A 19th-Century Friend

(A Narrative in Verse)

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"A 19th-Century Friend" is a book written by Bruce Craig in the form of a narrative, using a classical sonnet form. The second chapter is given below in its entirety:

     CHAPTER  2        Lev

     Our early years of childhood pass,
     Blessed by a sort of mindless grace,
     For, knowing neither wealth nor class,
     All children fill a simple space.
     But all too soon they learn the art
     Which sets their lives in counterpart.
     Habits, customs, language, birth --
     These all have roots in foreign earth.
     While young in age we hardly note
     Those sounds which on some ears might grate;
     Our parents' tongues we imitate,
     Although theirs be a foreign throat.
     The art by which we choose a word
     Makes use of that which we have heard.

     But then, as time and years go past,
     Sophistication brings its curse:
     Our knowledge, once with ease amassed,
     Our peers soon help us to disperse.
     The shades of language once well known
     Are filtered to a monotone,
     The trills of tongue and throat suppressed,
     The sins of catholic taste confessed.
     Rewarded for conformist zeal
     We seek to melt into the mass,
     Resolved as native sons to pass,
     The ill of foreignness to heal.
     The ways of those who emigrate
     Their children quickly dissipate.
     You think, perhaps, I emphasize
     That which might seem to have no worth,
     But he whose story I devise
     Began his life on foreign earth.
     I knew him as an older man,
     A part of our extended clan.
     He'd tell me stories of his time
     And teach me bits of Russian rhyme.
     The richness of his Slavic voice,
     The way in which he sometimes laughed,
     The skill with which he plied his craft,
     These memories I retain by choice.
     His life revealed a journey's course
     Which he had lived without remorse.
     My life without concern has passed,
     For both my parents here were born.
     Their fathers, though, were of that caste
     Which heard and felt their betters' scorn.
     My mother's father, long since died,
     Was born in Russia's harsh inside.                                   
     Although the Czar them freedom gave,                    
     His people lived as serf and slave.
     His place in life seemed on the earth,
     But nature did his ear enrich
     With music's gift of perfect pitch,
     Bestowed upon him at his birth.
     A sound once heard, alone or mixed,
     Remained within his memory fixed.
     Lev was his chosen Christian name,
     And Isadore his patronymic.
     His destiny by birth became
     His father's brutal life to mimic.     
     This Russia, perched on Europe's edge,
     Took from each male a lifelong pledge
     That  Czar and land, more dear than life,
     Should always be as second wife.
     Through fences made of mud and wattle
     At Europe looked but one great work:
     The city of Saint Petersburg,
     By Peter built on Western model.
     A window set in walls of stone,
     The light from outwards through it shone.

     The family on whose land he starved
     Had served the Czar as court confessors;
     Their grand estate, in thanks, was carved
     From their luckless predecessor's.
     The manor was on Polish land,
     The town of Vilna near at hand.
     The title which the Czar conferred
     Was Baron, to whom all deferred.
     His wife, through nature's benefit,
     Had wit and beauty both received,
     The Baron her lesser in both conceived,
     To which from guile she'd not admit.
     They held each evening their salon
     With music played from early on.

     The songs which any peasant sings
     Are often played upon the fiddle.
     Lev, through his ear, soon learned its strings,
     Whose fretless runs for most are riddle.
     The sounds that from the great house came
     His mind absorbed, though without name.
     On feast days in the village ground
     He'd play in mimic of their sound.
     When first the Chapelmaster heard
     The light unstudied peasant's mime,
     He feared that through such noise, in time,
     The Baron's wrath would be incurred.
     For most is music but a din
     When played upon the violin.

     In each of us there ticks a clock
     Whose measured swing our life defines.
     The beat to which its motions lock
     A tempo to our world consigns.
     These ticks by which our lives are doled
     Seem rigidly in time controlled,
     But now and then there comes a pulse
     Which makes that measured tick convulse.
     The counts of time we once knew well
     Contract minutely, changing course.
     The rhythm from this different source 
     Diverts us dumbly with its swell.
     For Lev, the Baron's kindly wife 
     Became the tick that gave him life.

