Free Souls, Chapter 30

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)

Chapter 30

“Hey, you look nice!” Sandy’s housemate Danielle came up behind her as she stood before the full-length mirror in the upstairs hallway. “Where you heading?”

It was Saturday, the 17th of May, a date she would always remember whether she wanted to or not. “Werner’s got his Master’s recital at two o’clock. You like the dress?”

“I adore it! It’s new, isn’t it?”

It was. A white cotton eyelet sundress, with a full skirt reaching to a little below her knees and a fitted bodice ornamented with pintucks and flowers embroidered in pastel colors. Except for the eyelet lace straps, it left her shoulders bare.

“Thank goodness the weather’s stayed warm,” Sandy said. “I’d hate it if I couldn’t wear it today. I hope they don’t have the air conditioning turned up too high in the hall.”

“Ohhhh,” said Danielle, “Werner will be freaked out, you look so pretty. He won’t be able to play for looking at you.”

Sandy laughed. “You want to come and find out?” she asked her. “It’s free.”

Danielle shook her head. She knew a pro forma invitation when she heard one. “’Fraid I can’t. I’ve got a term paper due Monday, and my prof says no paper, no graduation.”

“Am I all straight in the back?” Sandy asked.

“Perfect,” she said. “When’ll you be getting home this evening?” There was a suggestive lift in her voice.

“Well, the recital should be over by 3:30, 4:00 at the latest. But . . . ”

“‘Buuuut . . . ’!” Danielle said airily, a knowing smile on her lips. “But Werner might have plans for after, right?”

“He said he had a surprise for me.”

“Maybe he’s taking you out to La Maison Verte. I hear the food’s wonderful there. Too bad the prices are too high for us students.”

If Werner could afford dinner for two at La Maison Verte, that would be a surprise. She was perfectly happy to wait and see.

“Hey,” said Danielle, “I’ve got a shawl you could wear with that. In case the AC’s too high. I’ll get it.”

Sandy waited for her in front of the mirror, tugging a little at her bodice. She’d been sorry to discover that the inch-wide straps didn’t conceal the straps of her bra, so she’d purchased a strapless one to go with it. She’d often wished her breasts were a little bigger, but they were a nice shape and there was no reason the new undergarment shouldn’t stay up. But it kept working its way down (“bad design, probably”) and she’d been forced to use safety pins to hold it where it belonged. She was able to conceal them under the embroidery, but the arrangement wasn’t as comfortable as she would have liked. The bra still felt like it was slipping, in spite of the pins.

“Stop it!” she said to herself. “You’ve got it fastened. It’ll be fine!”

Danielle came out of her bedroom with the shawl. It was a fine lacy crochet, just right for the delicate dress. “Oooh, that’s perfect,” Sandy said. “Thanks. I’ll make sure I get it back to you in one piece.”

“You do that. Have fun. Tell Werner to break a string or whatever it is you wish fiddlers for good luck!” And with that, she ran down the stairs.

Sandy gave herself a final look-over. “Dress, check. Nice pale pantyhose– with no runs! check. White sling-back sandals, with just enough toe to be sexy, check. Danielle’s nice shawl, check. Hair, makeup, check, check. All I need now is my purse, and I’m ready to go.” She fetched it from her bedroom, and took one more glance at herself in the mirror. “Sandy, you do look pretty. And you know it.”

In the entry hall, Barbie was waiting for her. “Danielle said I needed to take a keek at you before you left. Boy, you sure clean up nice!”

“Thank you,” she returned, bobbing a prim curtsey.

“You going to bike all the way to the Conservatory in that dress?” Barbie looked at it dubiously. “You’ll get your skirt all tangled up in the chain.”

“No, I’m walking– ”

“In those shoes?” her housemate interrupted.

“No, only to the bus stop. Don’t worry, Werner will see I get home okay.”

“And when will that be?” inquired Barbie, ominously.

“Oh, you two! You keep making it sound like– ! You know Werner and me, nothing’s going to happen!”

Barbie just grinned.

