The Musician
by J. Neil Schulman






Credits:


Directed by J. Neil Schulman
Narrated by Mike Hodel
Violin solos by Julius Schulman
Engineered by Burt Handelsman
Produced in the studios of KPFK FM Los Angeles
A Pacifica Network Station
First Broadcast on Hour 25, September 12, 1980
Production Copyright © 1980 J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved

"The Musician" was written in 1978. In 1981 it was published in the magazine Fantasy Book and is reprinted in J. Neil Schulman's short-story collection, Nasty, Brutish, and Short Stories.

The Musician

by J. Neil Schulman

Jacob Schneider was practicing the Paganini twenty-fourth Caprice in his West 70th Street apartment when a messenger buzzed up announcing a telegram for him. It did not surprise him that the message, whatever it was, had not sought him out by telephone. Jacob had refrained from paying a number of bills recently, so he could scratch up rent money, and telephone service had been one of those luxuries that had been ungraciously denied. Nonetheless, as in the old joke, when Jacob was practicing the violin, the whole world was in hell. He told the messenger to leave his telegram in the magazine bin, saying he would take it later that afternoon. He resumed practicing. A few minutes later, he was once more interrupted, by his doorbell this time. Cursing, Jacob strode to his door, chain-latched it, and answered. A swarthy, old man with a never-pressed uniform and halitosis stood there with his telegram. Jacob did not bother inquiring how the messenger had passed the lobby. He accepted the telegram hastily through the crack, found a quarter in his pocket, and just as quickly dropped it into the messenger's wrinkled hand. Slamming his door, he dropped the unopened telegram onto a chair and returned to his practicing. An hour later, while racing through Zigeunerweisen, his telephone rang.

The sound startled him, merely by its sudden break into his concentration, for it was not until a moment later, when he had placed his violin and bow onto the bed, that he realized his telephone had no right to ring at all. The telephone, not hampered in its ringing by this fact, continued to do so until Jacob answered it, rather snappishly. An unpleasantly tuned male voice told him that a telegram had been sent and should have been delivered over an hour ago. Is that so? It was. Had it been delivered? Look, if you're from some collection agency-- Had the telegram been delivered?

Jacob did not like the tone in which the question had been asked. He hung up. Almost immediately, the telephone began ringing again. The voice said that he would only keep on calling until Jacob answered him. Had the telegram been delivered? Listen, will you get off my case if I tell you? The goddamn telegram was delivered. Very well, said the voice. He had read it? No, I damn well haven't read it. I've been practicing. Then he would please read it. Look, I don't know who this is or what--

Jacob found himself talking into a dead mouthpiece. He hung up the telephone for a few seconds then lifted the receiver again. He did not receive a dial tone. He tried flashing but soon concluded that his telephone was, at least from his end, still disconnected. Jacob looked over to his wallclock. He could allow himself a break. He sauntered over to the chair and picked up the telegram. It was addressed to Mr. J. Schneider, at his address, and read,

SEPTEMBER FOURTH

TO ALL ORCHESTRA PERSONNEL:

UNAVOIDABLE SCHEDULE CHANGES REQUIRE ADVANCING

FIRST SERIES REHEARSAL TO TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER

FIFTH,10:00 AM, CARNEGIE HALL.  SECOND REHEARSAL,

CARNEGIE, 4:00 PM.  FIRST CHAIRS REQUESTED

FORTY-FIVE MINUTES EARLY FOR BOTH.

     NATHANIEL GOTTLIEB, MANAGER

     NEW YORK SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Jacob smiled. All that intrigue, he thought, and the telegram wasn't even for him. A simple clerical error. He wondered how many "J. Schneider"'s actually were listed as violinists in the union directory. He did not wonder for long. In three more weeks such minor annoyances would be past. Three more weeks and he would be in Zurich, the first stop of his European concert tour. Twenty-one days, then no more petty worries about telephone bills, telegrams, and rent. He crumpled up the telegram, threw it in the general direction of a wastepaper basket, missing, and decided to have lunch. After finding a tin of sardines in the cupboard, he washed the fish down with a can of Diet Dr. Pepper.

He was twenty-eight years old with the eyes of a ninety-year- old. His nose was aquiline. He stood tall and gaunt except for a slight pot belly. His biceps outclassed those of pneumatic hammer operators; his slender long fingers could have modeled women's gloves. When he walked, he strode. He was almost bald.

He had grown up in Brooklyn in the last decade that it was a uniquely Jewish childhood. His father had died when he was three, leaving him as an only child. At four his mother had given him his first, quarter-sized violin. He had matched Jascha Heifetz's feat of performing the Mendelssohn violin Concerto by six, and in fact had beaten Heifetz by three weeks. Years later, after graduation with honors from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, he had studied under the master himself, being one of the few violinists ever to justify the investment of Heifetz's time. He was natural heir to that throne.