     The melodies he'd learned by ear,
     During afternoons he hummed and played.
     She marveled at how true and clear
     His instrument the sounds conveyed.
     A peasant's fiddle is a club
     On which a stick is made to rub;
     But from her parlor on the hill,
     The sound bespoke the player's skill.
     She sent her servant to inquire
     From whence the sounds she daily heard,
     And to the answer sent back word
     To speak with him, if he'd desire.
     The young man's age was only ten
     When first the changing ticks began.
     Great geniuses among us grow
     Who never touch their inner gift;
     To be a genius, one must know
     The time and place one's head to lift.
     Lev, though not such, yet skill possessed
     Which through his ear could be expressed;
     But with no Baroness at hand,
     His feet would never leave the land.
     The way in which they met to speak                                
     Was awkward in the way things were,
     For social custom would prefer
     Her class his company not seek.
     For then was custom so perverse
     That such as they could not converse.
     The Baron felt no strong objection
     As long as she observed decorum.
     That they could offer their protection
     Spoke well of them in their small forum.
     For such a labored introduction
     The Chapelmaster gave instruction.
     His post allowed him to relate
     To all who lived on the estate.
     The noise for which he'd once concern
     He felt with schooling would recede,
     And to this end was thus agreed
     Upon a sum that he would earn.
     Their trust in Lev time would endorse;
     The ticking clock resumed its course.

     With such a thrust up through the murk,
     Lev found in life a new position.
     His days now focused on the work
     That forms one as a skilled musician.
     The Chapelmaster's hand was strict
     And quick to discipline inflict,
     But with Lev's gift he felt akin
     And fiddle changed to violin.
     Lev's presence in the lower house
     Required that they give him clothes
     And that which for his new-found pose
     Would serve his peasant stench to douse.
     The human spirit soars in deed,
     Bur common matters still must heed.
     The years passed by as time was spent
     For mind and fingers to acquire
     The skills that such an instrument 
     Demands of those who so aspire.
     Chromatic runs and trills and scales,
     Against which every young mind rails,
     Became the daily exercise
     By which he'd mastery realize.
     And then there came the theory
     Which all great music underlies
     And guides the hand to improvise,
     While still producing harmony.
     Who knows, he thought, perhaps one day
     A piece of music I might play.
     He also learned the dull routine
     Which copying the notes required,
     For in that day was no machine
     By which fresh staves could be acquired.
     A manor house, in this respect,
     Was something one might resurrect
     From long-set ways much less advanced
     Than those which later times enhanced.
     Each piece that he set out to learn
     He first to paper would needs bring
     Before his bow could on the string
     The notes to music finally turn.
     But learning comes through repetition,
     The ancient fact of man's condition.
     Lev found his place within the house
     And worked his way to full musician,
     In mannered tail and ruffled blouse,
     The European-laid tradition.
     Within five years he overcame
     The handicaps of peasant name;
     Within five more he climbed the list
     To play the role of soloist.
     The Baroness's comely maid
     Conspired to attract his eye;
     Although still young, she knew to try
     That which on unskilled interests played.
     Late evening, as the house grew soft,
     They'd climb into the stable loft.

     When Peter first his city built,
     Its Western style shocked land and nation.
     Their stagnant culture felt the guilt
     Of centuries of deep-laid frustration.
     With Europe's culture plain to see,
     They felt themselves in anarchy.
     And so began the infiltration
     By which they sought to raise their station:
     France gave its tongue and diplomats;
     Italian architects, their style;
     The Germans, craftsmanship and wile;
     The English, dogs and wide-brimmed hats.
     It seemed that nothing was of worth
     Unless it came from foreign earth.