“You’re impossible. I’ve got to go, or I’ll miss the bus. Seeya!”

Less than an hour later she was seated front row center in the Conservatory of Music recital hall, waiting for the program to begin. She’d stopped into the green room just long enough to wish her boyfriend well and give him a chaste kiss for luck, but she’d left before he could say anything about her outfit. She didn’t want to break his composure, after all.

Werner’s playing was, by any standard, extraordinary that afternoon. The “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita No. 2. Schubert’s Rondeau Brilliant. The Thème allemand varié by Heinrich Ernst. The Sonata No. 2 for solo violin by Mieczyslaw Weinberg. No student, she told herself firmly, could possibly be said to perform these challenging pieces without flaw or error. A young man like Werner, just starting out, surely had no hope of attaining both punctilious technical accuracy and ravishing, heartfelt passion. Yet to her ears that was exactly what he did.

He had the conservatory accompanist, a woman in her late fifties, for the pieces with piano. There was no help for it: it was the custom for student recitals. Would that functionary hold him back?  Sandy needn’t have worried. Soloist and accompanist melded together as one organic unit; the product, she was sure, of many hours spent in the practice room. Their own time apart had not been wasted.

There was an intermission about halfway into the program, to allow the perspiring soloist to retire and change his shirt while the chairs and stands were put onstage for the chamber orchestra for the second part.

“Should I go backstage and tell him how wonderful it’s been so far?” But no. Even her presence would be an intrusion of the everyday world. She would do nothing to bring him down from the heights he had achieved.

But if she did nothing at all, he might think she didn’t care. Quickly, she pulled a notepad out of her purse, wrote a brief message, tore the sheet out, folded it, and gave it to the first fellow-student of Werner’s who happened to be passing by. “Here, give this to him. Make sure he gets it before the second half.”

As the orchestra members took their places, Sandy noted the only girl in the viola section. Rena? The young woman was heavyset and clumsy-looking, with dark brows that nearly grew together over her smoldering, sullen eyes. “She doesn’t look the type to be all that shy,” Sandy thought to herself. Though, she supposed, shyness was not the exclusive property of tiny frail pale things with fair hair and wide blue eyes. A girl who looked like Rena might be sensitive about her size. She hoped for Werner’s sake he was right about the power of her playing.

The latter part of the program began with the Reverie et caprice for violin and orchestra by Berlioz.  But after that came the musical cataclysm she had anticipated for weeks, the premiere performance of the Edelstein Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra, Opus 5.  “His masterpiece,” Sandy thought proudly, “in the most ancient sense of the word.”  She had heard strands and snippets of it from Werner alone and sometimes, at the Conservatory, from him and a few of the supporting musicians.  But this was the first time she heard it in its entirety.

She hardly knew what to do with herself. Its Romantic roots were unmistakable in its luscious melodic lines, but it was firmly contemporary in its striking and breathtakingly effective use of dissonance and atonality. It was amazing, exceptional, astonishing; it drew the heart out of the hearer, played sad and merry games with it, remolded it in its own fashion, then gently placed it back in the listener’s breast, exalted and at peace.

Sandy felt it all, and more, she felt the exquisite pride of having been present at the creation. That fiercely driving ostinato in the celli, he had gotten Andreas play it to her one winter evening while a snowstorm raged outside. That delightful fillip in the flute and oboe, she had clapped her hands for glee as he used his best falsetto to approximate its sound. And the air his inspired fingers and bow were weaving, spinning, conjuring into aural form, that melody was hers, he had written it for her, he said so, and therefore it was true. But now all these motifs and devices were woven into one seamless fabric, transformed and transfigured by what came before and after, the voices of the various instruments combining and blending into one glorious whole.

As she had expected and desired, he did not look at her, or at anyone in the audience.  His eyes, when they were open at all, seemed focussed on some other-worldly object, some intra-dimensional genius only he through his music could see. She was glad he did not glance her way. It would have lowered both him and her and been an offense aganst the music.

Andreas, however, had no compunction about catching her eye and giving her a broad grin over his cello now and again.  Each time she returned a glad but, she hoped, quelling look, with the slightest motion of her head signalling him to pay full attention to his roommate and conductor at center stage.

