Sunday, October 15, 2017

"The Prague Sonata"

Bradford Morrow is the author of nine books of fiction, including the novels Trinity Fields, Giovanni’s Gift, The Forgers, and most recently, The Prague Sonata. The founding editor of Conjunctions, he teaches at Bard College and lives in New York City.

Morrow applied the Page 69 Test to The Prague Sonata and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test never worked better for any of my novels than it does for The Prague Sonata. On this page my protagonist, Meta Taverner, must make a decision that will dramatically affect the rest of her life. The year is 2000 and Meta has just turned thirty. As a birthday present—an admittedly unusual one—Meta’s best friend who works as a hospice nurse puts her in touch with Irena, a dying Czech who left war-ravaged Prague after World War II and resettled in Queens, New York. With her she brought one part of an anonymous eighteenth-century piano sonata in three movements, a manuscript her friend Otylie Bartošová had broken up in order to make it worthless to the Nazis who were confiscating—read: stealing—any cultural artifacts they could get their hands on. As Irena explained when Meta visited the old woman in Queens, Otylie kept one part for herself; gave another part to her husband, who disappeared into the underground resistance; and placed the remaining pages into Irena’s hands. Otylie’s assumption was that when the war was over they would all reunite and the sonata would be restored as well. But they never saw each other again.

After Irena passes the manuscript along to Meta, an aspiring musicologist who had to abandon her promising concert piano career due to an accident that injured her hand, the young woman must decide whether to leave behind her settled life with her lawyer boyfriend, Jonathan, and go to Prague in search of the missing movements. Page 69 is the portrait of her working through these questions toward a resolution:
The new, strange Meta went surreptitiously to the Cooper Station post office to renew her passport without a concrete travel date in mind. The normal, familiar Meta made sure that when Jonathan’s case was thrown out of court, she organized a private victory party for the younger attorneys in the firm at a local bar managed by a friend. Between giving piano lessons, she spent two days in her small kitchen preparing platters of hors d’oeuvres and elaborate finger foods for the celebration. After Jonathan left for work, the new Meta set about meticulously copying the sonata manuscript at her desk like some secular sofer writing out the Torah. And though she also had a friend make high-resolution scans of each page, which she then printed out on art paper that approximated the weight and color of the original, and even went to the unnecessary length of typing the composition into a Sibelius computer program, she knew that by writing it out in her own hand she would forge a more intimate connection with the heart and mind of its maker. Just as painters often honed their art by copying the masters, many composers copied out works of their mentors as a means of getting closer to the music, note by note, measure by measure. So why not she?
Further along on this page, the reader sees Meta devouring books on sonata theory and poring over unrecorded scores from the period, as neither she nor her mentor recognize the undeniably masterful and beautiful music set down in the manuscript. Simply put, she becomes obsessed with the task of trying to locate the other movements. The pivotal action that happens on page 69 shows our protagonist at the very beginning of a quest that will take her to Prague, Vienna, London, and eventually back to America’s midwest as she attempts to discover the rest of the Prague sonata, as well as her deeper self.
Learn more about the book and author at Bradford Morrow's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Diviner’s Tale.

The Page 69 Test: The Forgers.

--Marshal Zeringue