     And then there came in small migrations
     That sort who seek their wealth abroad:
     Tradesmen, teachers, all vocations
     Who by small riches much are awed.
     The Baroness's German Meister,
     The Chapelmaster who advised her,
     Belonged to that same pile of others
     Who, born as Germans, felt as brothers.
     Saint Petersburg had such a group
     With whom he corresponded,
     And who his German ways compounded,
     For Russians would to them not stoop.
     Among them lived the teacher Auer,
     A player of uncommon power.

     I sometimes feel that I imbibe
     Of times now long since disappeared,
     But memories that I now describe
     Were those with which I once was reared.
     Herr Auer spread his music's gospel
     And to his students was apostle.
     His skills worked like a deft physician
     Whose patient was the raw musician.
     Around him formed a group intense
     Of young musicians singly gifted,
     Who soon would set their hands uplifted
     To challenge Europe's eminence.
     Now, when the Chapelmaster came,
     He'd mention young Lev's peasant name.
     Leopold Auer knew that time
     When sheer romance in music ruled;
     He followed Liszt, who'd reached his prime
     In grandeur and bravura schooled.
     From birth in eighteen-forty-five, 
     Some eighty years he would survive.
     Though Hungary was his place of birth,
     Violin he learned on German earth.
     In Hanover and Düsseldorf
     The reigning masters worked with him,
     Including Brahms' own Joachim,
     Whom, in the end, he too would dwarf.
     In eighteen-hundred-sixty-eight
     To Petersburg he turned his fate.

     As concertmaster in the Court
     And teacher in the Czar's own school,
     His fame was of the cherished sort
     Which placed him on the master's stool. 
     To Vilna he'd no time to go
     To hear another peasant bow,
     But said that, if the boy were brought,
     The trip would not be made for naught.
     But when such travel was required,
     The Chapelmaster would instruct
     That Lev the orchestra conduct
     In all the Baroness desired.
     To chamber works and string quartet
     The evening's music she would set.

     This meant, of course, there was no time
     To Petersburg for both to travel.
     For now, Lev's chance to upward climb
     Seemed wrongly destined to unravel.
     The Baroness, though well intended,
     Knew well that she on Lev depended;
     And though she towards him warmly felt,
     Would not discard the hand she'd dealt.
     And Lev, himself, was too naive
     To plot in some ungainly way
     That which would jeopardize his stay
     Or cause her maid his side to leave.
     What cause had he to aggravate
     Conditions so ensured by fate?

     A picture now long since mislaid
     Shows Lev in suit and jacket gray;
     Beside him sits his comely maid,
     Perched lightly on a bale of hay.
     His face looks out from collared chin,
     With chest puffed out and breath held in;
     She in a light organza dress,
     She'd borrowed from the Baroness;
     Their faces stiff with peasant pride,
     Their first time posing for the lens,
     For which he all his wage expends,
     Long since with care set to the side.
     No other record now exists;
     This shred to lose, my mind resists.
     Another year in peace slipped by
     During which Lev's skills and power grew,
     But during that time fate would apply
     The lever which his path would skew:
     The Baroness was taken ill
     With fevered breath and sudden chill.
     The doctors summoned to her side
     Could not among themselves decide
     The malady from which she shook.
     They spent each day in consultation,
     Each day prescribed new medication,
     And as a tonic all mistook.
     Although they confidence expressed,
     Within the month she lay at rest.

     The weight this laid upon the house
     With difficulty words convey;
     The Baron's feelings for his spouse
     Had been for him his life's chief stay.
     The gatherings she nightly held
     Now stilled as grief within him welled.
     No more the well-coifed heads would spin,
     No more the solo violin.
     The Baron's patronage had been
     To Lev with some reserve extended;
     In some odd way, quite unintended,
     Lev had his patience worn too thin.
     In life, his wife as buffer served
     And peace between the two preserved.

