Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson


The next fortnight flew by; and familiar faces began to appear again. The steps and inner vestibule of the Conservatorium became a lounge for seeing acquaintances. In the cafe at the corner, the click of billiard balls was to be heard from early morning on.

Maurice looked forward to meeting his friends, with some embarrassment. It was unlikely that the events of the summer had remained a secret; for that, there was a clique in the place over-much on the alert for scandal, to which unfortunately the name of Louise Dufrayer lent itself only too readily. He could not decide what position to take up, with regard to their present intimacy; to flaunt it openly, to be pointed at as her lover, would for her sake be repugnant to him. It made him reject an idea he had revolved, of begging her to let him announce their engagement: for, in the present state of things, the word “Brautigam” had an evil sound. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that they must be more cautious than they had ever been, and give absolutely no food for talk.

One day, in the Grassistrasse, he came upon a little knot of men he knew. And it was just as he supposed; the secret was a secret no longer. He saw it at once in their treatment of him. There was a spice of deference in their manner: and their looks expressed curiosity, envious surprise, even a kind of brotherly welcome. After this, Maurice changed his mind. the only course open to him was to brazen things out. He would not wait for his friends to show him what they thought; he would be beforehand with them.

A chance soon offered ofputting his intentions into practice. On entering Seyffert’s one afternoon, he espied Dove, who had just returned. Dove sat alone at a small table, reading the Tageblatt; before him stood a cup of cocoa. When he saw Maurice, he raised the newspaper a trifle higher, so that it covered the level of his eyes. But Maurice went across the room, and touched him on the shoulder. Dove dropped his shield, and sprang up, exclaiming with surprise. Maurice sat down beside him, and, by dint of a little wheedling, put Dove at his ease. The latter was bubbling over with new experiences and future prospects. It seemed that in Peterborough, Dove’s native town, the art of music was taking strides that were nothing short of marvellous. To hear Dove talk, the palm for progress must be awarded to Peterborough, over and above all the other towns of Great Britain; and he was agog with plans and expectations. During the holidays, he had held conversations with several local magnates, all of whom expressed themselves in favour of his scheme for founding a school of music, and promised him their support. Dove had returned to Leipzig in a brand-new outfit, and a hard hat; his studies were coming to an end in spring, and he began to think already of casting the skin of Bohemianism.

Maurice listened to him leniently—even drew Dove out a little. But he kept his eye on the clock. In less than half an hour, he would be with Louise; from some corner of the semidarkened room, she would spring towards him, and throw herself into his arms.

The majority of the classes were not yet assembled, when one day, a rumour rose, and spreading, ran from mouth to mouth. Those who heard it were at first incredulous; as, however, it continued to make headway, they whistled to themselves, or vented their surprise in a breathless “Ach!” Later in the day, they stood about in groups, and excitedly discussed the subject. Ten of Schwarz’s most advanced pupils had left the master for the outsider named Schrievers. At the head of the list stood Furst.

The Conservatorium, royally endowed and municipally controlled, held to its time-honoured customs with tenacity. The older masters laboured to uphold tradition, and such younger ones as were progressively inclined, had not the influence to effect a change. Unattached teachers were regarded with suspicion—unless they happened to be former pupils of the institution, in which case it was assumed that they carried out its precepts. There had naturally always been plenty of others as well; but these were comparatively powerless: they could give their pupils neither imposing certificates, nor gala public performances, such as the Prufungen, and, for the most part, they flourished unknown. This was previous to the arrival of Schrievers. It was now about a year and a half ago that his settling in Leipzig had caused a flutter in musical circles. Then, however, he had been forgotten, or at least remembered only at intervals, when it was heard that he had caught another fish, in the shape of a renegade pupil.

Schrievers was a burly, red-bearded man, still well under middle age, and possessed of plenty of push and self-confidence. It soon transpired that he was an out-and-out champion of modern ideas in music; for, from the first, he was connected with a leading paper, in which he made his views known. He had a trenchant pen, and, with unfailing consistency, criticised the musical conditions of Leipzig adversely. The progressive Lisztverein, of which he was soon the leading spirit, alone escaped; the opera, bereft of Nikisch, and the Gewandhaus, under its gentle and aged conductor, were treated by him with biting sarcasm. But his chief butt was the Conservatorium, and its ancient methods. He asserted that not a jot of the curriculum had been altered for fifty years; and its speedy downfall was the sole result to be expected and hoped for. The fact that, at this time, some seven hundred odd students were enrolled on its books went far to discredit this pious hope; but, nevertheless, Schrievers harped always on the same string; and just as perpetual dropping wears a stone, so his continued diatribes ate into emotional and sensitive natures. He began to attract a following, and, simultaneously, to make himself known as a pupil of Liszt. This brought him a fresh batch of enemies. Even a small German town is seldom without its Liszt-pupil, and in Leipzig several were settled, none of whom had ever heard of Martin Schrievers. They refused to admit him to their jealous clique. In their opinion, he belonged to that goodly class of persons, who, having by hook or by crook, contrived to spend an hour in the Abbe of Weimar’s presence, afterwards abused the sacred narre of pupil. He was hated by these chosen few with more vigour than by the conservative pedagogues, who, naturally enough, saw the ruin of art in all he did.

