A novel that explores the experience of music – what it is to listen to it, to play it, to be moved by it – in the story of one musician who finds that his growing fame cannot compensate for his unwillingness to meet the deepening demands of his life.
Alexander Hoffmann is the musician: an extraordinary young cellist whose success appears to be guaranteed by his masterful technical understanding of music, by the authoritative, mature quality of his sound, and by the limitlessness of his range. And, in fact, at 25 he is brilliantly launched into his career. But Alex knows – and those close to him have begun to sense – that his art lacks an essential connection to life. He is dangerously detached, a perfectionist stunted in his involvement with music, refusing to learn its language of feeling for fear that it will expose to him his own tangled emotions. Instead, he uses his talents to make the music do his bidding. First it was a way to free him of his parents; then, a way to please his overbearing grandfather; and always it has served to propel him forward and to protect him: the voice of the cello drowning out the reverberations of the “spoiled mixture” of his life.
It is an untimely and tragic death that shocks Alex into recognizing the pervasive effects of his detachment and the fact that music offers him neither solace nor strength; that, indeed, each note has become a recrimination – for his inability to grieve at the profound loss he has suffered and for the selfishness that, under the guise of dedication, he has brought to both his art and his life. Having learned to dominate the music he performs, he must now learn to let the music him, to release him from the stifling grip he has kept on himself, to help him feel.
It is through the music of Brahms – music that challenges him with its emotional resonance – that Alex finally gains release.
New York: Knopf, 1984; London: Faber and Faber, 1984; Paris: Fayard, 1985; Zurich: Benziger, 1985.