     Those ticks that marked Lev's great success
     Now seemed for him to hesitate;
     The husband of the Baroness
     Could not his presence tolerate.
     But by a sadness now consumed,
     The anger that Lev still presumed
     No longer held the Baron's mind,
     Who was to all about him blind.
     The Chapelmaster came once more
     To serve his mistress' certain wish:
     That Lev could leave his country niche
     To knock upon a higher door.
     The journey that he'd so long sought,
     Through this misfortune now was bought.
     The journey to Saint Petersburg
     Could be for him a great advance,
     But the expense that it incurred
     Seemed well beyond his circumstance.
     The Chapelmaster was, like all,
     Left doubtful of his future call;
     The Baron's state of mind was such
     That he stood distant from life's touch.
     But then, though he could not explain,
     The Chapelmaster found a way
     A small advance to Lev to pay,
     Enough for passage on the train.
     The maid Lev promised his return
     As soon as he his way could earn.

     He took his leave one warm spring day
     With suit and bag and violin.
     The nearest train in Vilna lay,
     So that by foot he must begin.
     His pockets' contents were so light,
     The train for lodging served at night.
     Arriving with great hopes in store,
     He made his way to Auer's door.
     The master was, of course, absorbed
     In matters such that he addressed,
     And had his servant Lev request
     His card as caller to accord.
     That simple piece of social dress
     Was something Lev did not possess.
     The Chapelmaster had, as friend,
     A final act of kindness done
     And told young Lev he would commend
     Him to Herr Auer like a son. 
     "The bearer of this document
     Has gifts in music's temperament.
     He reads and writes and understands
     And perfect sense of  pitch commands.
     Violin is close to him as wife;
     His hand and ear have no defect
     That diligence could not correct.
     His patron having left this life,
     He needs both shelter and instruction,
     For which this note is introduction."
     In matters that Herr Auer fired,
     The polished word was useless length;
     From those about him he required
     A German form of stubborn strength.
     He sent his servant with the word
     He was not then to be disturbed,
     But to return the morrow's day
     At two o'clock and set to play.
     He had a habit long embraced
     To play each week some new quartet
     To judge the way in which it set;
     But, with a player's absence faced,
     If Lev were nimble on his feet
     He could, if willing, take his seat.
     With comprehension incomplete,
     Lev faced the servant's helpless shrug,
     And soon stood puzzling, on the street,
     The complex ways that fate could tug.
     His purse's weight was now so light
     He had no means to spend the night.
     But as he stood with spirit purged,
     The servant from the door emerged.
     He had, in fact, been sent by Auer
     The music for next day to fetch:
     A Brahms' quartet in final sketch,
     Complex in form as Schopenhauer.
     The boy, himself, came from the land
     And could Lev's quandary understand.

     He looked at Lev, then quickly smiled,
     "The master has a reputation
     By talent much to be beguiled,
     Since by such means he found his station.
     Tomorrow, when you take your seat,
     Your mastery must be complete.
     The gentlemen with whom you'll play
     Will quickly note each slight delay.
     The errand for which I now stir
     Could aid you in tomorrow's test:
     I go the music to request
     From Auer's German publisher.
     If you would care to walk with me,
     The score you'd have a chance to see."

     Lev looked at him with great surprise
     That he would such an offer make,
     And asked why he would so devise
     His unexpected side to take.
     "Though I've no sense for violin,
     I feel with you somewhat akin;
     And if the truth must all be known,
     I thought you might go there alone.
     It's sometimes hard to get away,
     For Auer keeps me by his sleeve.
     The short time free would give me leave
     A maid I know a call to pay.
     If you'll for me this errand run,
     We'll profit each by what we've done."
     So Lev the city's broad streets walked
     And found the place to him described;
     At Lev's request the clerk first balked,
     Till Lev's violin his senses bribed.
     The clerk, himself in music versed,
     Took  Lev for one of Auer's first.
     The hard-won skills that Lev was taught
     Now served him well for what he sought.
     He found a park bench in the shade
     And quickly copied out the part;
     His quill and ink served well his art,
     Accompanying him as tools of trade.
     Though late to finish, he contrived
     To be there when his friend arrived.