Three years ago, after lingering the previous four, his mother had died of cancer. He had forgone several opportunities for premier concert tours so that he could bring home to her the steady paycheck of an orchestra musician. The woman he loved had since married someone else. He had gained a reputation as a concertmaster, but age and orchestra work had lost him prestige among society backers. One concert manager had not minded finding money for a violinist with the bad taste to be over nineteen. He had been practicing for this tour all day, every day the past year, dividing time between concertos he would perform with European orchestras and repertoire for recitals with piano accompaniment.

Jacob had intended to spend the following day, Tuesday, on nothing but the Sibelius Concerto, work with the metronome polishing some intricate passagework. The Berlin Philharmonic was not going to have trouble keeping ensemble with him. It was twenty past eleven and, because he had decided to risk several hours without the mutes, it was a few minutes before he heard his doorbell. Through the peephole, he saw the stout profile of his Curtis roommate, Sol Sylvan, whom he had not seen since his mother's stone unveiling. Good violin technique but wouldn't know an interpretation if it mugged him. Jacob opened the door. "Listen, you sonovabitch," started Sylvan, "where the hell have you been?"

"Same old Sol," Jacob replied, motioning him in. "You want a bagel? I got some fresh Nova Scotia from Zabars that--"

"No time, and you don't have, either. Where were you? Gottlieb's ready to spit blood. First rehearsal--with a guest conductor, yet!--and his concertmaster doesn't show. You don't know how I had to sweettalk him to let me grab a cab to get you during break. he was all set to bring you up on charges--"

"Slow down, slow down," said Jacob. "First of all, what the hell are you talking about?"

"`What am I talking about?' he asks. Didn't you get the telegram? They moved the first rehearsal back to this morning."

"Oh, the telegram."

"`Oh, the telegram,'" Sylvan mimicked him. "Farshtopfte kopf!"

"Relax, it's all a mistake."

"Well, maybe Gottlieb will buy that if you get your tuchis down there with me this second. You can tell him you never got the telegram and--"

"They already know I got it--they called to make sure--but I never should have. They've got the wrong fiddle player."

"Well, between you and me, I think so, too, but they didn't sign me to play concertmaster."

"No, I mean it, really," said Jacob. "The telegram went to the wrong 'J. Schneider.' I'm not with the orchestra. I suppose some secretary got the wrong address out of the 802 directory. It's probably Joey Schneider they want. We're always getting confused. I had my credit ruined for two years before we finally got it straight that he was the one bouncing checks. Every time I give a recital in this town, or do some radio, people congratulate Joey. It drives him nuts."

Sol Sylvan considered this a moment, then asked accusingly, "So why wasn't he at rehearsal?"

"Because I got his telegram, putz. Sure you don't want that bagel?"

"No, I gotta get right back. Joey Schneider, huh? Why the hell'd they pick him? Good fiddle technique, but wouldn't know an interpretation if it mugged him. Sorry it wasn't you. I was looking forward to a few seasons of your lousy jokes."

"I'll send you some from Europe."

"You're touring? With who?"

"With me. Solo. Me, myself, and an accompanist. You didn't know? Didn't you get my announcement? Max Perry came up with some backers looking for a tax loss."

"Mazel tov, mazel tov!" Sylvan kissed him wetly on both cheeks. "Well, I always knew you'd get on eventually. Tell you what. Make those lousy jokes dirty French postcards instead. Au revoir."

"Ciao, Sol."

Half an hour later, Jacob's telephone rang. Not again, he thought, putting his instrument down. If this kept up, he would have psychological glitches throughout the entire concerto. He picked up on the third ring. "Schneider," said a buzzsaw voice with a Queens accent, "Nat Gottlieb, here. What's this kee-rap you gave Sol Sylvan about Joey Schneider? You know damn well it's you I signed to play fiddle, not that pyoik."

Jacob sighed. "This misunderstanding is getting to comic proportions, Mr. Gottlieb. I never signed with you. By the way, how'd you get through? My telephone's been out of order."

"Disconnected, you mean. You think I'm going to be inconvenienced because you don't pay your phone bill? I sent my secretary down to pay it yesterday, after I couldn't reach you. I'm taking it out of your first check."

"I'll reimburse you, Mr. Gottlieb, since there won't be any 'first check' because I never agreed to play concertmaster for you. I never even auditioned. And I can't take the job because I'm booked into a European concert tour this season--starting in three weeks--and the tour's been set for the past year."

"What is this," said Gottlieb, "some fancy new negotiating ploy? I'm already paying you more than any other concertmaster in the country, Boston included. What else do you want?"

"Mr. Gottlieb," Jacob said, patiently, "I'm certain your terms are more than generous, but you can't possibly have a contract with my signature on it because I never put it there. What's more, I'm somewhat at a loss to explain why you think you do. We never met over this. I didn't play for you. If you need a concertmaster so badly, put an ad in International Musician."

