Mugzie the Beagle Dies Listening to Schubert: Commentary
My dog Mugzie died while we were listening to Schubert’s “Winterreise.”
It seemed appropriate.
These songs are about journeys -- through Germany in the early 19th century and, in a larger sense, through a wintry world in which the narrator finds no shelter at sundown.
The recording featured Christian Gerhaher, a mesmerizing singer new to me.
His empathetic interpretation brought to mind my favorite “Winterreise” by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the cerebral German lieder singer with the voice of burnished gold, who died a week before Mugzie. Gerhaher sounds quite a bit like him.
Mugzie loathed high sopranos especially, and would circle around the living room looking for escape.
Schubert fortunately favored the lyric baritone.
Though sickly for years before his death at 31, a lot of Schubert’s music radiates happiness.
Think of those jaunty wandering songs (“Schone Mullerin”), the Trout Quintet or his symphonies.
“Winterreise” is different.
There are 24 songs, all settings of poems by Wilhelm Muller, another short-lived contemporary, starting with “Gute Nacht” and its hypnotic opening lines:
“I was a stranger when I arrived, and a stranger when I left,” sings the narrator as he quietly closes the door on a doomed love affair and leaves with the moonlight as his companion.
Mugzie was lying on her favorite suede bed as we shared our last salami sandwich.
Mystery surrounded her from the day she arrived on the Upper West Side, tumbling out of a van dispatched by a sweet woman at a Brooklyn kill shelter after my friend Sheila and I got hopelessly lost trying to pick her up on an evening so stormy, Muller would have reached for his quill to rhyme:
Stormy was our way,
no beacon lit the L.I.E.,
where mysteriously we
ended our journey at J.F.K.
Or something like that.
Nothing was known about Mugzie except that a young dude had dropped her off saying his grandmother had died and no one wanted her.
By contrast, the life of Mugzie’s predecessor, the sainted Sugar, was well-documented since she had worked as a sniffer in the Beagle Brigade of the Department of Agriculture at Kennedy airport.
Sugar’s job was to separate illicitly imported meat products from tourists who feared this country might not have the perfect pepperoni.
Sniffer dogs are trained to sit down in front of a suspicious suitcase; the handler rewards them with a treat. After a sterling start, Sugar started sitting down in front of every suitcase.
Rendered useless by her greed, her employment came to an end, but the world became her oyster.
She traveled widely and became known for her nocturnal escapes in Santa Fe, her heedless destructiveness (wreaked on any interfering curtains and windows) and guile (stealing anything off the plates of divas as they sat on the couch and reminisced about the past, oblivious to her lack of interest in anything not food-related).
Mugzie’s prospects had seemed quite poor.
The unbelievably sad picture of her on Petfinder.com showed a swaybacked dog seductively described as “senior and obese.”
Believed to be 10, she remained about that age, looking younger as her health improved. We spent six years together. She immediately took to the Sugar memorial bed by the fireplace.
Inspired by her soulful, searching eyes, we made up biographies for Mugzie. That name! And those huge front paws with crooked nails suggested a home without much of a lawn, but maybe a concrete patio where she shared in family barbecues. I couldn’t help noticing that she always did her business on the flagstone at my house, never mind the acres of greenery available.
Unlike my other beagles, Mugzie loved fruits, vegetables, fish, even caviar on very special occasions. Perhaps an ancient Russian princess living in a draped apartment in Brighton Beach, our local Odessa not far from the shelter, had fed her tsarist scraps like scrumptious beets until she joined the Romanovs?
She was not a cuddler. Mugzie hated being picked up. Approach her and she would instantly roll on her back and show her belly, while producing anguished shrieks. Maybe a defense mechanism from Sunday afternoons when the Russki princess’s great-grandchildren came to visit.
Mugzie was friendly without being effusive and would trot over to favorite visitors like Miss Reller, provider of specially concocted frozen pup-cakes.
Had she ever had pups? The only maternal instincts she revealed were for Minnie, another rescued beagle, who was possibly her age and got her face licked every morning.
When Hamlette the micro pig arrived, Mugzie allowed her to share her bed, but looked the other way as dogs do to make annoying creatures disappear (out of sight, out of mind, and hopefully dead soon).
In 2008 we were both diagnosed with cancer. Her surgery cost more and wasn’t covered. I laughed about that, but worried her days were numbered.
Instead we shared these happy last years.
“Winterreise” has several references to dogs, who growl at the wanderer, the lonely outsider.
My Mugzie never growled at anyone. There was always the possibility of a treat.
(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, Bloomberg’s arts and culture section. Any opinions are her own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.