There Werner’s long body bent and swayed with his playing, his long hair flowing and free, his beaked profile now brooding over his violin, now lightened with an ecstatic and mysterious smile. With his bow he stroked the fiddle, caressed it, made love to it– as if it had been a woman’s body– as if it were her own.

And he played the orchestra as he played his violin, coaxing here, commanding there, expecting the highest and best from all and, for the most part, getting it. His musicians showed themselves attentive and able, and where they were not, his will held them, his quick glance curbed them or spurred them on.

At one point Sandy stole a look up and down her row to see how the rest of the audience was receiving the new work. From where she was sitting she couldn’t see many faces that well, but down to her left she had a pretty good view of Dr. Fischer, Werner’s mentor, whom she knew by sight. A large, robust man, he was leaning forward, his left elbow on his knee, chin in hand, and a pleased expression on his broad, craggy face. The others in her row sat in various attitudes of attention, some sitting back, some bolt upright, some stock still, and some bobbing their heads or waving their fingers in time to the music.

It was the same across the aisle to her right. The rapt interest on the face of that young man with the open shirt and the gold medallion. The hands of the older woman in the lavender spring suit, held palm upward on the arms of her seat as if to receive the music as a gift. The flushed cheek of the blonde girl who looked as if for her all of life was concentrated on that stage. It was absurd, Sandy knew, but their admiration of her boyfriend and his effort seemed to reflect glory on her, and she basked in the glow.

When the last note of the new concerto died away, there was silence in the hall for about ten seconds. Then the audience erupted in an explosion of applause, punctuated with whistles, stomping, and shouts of “Bravo!” repeated again and again.  Sandy with the rest clapped so hard and long her arms seemed no longer to be part of her body, and then she applauded all the more. On the stage Werner bowed and bowed again, the sweat streaming from his forehead, his fiddle held loosely at his side. He went off once, and was recalled. He motioned for the orchestra to stand; they refused and sat resolutely smiling and applauding their leader. He motioned again for them to rise; they obeyed, and a fresh wave of noisy approval swept through the crowd. Werner bowed deeply once more, then exited the stage.

His fellow students had a different idea. Somewhere behind Sandy the chant went up: “Wer-ner! Wer-ner!” It passed from voice to voice till it seemed all the hall thundered with it. “Wer-ner,Wer-ner! Wer-ner, Wer-ner! Wer-ner, Wer-ner!” Though she continued to applaud, she was too overcome to speak. She could only breathe in her soul, “Werner. Oh, Werner!”

The audience laughed and cheered when he appeared and bowed again– with his violin in hand. “Encore, encore!” the new cry began. “En-core, en-core, en-core, en-core!”, each syllable punctuated by the rhythmic clapping of a hundred and fifty pairs of hands.

Dr. Fischer rose, turned to the audience, and gestured for them to quiet down. They obeyed, but still a buzz of expectation vibrated through the room like current through sheet steel. The professor looked at Werner, who gave a little shrug and a smile. Dr. Fischer nodded, then motioned to Mrs. Morrisey, the piano accompanist.

Another volley of applause and cheers followed her ascent to the stage. She and Werner spoke for a moment. Once she was again seated at the keyboard, Werner motioned for silence. He stood for a moment, gazing out over the crowd. His breast rose and fell, from excitement, exhaustion, or both.  And for Sandy, it seemed that the blood that pulsed through his veins also coursed madly through hers; every breath he took, she seemed to inhale; every nerve in his being seemed poised and taut in her as well.

He spoke. “For encore Ich spielen werde– I will play– ein Stück— a piece . . . that is dedicated . . . to someone very dear to me.”

Sandy dropped her eyes to her hands in her lap. He must be looking at her; all the audience would be looking at her with him. Would she be so proud and conceited as to stare back brazenly at them all, as if she should be the center of attention and not him? Absolutely not!

“The piece I will play is the Scherzo Tarantelle, by Henryk Wieniawski.”

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