"For a first desk position? All right, we didn't talk. But half the concertmasters I talked to brought up your name, and three conductors, so I started negotiations with your manager--what's his name?--Perry. And five weeks ago he returned my contract with your signature on it."

"But Jesus Heavenly Christ, you must have known something was wrong when nobody showed up to mark the parts."

"Who says nobody did? Victor got your bowings back early last week. That's why I can't understand why you're pulling this crap now."

Jacob was silent for a very long moment. "Look, Mr. Gottlieb," he started nervously. "There's been some incredible fuck-up here. Let me talk to Max Perry and see if I can get this mess straightened out at my end. Then we'll talk."

"I've done enough talking. Be at Carnegie Hall today by four--with your fiddle-- or I'll have you up before the A.F. of M. so fast it will make your head spin. And I don't know anything about this tour of yours, but you raise a fiddle under your chin anywhere but in my orchestra and you'll never play in this country again." Jacob heard the telephone click. He shivered. Cradling the receiver for another moment, he picked it up again and received a dial tone. He touchtoned the number of Maxwell Perry Artists.

The call resolved nothing. Max Perry was still in Europe and had already made his daily check-in with the office. Furthermore, his secretary, Judy, was out sick with measles, and Jacob saw no point in asking an office temporary to start trying to break the code on Max's erratic filing system to search out a contract he didn't believe even existed. He left an urgent message for Max to call him from Paris the moment he checked in, then hung up and swore. What the hell was he supposed to do, now?

He lit a cigarette and, pacing his livingroom, considered several possibilities. First, that Gottlieb was lying about the contract, in which case he need do nothing. Second, that Max Perry had accidentally forged his name to the wrong contract, and Judy had sent it out without thinking. This, however, would not explain why Gottlieb maintained he had marked the bowings. He considered and rejected third that he had signed the contract when it was accidentally placed in the stack he was signing for his tour. The timing was wrong. The tour contracts had been signed a year ago, and he hadn't signed any papers for Max as recently as five months, never mind the five weeks Gottlieb had claimed. Lastly, he considered the possibility that this was part of some grand extortion scheme aimed at his backers, forcing them to buy back his orchestra contract. If this were true, and unless some price could be agreed upon between Gottlieb and Max Perry, then he was stuck with conflicting contractual obligations that might eventually make certain that either Europe or America was permanently off-limits to him. He could talk to Maurice Abramowitz at Local 802 for his official opinion as union president, but Jacob was almost positive that this is what it came down to. He paced one last time, took a final drag, and crushed his cigarette out.

No, Goddammit, I've waited too fucking long for this tour and you bastards aren't going to stop me from going!

He caught his breath with a sharp intake. He made an effort to slow down his heart. After a few moments, Jacob admitted to himself that he could not afford the risk of missing that rehearsal.

At a quarter past three, violin case under his arm, Jacob strode in Carnegie Hall's 161 West 56th Street entrance, merrily exchanging greetings with several musicians noodling through backstage repertoire. After a few false leads, he was eventually directed to Nathaniel Gottlieb, cigar in hand, rasping orders to a stagehand. Jacob thought it ironic how time played tricks. Five years before, when Gottlieb had been the top New York contractor for commercial recording dates, Jacob had been unable to get within a hundred yards of his office. Now he was turning away from the stagehand, and like an old friend greeting him, "Schneider, I kinda thought you'd decide to play it smart."

Jacob delayed a moment, sizing the man up. "Smart is the only thing I'm playing around here until you produce a contract."

"What, still with the games?"

Jacob rested his violin case against a trunk and pulled out a cigarette.

"Jesus Kee-rist." Gottlieb called to the stagehand, a strapping blond boy who looked as if he spent all his spare time in front of mirrors. "Sammy, run up to Fran's office and have her give you Jacob Schneider's file. Bring it back on the double. Move!"

Sammy ran off, leaving Gottlieb and Jacob, grinning uneasily at one another and smoking, each trying for the psychological advantage. They talked about the music business noncommittally while Jacob studied the manager. He was in his graying years, medium height, thin-boned, and about forty pounds on the wrong side of a coronary. Thick-lensed glasses on a Jewish nose, rosy cheeks with a moist cigar sticking out between false teeth. Everything he didn't like was "crap," a word he made sound like a rifle report; every man he didn't like was a pyoik. Jacob decided that he liked the sonovabitch.

Gottlieb was telling him anecdotes from his previous career as a violist when Sammy returned with the file. The manager pulled out several sheaves of stapled papers, handing them to Jacob. "Orchestra contract," he said, "individual contract."

