A mediocre musician happens upon the work of an unknown genius, appropriates it, profits off it, and in the meantime does everything he can think of to keep from being found out. In basing his novel on such a premise, Sławomir Górzyński had to take into account the fact that it is not entirely original. And he obviously did, because he respects the standard sequence of events, which can lead to only one outcome: the discovery of the fraud. What matters most is how he adds to the story, and what he wishes to convey here.
In setting The Composer within twenty-first century reality, Górzyński aims not simply to examine the crisis of an individual artist but the downfall of classical music in general and to ask whether a new musical universe can be constructed, free from debts to Bach, Mozart, or Chopin. And the author writes both about contemporary music and about the classics with the expertise one would expect from a well-trained, practicing musician He eases the reader into the minds of musicians and overlooks nothing here, starting with the composing process, continuing through to the preparation of the work to be performed and right on to its reception, which he deftly translates into the media responses.
Górzyński’s stylistic abilities come through not only in the fictional reviews or the interviews with the protagonist, Gregor Zwaite. The novel also features notes from the turn of the twentieth century, written by a real composer, Wilhelm Corrado Fuchs—although it should be stated that Górzyński approaches the “discovered manuscript” sections of the book rather perversely, as if simply demonstrating that he too is capable of playing with literary conventions. This is not his only departure from an admittedly popular model. And all of the departures speak to the fact that a correspondence between different art forms can be extraordinarily inspiring as well as to the creative potential of artists from different disciplines. The Composer itself may not be a whole new planet in the literary universe, but it is certainly a planet worth visiting.
Sławomir Górzyński (born 1962) is a violinist and viola player, as well as a novelist. For many years he has lived in Finland.
I went to Simon del Manio’s audition by train. In an empty compartment I compiled my speech on Fuchs: how I had discovered him, how I was working on making his music accessible to the general public. The words and phrases refused to settle in my brain—expressed without conviction, they weren’t finding approval.
At the same time, along very different lines, subcutaneous somehow, but clearer, stronger, I thought about Francesca Lammona, about her enchantment at Fuchs’ songs. I remembered how people in the industry would say that it was just a hop, skip, and a jump from stage to bed with her. I saw us together, after the audition, in a restaurant. She was undressing me with her eyes, coaxing me towards bold words and deeds with every word, until we were heading upstairs, to the hotel room, where she, humming one of Fuchs’ songs, would slowly undress me while I would wait, cool and collected, though thrilled by her body, her voice, and by what we were about to do. I imagined Beatrice finding out about my affair with Francesca, how she would be overcome by jealousy and decide to get me back. Two women fighting over me was much more interesting than putting together a talk on Fuchs.
Del Manio came to fetch me from the station. In the dark leather upholstery of the limousine, he looked me up and down and shook his head.
“It’s incredible! I look at you and recognize you and don’t recognize you at the same time. Zambardi, who is a really good friend of mine, I’m sure you’ve heard of Zambardi, he did my… well, yours and mine, Gregor, I hope you don’t have anything against me calling you that, anyway as I was saying, Zambardi did us a computological reading. Based on the data I had gotten him. Gregor, do you know what the results were? It’s incredible, amazing, fantastic, astonishing. Your future, Gregor, is basically frighteningly full of successes. With just one basic condition. What condition? you’re sure to ask. It’s very simple, that we combine forces. You and I. What do you think?”
“Mr del Manio, I’m sure we can come to an understanding.”
I had heard a little about Zambardi. He was a sort of modern-day guru who told people’s fortunes based on computers like astrologers used to do based on the stars. Lots of people, including people in my circle, took his fortune-telling very seriously. I’d heard Ernest Skala, the most versatile and the wealthiest of all of my professional colleagues, decided whether his pieces were going to be just regular songs or the next symphonies based on his readings. Apparently Lammona had once called off a tour of Japan because Zambardi had predicted that during her time in the Land of the Flowering Cherries she would fall ill and lose her voice. I myself was witness to Victor Korplov telling the crowd of people applauding him after a piano recital that he always put together his programs based on Zambardi’s advice. There soon arose a branch of pseudo-science called computological reading, and it got plenty of followers, devotees, and shams, but Zambardi was the key name, and he himself had practically become a sort of oracle.
“I think so too, Gregor. Your songs are a goldmine. But what can the discoverer of a goldmine do on his own? Will he slave away like a miner? He has to take on assistants, workers, and of course… someone to run the mine. I’m not a modest man, Gregor, modest men come to nothing. I know my own value, you know yours. Together, you and I, we shall conquer the world with your songs. And Francesca! God almighty! The way she sings! Did you know… Well, we’ll get to that later. We’re just about there. Just tell me this: do you have something up your sleeve… a bombshell, something that will leave us on our knees at that audition?”
“I do,” I laughed. “A real bombshell. Right here.” And I pointed at my head.
Del Manio burst out laughing and kept laughing all the way down the corridors of the radio building. He kept repeating, “Right here,” and tapping his own head. “Fabulous, fantastic, incredible. Right here, right here. Genius!”
In the recording studio they were having a rehearsal. Francesca Lammona was singing.
It was as if I were hearing the song for the first time, although of course I practically knew the whole thing by heart. I froze, enchanted, by the door, which del Manio shut carefully and quietly. The voice is the one instrument that when employed by a master is never out of tune. A singer, if he’s one the chosen few, won’t mess up a single phrase, because he simply can't! Francesca was one of the chosen few. How miserably unsuitable a background for her voice my computer program had been, on which I had listened to Fuchs’ songs for the first time. And even then I had been enchanted. And now!
Her voice swelled abruptly with desire, only to fall into the utmost despair a split second later, robbing herself and her listeners of all hope, and then just when the final defeat seemed inevitable, a spark arose from somewhere, a spark which grew, filling the heart with warmth and light, and its glow grew stronger and stronger, it shot out a great flame of victorious life and headed for the last chord, to fulfillment, when…
“Maestro! How I have looked forward to seeing you!”
Suddenly, still immersed in her voice, with tears in my eyes, I found myself in Francesca’s arms. Hugging me and kissing me, not in the least like a brother, she went into raptures over my artistry, my music: “You can’t sing this! It’s like a prayer! Maestro, you have granted me my lifelong wish. Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, you have surpassed them all. It was you opera was waiting for the whole of the last century. Maestro, I kneel before you, I pay you homage.”
I panicked, because she really did kneel before me, and instead of then standing up straight again, she dragged me down to the floor as well. I don’t know where the flashes came from, but suddenly the place was teeming with people all around us. I realized that as I was sobbing along with Francesca I was looking right into cameras that had the logos of several big TV stations.
It was only later, over coffee, as I observed Francesca and Simon, that I realized they had planned the whole thing. Well, so what, it had come out. Ultimately…
Translated by Jennifer Croft