Various reasons were given for his success, no one being willing to believe that it was due to his merits as a teacher. Some said that he recognised in a twinkling the weak points of the individual with whom he had to deal. He humoured foibles, was tender of self-conceit. He also flattered his pupils by giving them music that was beyond their powers of execution: those, for instance, who had worked long and with feeble interest at Czerny, Dussek and Hummel, were dazzled at the prospect of Liszt and Chopin, which was suddenly thrust beneath their, eyes. Other ill-wishers believed that his chief bait was the musical Soirees he gave when a famous pianist came to the town. By virtue of his journalistic position, he was personally acquainted with all the great; they visited at his house, and his pupils had thus not merely the opportunity of getting to know artists like Rubinstein and d’Albert, and of hearing them play in private, but, what was more to the point, of themselves taking part in the performance, and perhaps receiving a golden word from the great man’s lips. And though no huge parchment scroll was forthcoming on the termination of one’s studies, yet Schrievers held the weapon of criticism in his hand, and, at the first tentative public appearance of the young performer, could make or mar as he chose. He lived on good terms, too, with his fellow-critics, so that wire-pulling was easy—incomparably more so than were the embarrassing visits, open to any snub, which were common if one was only a pupil of the Conservatorium, and which, in the case of the ladypupils, included costly bouquets of flowers.

Among those who had deserted Schwarz were some, like Miss Martin, malcontents, who had flitted from place to place, and from master to master, in the perpetual hope of discovering that ideal teacher who would estimate them at their true worth. These were radiantly satisfied with the change. Miss Martin bore, wherever she went, an octave-study by Liszt, and flaunted it in the faces of her friends: and Miss Moses, who had been under Bendel, could not say two sentences without throwing in: “That Chopin Etude I studied last,” or: “The Polonaise in E flat I’m working at;” for, beforehand, she too had been a humble performer of Haydn and Bertini. James had the prospect of playing a Concerto by Liszt—forbidden fruit to the pupils of the Conservatorium—in one of the concerts of the Lisztverein, and was sure, in advance, of being favourably criticised. Boehmer wished to specialise in Bach, and if Schwarz set himself against one thing more than another, it was a one-sided musical taste: within the bounds of classicism, the master demanded catholic sympathies; those students who had romantic leanings towards Chopin and Schumann, were castigated with severely classical compositions; and, vice versa, he had insisted on Boehmer widening his horizon on Schubert and Mendelssohn. And there were also several others, who, having been dragged forward by Schwarz, from inefficient beginnings, now left him, to write their acquired skill to Schrievers’ credit. Furst was the greatest riddle of all. It was he who, on subsequent concert-tours, was to have extended the fame of the Conservatorium; he was the show pupil of the institution, and, in the coming Prufungen, was to have distinguished himself, and his master with him, by playing Beethoven’s Concerto in E flat.

Other teachers besides Schwarz had been forsaken for the new-comer, but in no case by so large a body of students. They bore their losses philosophically. Bendel, one of the few masters who spoke English—it was against the principles of Schwarz to know a word of it: foreign pupils had to learn his language, not he theirs—Bendel, frequented chiefly by the American colony, was of a phlegmatic temperament and not easily roused. He alluded to the backsliders with an ironical jest, preferring to believe that they were the losers. But Schwarz was of a diametrically opposite nature. In the short, thickset man, with the all-seeing eyes, and the head of carefully waved hair, just streaked with grey—a head at once too massive and too fine for the clumsy body—in Schwarz, dwelt a fierce and indomitable pride. His was one of those moody, sensitive natures, quick to resent, always on the look-out for offence. He was ever ready to translate things into the personal; for though he had an overweening sense of his own importance, there was yet room in him for a secret doubt; and with this doubt, he, as it were, put other people to the test. The loss of the flower of his flock made him doubly unsure; he felt himself a marked man, for Bendel and other enemies to jeer at. Aloud, he spoke long and vehemently, as if mere noisy words would heal the wound. And the pupils who had remained faithful to him, gathered all the more closely round him, and burned as he did. If wishes could have injured or killed, Furst’s career would then and there have come to an end: his ingratitude, his treachery, and his lack of moral fibre, were denounced on every hand.