Jacob examined them roughly, trying not to let his sinking feeling become noticeable. Aside from the existence of what looked to be his signature on the contacts, they looked perfectly in line with what Gottlieb had already said. Jacob looked uneasily at the figures for salary, recordings, soloing, and travel per diem. He knew that only thirteen months earlier he would have peed onstage at Avery Fisher Hall for this contract. He handed them back to Gottlieb. "Excellent forgeries," he said. "I wonder what Max Perry's attorneys will make of them."

Gottlieb's eyebrows raised. He pulled another sheaf of papers from the file. Jacob had greater difficulty concealing his discomfort now. Here were Xerox copies of letters from Gottlieb to Perry, original replies on M.P.A. stationery signed by Max Perry, negotiating his contract. The letters spanned mid-June through a final round, in late July, agreeing on terms set forth in the contracts he had just inspected. He considered the possibility that these, also were forgeries, but had the miserable conviction that they weren't. Whatever was going on, it looked as if Max Perry was part of it.

Jacob handed the letters back to Gottlieb and cleared his throat. "So tell me," he said. "What the hell am I playing today?"

The conspiracy, as Jacob now began labeling it, certainly was thorough, he thought while examining the parts on the first stand. Aside from his penciled initials, obviously by now easy enough for his antagonists to forge, these were his bowings for Brahms, his markings for Vivaldi. A concertmaster's style was as individualistic as a painter's, with a character as easy to identify as brushstrokes and subtleties as difficult to forge as fingerprints. These were his musical ideas put onto paper with his pencilstrokes, and unless these conspirators had the meticulosity to search music libraries for parts with his initials, there was no way these bowings could be on this stand unless he, himself, had marked them. For the first time in this entire, ludicrous affair, he seriously began doubting his sanity.

Sol Sylvan came onstage with violin held high and sat down inside first stand. Jacob plucked his own violin meditatively, regarding his friend with rue. "You're my assistant?"

"I'm your assistant?" Sylvan answered mockingly. "I'm Joey Schneider's assistant. I'll tell you, some farshtopfte kopf we have for a concertmaster who can't even remember his first name."

"I'm not a farshtopfte kopf. I'm a pyoik."

Sylvan grinned.

Jacob rapped his stand for quiet and stood, nodding to the principal oboist for an A. The oboist gave him one. "You're sharp," Jacob told him.

The oboist regarded Jacob half with annoyance but half in awe. "We use 443 here."

Jacob shrugged and began the tuning, his oneupmanship firmly established.

A few players were still noodling when Nigel Thomashefsky walked onstage and took the conductor's podium. In his middle forties, he had silvery hair in waves, wore a cream-colored cashmere sweater, and was unbearably tweedy. He rapped his baton. Like a classful of fifth-graders when the principal walks in, the assembled musicians came to order. "Well," he said with thick, Oxonian accent, not focusing on Jacob until the last moment, "we all seem to be here, this time around."

Jacob flushed slightly. "I apologize, Maestro. It's been a thoroughly confusing day."

Thomashefsky tossed it off with a baton flourish. "Water under the bridge, Mr. Schneider. Water under the bridge." He flipped through his scores. "Very well, gentlemen," he replied, though there were fourteen women in the orchestra. "Let's have a go at the Volyavo, shall we?"

A rumble of confusion drifted across the stage. Sol Sylvan searched the first stand for the part then shook his head at Jacob. "We don't seem to have it," Jacob said. "What is it?"

"Anton Volyavo's Tone Poem?" Thomashefsky replied. "An obscure composer's even more obscure work. Written in 1906, and heaven only knows why, but we're giving it a premiere. Very well, gentlemen. Ten minutes while we get this straightened out. Mr. Schneider?"

Jacob followed Thomashefsky offstage where the two cornered Nat Gottlieb, and a few minutes later, Gottlieb cornered the librarian, Gordon Victor. It soon became apparent that in the last-minute reshuffling of program schedules the Volyavo piece had somehow been forgot. The parts had been neither marked nor duplicated.

"A thoroughly confusing day," Thomashefsky quoted Jacob, smiling at him. He handed him the violin parts. "Mr. Sylvan can handle the Brahms again. Get your bowings to Mr. Victor tonight then start attacking concertmaster solos. You're excused from this rehearsal and tomorrow morning's."

Jacob shook his head. "When I'm hired to play concertmaster, I play concertmaster."

"But the bowings and solos will require--"

"If Gordon Victor and I don't have them ready by tomorrow, the important bowings can be picked up from the first stand during rehearsal. As for the solos, first performance isn't until Friday. Plenty of time."

"You haven't seen these solos," Thomashefsky said doubtfully.

Jacob allowed himself a slight smile. "You remember that flu epidemic at the Met last year?"

"Remember it? I started it."

"Well, I was called in at the last minute to concertmaster the Saturday broadcast of Electra. I sight-read it."

