THE MONALDI NOCTURNE Edit
By Josephine P. Peabody Edit
Written for Short Stories 1894
Nocturne, I will venture to say, is the general musical public would occasion some curiosity and criticism if it came to the notice of ur, is quite probable; but it would : with the appreciation which is its irk of conscientious labor, nor would how great an event its composition was, in one life, at least.
Now it came to be written in this wise.
Antonio Guiseppe Monaldi was copying music by the window. It was very late in the afternoon — a November afternoon — and the twilight, like charity, was beginning to cover a multitude of sins, including the defects in Antonio's penmanship.
Antonio, be it understood, was not a virtuoso, but a boy eleven years old, and as for the music, he was copying that for the German young man on the next floor. These eleven years in the mind of Antonio (or Tony, as his American mamma called him) formed a series of dim and discomforting recollections, the winters being very disagreeable and the summers even more so.
Tony's father, a poor Italian, had died when Tony was a baby, leaving him nothing but a long name, some cheap tobacco and a tiny silver image of the Madonna — on a brass chain. Tony's mother was a patient, tired-looking woman, who spent half of her time, when she was not washing clothes, wondering how she had ever happened to marry Monaldi, — and the other half teaching Tony to read and write.
That she performed the latter part quite creditably was proved by the fact that Tony, at the age of nine, had presented her with a paper bearing the inscription, "1 Must Always Love My Mother." He had begun each word with a capital to show more clearly his accomplishment in that direction.
But Tony's mother was ill to-day, — ill with something that had an unpleasant-sounding name, and Tony was to share Karl Lanzberg's room, on the floor below.
If it had not been for the German young man, Karl Laniberg,what would he have done f Karl had come as a revelation to him months before. A grown-up man was he, twenty-one years old, at least; and he could play on the violin wonderfully. He taught people the piano, too, when he could. He had even taught Tony himself until the little old instrument he brought when he came, disappeared mysteriously from the tenement. He wrote terribly long "pieces," which he got Tony to copy for him sometimes, since he had discovered the boy to be one of quick intelligence and observant industry.
Just now, while Tony was scratching " Ped. " " Ped. "
" Ped," throughout his work, interspersing these directions with stars, as Karl had done, he meditated upon the improvement that had taken place in his life since the young musician had come to live on the second floor.
Under the influence of his remarks Tony's eyes had been opened to some of the possibilities as well as the evils of existence.
With that precocity which poverty sometimes causes, the little fellow grew to believe that he might be great some day. (This was the chief possibility.) On the other hand, be had learned .... that the painted Indian maiden who guarded the tobacco-shop next door, was not a thing of beauty ; and he felt a secret shame as he looked out of the window upon her and remembered that he had once admired her terra-cotta cheeks.
Just as he laid down his pen, in the twilight, a weak-voiced hand-organ began to drone its monotonous complaint in the street below. Tony listened scornfully.
" Puat! That is not music," he said aloud, out of the superior knowledge gathered from Karl. " That is done with a crank, and it is not a good time, besides. It is a whine. I could 'make a much better one, — I, by myself."
Thus did Tony first assume the obligations of composition. He had never thought seriously of being a composer, before. With those words, a new idea rose before him, dim and beautiful. He loved music, — of course. He had even, long ago, before Karl came, listened to this selfsame hand-organ with respectful curiosity. Karl had praised his first efforts on that piano which had been banished from some strange necessity.
What if he, Tony, could be a real musician some day and earn money ? It seemed to him a very easy life, pleasanter than most. It seemed to involve teaching one or two young women to play; it also involved writing a great amount of music and taking it to a large printing-place, to a man who always sent it back parceled very neatly.
While Tony was cogitating thus, Karl walked into the room hurriedly. His thin face was flushed and happy, his dreamy eyes alight.
" Ach, the good boy ! " he cried, cheerily, " and he has done all this ? So much ? It is goot — very goot," he added, scanning Tony's work, which had improved in certainty, including the execution of G clefs.
" That man — did he want your music, Karl ? " inquired the boy, instinctively feeling that the change in his friend's manner was due to some miracle in connection with the publisher.
"Ja," answered Lanzberg. "Yes, Tonee, and he has paid for it, moreover. And besides this goot thing, I begin to hope. Ach, yes ! I shall not alway be here."
" Going away ? " hesitated Tony.
" Some joy-bringing day," said Karl. " Come now, with me. You cannot see the mother to-day. We shall eat together, we two."
Antonio Guiseppe Monaldi listened to his friend's music that evening with even closer attention than usual. . He was thinking not only of the melody, but of the connection between the sounds he loved and the multitudinous notes he was wont to copy for Karl on paper. He had learned to read a little while the piano yet abode there and, on this evening, he listened quite critically, as became an embryonic composer. He drank eagerly the tones which his friend's inspired bow drew from the violin, and reflected that he had never played so happily before.
Those little laughter-notes that struck a thrill of mirth through him, singing hope always ; those dreamy phrases that said plainly : " Once, long ago, oh, very long ago— one forgets when — it was cold and dark. For the cold and the dark and hunger always go together. . . . Sut that was very long ago ! . . . "
The violin laughed a little, softly to itself, and Tony distinctly heard it murmur, " Ach ! " in dreamy retrospection. Then came such a song — a song of days to come and of the country, where there were no signs that said, " Keep off the grass " ; such a place as Tony intended to take his mother to, just as soon as she recovered from that illness. Tony had heard the Old Lady on the First Floor say that it was this tenement that had made her
sick, although, why hving in a particular place should make anyone ill, was more than Tony understood. He reflected that it must be the cause of his headache, however ; he had lived there so long. . .
