Bartok: A Pun-ishing Musical Tale

It was a Friday night and a fugue of us were on our way to Wild Bill Coda’s for a gin and diatonic after the concert. I wanted to go solo but Manny, Mozart and Jacques — three flutists whom everyone called “The Pops Boys” — decided I needed some accompaniment.

Jacques blew his own horn as we walked. “If you ask me, Pizzicato couldn’t conduct his way onto a trolley car,” he said about that night’s maestro. “He’s just a baton twirler.”

“I prefer Enrico Cello,” piped up Manny. “I wish they’d find a way to fit Cello into the schedule.”

“I don’t see why not,” said Mozart. “There’s always room for Cello.” Everyone laughed, but I didn’t make a movement.

“What’s the Mahler with you, Clef?” asked Jacques.

“Maybe he’s coming down with Scarlatti fever,” Mozart said, feeling my forehead. I pushed his hand away and gave him a polka in the ribs.

“Hey, Clef,” said Mozart. “Stop acting so cymbal minded.”

“I’m sorry, guys,” I said. “I’m feeling like an orchestra—in the pits.”

“You know what your treble is, Clef?” said Manny. “You just played for four hours straight. You’re keybored. We’ll get you a couple of drinks and some Chicken Khatchaturian and you’ll be fine.”

I smiled, but I knew that wasn’t the reason I felt so pathetique.

When we got to Wild Bill’s, the place was packed. There were eight to the bar and not much oboe room. But I wanted that drink pretty badly. So I strode in with lots of brass, pushing a couple of minors out of my way and accidentally giving one a downbeat on his foot.

“Hey, that’s my Schumann,” the minor yelled in a higher key.

“Make yourself scherzo, kid,” I said, taking the shoe off his foot and tossing it to Bert, the bartender. “Have a Schubert,” I said. The minor left the bar somewhat diminished.

“Gin and diatonics all around,” I told Bert. “And make mine a double.”

“Are you sure you can Handel it, Clef?” Manny asked.

“Stop harping, man,” I said. Bert the bartender brought me the drink, and I downed it in one gulp.

“Let’s leave him alone,” Jacques said to the other guys. “Clef’s in a bad mode and there’s nothing sadder than a classical musician with a case of the blues.”

Even though the drink was giving me a definite Liszt to one side, I could see that Jacques was right. I wasn’t acting natural. I decided to pay for the drinks and leave. That’s when I saw her—my old flame Bel Canto.

Harmony times had I thought of her since the night she gave me the air? I could have left (and would have) but a little voice inside me said, “Clef, you can’t stay in Haydn forever.”

So I coolly inched my way through the crowd until I was close enough to run my fingers up and down her neck.

“Hi, doll,” I vespered in her ear. “Half time for a drink?”

She spinet around and then, seeing it was me, made a break for the door. I choraled her.

“Hold on, Bel,” I said. “You baroque my heart.”

“It’s overture between us, Clef,” she said with a note of obligato in her voice.

“Why?” I asked. “Is there someone new fiddling with you now?”

Offended, she took a swing at me, but I seized the opportunity to grab her torso and plant an appassionato kiss on her lips. I Ravel in the thought of it now. And I could tell it was a trill for her, too.

But suddenly a sharp shot in the clavichord knocked me flat to the floor. I looked up and saw a dominant figure standing over me. It was William Piccolo, part-time musicologist and full-time bully.

“Beat it, pal,” he said with a grin. “Two’s company. Three’s a trio.”

“Oh, William,” Bel said, flying into his arms. “Promise me anything, but give me arpeggio.”

I wanted to get up and give Piccolo a few Boston Pops in the mouth, but they’d probably give me tenor twenty days in the slammer. Besides, Bel wasn’t worth doing that kind of time for. She had a falsetto values.

I returned to the bar where Manny, Mozart and Jacques were making time with a couple of babes from the string section. One lady named Viola Gamba I’d noticed at rehearsal. I was kind of suite on her. She had lots of pluck.

“Hi, Viola,” I said. “I got a couple of Bach’s seats to tomorrow’s ball game. Wanna to go?”

“I’d love to, Clef,” she said. 

“You know, Vi,” I said, moving within lip shot of her. “We could make beautiful music together.”

She just rolled her eyes and laughed. She’d heard that pitch before. “That’s just Bartok,” she said with a flourish.

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