Thomashefsky did not say anything. Gottlieb motioned Jacob to the stage with a quick head gesture, then suggested to Thomashefsky that he get the other principals offstage to inform them. It struck Jacob as only slightly odd at the time, but just before they returned onstage, he overheard Gottlieb tell the conductor secretively, "The Musician will be pleased."

Well, at least the damn thing wasn't atonal, Jacob thought as he examined the Tone Poem that evening in his apartment. He scanned the orchestral score Thomashefsky had lent him, organizing the different forces into an harmonic gestalt, literally playing the entire work in his mind. When he had finished, he stood, stretched, lit another cigarette, and took a deep drag.

It was a work of genius. There was no question about that. But there was some strange insanity here, an improbable contradiction, that he could not quite put his finger on. It was as if . . . as if . . . as if Volyavo had been part of the musical mainstream about the time of Brahms, learned a few tricks from Strauss, disappeared into oblivion for the revolutions of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, Gershwin and Cage, then returned to invent a completely original idiom extending the ideas of the romantics half a century or more. If it had been composed after World War Two--or even One--it might have made a bit more sense, but Thomashefsky had said 1906, and Jacob found it almost impossible to disbelieve it.

For this piece to have been written much later than 1906, Anton Volyavo would have had to have been either entirely ignorant, or completely unaffected, by the entire evolution of twentieth century music. But the very revolutionary nature of this work implied a long period of artistic development. If it had been premiered at the declared time of its composition, Volyavo would have been hailed as the king of neoromanticism, and musical development might have totally bypassed atonality and polytonality. But the Volyavo revolution had never happened. Why wasn't this man's name emblazoned alongside Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven?

About one thing Jacob was certain: Volyavo had been a violinist, and probably an experienced concertmaster as well. The violin solos were just too intricately violinistic for him not to have been. Jacob realized that he had under seventy-two hours to learn the equivalent of a major concerto. He almost regretted not taking up Thomashefsky's offer. A couple of fried eggs comprised supper then he returned to his bedroom and started in.

The bowings were finished by eleven-thirty. Gordon Victor picked them up just after midnight. But the work this night was so engrossing that it was well past two a.m., after he had tried a run-through of the solos and had begun breaking them down, that Jacob realized Max Perry had not called. He was too exhausted to worry about it. He ate a hero sandwich and went immediately to sleep.

Wednesday's morning rehearsal was Thomashefsky conducting, from the keyboard, one of Antonio Vivaldi's lesser-known harpsichord concertos. Jacob found Thomashefsky a fine instrumentalist, and the rehearsal went well.

Sol Sylvan invited Jacob out to the Stage Deli for lunch between rehearsals. Jacob took a rain-check, instead spending the time in a practice room on Volyavo's solo passagework. When he walked back onstage at a quarter to three, the parts were on the stands.

The second rehearsal of the day, debut of the Volyavo, went just as smoothly as the first. Jacob now added to his evaluation of Thomashefsky the thought that he was a good conductor, displaying tasteful musicianship and a clear, steady beat. What was more, he left the bowings exactly as the concertmaster had marked them. This last gave Thomashefsky almost a saintly glow in Jacob's eyes. Thomashefsky seemed to reciprocate, making a full ceremony of shaking his hand at the Tone Poem's end.

Moreover, Jacob's quick study of his solos had not gone unnoticed by orchestra colleagues, who stamped their feet and tapped bows on music stands. Nonetheless, Jacob's state of mind approached paranoia when, backstage packing up his violin, he could have sworn he heard the principal cellist tell one of the trumpets sotto voce, "it looks like Schneider has the Musician on his side."

The M.P.A. offices were closed by the time second rehearsal let out, and Jacob cursed himself as an imbecile when he realized that it was past midnight in Paris by the time he returned home. If Max Perry had been calling, it was while he was at rehearsal. Before he had let his telephone be disconnected, Jacob had employed an answering service, but a year detached from the free-lancer's telephone tyranny had allowed him to forget that his calls were unprotected while he was out. That evening he remedied this at Korvette's by picking up a cheap answering machine, and attached it to his telephone with a message referring his daytime calls to Carnegie Hall. He spent the rest of that night polishing his concertmaster solos.

It was about four a.m. when Jacob awoke in a sweat from the standard performer's nightmare. He had just walked onstage for his performance of the Sibelius Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic . . . and he could not remember it. He stood there, the conductor and players eyeing him pityingly, while the audience grew more and more restless. Finally, a bilious man sitting front row center--richly dressed and looking much like an early socialist caricature of a capitalist--signaled to the orchestra manager to have Jacob taken offstage. Jacob knew, as soon as he saw him, who the man in the audience was. He was the Musician.

The Musician arranged lives. He orchestrated events. He conducted business. He pulled strings. Jacob knew that he was one of the strings the Musician had pulled.

