Maestro is the first novel I’ve read by Australian author Peter Goldsworthy, but it didn’t take long until the story of a boy in Darwin and his relationship with his piano teacher began to seem really familiar to me. Eventually I remembered that I read a memoir by this author’s daughter, Anna Goldsworthy, about five years ago. Funnily enough, Anna is a real-life concert pianist and her memoir was about her childhood relationship with her actual piano teacher.
Maestro is narrated by Paul Crabbe, whose parents live for music. Paul’s parents are overjoyed to find a worthy piano teacher in Darwin during the late 1960’s for their only child, who they hope and believe will become a concert pianist. At the time, Darwin was a remote town made up of pubs and people running away from their real lives in the southern states, the last place on earth they expected to find anyone who played the piano, let alone gave lessons.
Paul’s teacher is Eduard Keller, a Viennese refuge who shares the same name as a famous piano student of Leschetizky, who was in turn a student of Liszt, who was a student of Czerny. Paul and his parents spend the whole book trying to work out if Paul’s teacher is that Eduard Keller, who was believed to have died in the Holocaust, along with his Jewish wife and son.
Keller is an alcoholic, who is generally sad, angry or contemptuous, although over time, he and Paul recognise that they respect and love each other. From the beginning, Keller recognises that Paul’s talent is very, very good, but that he does not have the spark of genius required to make him a great pianist.
Maestro was one of the set texts for Year 12 students in some Australian states; (coming of age stories often end up on the syllabus), so there is a whole generation of Australians who would have read this book under sufferance. I read it because I enjoyed it. I liked the writing, I liked the setting and I liked the life lessons Paul learned as he got older.
Piano Lessons; A Memoir, by Peter Goldsworthy’s daughter Anna, is her account of piano lessons with her own teacher, Eleanora Sivan, published in 2010. Anna grew up to become a concert pianist and a successful writer.
Peter Goldsworthy has said he based his fictional character, Eduard Keller, on Eleanora Sivan. Maestro came first too, in case you were wondering, it was published in 1989. Peter Goldsworthy has won a swag of awards for his writing, which includes poetry and fiction. He is also a doctor and writes opera libretti. (He and his daughter are obviously extremely hardworking and talented).
I don’t ordinarily read poetry (I’m a lazy reader, so poetry can seem like hard work), but I’m on the lookout now for poetry by Peter Goldsworthy. Failing that, I’ll read some of his other novels, most likely Three Dog Night or The Kiss. What I won’t do is go and practise the piano, although I should. I don’t need Eduard Keller to tell me there is no genius in my fingers at all.