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Fantasy on the Theme B-A-C-H
by David Warren Paul

Fantasy on the Theme B-A-C-H is a novel about music, obsession, and madness. The story rides along the fragile boundary between reality and fantasy, waking and dreaming. And on another level, it dares to invoke the Dostoyevskian theme about the struggle of good and evil within the human soul.

Organ pipes

AuthorDavid Warren Paul
TitleFantasy on the Theme B-A-C-H
Type of workLiterary novel
Brief description(see Summary)
Word count72,000
Sample(see Sample)
Existing rights salesNone
Recognition(see Award)


Thomas Braxton, an organist, aches for a career of public performances and recording contracts. His position at St. Anne’s Church cannot contain his ambitions, and he jumps at the opportunity to give a recital at the Washington Cathedral. Against his better judgment, however, he agrees to play a composition that he has never been able to master, Franz Liszt’s “Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H,” based on four musical notes that spell the name of the earlier master.

In the six months during which Braxton struggles with this piece, he wanders into another world, a world that begins with a dark fantasy about a mysterious man Braxton sees one day in the slums of East Baltimore. This fantasy world is far removed from the beauty and purity of music; it’s a violent domain of derelicts, prostitutes, and pimps. Once he enters this world, Thomas Braxton cannot escape from it.

In the comfortable society of St. Anne’s Church, Braxton’s musical abilities bring him respect. His friends include Archie Graham, a young, radical clergyman, and Clark Philby, the choir director. This outer life of Braxton’s comes unglued, however, the more he broods over Mara, a lost love.

Seeking refuge from thoughts of Mara, he plunges into fantasies and dreams about Franz Liszt. In visions, Liszt advises Braxton on the correct interpretation of his music. In reality, Braxton’s obsession about the profligate personal life of the 19th-century composer draws him into an irresistible imitation of Liszt, as Braxton falls into simultaneous sexual affairs with two young sisters, Judy and Camille.

It is when his real life and his fantasy life converge that Braxton’s story reaches its climax. A series of unsolved murders in East Baltimore coincides with the approach of Thomas Braxton’s big recital, and the organist’s “inner” life—his dreams and fantasies about the mysterious street person—becomes hopelessly intertwined with his “outer” life.

© 1997 by David Warren Paul. All rights reserved.


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