tricky thing. One has to wait for inspiration before and during the process, and one never knows when Calliope is going to work her magic of inspiration. One takes it when it hits. Thus, you can imagine Old Horowitz’s problem when he wanted to get to his office one football Saturday because he could sense the compositional itch, a new idea to end the final movement of a glorious cantata, which many of his colleagues (who have sneaked a peek) have declared the old guy’s masterpiece.
He drove to campus but was, naturally, turned away because he did not have the requisite sticker for a football Saturday. He tried unsuccessfully to convince the guard that he was actually heading to the tailgate lot and was anxious to get his brats sizzling and his taco chips arrayed color by color. But the guard was no dummy: he did a quick search of the back seat of Horowitz’s 1957 Plymouth and discovered not so much as a bottle of soda. So much for the ruse.
Forced to turn back, Old Horowitz drove up 933 to Roseland and parked in front of somebody’s home. He then hiked back to campus. It took him an hour and a half, but all this time he was buoyed by the wonderful melody that Calliope was pacing through his brain — it was going to be the perfect finale to the cantata, the crowning touch of seven years of dedicated work.
On campus, he wound his way through a horde of wassailing alumni to his building. Throngs were heading through the main doors, the Great Gates of Kiev doors, in order to get into the stadium for the day’s game. Old Horowitz joined them. He was not much for football. In fact, he had never seen a game in his life. He realized that it had something to do with a ball being thrown around on a field with consequent concussions and early dementia for young men, all for the amusement of rich Republicans, but he had never pursued the suggestion to actually see a game because no one ever thought of making the suggestion to him.
Halfway through the Great Gates of Kiev, he turned sharply to the left to enter the foyer where the elevator to the upper floors was located. He needed that elevator to get to his office. But again a guard stopped him because he did not look like a rich Republican heading up to a luxury skybox to nibble on filet mignon and sip champagne while watching the day’s game. Old Horowitz, in fact, had never been to those luxury skyboxes on the top of the building, not once. He had heard about them, of course, but he had no curiosity to explore their wonders.
What to do? What to do?
He walked calmly around the side of the building (dedicated to the intellectual foresight of some captain of industry named Smythe) where he knew he could jimmy a lock on a secret door that a kindly janitor once pointed out to him. In a flash, with the help of a credit card, he had manipulated the lock and was in a dark corridor that led to a staircase. Floor after floor he climbed until he found himself on level six, his office level. He pried open the fire escape and walked into the brightness of his familiar hallway.
In his office, he was surrounded by his notes, boxes and boxes of notes that he had jotted over the last seven years as he labored on his masterpiece. Somewhere in there, he knew there was a slip he had taken of a Mozart performance he had heard in Vienna, the perfect sequence to manipulate for the finale of his cantata! Twenty minutes later he had the note slip in hand. As he studied it, Calliope started to work on his brain, integrating the motif into what could become a glorious passage. Old Horowitz pulled out the incomplete score and just as he was about to enter the beginning of the motif, a roar blasted from behind him, something about “Block that kick! Block that kick!”
The effect was instantaneous, almost knocking the old guy off his chair. The noise filled the room, rattled the music paper of the cantata manuscript, and threw Old Horowitz into a catatonic fit. His eyes popped wide, his heart muscles stiffened, and his mouth gaped wide fighting for breath.
It was over in an instant. They found Old Horowitz on Monday morning when he didn’t show up for his 9 a.m. lecture on the Picardy Third. There he was at his office desk, slumped over his precious manuscript, now to be forever unfinished, another victim to the hunger of the goddess Sport. They buried him in Cedar Grove cemetery, within earshot of the stadium, where several Saturdays each fall he is regaled with booming chants of “do this” or “do that,” all of which mean absolutely nothing to Old Horowitz.
The cantata has never been finished. Several colleagues tried, and several well-intentioned grad students tried, but all have despaired of capturing in music whatever wonderful finale Old Horowitz had planned for his masterpiece.
George Klawitter, CSC, lives in Columba Hall and can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.