Music Is Death
Wooden muscial instruments are alive, did you know that?
Leave them shut up in their cases for years on end, all alone, and they go a little strange just as people would. The weather affects them too – when it’s raining, the tuning goes off, when it’s hot and dry they lose the edge of sweetness on the top notes.
My violin has been unplayed for years. It sits in a long, dark green case, neatly padded, with a strap around its elegant neck to keep it in place, with only the two bows for company. The bows aren’t in the best of shape, their long horsehairs have come adrift and hang down over the violin in white, mourning drapes.
She is missing a string but is otherwise in good condition. I haven’t played her for 12 years, but I touch her all the time. I even put her to my chin sometimes, assume the old position, neck at that crazy, posture-killing angle, left foot forward, one hand splayed around the strings. I even position my fingers to make the notes sometimes, though I never bring them to life with the bow. Even if the hairs weren’t broken, I wouldn’t play.
I like to keep practising vibrato. People who don’t play wouldn’t know, but you can always tell an actor is faking when they pretend to play on television…a true violinist never simply lays a finger against a string, it’s always pressed deeply into the fingerboard, shaking from side to side, producing that long, rich sound.
But I haven’t played since I was 18. All that promise, all those years of practising scales over and over, all the agonies of becoming accomplished. All gone. I’m certain I could still play – I do in my head all the time – I have every note by heart of all the major pieces I played. But I return most often to those early tunes, the things a teacher starts you out on – the twinkle twinkles and the apples and pears. Those go round in my head all the time; I find myself walking down the street in time to their perky rhythms.
It’s a fine instrument; I shouldn’t leave it rotting in a box, I know that. I tried to sell it once – the dealer I went to trembled when he held it. It is rare, an early 18th century German instrument, made by a maker who specialised in copying Stradavari – and came damn close. It’s a very good violin, the maker was essentially a forger, making money from copying a genius – and he churned out violin after violin. But few survive – for one reason or another. Mainly that his workshop burned to the ground in a fire – started how, nobody knows, but he burned along with his creations and his secrets were lost.
The dealer offered me thousands and thousands of pounds for it, but I couldn’t let it go. You see, I’m still not sure whether it’s me or the instrument that’s cursed.
Music is death. A man died because a played this violin. He was in love with me, the first man and probably the last – I am not attractive; the violin made me beautiful. An 18 year old virtuoso playing the work of the latest superstar avant garde Japanese composer – a super modern piece performed in the ancient Inner Temple, off Fleet Street. It was a deadly, irresistable siren’s call that ended in a squeal of brakes, wet tyres and a crushed skull. The son of an eminent cabinet minister who oversaw a series of unpopular air strikes in the East. I saw his usually self-satisfied face on television the next day, rent with grief.
I have not played since. Just bad luck, just bad luck – that’s what people kept parrotting. But I’m not so sure. The violin came from nowhere. An anyonymous donation when I was a promising young student, left in my teacher’s porch one night, a note that simply said the violin had come to me. We have never found trace of its previous owners – unusual for a rare instrument. And certainly not a whiff of the donor, my Magwitch.
Like me, this violin appears to be an abandoned orphan. I was dumped outside a hospital, mewling and turning blue, wrapped in a blanket, a slip of paper tied to my arm, ‘Please take care’. A request or a warning?