Emma Hauck realizes that her husband’s political ambitions are changing him—and their marriage. She finds refuge in her writing, and in the unexpected friendship of a new servant. As both relationships grow more complex, Emma must face difficult truths about herself that she never knew existed. A new play about marriage, illness, and the power of a pencil.
The Hauck family kitchen. September 1908. At the table, EMMA writes a letter.
EMMA: Dearest Michael, the leaves are beginning to change, gentle waves of copper and brass shimmering in the golden light just before sunset. I love the colors that come to my family’s orchard this time of year, though so very briefly. Is it terrible of me to take the girls and let them distract Mother, just a bit? Though the apples are almost worth hearing her criticism. We did manage to take two bushels from Mother’s; Frank put them in the car while Mother yelled after little Gabi who, as is her habit, was running barefoot in the grass. Sometimes I wonder if she even feels the cold at all. There are times it’s all I can feel. Don’t stay away too long; come back to me, Sweetheart. All my love, Emma.
(She looks at the note with satisfaction and begins to fold it when AUGUST enters from the hall. He carries a wooden toolbox.)
EMMA (Without looking up): You’re late.
AUGUST: Late’s a strong word.
EMMA: Is it?
(She looks from him to the clock; he follows her gaze.)
AUGUST: … …Apologies, madam.
EMMA: What was it that caught your attention this time? Or shall I say whom? Some pretty young thing shopping in the city center, perhaps.
AUGUST: Please, Mrs. Hauck. You know me better than that. There are two things I don’t indulge in while I’m working.
EMMA: Punctuality and common sense?
AUGUST: I was going to say ale and women, but…
AUGUST: It was a joke.
EMMA: Don’t let it happen again.
AUGUST: Being late, or the joke?
(She doesn’t look at him. He’s disappointed.)
EMMA: Was there something else?
AUGUST: You wouldn’t understand.
EMMA: You could try your luck with Mr. Hauck.
AUGUST: …The choir. At the Jesuit. They were rehearsing, and the doors were open. I was just walking by, on my way here, and before I knew it I just stopped and listened. I had to. I didn’t even realize I had stopped until it was over. It was Bach.
EMMA: Do you know what it was? The piece they played?
AUGUST: It was the opening for his Mass. The one he finished before he died.
EMMA: His Mass in B Minor.
AUGUST: Yes. The beginning—
EMMA: The Kyrie Eleison. “Lord, have mercy.” It’s the prayer that begins the mass.
AUGUST: I’ve never heard anything so—
AUGUST: I had to listen.
EMMA: Yes. You did.
AUGUST: It shouldn’t have affected me so.
EMMA: The Mass— it overcomes you. It’s a prayer that the most unwilling soul not only allows, but shares. Foreboding and gentle.
AUGUST: You know a lot about Bach.
EMMA: I grew up surrounded by his work. Studying it, practicing it. Drowning in it.
AUGUST: Next week— No. I wouldn’t presume.
EMMA: What were you going to say?
AUGUST: Next week you should go and listen to the Jesuit choir. I could take you, but that might be—
EMMA: Inappropriate. What could be inappropriate about your taking me to church?
EMMA: You’ll sit across the aisle, then.
AUGUST: If the master asks, it was your idea.
EMMA: I’ll take the blame, and gladly. Will you drop this in the post, please?
(He nods and takes the letter. He opens a drawer and places the letter inside. Closes it again. He examines a cabinet. He tests the door, opening and closing it several times. He takes up his tools and, over the course of the following conversation, proceeds to remove one of the cabinet doors from its hinges.)
EMMA: How did you know it was Bach?
AUGUST: It’s minor without being dark. Clearly pointed at the light. Contradictions in style and tone. So complicated. As if the notes were—
EMMA: Fighting to get to the edge of the page first.
AUGUST: Even when the melody is slow and mournful, the notes are reaching for the final measure. Because waiting at the end is—
AUGUST: Something like.
EMMA: That was very insightful.
AUGUST: Why should you be so surprised?
EMMA: I didn’t mean to—
AUGUST: Assume I’m uneducated. I know as much as you.
EMMA: Where were you exposed? To Bach?
AUGUST: In church, of course. Unlike the sermons, the music seemed to be going somewhere.
EMMA: So you followed it.