One day, at this time, Maurice entered Schwarz’s room. The class was assembled; but, although the hour was well advanced, no one had begun to play. The master stood at the window, with his back to the grass-grown courtyard. He was haranguing, in a strident voice, the three pupils who sat along the wall. From what followed, Maurice gathered that that very afternoon Schwarz had been informed of the loss of four more pupils; and though, as every one knew, he had hitherto not set much store by any of them, he now discovered latent talent in all four, and was, at the same time, exasperated that such nonentities should presume to judge him.

To infer from the appearance of those present, the storm had raged fora considerable period. And still it went on. After the expiry of a futher interval, Krafft who, throughout, had sat shading his eyes with his hand, woke as though from sleep, yawned heartily, stretched himself and, taking out his watch, studied it with profound attention. For the first time, Schwarz was checked in his flow of words; he coughed, fumbled for an epithet, then stopped, and, to the general surprise, motioned Krafft to the piano.

But Heinrich was in a bad mood. He stifled another yawn before beginning, and played in a mechanical way.

Schwarz had often enough made allowance for this pupil’s varying moods; he was not now in the humour to do so.

Halt!” he cried before the first page was turned. “What in God’s name is the meaning of this? Do you come here to read from sight?”

Krafft continued to play as if nothing had been said.

“Do you hear me?” thundered Schwarz.

“It’s impossible,” said Krafft, and proceeded.

Barmherziger gott! —“The master’s short neck reddened, and twisted in its collar.

“Give me music I care to play, and I’ll show you how it should be done. I can make nothing of this,” answered Krafft.

Schwarz strode up to the piano, and swept the volume from the rack; it fell with a crash on the keys and on Krafft’s hands, and effectually hindered him from continuing.

What had gone before was as a summer shower to a deluge. With his arms stiffly knotted behind his back, Schwarz paced the floor with a tread that shook it. His steely blue eyes flashed with passion; the veins stood out on his forehead; his large, prominent mouth gaped above his tuft of beard; he struck ludicrous attitudes, pouring out, meanwhile, without stint—for he had soon passed from Krafft’s particular case of insubordination to the general one—pouring out the savage anger and deep-felt injury that had accumulated in him. Finally, he invited the class to rise and leave him, there and then. For what, in God’s name, were they waiting? Let them up and away, without more ado!

On receiving the volume of Beethoven on his fingers, Krafft straightened out the pages, and taking down his hat from its peg, left the room, with movements of a calculated coolness. But only a pupil of Bullow’s might take such a liberty; the rest had to assist quietly at the painful scene. Maurice studied his finger nails, and Dove did not once remove his eyes from the leg of the piano. They, at least, knew from experience that, in time, the storm would pass; also that it sounded worse, than it actually was. But a new-comer, a stout Bavarian lad, with hair cut like Rubinstein’s, who was present at the lesson for the first time, was pale and frightened, and sat drinking in every word.

Towards the end of the hour, when quiet was re-established, one’s inclination was rather to escape from the room and be free, than to sit down to play something that demanded coolness and concentration. Dove, who was not sensitive to externals, came safely through the ordeal; but Maurice made a poor job of the trio in which he had hoped to excel. Schwarz did not even offer to turn the pages. This, Beyerlein, the new-comer, did, in a nervous desire to ingratiate himself; but he was still so flustered that, at a critical moment, he brought the music down on the keys. Schwarz said nothing; wrapped in the moody silence that invariably followed his outbursts, he hardly seemed aware that anyone was playing. After two movements of the trio, he signed to Beyerlein to take his turn, and proffered no comment on Maurice’s work. Maurice would have hurried away, without a further word, had he not already learned the early date of his performance. He knew, too, that if the practical side of the affair—rehearsals with string players, and so on—was not satisfactorily arranged, he would be blamed for it. So he reminded Schwarz of the matter. From what ensued, it was plain that the master still bore him a grudge for absconding in summer. Schwarz glared coldly at him, as if unsure to what Maurice alluded; and when the latter had recalled the details of the case to his mind, he said rudely: “You went your way, Herr Guest. Now I go mine.” He commenced to turn the leaves of his ponderous note-book, and after Maurice had stood for some few minutes, listening to Beyerlein trip and stumble through Mozart, he felt that, for this day at least, he could put up with no more, and left the class.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59