     Lev thanked the servant for his aid,
     To which they parted each content.
     Their efforts each were well repaid,
     Although in sum quite fraudulent.
     But now the time was past midday,
     And still Lev had no place to stay.
     But rather than that problem face,
     He took his violin from its case
     And, in a wooded park nearby,
     Played with his muted instrument
     Those passages whose harsh intent
     The patience of the player try.
     Although his mute the strings made soft,
     The music soared in sound aloft.

     The passers-by who in the park
     Their daily rhythm set to walk
     Were drawn by music rich, yet stark,
     Which in Brahms' German way could talk.
     As Lev the twisting passage played,
     The strollers stopped and homage paid;
     And as the music found its end,
     They set upon their ways again.
     A lady, in her walk delayed,
     Asked him from where the piece derived,
     And when he with respect replied,
     A coin upon the bench was laid.
     His bow's brief stutter drew her smile
     As though she sensed his lack of guile.
     The coin was but some kopecks worth,
     But was for Lev a brief salvation,
     For in his pocket was a dearth
     Of that which buys accommodation.
     He seized the coin and packed his case
     In order to his steps retrace,
     For during his morning's long migration
     He'd passed the city's Finland station.
     This busy spot, close by the quai,
     Was one in which a hat well placed,
     Next to an open fiddle case,
     Might earn one's self a needed fee.
     And practice for the morrow's day
     He'd gain with his unmuted play.

     When Russia's window to the west
     First saw itself in incarnation,
     The bird that first built there its nest
     Arrived at Peter's Finland Station.
     Lev traded his new suit for old
     And found a corner not too cold,
     For winds could from the Neva blow
     Which breath and hand would render slow.
     He placed his hat upon the ground
     And then began the Brahms to play,
     Which soon a crowd drew to his way,
     Violin being native Russian sound.
     The crowd grew large and formed a wall;
     The coins were plentiful, though small.

     Musicians living on the street
     Soon learn the movement of a crowd;
     The ebb and flow of passing feet
     Grows sometimes soft and sometimes loud.
     Some passers-by will cock an ear,
     Then quickly turn and disappear;
     While others will their time more bide
     Before they too resume their stride.
     But now and then there lingers one
     Who seems absorbed in all he hears,
     Perceiving that which to his peers
     Finds not a like comparison.
     Of such a man Lev soon took note,
     A man well dressed in vest and coat.
     Some minutes passed as Lev performed,
     Until he stopped, his bow to rest.
     The crowd broke up and drifted on;
     The man approached and Lev addressed,
     "The Brahms you play with bow secure
     In ways reserved for those mature.
     To earn your wage with less delay
     The second part I'd gladly play." 
     Lev scrutinized the man again
     And noticed now that in his hand,
     As though, perhaps, somehow foreplanned,
     He held a case with violin.
     Lev said, "The coins I need for bread..."
     The man replied, "Then play ahead..."
     The voices of a string quartet
     Evoke a spectrum set in tone.
     The bass line by the cello set
     Defines a structured, measured drone.
     The dark viola, soft yet sweet,
     Imparts its overlay discrete.
     Above these lines and oft within
     Appears the second violin,
     To which the first then adds its voice
     Such that between the violins
     A piecework intricate begins,
     Deliberate in form and choice.
     When two violins so agitate,
     By rule the first must dominate.

