Maestro

02/17/2011 at 2:07 PM (Australian Literature, Books, Educational, Holocaust, Music, Nostalgia) (, , , )

I started reading the book on the train yesterday, as we were pulling out from Flinders Railway Station, on the way home after an interview training workshop. The journey took approximately one hour and ten minutes and on reaching my stop of Berwick, I was halfway through the novel.

The first page featured the captivating opening passage below:

First impressions?

Misleading, of course. As always. But unforgettable: the red glow of his face – a boozer’s incandescent glow. The pitted, sun-coarsened skin – a cheap, ruined leather. And the eyes: an old man’s moist, wobbling jellies.

But then … the suit: white linen, freshly pressed. And – absurdly, in that climate – the stiff collar and tie.

‘Heff Keller?’

‘Mrs Crabbe?’

I stood behind my mother outside his room at the Swan, perched on a wooden balcony overlooking the beer garden. The hotel – a warren of crumbling weatherboard, overgrown with bougainvillea – was packed, the drinkers and their noise spilling out of the front bar into the garden. Up the stairs, second on the right, a barman had shouted – and every face in the bar had turned and followed us up. One or two drunken whistles had also followed us up; whistles living far beyond their sexual means, my mother later reported to my father, contemptuously.

‘This is Paul,’ she said, pushing me forward, ignoring the noise below.

The figure in the white suit stood aside from his doorway, and motioned us inside.

‘Of course. Your father has told.’

The accent was thick. Continental, my father had described it, vaguely. A voice that reminded him of grilling sausages: a faint, constant spitting of sibilants in the background.

‘Sit down,’ the voice hissed. ‘We will talk.’

A problem: how to capture that accent here? Ve vill talk? It’s tempting – too tempting – to slip into comic-book parody. We haf ways off makink

Maestro, set prior to and following the damage by Cyclone Tracy, tells us the story of the arrogant Paul Crabbe –  the son of two intelligent, music loving parents – whose arrival in Darwin leads him to meet the enigmatic Eduard Keller as his piano teacher of classical music. Although the epithet of maestro is bestowed on Eduard Keller, it is clear the title is used in mockery by the plebeian community. Paul becomes curious about Keller when he observes fragments of newsprint pertaining to wartime Europe in German and nurtures the belief that his teacher is a war criminal because the rapport between them is established in bits and pieces. The vicissitudes of life during adolescence distracts him from being earnest in his pursuit of serious musical study as he debates choosing between the pleasures of Megan and Rosie. Later he realises the missed opportunities and disregarded advice prevented him from reaching his full potential. The truth hits home when he  goes to Austria to  pay a visit to Henisch in Vienna, who had accompanied Eduard when they were students of Leschetizky. It is only after the tragic death of this incredible teacher who taught Paul the difference between technical perfection and virtuosity, he is able to deduce that “a great man had died, whatever the crimes he felt he had committed.”

Boy Playing Piano

Copyright: Miwaza, Flickr

The structure of the book is also interestingly split using movements in music as an analogy to demonstrate changes of style and pace e.g. Libretto, Intermezzo. This is useful because we initially believe Peter Goldsworthy is writing in present tense. Later we perceive that he is writing it from Paul Crabbe’s point of view as an older person who is recounting his past. Maestro is a beautifully written bildungsroman that hooks your attention and holds you in suspense right from the start.

I finished the rest of the novel on the train back to Melbourne for the conclusion of the workshop. The journey took approximately one hour and ten minutes.

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