sometimes witty book reviews
Peter Goldworthy’s Maestro (1989) was thrust upon me by a friend who meant very well. This book had travelled with her around Europe and buoyed her through dark times. She even wanted to tattoo a quote from it on her ribs. Intrigued by her enthusiasm, I eagerly launched myself into it.
Paul Crabbe lives with his two Gilbert and Sullivan obsessed parents in Darwin (in a sub-tropical climate not known for being kind to instruments). He is taught piano by a boozy old maestro named Eduard Keller. While Paul is busy trying to look cool with his bush band, chase girls and basically be a teenager, Keller carries on trying to educate him. Only in adulthood does Paul realise the wealth of knowledge he has missed in arrogantly ignoring his eccentric teacher’s ways. He learns that Keller is legally dead in his home country. He had played concerts for Hitler during the war hoping to save his Jewish family, failed and subsequently disappeared. Paul struggles on in his musical pursuits until one day he learns that Maestro is dying.
About ten pages in I realised that this book would not yield the same delight for me as it had my friend. How could the tale of one belligerent, asinine student of music possibly be uplifting or helpful? Then I realised; my friend didn’t play an instrument.
For the non-musically inclined Goldsworthy presents a unique approach to much worn ‘coming of age’ novel – and pulls it off. For the musical, and particularly the classically musical, this book is hard going. Though short, it packs a lot of ‘you should be practising’ punch into each chapter. There will be lamenting of teachers past and competitions lost, and you will feel like shredding the page that claims ‘perfection is impossible.’ Goldsworthy pulls at the harp strings hard and is unnervingly good at it.
Read with caution and a lot of ice cream handy.
(I play music. Check mah other blog.)