By Jacqueline Dowling
Once upon a time I had a weekly piano lesson; in preparation for becoming a concert pianist, world famous and stinking rich. Ok, so I was only fifteen going on twenty five, but a girl can dream can’t she?
The victim of these lessons was Herr W. Reputedly a relic of WW2 atrocities, and performer of note (Ret.)- which was why he’d left Berlin; because the Bechstein upon which he gave his recitals vos bumbed by enemy bumbers. While he performed acts of great bravery. But not seated on the stool at the time.
Each lesson began in the same way. Enter Jac with a huge friendly smile plastered across her face; furiously massaging the vertically challenged male ego seated before her.
‘Guten MORgen Maestro, wie geht?’ (smile widens).
‘Ganz gut danke Miss Dowling. Und du?’
Du was a good sign, it meant no enquiries into the week’s scales and impromptus, and probably not much piano work that lesson. It also meant a choice between Hindemith’s worst, played at a tempo and volume designed to bring down the entire allied airforce, or heroic tales from WW2.
I generally chose the latter, for reasons of a personal and aesthetic nature.
‘Tell me how you got those scars on your face Maestro.’ Good introductory subject.
‘Ag ja zo. It vos behind a train under ze bumbs. I vos with anti-Nazi Resistance after I stop performing. Ve vere pushing a train full of musicians out of ze station and bumbs ver falling on top of us. Zo I get some in my face and keep on pushing.’
‘Where was the engine then Herr W?’ come on come on…
No locomotive Miss Dowling, just manpower.’
I had visions of spectral cellists, legs spread wide, bows raised in final salute, being unearthed from the rubble in some remote siding years later.
‘Zen we give up and extract them underground to a safe place because there vos many Jews. And they all had instruments but nozink else und Berlin vos in shatters.’
Dramatic pause – for effect.
‘Where was the conductor?’ I enquire.
‘Ah ja, Furtwängler. He vos not vis us. He vos unfortunately obliged to stay behind. But I knew him well… und my unfortunate wife vos too young to know better why she vos Hitlerjugend. But I remained Resistance.’ (OK)
Sudden change of tempo. Rubbing his hands in anticipation.
‘NOW Miss Dowling, to end your lesson, you can choose a little recital – Hindemith ja?”
A smile returns to the face of the tiger. I close my music case and prepare to be flattened by a trainload of disharmony, pushed along inexorably and at supersonic volume by The Maestro. Carnegie Hall will just have to wait!