Clark Johnsen (who recently died; I am preparing a memorial post) was an optical physicist whose career included working on the Apollo Moon Mapper, the Viking Mars-Lander camera, and the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory. Clark also worked on a Rube-Goldberg-ish ultra-secret project that launched an earth-orbit satellite with a huge analog-film camera. That project took on added importance after the 1960 U-2 incident in which the Soviet Union shot down a US CIA spy plane. (The analog-film satellite project went by the now-timely name of Project Corona.) The Rube Goldberg aspect was that the spy satellite would eject a “lifeboat” re-entry capsule of exposed film. Which of course had to be recovered.
Clark’s passion, however, was classical music. First as a disc jockey on Harvard University’s radio station WHRB, and later as a high-end audio dealer, but always as a record collector. I have yet to meet a musician, engineer, or musicologist who had Clark’s depth of knowledge of the history of recorded classical music. His collection included more than 20,000 78 rpm records, which he actually would listen to. And perhaps 30,000 LPs.
Clark once told me that he had five favorite Beethoven “Waldstein” piano-sonata recordings, and that one of them was Hyperion Knight’s debut recording on Wilson Audio LPs. (Now available as hi-res downloads.) Dave Wilson recorded that LP in 1983, when Hyperion was a newly-minted Doctor of Musical Arts. And, no surprise, Hyperion’s DMA dissertation was on the Waldstein Sonata. That LP earned a place on Harry Pearson’s The Absolute Sound “Super LP” list.
Not content to rest on such laurels, Hyperion (and his significant other) have just published a novel in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. (Available printed or for Kindle, here.) The jacket image and publisher’s blurb are after the jump, as well as the first part of the Waldstein sonata from that Wilson Audio LP of long ago.
And here’s the publisher’s blurb:
The Manuscript is an extraordinary tale of love, faith, power and the battle between good and evil. It’s a humorous and engrossing read about a book that cannot be read.
Pandemic arrives from Asia and decimates medieval Italy. A selfless monk, mired in the suffering around him, labors in disguise to write a manual for mankind to guide them through the crisis. Centuries later, his book, now known as the Voynich Manuscript, makes its way to America and becomes a carefully guarded treasure at Yale University.
But there’s a catch: the notorious Voynich Manuscript is in a language unknown to mankind, defying all attempts at translation. A sinister secret society, determined to solve its riddles, ensnares an ordinary New Yorker, Emma Novak, in its plotting. Emma, an aspiring artist who has been unlucky in love, soon finds herself entangled in a romantic triangle with larger-than-life characters.
Set against the exciting backdrop of New York with all its charms, The Manuscript peers into a spiritual world usually hidden from view. This epic tale, spanning half a millennium, culminates in titanic forces revealing themselves in a high-stakes contest for humanity.
And, the first part of the Beethoven from Hyperion’s debut recording.
Beethoven: Sonata in C major, no. 21 op. 53, I. Allegro con brio (excerpt)
An earlier version of this story won first prize in its category in a New York competition for movie scripts that had not yet been picked up by a studio.
The manuscript in question is the Voynich Manuscript, which has fascinated scholars for more than 100 years, and which was donated to Yale in the 1960s. It’s plenty darn weird. Here’s an example:
Perhaps this book will prove to be a Godsend during The Time of Locking Down, and they will make a movie out of it, and a few years from now, we will all be able to say, “We knew him when… .”
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