It took a full hour of practicing his tour repertoire, assuring himself that two days were not enough to erase a year's work, before Jacob was calm enough again to sleep.

Thursday morning before first rehearsal, Jacob crossed 57th Street to the Columbia Artists Building and took the elevator up to the M.P.A. offices. Max Perry still had not returned, however, and Jacob considered the possibility that Max had never even received his message: there was still another temporary replacement for Judy from the one he had spoken to. Jacob decided to take no chances this time. He sat down and wrote out a message to Max detailing his predicament, including Nathaniel Gottlieb's possession of what looked to be signed contracts, and told him in stiff language that contract or no contract he was determined to make his tour. He was careful not to imply that Max might be a party to this: he preferred to wait and hear what Max had to say. After learning that Mr. Perry was expected to be checking in about ten-ish, Jacob again crossed 57th Street to Carnegie Hall.

Morning rehearsal was a disaster. Thomashefsky was highly agitated--"A fight with his faygeleh lover," Gottlieb quietly told Jacob during break--and made repeated errors in his playing of the Vivaldi. In disgust, he spent the remainder of rehearsal on needless repetition of Brahms' Fourth. The repetition was worse than useless, for in his drive to justify it, Thomashefsky changed markings that had worked well, chewed out the violins for playing too loudly--changing fortes to pianos with abandon--varied tempo erratically, and largely destroyed what had been a splendid performance. Eventually Thomashefsky himself realized what he was doing: he apologized to the orchestra for his behavior, told them to change everything back, and quickly walked off, twenty minutes early. Jacob spent a few minutes making sure that bowings were changed back uniformly, then took Sol Sylvan up on his offer for lunch at the Stage.

After lunch, Jacob left Sol to stop in again at the M.P.A. offices, being told that Max Perry had been given his message and would be in touch with him.

Thomashefsky had pulled himself together by that afternoon and began rehearsal on the Volyavo as if nothing had happened. But if it was a day for high agitation, Jacob's turn came now. Not too far along, while Thomashefsky was addressing the woodwinds, Jacob happened to gaze out to the auditorium and saw a lone man sitting about ten rows back. He had not been there when rehearsal had begun. The man was bilious, wore an expensive suit, and in Jacob's eyes looked much like an early socialist caricature of a capitalist. Jacob locked eyes with him. The man did not break contact.

Thomashefsky did, rapping his baton. "Two bars past letter 'D,' Mr. Schneider."

The orchestra began playing again. It was several minutes before Thomashefsky broke again, freeing Jacob once more to look out into the hall. The man was gone. It took all of Jacob's concentration even to complete rehearsal.

#

"So tell me, Jack. What's on your mind?"

It had been over two years since Jacob had been in this office. It hadn't changed. It was still heavily leather--always leather--including that entirely leather-quilted wall Jacob at first had thought was designed to knock one's head against, but was merely soundproofing. The furnishings were sparse and modestly pretentious: a stainless-steel-and-glass coffee table, an art deco couch, a wall of books, an Italian modern deskchair, and two light-colored leather recliners catercorner to each other. Jacob sat in one. Valentine I. Nicholas, M.D., sat in the other.

"You call me up, you say you've got to see me tonight--it's desperately important--and you have to talk. Talk."

Jacob lit a cigarette. Nicholas hadn't changed, either. He was in his late forties, now, with his hair graying--gray, not silver like Thomashefsky--was still painfully thin, almost ungainly, and still wore that ridiculous little goatee. Like the first, so it shall be unto the last, Jacob thought.

"I want you to tell me I'm not insane," Jacob said.

"You're not insane. Seventy-five dollars, please."

"Very funny."

"You asked for it. You should know by now how I feel about such words."

"Something odd is happening to me. I want to find out whether it's real or not."

"I'm not a metaphysician, I'm a psychiatrist. Tell me what you think is happening, and we'll see if we can develop a coherent pattern."

Jacob told him. He told about his tour, about his year of practicing. He told about the telegram and the telephone, about Sol Sylvan's visit and Gottlieb's call, about the contracts and the bowings. He told how both Max and Judy were conveniently unavailable. He told about the Musician. Nicholas took notes. When Jacob had finished, he flipped back a few pages.

"The man in the audience during rehearsal today," Nicholas asked. "You had seen him before?" Jacob shook his head. "Did you ask anyone who he might be?" Jacob shook his head. "Then, logically, he could be anyone associated with the orchestra, yes?"

"Logically, yes."

"All right. So long as we stick to logic we'll be fine. Next. What were the exact words you heard the orchestra manager tell the conductor?"

"I heard him say, 'The Musician will be pleased.'"

"Fine. And the exact words of the principal cello player to the trumpet player?"

"'It looks like Schneider has got the Musician on his side.'"