     This play between the two violins
     They now endeavored to explore;
     Their instruments soon worked as twins
     To probe the complex, twisted score.
     The stranger's bow his hand obeyed,
     And skill and confidence displayed.
     Lev's caution had just such presumed,
     And he'd the second part assumed.
     The copied parts had no directions,
     And here and there a note left out,
     Or one which seemed to be in doubt,
     To which the stranger made corrections.
     That here a master with him played
     Was by his every stroke conveyed.
     A crowd again around them grew
     And, when they stopped, applauded long.
     Much as a marksman's aim grows true,
     Lev felt his bow arm grow more strong.
     And then the stranger turned to him,
     "Before the daylight grows too dim,
     We should the parts in full exchange
     To hear how you'd the first arrange."
     With bits of help Lev worked the part
     Till he its hazards overcame.
     Within an hour he felt no shame
     To join the stranger's counterpart.
     But as the darkness came to rest,
     The stranger moved to end the test.
     He turned to Lev and gave a smile,
     "Your playing comes not from the street,
     But shows a master's careful style
     Whose work in you is near complete.
     With due respect to circumstance,
     Might one inquire what mischance
     Has led you on the streets to ply
     A craft whose standards aim so high?
     And to be even less discreet,
     I find it singularly strange
     That from the repertory's range
     The works of Brahms you'd choose to treat.
     And if from Brahms, then why quartets,
     Which lack of balance so upsets?"
     "The house where I began my life
     Held music as a noble art;
     But sickness felled my patron's wife,
     That saint who gave my life its start.
     And then her husband did confess,
     Musicians were for him but dress.
     Their Chapelmaster counseled me
     To seek a place at Auer's knee.
     Tomorrow I'm to play with him
     This same quartet for which I've trained,
     Which through his servant I obtained
     As pay for servicing a whim.
     In need of practice, food, and bed,
     You find me in my present stead."
     The stranger nodded low his head,
     "I too once knelt at Auer's feet,
     And though I learned to fear his tread
     As artist I became complete.
     So if, indeed, he takes you in,
     You'll find him rough and hard of skin;
     But as his skills your hand correct,
     You'll gain for him a deep respect."
     The stranger then wished Lev the best
     And went upon his quiet way.
     The hat which on the pavement lay
     Would more than buy Lev's evening rest.
     As darkness from the Neva crept,
     He thanked his saint that faith she'd kept.
     The Russian sun hangs streaked with gray
     And hoards its meager winter heat.
     The time it parcels to each day
     Is but enough to work and eat.
     But as the winter sheds its strength
     And days increase their slender length,
     The life which Spring each year restores
     That ancient land again explores.
     Through Lev there surged that same sweet breath
     Whose draw each spring new life instills
     In each who with its promise fills
     The span defined by birth and death.
     Struggling to hold our age in check,
     Each passing year adds on its fleck.
     Renewed in spirit by his friend,
     Lev thanked the crowd and took his hat,
     Which more than held what he'd need spend
     For lodging in a nearby flat.
     Around the Finland Station lay
     A breadth of lodging whose array
     Could in its asking price be steep
     Or simply promise one his sleep.
     For in that day, though not in ours,
     The traffic which the quarter kept
     Was sometimes in its couth inept
     And flourished in the late night's hours.
     He counted out his new-won hoard
     And found a room he could afford.

     The morning came with river's fog,
     Which marked Lev's first new city day.
     He sensed himself the freshest cog
     In Petersburg's vast humming fray.
     He brushed his coat and cleaned his shoes
     As one must do for interviews,
     Then softly played the music through
     And cleaned his bow of residue.
     Too anxious simply to recline,
     He listened for the lobby clock,
     Whose hands his fate now held in lock,
     But found it chiming barely nine.
     The course of things goes all too well
     When excess time one has to sell.

