ness: “I hardly heard those harmonic fillings in
the right hand. And incidentally, this part was
supposed to take on intensity, develop the fore-shadowings that were supposed to be inherent in
the first part. Go on with the next one, though.”
She wanted to start it with subdued vicious-ness and progress to a feeling of deep, swollen
sorrow. Her mind told her that. But her hands
seemed to gum in the keys like limp macaroni, and she could not imagine the music as it
When the last note had stopped vibrating, he closed the book and deliberately got up
from the chair. He was moving his lower jaw
from side to side—and between his open lips
she could glimpse the pink healthy lane to his
throat and his strong, smoke-yellowed teeth.
He laid the Beethoven gingerly on top of the
rest of her music and propped his elbows on
the smooth, black piano top once more. “No,”
he said simply, looking at her.
Her mouth began to quiver. “I can’t help
Suddenly he strained his lips into a smile.
“Listen, Bienchen,” he began in a new, forced
voice. “You still play ‘The Harmonious Black-
smith,’ don’t you? I told you not to drop it from
“Yes,” she said. “I practice it now and then.”
His voice was the one he used for children.
“It was among the first things we worked on
together—remember. So strongly you used to
play it—like a real blacksmith’s daughter. You
see, Bienchen, I know you so well—as if you
were my own girl. I know what you have—I’ve
heard you play so many things beautifully. You
He stopped in confusion and inhaled from
his pulpy stub of cigarette. The smoke drowsed
out from his pink lips and clung in a gray mist
around the lank hair and childish forehead.
“Make it happy and simple,” he said,
switching on the lamp behind her and stepping
back from the piano.
For a moment he stood just inside the
bright circle the light made. Then impulsively he
squatted down to the floor. “Vigorous,” he said.
She could not stop looking at him, sitting
on one heel with the other foot resting squarely
before him for balance, the muscles of his strong
thighs straining under the cloth of his trousers,
his back straight, his elbows staunchly propped
on his knees. “Simply now,” he repeated with
a gesture of his fleshy hands. “Think of the
blacksmith—working out in the sunshine all
day. Working easily and undisturbed.”
She could not look down at the piano.
The light brightened the hairs on the backs
of his outspread hands, made the lenses of his
“All of it,” he urged. “Now!”
She felt that the marrows of her bones were
hollow and there was no blood left in her. Her
heart that had been springing against her chest
all afternoon felt suddenly dead. She saw it gray
and limp and shriveled at the edges like an oyster.
His face seemed to throb out in space be-
fore her, come closer with the lurching motion
in the veins of his temples. In retreat, she looked
c. 600 bc: Lesbos
Tell of the bride with beautiful feet
the violet-robed daughter of Zeus
let the violet-robed put aside her anger
Come holy Graces and Pierian Muses
when songs are in the heart
listening to a clear song
The bridegroom annoying companions
her hair placing the lyre
Dawn with gold sandals
Sappho, a poem fragment. The celebrated poet and
performer garnered such acclaim that she became
known as the Tenth Muse. Her songs were still
popular five centuries after her death, when Catullus
adapted a famed erotic work of hers into Latin.
“What Sappho really was was a singersongwriter,”
wrote Daniel Mendelsohn in 2015 on the occasion of
a new translation of her poetry. “Like Joni Mitchell
or Bob Dylan, she wrote her music as well as her
lyrics, and performed her songs in public.”