"Is it possible you simply overheard them incorrectly? In each instance, there is no grammatical change between the singular case and the plural. Thus, 'The Musician will be pleased' can easily be taken from 'The musicians will be pleased,' and 'It looks like Schneider has the Musician on his side' a simple mishearing of,'It looks like Schneider has got the musicians on his side.'"

"What would the musicians have to be pleased about?" Jacob asked.

"How should I know? It's a sentence out of context. As for the second phrase, I imagine the cello player was merely commenting on the ovation you received from your colleagues. Is this possible?"

"It's possible."

"Marvelous."

"Now explain away orchestra contracts and bowings which I never marked."

"You won't like it."

"I don't like it already. Shoot."

"Very well," Nicholas said. "Temporary amnesia as a result of repressing a truth too painful to face."

"What truth is that?"

"Mind you, this is only a theory. But I think that when you finally reach your manager, you will have it confirmed that sometime in the past year your tour fell through. Probably no more then a few months ago. I would suspect that your amnesia began shortly after you marked the bowings, last week . . . possibly triggered by the very act of marking them."

Jacob clenched the arms of the chair tightly and said nothing.

"This tour meant a great deal to you."

"It does."

"So. A twenty-eight-year-old violinist has what he knows is his last chance at a solo career, and suddenly that chance is gone. Why, of course, I couldn't tell you, but financial reverses on the part of backers could account for it, no? This violinist's manager, unable to save the tour or book another, finds him an orchestra position appropriate to his considerable talents, and negotiates a first-rate contract for him. But the violinist, who has trained all his life for the virtuoso stage, finds this alternative insufficient salve to the wound inflicted upon his ego. When it comes time to begin work in this new job, he blocks out the reason he is there, and fantasizes an antagonist appropriate to his profession. The Musician. A wonderfully conceived antagonist, really, although I can't help feeling it would be more appropriate next to the Joker and the Riddler of Batman comic books. I suppose if I had need of such a fantasy antagonist, it just as easily could have been the Psychiatrist. In any case, this violinist has just spent almost an entire year tuned to the inner reality of his art--a monastic existence cut off from outside satisfactions--which, perhaps, was even his original shield from painful realities. But this violinist is not insane, merely hurt. If he were anything approaching insane--whatever that atavistic word means--he would not have sought out the therapist who, for the three-and-a-half years, exposed to him one painful truth after another."

Jacob though about it as, chain-smoking cigarettes, he walked up Amsterdam Avenue from the West 60th Street offices. He didn't believe it. But then, Nicholas had warned him that the very nature of repressive amnesia would incline him not believe, and that he should merely suspend his opinion until the facts presented the truth to him in terms he could accept.

Was the tour all that important to him, he wondered--so important that losing it could destroy his hold on reality? He knew that all his life he had accepted the admittedly elitist notion--almost as an unquestioned axiom--that it was better to play first violin than second, better to play concertmaster than assistant, better to play solo than accompaniment. But did it really matter all that much so long as he was playing? If the music did not require the accompaniment, or the assistant to lead the section when the concertmaster was otherwise occupied, or the second violin to counterpoint the first, composition would not have evolved that way. Did his pride really see all that much distinction between being a concert soloist and the concertmaster of a top-rated orchestra? Financially, he was better off--probably for years, even if he were successful on a tour--as a concertmaster, and an orchestral position certainly lent more security. What was it that was driving him so?

He knew that the question had an obvious answer to any performing artist--instrumentalist, singer, dancer, actor--and would never be fully answerable to anyone else. It was the ecstasy. Regardless of the chills, the sweating palms, even the occasional vomiting, there was simply no experience equal to the standing on a stage with thousands of eyes staring at you, thousand of ears listening, and realizing that for some endless minutes you were in charge of other people's emotions. And, simply, inasmuch as the audience naturally focused on the soloist, so the soloist was more in control of those emotions than anyone else. It was so simple and natural that he should want it. But was the difference between the mainlining of the soloist, and the oral maintenance dose of the concertmaster, enough to do this to him?

There was something else, here, too, which there was no sense denying. He was good enough to be a first-rate soloist. There were, perhaps, under one or two dozen violinists of true virtuoso caliber in the world. He was one of them. As a concertmaster, he would very often outshine--when he stood in with the solo part for a violin concerto--a scheduled soloist who was unable to make first rehearsal. It had happened before. The poor soloist would arrive, be regaled by logorrheic orchestra members with feasts of Schneider's performance during rehearsal, and would find himself in competition with the concertmaster for the orchestra's respect. It was unfair to the soloist. It was unfair to the concertmaster. If there were such a thing as a natural ordering according to one's abilities, then Jacob Schneider had no business sitting still for a concertmaster chair if he could stand up as a soloist. Was it this knowledge that would make the losing of his tour so unthinkable that he would block it out?