     He wandered out into the street,
     Which even in the sun seemed cold.
     The massive structures which one greet
     Impose upon the mind their hold.
     The city's history, although short,
     Holds something of that Russian sort
     Which makes one feel its worldly ken
     Speaks more of city than of men.
     Its power has at times unraveled
     The minds of even native born,
     Rejecting them as something foreign,
     Their lives not lived, but simply traveled.
     Such cities in the world exist
     And in their power's hold persist.
     The sense of newness which, of course,
     Discovery brings to things first seen
     Impressed upon his mind its force,
     But with a sense of loss between. 
     With pipe and pole along the quai
     Stood fishermen in symmetry,
     All dressed in suit and tie and black,
     Unhurried in their quiet track,
     As though while busy in their day
     They'd hurried past a favorite spot
     And, mesmerized, themselves forgot
     What hurried them upon their way.
     (From that day on, Lev kept nearby
     His sectioned pole with line and fly.)
     He crossed the river and set out
     To make his first grand promenade
     Through streets whose builders left no doubt
     That Florence lent its grand facade.
     The heavy blocks of porous stone
     Were chipped and oddly damage-prone.
     The streets, though massive overhead,
     Were lightened by their width of spread.
     The Russian churches gave to all
     That feeling of benign respect
     Which cities can sometimes neglect
     When clutter widens into sprawl.
     The morning passed with Lev entranced
     By light and sounds through smell enhanced.

     The sun its grayish peak soon wore
     And then began its slow descent.
     Lev turned his steps toward Auer's door,
     From which he'd yesterday been sent.
     He felt a sudden thrill within
     And touched again his violin.
     This was the self-same instrument
     His mentor to him once had lent.
     For his arrival, he had paced
     Himself with minutes just to spare,
     Not wishing by some lack of care
     This opportunity to waste.
     The servant answered when he knocked
     And winked at Lev with head just cocked.
     Herr Auer had from humble ways
     By inner skill himself raised up.
     Through music came both place and praise,
     Which more than filled his bachelor's cup.
     His quarters, close to court and school,
     Served modestly the master's rule;
     There, those who came to pay him due
     Could skill and knowledge both accrue.
     The group assembled there that day
     Were colleagues from his court quartet,
     Absorbed in gossip of their set
     While waiting for the time to play.
     Lev entered with his hat in hand,
     Ignored as though by reprimand.

     Lev waited, standing on his feet,
     Unsure as how he should proceed,
     Until the servant's cough discreet
     Reminded them to give him heed.
     The sudden, frightening scrape of chairs,
     Accompanied by searching stares,
     Was heard as all turned round to see
     From whence this latest novelty.
     Herr Auer he knew at once by sight,
     Although his face he'd never seen.
     His features were both carved and lean
     And give cartoonists much delight;
     From journals of the day survive
     His profiled head still much alive.
     Lev stammered out his name and hoped
     That Auer would the rest supply,
     For Auer had himself once coped
     With all that Lev now worked to try.
     Himself from homeland long since scattered,
     For Auer all that really mattered
     Was that which lay beneath the skin
     Of those who'd play the violin.
     He rummaged in his desk and found
     The Chapelmaster's God-sent note,
     And having read its friendly quote,
     He introduced Lev all around.
     Quartets, of course, require four,
     Of which violins form but the core.
     Quite certain of his coming doom,
     Lev turned, while fumbling with his hat,
     To those two men who in the room
     With cello and viola sat.
     The cellist seemed of pleasant mien
     And in his German way serene.
     The other, Feldtman, bowed his head
     When introductions to him led.
     But when Lev eyes upon him laid,
     He stepped back startled and surprised;
     This was the man, he realized,
     Who'd at the Finland Station played.
     Though Feldtman smiled, he otherwise
     Appeared him not to recognize.

     The Brahms' quartet to which they set
     Had Joachim sent for their employ:
     A version of the third quartet
     Which Brahms neglected to destroy.
     They quickly set about the work,
     With stops to fix whatever quirk
     The early version still contained
     And which their sharpened quills soon trained.
     The works of Brahms were at that time
     Not universally approved;
     The way in which the voices moved
     Was plagued by harsh harmonic rhyme.
     These sounds, which Lev at first found strange,
     His ear soon learned to rearrange.
     Absorbed by all such playing taught,
     Lev felt himself by passion prodded;
     And when the final note was wrought,
     The others turned to him and nodded.
     And then, as Feldtman had foreseen,
     The parts they traded in between;
     To Lev now came the first violin
     To set about the work again.
     That Feldtman had viola learned
     Meant not that he'd violin mislaid,
     For he the second part now played
     While Auer to viola turned.
     (For Lev, this lesson new was clear:
     The other strings one need not fear.)

