(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)
One evening in January, Werner introduced her to a work by the French composer Hector Berlioz. It was based, he said, on Goethe’s Faust.
Except for a few short numbers she had heard played on the classical radio station, it was a work unfamiliar to her. But not long into the first part, she drew herself up in a kind of horror. From the four speakers came the music of a chorus of students, singing
Jam nox stellata velamina pandit,
Nunc bibendum et amandum est.
Vita brevis, fugax que voluptas!
Nobis sub ridente luna,
Per urbem quaerentes puellas eamus!
Ut cras, fortunati Caesares dicamus:
“Veni, vidi, vinci!”
Confusion battled with bitter remembrance. “Those verses, I know them! . . . I applied them to Jeff . . . Werner doesn’t know about Jeff . . . I thought it was funny, all that about students going out at night looking for girls to ‘conquer’ . . . and I didn’t mind the idea of being conquered . . . not by him, not then . . . . But those verses! I thought Matt Irvine in Magistra Posten’s Latin class made them up . . . at least, that’s what he let us all think . . . ”
“Werner,” she said aloud, “that song the student chorus just sang. I’ve heard those words before, when I was in high school.”
“Nichts wahr?” he said, cocking an eyebrow. “So you have heard Berlioz’s dramatic legend before, ja?”
“Not that I can remember. A boy in my Latin class used to . . . quote them. I wonder where . . . Oh! His father was director of our symphony orchestra! Of course!”
“Ah, you attended an excellent gymnasium. It is not so for many here in America, that is so?”
Sandy supposed not. “But, Werner, my classmate never said . . . who is the author?”
“Oh, it is Berlioz himself. It is his version of the student song we sing at uni all over Europe. The original is much longer. Someday I will sing it for you. Ist gut’?”
“Ist gut’.” As they turned their attention again to the music, Sandy gave thanks inwardly that she had not made a fool of herself in the ears of this knowledgeable European. To think she might have said something silly like, “What are Matt Irvine’s lines doing in this piece?”!” But perhaps by now there was no danger, he was instructing her too well for that. She knew better than to say “Werner Edelstein is always right.” But when he was on his own subjects, like classical music and the German language, generally he was.
When the piece came to its ethereal conclusion, Werner went to the shelf and picked up a book. “Ja wohl, Zandra,” he said. “You have heard La Damnation de Faust, what we Germans call Fausts Verdammnis. You have enjoyed it?”
“I– I think– It’s too big for the word ‘enjoy,’‘ Sandy stuttered, shaken.
“Ach, you appreciate! You will notice that the poor Doctor goes down to the fiery pit at the end, nichts wahr? Berlioz could not help it; he was a Frenchman, and therefore a fatalist. Wir Deutschen, we Germans, we are more optimistic about humanity. In our Goethe, Faust is redeemed, and goes to heaven to be united with the Eternal Feminine. Now I will read you his poem.”
He must have seen her start of alarm, for he said kindly, “In English, of course.”
“No, no, Werner, it’s not that,” she said in a hurried tone. “It’s just– I don’t have time now. I have to get home and study for an Architecture History test on Friday.”
“You should have brought the book here. You could study and listen to music. It would go better.”
“No, I need to be alone, to concentrate.” This was true. What she didn’t want to say was that it pained her when he used terms like “Eternal Feminine.” Maybe that’s how Goethe put it, she didn’t know. But why did it sound like Werner conceived of heaven that way, too?
It hadn’t bothered her until lately. The language he used to express his faith had seemed at first hearing to be very close to what she was accustomed to, and she had let it pass or accepted it altogether. But lately it had struck her as off key, in a way she couldn’t put her finger on. But such things weren’t discussed at University Presbyterian, and she had been so long away from Dr. Wallace and her teachers at Fourth Church, she could not express how. And the last thing she wanted was a theological debate with Werner. She had neglected that part of her studies and he could beat her every time.
“I really do need to work,” she said. “And so do you. I’ll get out of here and let you practice.”
She picked up her coat from where it was lying near the door. He helped her put it on, then bowed solemnly to her, saying, “Geh mit Gott, Zandra. ‘Wer immer strebend sich bemüht,
Den können wir erlösen.’”
“Translate, please,” she said austerely, her hand on the doorknob. “My German isn’t quite that good.”
“That is from the song of the angels, as they bear Faust’s soul to heaven. Do you want to hear it?”
She couldn’t help it; she did.
He picked up the book again, found the place, and read
“‘Sav’d is this noble soul from ill,
Our spirit-peer. Whoever
Strives forward with unswerving will,—
Him can we aye deliver;
And if with him celestial love
Hath taken part, to meet him
Come down the angels from above;
With cordial hail they greet him.’
“The English does not give all the meaning,” he added apologetically, “but it does its best.” His eyes looked tenderly into hers. “Zandra, you noble soul, der liebe Gott bless your strivings. And may He bless mine.”
“Guten Nacht, Werner,” she said, moved in spite of herself.
“Guten Nacht, Liebling. Und ein Kuss, before you go?”
She lifted her face to his, and complied.