Dead Composers

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Edwin has to impress his music professor with a research project, and he only has a week to pull it off. How will he do it? By inventing a composer, of course!

A loud thud made Edwin’s head snap up from its former position on the desk. “Edwin!”
Edwin blinked, then averted his gaze, avoiding the cold glare that seemed to burrow through his eyes and into his brain. Professor Isidore continued in a displeased tone. “Since you were clearly so captivated by the musical selection I just played, would you mind telling us a bit about its composer and its historical significance?”
Great. The professor obviously knew Edwin would not be able to answer the question. The damn song, whatever it had been, had put him to sleep. Piano songs always made him fall asleep. Really, the only reason he had signed up for Isidore’s Music History course was because the course satisfied one of his college’s core requirements, and because the professor was kind of hot, for a forty-something-year-old woman. At the moment, though, she was definitely not happy with Edwin.
Edwin made his first attempt at answering, “Umm, I would mind, kind of.”
A few soft snickers bubbled around the classroom. Professor Isidore folded her arms. “Would you like me to play it again?”
“No! Um, I mean, no thank you.” Edwin’s eyes widened for a moment. There was no way he was going to fall asleep again.
“All right,” Isidore said. She turned around slowly and placed a thick book — the object she had slammed on to Edwin’s desk to wake him up — on a nearby table, then resumed her seat at the piano bench. Edwin let out a sigh of relief. He was in the clear.
The professor’s voice rang out again. “Since it seems you do not need to hear the piece again, why don’t you start by telling me what key it is in?”
Edwin dropped his head. Why was Isidore picking on him? It was unfair. Clearly he did not know the answer; forcing him to come up with one was just torture. He thought of all the different keys, then picked one. “Um, E?”
Professor Isidore offered no response. Instead, she came up with another question. “Who was the piece composed by?”
“Um….” Edwin knew the answer to this one. The professor had announced it, and the song’s title, before she had begun playing it. It was one of those kind of well-known composers, not as popular as Mozart or Beethoven but not as obscure as some other names Edwin could not remember. “Um, that guy. The tall one.”
Professor Isidore looked amused. “Rachmaninoff?”
“No, not him,” Edwin said, feeling and sounding annoyed. Suggesting the wrong answer was definitely not helpful. “The one from Germany, er, Austria. Wagn-”
The professor smirked, but her eyes had already begun to sparkle in barely-concealed laughter. Edwin felt helpless. “Um, Cho... er, Jan... er, Pader-something...."
The professor rose and began to stroll around the classroom. "The piece was Rachmaninoff's 'Prelude in C-sharp minor, opus 3, number 2.' I'll expect you all to remember it for the next listening quiz."
"See?" Darren, Edwin's best friend, whispered, prodding him lightly. "Always go with your gut. Rachmaninoff."
"Your next project," Professor Isidore was saying, "is to find a composer who is new to you and research him or her, write up a five-page essay on the composer, and present one of his or her pieces to the class. You will work in pairs. This will be due one week from today. Any questions?"
No one else in the class seemed concerned, but Edwin suddenly had a bad case of the shakes. "A week?"
"A week." Isidore nodded and stepped back toward the piano. "Class dismissed."



Looking at the computer monitor, his glazed eyes gliding down the glossy screen, Edwin murmured, "We're never gonna pass this class, Darren."
Darren laughed. "Why not? Look at all the choices we have! Wikipedia is a fount of knowledge. Look at these lists of lists of lists of composers."
"Yeah," Edwin moaned. "Exactly. We have to pick one of these, find enough information on them to fill five pages, and then study a song by them. The essay will be hard enough. The song? Where would we even start? I can't analyze music."
"That's what the class is for," Darren said cheerily. "You'll do fine. Hey, you've got me."
Edwin swung the keyboard over to Darren. "Then you try picking a composer out of all this muck."
After about half an hour of searching, Darren said, "Yeah, this is gonna be impossible."
"See what I mean?" Edwin groaned.
"It's like, either everyone's some hotshot who wrote five-hour operas, or some nobody who wrote jingles. We can't deal with operas and Isidore won't let jingles slide. We're gonna have to get creative."
Edwin looked up at Darren. "How?"
"Take some initiative. Invent a composer."
"That's crazy." Edwin considered it. "We could make up a history, sure, and write an essay on some random guy. But you're forgetting the music part."
"That's easy," Darren said breezily. "We'll just grab some brief piece of music from somewhere. No big."
"That's crazy," Edwin said again, but this time, largely to himself. "Crazy enough that it just might work."



