Thursday, January 17, 2008



Rolf-Peter Wille

Nervous? No, I never felt nervous upon entering the old villa of Maestro Manszo. My imagination, as usual, was occupied with fancy inventions except those by Bach which were neither in my mind nor in my fingers. Nothing of this mattered, of course. The maestro, a somewhat eccentric pianist, embraced me passionately and led me into his grand salon. But rarely did we proceed to his exquisite old Bechstein piano. The piano lesson usually began in front of an enormous world map, which had been drawn onto Thai silk and covered an entire wall of the salon.

Here did we stand for a long time, the maestro and I. Our contemplation of the world could last for an entire lesson. But I did not mind. My childish imagination had always been of a visual and rather vivid nature and it was quite impossible for me to behold an abstract pattern without transforming it into the shape of a familiar object or mythical figure. For hours could I stare at the giant boot, Italy, kicking poor Sicily. I never grew tired of staring at Africa staring like a face at Australia, and on top of Europe Scandinavia jumped like a tiger, ready—without doubt—to devour Great Britain. It goes without saying that I had traveled through all of these strange countries, had encountered the strangest adventures with their strangest inhabitants.

But let me return to the strangeness of Manszo’s silken world. The famous pianist had hoisted miniature silken flags, I think, in Bangkok, in Paris, in Sydney, and…, everywhere. All these little flags were connected by fine threads to Nuremberg, the hometown of Manszo and, obviously, the center of his pianistic empire. I imagined the giant web of a particularly murderous spider species, though it probably looked more like the network of Lufthansa. The empire that the maestro had conquered, just with his ten tiny fingers, was the largest I had ever seen and surely surpassed the one of Alexander the Great. Blue flags were solo concerto engagements with famous orchestras whereas the red ones represented piano recitals which the maestro had played in the legendary halls of the great cities.

"Well, here in Mombasa—you won’t believe that—I played on an historic Broadwood. My god! That must have been the old Broadwood of Beethoven. How did that Broadwood end up in Mombasa? The devil may know… The audience, all 3.000, began to dance when I played my Scarbo. I didn’t mind at all. Boy, did I dash through that Scarbo! Two minutes? Then I had to repeat it four times and then the president—he was sitting in the first row—wanted to declare Scarbo the National Anthem…"

Of course I was a foolish boy and I always fell into the fantastic spider web of Maestro Manszo. Not only did I love to listen to these absurd stories but I think I even added some ornaments myself. In my dreams I appeared as a concert pianist in Iceland. The audience was all white. I was staring at icicles and sometimes, when I played rubato, a tear would melt out of a frozen face.

One evening—it may have been in the autumn of 19..—when I entered the salon of the old villa, I noticed that it was "senza maestro". As usual I stood in front of the silken world. But a real world it was not. For a normal boy of my age it would have been impossible to discover any difference. But thanks to the piano lessons of Manszo I had become a geographical genius. His empire could still be called gigantic. One province though seemed to be missing. I noticed that the world’s lower right corner had been cut off. I gravely proceeded to the Bechstein and just when my fingers touched the cold ivory I felt Madame Manszo’s hand on my back. "Tonight the maestro is sick…" she whispered into my ear.

"Where is New Zealand?" did I ask.

"Pshht!" screamed Madame. "Don’t ever mention that country again! My husband gave a recital in Christchurch."

"Oh! Christchurch! It must be spring there right now. New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere…"

"Spring? Yeah, maybe it’s spring in Christchurch, but the review didn’t mention that. The review claimed Manszo’s Schubert brought the winter to Christchurch."

Well. I was a foolish boy then. Such a review, I thought, was quite funny. Had not Schubert written a Winterreise, in fact? But New Zealand was no longer a part of the planet. It had been cut off.

Three months later I visited Manszo’s villa again and Canada was missing. "What happened?" did I ask.

"Pshhht!!!" screamed Madame Manszo. If the maestro hears the word ‘Canada’ he shall suffer a heart attack. Somebody snored when he played the Appassionata in Toronto and he had a memory slip."

"A memory slip?"

"Of course not just an ordinary slip; he improvised himself—accidentally—into the Moonlight Sonata."

"And what did the review say?"

"I didn’t even dare to read it," cried Madame, "but the title was ‘Lunatic Passion’…, followed by a question mark!"

I was a foolish young boy. ‘Lunatic passion’ sounded quite interesting. Had not Schumann jumped into the Rhine in an attack of lunatic passion?

But my opinion did not matter. After six months the Manszoic world had disintegrated just like the Byzantine empire in 1453. Just a tiny speck of silk could be seen on the naked wall. But that was neither Constantinople nor Nuremberg.

"Where is Maestro Manszo?" I asked.

Madame was in tears: "Mom…, mom…, mom.."


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