care who or what I was, clubfooted and white or blue-eyed and black. It wasn’t me
or my interpretation, it was the music itself, off the charts beyond good and evil
that somehow and if only for the time being I’d managed to reach.
I also knew in that moment I wasn’t likely to come that way again. Unlike
Monk and Eaton, I wasn’t a musician to the manor born; I didn’t hear the difference
between a flatted fifth and diminished seventh, couldn’t even hum in tune, and
unless I practiced the piano every day, I stood no chance of making music deserving
of the name. Friedrich at the Post was proposing assignments requiring long-form,
out-of-town travel, and Lipsky was unwilling to continue his lessons if I missed
two of them in a row.
The young musician in Thomas Bernhard’s novel The Loser (Salzburg, page
83) abandons hope of becoming a virtuoso concert pianist on realizing he never
would have been able “to play as well as Glenn Gould,” whom he meets when
they are studying with Vladimir Horowitz in Salzburg. To play better than Gould
“wasn’t possible, was out of the question,” and so the pianist devotes himself “to
I didn’t have the talent to entertain ambitions as lofty as Bernhard’s novice
virtuoso (wasn’t present on West Sixty-Third Street to climb a stairway to Birdland
or Carnegie Hall), but I know what he means when he says he no longer wanted
“to paw at my instrument.” He quit playing on short notice; I did so gradually, to
work at reading and writing as my best chance of moving up and out of the valley
of self. The human voice on a well-tempered string of words is the joyful noise of
mortal man adrift and at play in the chains of the immortal sea.
Orpheus Charming the Beasts, by Paulus Potter, 1650.