AUGUST: I don’t know all the names of things. He’s notorious for simply calling pieces what they are: an oratorio, a fugue, a cantata. But if you play Bach, I almost always know it’s him.
EMMA: My mother taught me to play, but it was difficult. I’ve never had my mother’s sense of—formality. Precision. Bach requires precision. And I’ve never been precise. Not now. Certainly not at ten. The constant smack of Mother’s hand told me so. But it wasn’t a choice; I simply didn’t possess the same talent she did.
AUGUST: She beat you.
EMMA: She was stern, not hard.
AUGUST: Is there a difference?
EMMA: The piano was something she knew. She wanted me to know it too. And I tried, but…
AUGUST: If you practiced every day—
EMMA: For years.
AUGUST: I’m sure you’re better than you think.
EMMA: I haven’t touched an instrument since I was married. I refuse to have one in the house. I’m not musical in the slightest.
AUGUST: What about your daughters?
EMMA: They have lovely voices. They can sing, and they can learn to play if they like. Mother wouldn’t approve.
AUGUST: She’s not here, is she?
EMMA: Occasionally she comes to tea, during which she informs me that my housekeeping is disappointing and my children are running wild.
AUGUST: Your girls are the best behaved children I’ve ever seen. Like adults, but smaller.
EMMA: I can read music, at least, thanks to her.
AUGUST: If we must thank her for something.
EMMA: I feel music rise and fall like a person breathing. It’s nearly sentient. Bach was creating souls in a way. Spirits who stand and walk around and touch you on the shoulder at the right moment.
AUGUST: That’s terrifying.
EMMA: Is it?
AUGUST: You make it sound as if composers mean to haunt us.
EMMA: They do. Poets, artists, composers—they succeed when they manage to get inside your head and dig in. Take hold. They haunt us. Of course, you’re intimating that being haunted is frightening. Unbearable. But there are some things you don’t want to escape. It wasn’t a horror, standing on the church step, listening to that choir.
AUGUST: Not at first.
EMMA: I’m haunted. By so many beautiful things. Sometimes all at once. It can be overwhelming. Like Bach. All those notes.
MICHAEL (From off): Emma?
(If she hears him, EMMA does not react. AUGUST, though, does hear. He tucks the cabinet door under his arm, takes up his toolbox, and exits.)
(EMMA turns her attention back to her papers. Humming to herself, she straightens a sheet and takes up her pencil. But it’s not long before she’s frustrated. She crumples the page and discards it. Starts a new one. Dissatisfied, she crumples it too. Then another, and another. In a burst she knocks a number of pages from the table. She tries to gather herself. Takes a single page and begins again. This time she finds herself and works intently.)
(MICHAEL enters from the hall.)
MICHAEL: There you are. I’ve been calling— (He stops. Takes in the blizzard of paper.) Emma.
EMMA: Dearest. I— What’s wrong?
MICHAEL: The state of this room.
EMMA: I’ve been composing. An ode.
MICHAEL: Paper isn’t cheap. Look at this, half-used sheets crumpled and torn. You know better.
EMMA: They’re bad. Wrong. I can’t finish them.
MICHAEL: Some you haven’t even started. Blank and tossed aside.
EMMA: I put them there. For later.
MICHAEL: Pick them up please.
(She does so. He watches her.)
MICHAEL: I hope you’ve had a productive day.
EMMA: I did. I helped Holda with her strudel.
MICHAEL: Holda is meant to help you.
EMMA: I know. But I enjoy it. The aroma is so inviting; it’s almost better than the strudel itself. I wrote a little. A few letters. I sang with the girls and went for a walk to the theatre. I stopped at the Jesuit church, to listen to the choir rehearse.
MICHAEL: So you only witnessed their productivity, rather than engage in your own.
EMMA: …The Mass. In B Minor. Bach’s Mass. “Lord, have mercy—”
MICHAEL: Why would you quote mass?
EMMA: I’m quoting Bach.
MICHAEL: City councilmen and their wives don’t talk about Bach. They talk about Marx, and socialism, and reform.
EMMA: Mannheim is a beautiful city. Why should you want to reform it?
MICHAEL: Sometimes I wonder where you get your ideas.
EMMA: I can be a politician’s wife.
(Finally he bends down to help her, but she’s almost done.)