First, they needed sources.
That was easy enough. They made a Wikipedia page, edited in a few fake links, and considered it good. They got started on the article itself, too.
Sebastian Enoch Albrechts (May 10, 1862 — April 15, 1920) was a French composer....
"Albrechtsberger," Darren corrected from over Edwin's right shoulder.
"Berger? Why would — you're saying that because you're eating a cheeseburger."
"Maybe," Darren allowed, "but 'Albrechts' doesn't even sound like a real name. Besides, adding something to it will make it less likely that anyone has that name. So, add Berger. Also, why is he French? That name doesn't even sound French."
"Fine." Edwin changed the name to "Albrechtsberger" and looked over the beginning of the article again. "I just picked French randomly. Austria, then? Everyone was from Austria."
Darren shrugged. "Seems okay to me."
Edwin changed that too.
"Good," Darren said, settling back into his chair with the burger. "We are getting somewhere, my friend."



Two days later, as Edwin was leaving his economics class, he found himself surrounded by reporters and even a few cameramen.
"Mister Stainbrook," one of the reporters called out to him. "You've made the musical discovery of the century! How does it feel?"
"How did you come across this great composer?" another shouted over the din.
Edwin was blinking, his head moving back and forth and to and fro. "What?"
"Albrechtsberger," another reporter said. "You and Mister Casselmann uncovered this great and important man. This is a remarkable discovery in the world of classical music."
"Uhh," Edwin stammered. "It's pretty cool that we found him. I mean, it was totally by accident. We were just doing research for a music class and he just, well, popped up from nowhere, you know?"
A few cameras flashed at him. Camcorders had their lenses trained on him. Edwin could feel himself breaking into a cold sweat. "What do you plan to do with your findings?" a reporter asked.
"Uhh, we hadn't talked about that yet," Edwin said. "Do you mind if I head home? I've gotta, um, do some more cataloguing of Albraxt — I mean — Albrechtsberger's stuff."
"Of course," the reporters said, but they followed him all the way to the doorstep of his dorm, still asking questions. Edwin felt as though he had walked out of the economics building and into a different universe. "Well, it was great talking to you guys," he said as he unlocked the door and headed inside. "Bye."
Darren was already inside. "Dude," Edwin said. "That was the strangest thing. All kinds of reporters following me like I'm some kind of star. What was that?"
"Um." Darren cleared his throat and looked away. "My sister might have found out about our assignment."
"Seriously?" Darren's sister was a journalist, always looking for a story to further her career. Edwin plopped onto their sofa. "And you didn't tell her the truth?"
"How could I? You know her. There would've still been a story. Except it would have been, 'Two College Students Invent Composer to Pass Class.'"
Edwin exhaled. Damn that sister of Darren's. "I suppose."



The next day found Edwin watching the five o'clock news idly while spinning ramen noodles around his fork. Then he heard his name, and looked up to see something especially unexpected.
"Darren!" he yelled. "You have to see this!"
"See what?" Darren was pulling a shirt over his head and sounded rather irritated, But when he saw what Edwin was looking at, his jaw dropped too.
"We're so glad our great-great-grandfather is finally getting the recognition he deserves," a woman was telling a reporter. "He was a wonderful man and a masterful composer. We were afraid his work and his reputation had been lost to time."
"And you said you were related to him on your mother's side?" The reporter asked.
The interviewee nodded. "I'm honored. And, of course, any proceeds from his work, I hope, would be sent to his estate."
"So far, nothing of his work has been found," the reporter said.
"I'm sure it will be," the woman said. "But for now, and for always, I want to thank the two young men who brought Sebastian Albrechtsberger and his work into the light."
"This is insane," Edwin said.  
"This is disgusting." Darren leaned against the couch. "Obviously she's in it for some kind of money."
"How do you know that?" Edwin asked.
"Because she can't be related to him, because he doesn't and didn't exist! And there won't be any works, because we made him up! I don't know what she thinks she'll gain from this, but... well, the joke'll be on her!"
Edwin just shook his head slowly. "At least we've got something to go on for our project."



Not a day later, the TV was going again and once again, Edwin heard his name cone from its speakers.
"...and Darren Casselmann, the two young men who uncovered this outstanding composer, will be glad to learn that old copies of music he wrote have been discovered. The estate has pledged to share some of its proceeds with them."
Darren had walked into the room too, and just said, "Whoaaaaa...."
"The young men have not responded to our requests via email, but we expect they will be in touch with the Albrechtsberger family shortly."
"All right," Darren said. "Game plan. We use one of those compositions and analyze it for Isidore. Bang."
"Wait. Weren't you the one talking about this guy not existing? Why would you want to use a nonexistent composer for this class?"
"Because the evidence is there. We're famous, Edwin. There's no way Isidore can flunk us."
Edwin considered that. "That's so crazy that it just might work."



They turned in their paper and analysis to professor Isidore, who looked at them carefully.
"I must admit, I was skeptical," the professor said. "I still am. The odds of you two finding a long lost composer are astronomically low. But it seems he has family, and music, so I'll let it pass."
They would wonder for the rest of their days just how Albrechtbserger had come about. But they aced the assignment, and that was what mattered.

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