Chapter 59


    Once a stately mansion, the Prentiss Institute of Music was an impressive early-1900s Georgian sandstone building, across from Rittenhouse Square on Locust Street. In the world of classical music it was considered by many to be Philadelphia's version of the Juilliard. Many members of the Philadelphia Orchestra had studied at Prentiss. While most of the courses of study were at the college level, they also maintained a prep school. A number of principal players of major orchestras around the world had gotten their training at Prentiss.

    Because of the prestige of the school, and the late hour, Byrne had put in a call to the DAs office. The office had then placed a call to the school and gotten Jessica and Byrne an appointment to speak with someone.


    The dean of the Prentiss Institute of Music was Frederic Duchesne. In his forties, Duchesne was tall and sharp-featured, had thinning blond hair, hazel eyes, and an air of rumpled elegance. He met them at the front door of the institute, locking it behind them, and escorted them to his office, a large white-paneled room off the reception area. The room was cluttered with sheet music on stands, stacks of CDs, as well as a variety of musical instruments in their velvet-lined cases.

    On the wall was a large framed copy of the school's charter. Duchesne offered coffee, which Jessica and Byrne declined. They sat.

    'We appreciate you taking the time to talk to us,' Byrne said. 'I hope we're not keeping you too late.'

    'Not at all. I sometimes don't leave here until midnight. Always something to do.' He absently straightened some papers on his desk, then stopped, perhaps realizing it was hopeless. He turned back. 'It's not often we get a visit from the police.'

    'We just have a few questions,' Byrne said.

    'I assume this has something to do with Joseph Novak.'

    'It does,' Byrne said.

    Duchesne nodded. 'I saw it on the news.'

    'What can you tell us about Novak?'

    'Well, as I understand it, Mr. Novak was loosely associated with Prentiss for ten years or so.'

    'He was an employee?'

    'No, no. He freelanced as an engineer for various recordings. The institute hires a number of different technicians based on the project.'

    Byrne held up the CD he had gotten from Christa-Marie. 'He worked on this project?'

    Duchesne put on his glasses. When he saw the CD he smiled fondly. 'That was recorded more than twenty years ago. Novak didn't record the original. He worked on the remastering.'

    'Were you acquainted with Joseph Novak?'

    'We met once or twice. I never worked with him personally, no.' Duchesne shook his head. 'Terrible tragedy what happened.'

    'When was the last time you saw him?'

    Duchesne thought for a moment. 'It must be two years now.'

    'You've had no contact since?'


    'Do you know how many recordings he worked on here?'

    'Not off hand,' Duchesne said. 'I can get that information for you.'

    Byrne glanced at his notes. 'I have just a few more questions. I'm afraid some of them are probably going to seem pretty basic.'

    Duchesne held up a hand. 'Please. This is a place of learning.'

    'Can you tell us a little bit about the institute?'

    'You want the tourist version or the potential-donor version?'

    'Tourist,' Byrne said. 'For now.'

    Duchesne smiled, nodded. 'The institute was founded in 1924 by a woman named Eugenie Prentiss Holzman, and is known worldwide as one of the leading conservatories. It's difficult to get into, but the tuition is free. A number of the current members of the Philadelphia Orchestra are faculty here, as well.'

    'How many students do you have?'

    'Right now, around one hundred sixty.'

    'And this is all free?'

    'Well, not the private lessons.'


    'Very,' Duchesne said. 'The hourly fee can be quite high.'

    Duchesne continued, relating how Prentiss recruited its students, what the general curriculum was. He also name-dropped some of the more famous alumni. It was an impressive list. When he finished he reached into his desk, produced a pair of large full-color booklets, handed one to Byrne, one to Jessica. The publication was called Grace Notes.

    'Prentiss publishes this quarterly,' Duchesne said. 'Inside you'll find all the background you need.'

    Jessica and Byrne thumbed through the booklets. Byrne held up his copy. 'Thanks.'

    Duchesne nodded.

    'I do have one last question, if I may,' Byrne added.

    'Of course.'

    'When it comes to orchestral music - symphonies - is there always a book?'

    'A book?'

    'Like in musical theater. Someone writes the book, someone writes the music, someone else writes the lyrics.'

    'I think I may know what you're asking. You want to know if symphonies have a story behind them. A narrative.'


    'It's a difficult question,' Duchesne said. 'And one that's been a topic for discussion and debate for a long time. I believe what you're talking about, insofar as instrumental music is concerned, is called program music.'

    'Program music has a story?'

    'Yes and no. In its purest form, program music can be a mere suggestion of a narrative.'

    'So a piece of music that follows a narrative approach might not be particularly coherent?'

    Duchesne smiled. 'Tell me, detective. Where did you study music?'

    'A little honky-tonk at the crossroads.'

    'With the esteemed Mr. Johnson.'

    'Yeah, well,' Byrne said. 'I made a different deal with the devil.'

    Duchesne took a moment, thinking. 'To answer your astute question, yes. For the most part. There are a few exceptions, one being Vivaldi's Four Seasons'

    Jessica tried to listen closely but the only sound she could hear was the conversation flying over her head. She knew that Byrne took cryptic but detailed notes. She hoped he was getting all this. She was completely lost when it came to classical music. Whenever someone mentioned The Barber of Seville she thought of Bugs Bunny.

    'Are there any symphonic poems, program music, that involve the use of animal imagery?'

    'My goodness. Many.'

    'Specifically a lion, a rooster, a swan, or a fish?'

    'Perhaps the most famous of all. Carnival of the Animals,' Duchesne said without a moment's hesitation. 'It is a musical suite of fourteen movements. Much beloved.'

    'The movements are all about animals?'

    'Not all,' Duchesne said.

    'Who was the composer?' Byrne asked.

    'Carnival of the Animals was written by a great proponent of the tone poem. A French Romantic composer named Camille Saint-Saens.'

    'Do you have information on this that you might let us borrow?' Byrne asked.

    'Of course,' Duchesne said. 'It will take me a little while to collate all of it. Do you want to wait?'

    'Can you fax it to us as soon as you have it all together?'

    'Sure,' Duchesne said. 'I'll get right on it.'

    Jessica and Byrne rose. 'We really appreciate this,' Byrne said, handing the man a business card.

    'Not at all,' Duchesne replied. He walked them to the door of his office, through the reception area, to the front doors.

    'Were you here when Christa-Marie Schönburg studied here?' Byrne asked.

    'No,' Duchesne said. 'I've been here for almost twenty years, but she had left by then.'

    'Did she teach here?'

    'She did. It was only for two years or so, but she was quite something, as I understand. The students were madly in love with her.'

    They descended the steps, reached the side door of Prentiss.

    'Perhaps this is something you are not at liberty to discuss, but does any of this have something to do with Ms. Schönburg?' Duchesne asked.

    'No,' Byrne said, the consummate liar. 'I'm just a fan.'

    Duchesne glanced over at the wall. Jessica followed his gaze. There, next to the door, mixed into a precise grouping of portraits of young musicians - violinists, pianists, flutists, oboists - was an expensively framed photograph of a young Christa-Marie Schönburg sitting in a practice room at Prentiss.


    On the way to the van - parked just off Locust Street on a narrow lane called Mozart Place - they walked in silence.

    'You saw it, didn't you?' Jessica finally asked.

    'Oh yeah.'

    'Same one?'

    'Same one.'

    In the decades-old photograph of Christa-Marie next to the door she wore a stainless steel bracelet with a large garnet stone inlaid.

    They had seen the same bracelet on the shelf at Joseph Novak's apartment.

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