Ellan Read

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.)

2 comments on “Maestro

  1. Tim Waugh
    May 11, 2015

    Hi, Ellan,

    Maestro recently came up in a conversation, and I googled it to remind myself of the plot (it’s been a few years). What a surprise to find this piece of yours hot off the press!

    Your review, flippant though it be, has reminded me of the salient events of the novel.

    In a society where teachers are ever increasingly accountable to their students, rather than vice versa, I think Goldsworthy’s message deserves great consideration. I come from a school where it has become a matter of course to attribute a student’s lack of interest or enjoyment to a defect in her/his teacher rather than to the student’s want of application or ability. While this attribution is, no doubt, occasionally justified, its prevalence is evidence of the decay in Australia of that respect of and cooperation with teachers which used to be the norm.

    I believe the new, generally insouciant attitude of students towards their teachers leads to arrogance, poor manners, and a lack of academic rigour, precisely as Goldsworthy has depicted. Goldsworthy’s warning is pertinent to students of any discipline, but I can understand why he has addressed it particularly to students of music. Perhaps above all other subjects regularly encountered at school, music is disdained as mere fun. Music teachers who attempt to exact high standards from students are often either derided by the students themselves, or harassed by anxious parents who object to the burden on their children of the recommended half-hour’s daily practice!

    I side with Goldsworthy for more appreciation of our music teachers, and of teachers in all fields, not to mention the inculcation of humility and selflessness in the hearts of the young. For each of the Paul Crabbes who later regret not having taken full advantage of their teachers’ sage offerings, I wager there are a dozen others who are too egocentric to experience even a tardy pricking of their conscience.

    Literary differences aside, I have been flicking back and forth between the pages of this blog of yours, which is most impressive. Articulate and musical as you are, I had not guessed that you were a such a prolific playwright and composer. Percy Grainger, eat your heart out!

    Tim Waugh

    • ellanhyde
      May 11, 2015

      Hi Tim, thanks for the comment 🙂
      I absolutely agree (and didn’t think I had’t?) with your comments regarding teachers and egocentric students. This blog is more just fun for me – I enjoy being flippant upon occasion and, as I am not pursuing a career as an author, I can be a bit more scathing here than on my music blog ><

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This entry was posted on May 7, 2015 by in Bit of Both and tagged , , .

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