Jacob reached his address, a vacancy decontrolled brownstone, unlocked the outer door, and started up the stairs. Whatever the truth about his tour was, there was no questioning that he had a solo performance the following night. Upon reaching his apartment, Jacob immediately went to his bedroom and spent the rest of that evening working on the Volyavo.

Friday morning was a dress rehearsal, with selected students from Performing Arts High School in the audience. Sitting with them was the rather rotund man who, for a few minutes the previous day, had sat alone listening to the rehearsal. When, at the end of a letter-perfect rehearsal, the students came backstage to ask questions of the orchestra--and to ask the conductor and concertmaster for their autographs--Jacob learned that the man he had taken for the Musician was the high school's head of its music department. After spending an hour or so with the students, Jacob excused himself and spent the rest of the day practicing.

Thomashefsky sparkled that night as he opened the program with the Vivaldi concerto. "Our 'little lovebirds' made up," Gottlieb informed Jacob just before the performance. The audience was warmly enthusiastic. Jacob always preferred Friday performances to Saturday; the audience hadn't heard the critics yet and didn't know in advance how terrible the performance was supposed to be. Sammy and two other stagehands spent a few minutes taking off the harpsichord while the orchestra remained on stage noodling (Thomashefsky had wanted the orchestra offstage during the process; Gottlieb had overruled him) then it was time for the premiere of Tone Poem by Anton Volyavo.

It was a war, a stoning, a crucifixion. A violinistic David against an orchestral Goliath. The beleaguered individual against the taunting group. Over and over throughout the piece, Jacob would introduce a motif with a solo, it would be tossed around to other strings, then woodwinds and brass, embellished by each, then finally--in a mocking, almost unrecognizable form--taken up by the entire orchestra in a direct assault upon the lone concertmaster.

It was not until the end of the work, when the solo violin had taken on each of the other principals in a sort of hand-to-hand combat, beating them all down, that any kind of symphonic unity was established. After emerging triumphant, the concertmaster joined the orchestra in a final noncombative ensemble. When Thomashefsky eventually lowered his arms, the audience exploded into ovation.

It went on and on. Thomashefsky shook hands with Jacob, kissed him on both cheeks, and walked offstage. The next time around he shook hands with the principal cellist. The orchestra had already risen to its feet twice. The audience now was standing, demanding encore, bravos and bravissimos echoing through the hall. Thomashefsky had a quick consultation with Gottlieb offstage, then returned to tell the orchestra to remain seated.

The Tone Poem was repeated.

A beautiful performance of Brahms' Fourth Symphony comprised the second part of the program. The performance ran twenty-seven minutes overtime. Nonetheless, no one in the orchestra seemed to mind . . . and not only because this overtime was worth extra money.

The reviews on television that night and in Saturday's papers were unanimous in their praise for both the premiered work and the quality of its first performance. In both the Times and the Post Jacob's solos were singled out for special notice. Thus, it almost came as anticlimactic when at one a.m. Sunday morning, after Jacob had returned home from a final, triumphant performance of the Tone Poem Saturday night, a messenger buzzed up saying he had an important letter for him. Jacob allowed the messenger to come up.

It was the same, swarthy, old man with unpressed uniform and bad breath who had delivered the telegram from Gottlieb almost a week before. Jacob asked him to wait while he opened the letter. Again it was from Gottlieb. It thanked him for substituting in their first week of the season for their new concertmaster, Joseph Schneider, who, as he knew, had been unable because of previous commitments to begin on time. The letter thanked Jacob for an exemplary performance and said that if he ever needed a reference, Gottlieb would be happy to give him one. Enclosed with the letter was a check for fifteen-hundred dollars.

Jacob thanked the messenger, handing him a dollar, and was about to close his door when the old man said, "You played the Tone Poem beautifully." He spoke with a heavily European, polyglottish accent.

Jacob's face lit up. "Really? How kind of you."

"I was at both performances," the old man said.

"You must have really fallen in love with the piece."

"I have loved it ever since I composed it, seventy-two years ago."

Jacob's face lost its composure. "You? Volyavo?"

The old man nodded.

"But how?" Jacob barely got out. "Why? How has it happened that you, perhaps the greatest composer of this century, were until two nights ago unknown, working as a messenger?"

Volyavo smile bitterly. "Many are listed in the Musician's program," he said, then left.

#

When Jacob put down his violin to answer the phone Sunday afternoon, it was Max Perry. Max said that he had just returned from Paris, where he had found for Jacob the perfect accompanist, and then asked what Jacob's rather confusing message was all about. Jacob said that it didn't really matter, that it was all a misunderstanding. When he had finished talking to Max, Jacob resumed practicing the Paganini Twenty-fourth Caprice. There were only fifteen more days before he would be in Zurich.



The World According to J. Neil Schulman Julius Schulman: Life With A Violin


Copyright © 1980, 1981 by J. Neil Schulman. Copyright © 2016 by The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.