     An hour passed, and then a second,
     With Lev in music all immersed;
     And with the final passage reckoned,
     The parts they'd all in full rehearsed.
     For Lev, this tutelage intense
     Confirmed to him his competence.
     But now the crucial moment came
     As Auer slowly spoke Lev's name,
     "Your promise is as they have said:
     Your hand and ear, as one, devise
     In equal parts to synchronize.
     Your talent has with care been fed.
     And rightly you've to me been sent
     To shape and tune your instrument.
     "But now I shall to you repeat
     What I to all my students preach:
     My knowledge finds its deepest seat
     Not in my play, but what I teach.
     The count of those who write is small,
     And of that count we few recall;
     Their written notes our instruments
     Translate by play to human sense.
     But teachers knowledge must dispense
     To all who write and all who play,
     Who in their turn must that repay
     Through homage to their audience.
     From all I know of violin,
     Its teaching lies most deep within.
     "For teaching functions as a purge
     To organize the scrambled sense.
     Too often, talent is an urge
     Which lacks a scholar's competence.
     The player who in all matures
     Is one who discipline endures,
     Not only in his hand and ear,
     But also by a mind made clear.
     I, too, was once a wunderkind,
     But found in my maturity
     The inner gift God gave to me,
     Which here in teaching finds its end.
     Remember, as you learn to play,
     Your place in line is but today.

     "Of course, no student in my house
      Thinks to be less than soloist;
     But as time passes, fate, as spouse,
     Can often mock how we persist.
     All those whose talents by me wake
     Possess your talent, give or take;
     But even those who hold your gift
     Are not immune to fortune's shift.
     There's room for few, and such are filled
     By those with friends and patronage.
     When thrust aside by privilege,
     You'll find the flame within you stilled.
     For many is the saddest fate
     That they, like me, must emigrate.

     "You look surprised, but listen on,
     For Hungary is my place of birth.
     Those who to me by fame are drawn
     Know not how lonely lies my earth.
     My native tongue to me is lost
     And with my garbled German crossed;
     Still doubly foreign am I cursed,
     My German Russian ill rehearsed.
     The cities of this land are two:
     Moscow and this Saint Petersburg,
     Outside of which the culture's murk
     Drives from this land all those like you.
     But here, enough of mist and sorrow;
     You're welcome now this house to borrow."

     The frankness with which Auer spoke
     Was prompted by Lev's peasant youth,
     Whose unspoiled openness awoke
     That part of him which savored truth.
     That he was to his students lord
     Did not his social rank accord,
     For they themselves were, as a whole,
     Above him in their social role.
     As to the wanderer's restless heart,
     This Lev could hardly understand,
     For Lev, like all those from the land,
     Was Russian in his every part.
     The purge which in confession lies
     Was Auer helpless to disguise.

     Auer was to his promise true
     And to his circle took Lev in;
     A post was found as one of few
     To play ensemble violin.
     Some two years passed during which Lev thrived
     And from his mentor skill derived.
     But as to playing the soloist,
     His name was seldom on the list.
     Lev thought at times on Auer's word;
     He was, of course, just past nineteen,
     But faced what Auer had foreseen
     And from impatience now was stirred.
     The upwards tempo of his gait
     Now seemed in stride to hesitate.

Copies of this book may obtained for $10. each (including postage and handling) by using the Order Form. A billing invoice will be sent along with the book. ISBN is 0-966-56140-6. LCCN is 98-090570.

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