Karl, looking at the child's wide eyes and flushed cheeks, laughed a little and stood absently humming for a moment.
The light died out of his face ; the old, weary lines settled about his young jnouth ; he drew a sharp breath. Then, seeing the dumb anxiety with which Tony was regarding him, he said, gently, " Have I frightened thee ? Listen then," and drew his bow softly over the strings again.
That which he played was very low, and oh, how sweet I But there was such a sadness in it that Tony felt suddenly very hungry and undei^ized and thought of his mother downstairs. Those cold little shivers that shook the melody sometimes, too, made his throat ache. . . .
" What was it, Karl ? " he asked, when Karl laid down the violin ; and Karl smiled slowly and said " A Nocturne."
Tony had heard of such things as Chopin noctnnies very often. He had also heard Karl speak of Bach fugues and Palestrina. But what manner of composition a fugue might be he had no idea, whereas the word "nocturne" conveyed a distinct impression to his mind.
" I will write a nocturne," he said softly that night, while Karl was out. He stood, pressing his face against the chilly pane and trying to catch sight of the one visible star.
This nocturne should sound just as the dark made him feel — lonesome and rather achy that evening ; and he decided that it should have some shivers in it, if he could possibly put them there. He hummed desperately for a few moments a dreary little air which he had thought of in the afternoon. As soon as Karl had left him, next day, he fell to work. He hummed over the notes which had come to him and thought of more.
From his experience with Karl's old piano and his observations since, he had discovered that when one reached the end of a melody, it was a good idea to go on for several measures with something different or nothing in particular, and at last to come back to the melody again. "Something different," he repeated, "or nothing speciaL . ." He chose the latter plan, as it was less of a drain upon his newly-found inventive powers, and in the course of an hour he felt that he was ready to commit his work to paper. This was the hardest part, Tony thought, as he sat down at the table, having spread thereon one of Karl's manuscripts and a fresh sheet of music-paper. He made a wonderful clef to start with, and encouraged by its elegance he hastened on with the F clef
and a brace. Some time elapsed before the notes appeared, since Tony was obliged to think hard and count the lines and spaces carefully before he could write any of them ; but as this nocturne consisted chiefly of repetitions it was easy enough to copy those notes, and the task was at length accomplished.
To overcome difficulties in the time he consulted all of Karl's music in search of similar circumstances. His methods of making rests he took from Karl's copy ; and liking the appearance of long curved lines here and there over the notes he scattered several throughout his composition.
After meditating the plan of having " shivers " in it, he reluctantly gave it up as an impracticable one ; for, after all, one could not tell just how to make them or where to put them or whether they should point up or down, and besides this, people might find some difficulty in playing them. Tony resolved to be concert.
Before noon he ran down-stairs in a state of great excitement to see the Old Lady on the First Floor. She liked Antonio and had sometimes coaxed him into her room where he sat, very shy and uncomfortable, staring at the little old melodeon which she would not relinquish, even in this abode, because a daughter of hers had played on it in some bygone golden day.
Having astonished the Old Lady by requesting that he might be allowed to play on her " queer little pianner," Tony marched into the room and, with a beating heart, perched on a chair before the instrument, to try his nocturne.
He discovered that a melodeon, especially a very old one, is a strange thing. It would not sing at all. He pressed the keys heavily; not a sound came. At this unexpected reception of the nocturne, Tony turned to look at the Old Lady for an explanation. She sat comfortably nodding and smiUng at him.
" It won't go," said Tony.
" You hev ter put your feet to it, I guess. . . . My darter used ter," she explained.
Tony wondered upon what portion of its time-worn frame he was to place his feet. He noticed a small strip of green carpet suggestively worn. He rested both feet upon it and nearly slid from his seat when this carpet gave way unexpectedly. Tony touched the first note, cautiously ; it mewed piteously, and there was a disheartening silence until the next note came. Tony was disturbed, but for all that, when he had played laboriously the whole of it, and repeated it again and again, he was a proud and happy boy.
He put some notes in the bass this time, and wrote them with a pencil on his manuscript ; and when the Old Lady, who sat
nodding at him, said, " Sweet, pretty," he rose to depart, feeling quite professional. During luncheon with Karl, and until the latter had left him, he maintained absolute silence concerning his work. He would not tell anyone just yet. But as soon as he was alone, he fell to work again. The manuscript was quickly copied and those bass notes added. It. seemed to Tony that there were few of them, but he reflected that no one can do as much with his left hand as with his right, unless, indeed, he be left-handed.
The whole composition seemed astonishingly short now that it was finished ; — it only occupied a few bars.
But Tony wrote " Nocturne " heavily above it, and feeling the lack of something in the upper left-hand comer — something ending in oso^ he found on referring to his guide, and he inscribed the word " Maestoso " there, and rose, with burning cheeks.
Finished at last ! How beautiful it looked ! How black the notes were ! (The blank spaces made it look as if he had done it all quickly, — easily!) How promising those G clefs were, and the ^* ff " in the centre I All his own, too I . . . And some day he would be famous, and people would play this and say : " What ! Don't you know this ! • It's the Monaidi Nocturne I "
Tony snatched his hat and his music and ran down-stairs. He knew where the publisher lived. He had been there often with Karl. He,' too, would have a violin and a piano some day; he would take his mother away to the country, where she would get well ; he would make a fortune. They would never come back to this house — this house that made people's heads ache.
As he was passing the Old Lady's door, she came out into the hall suddenly, shook her head at Tony and then kissed him emphatically.
Something in her manner gave the child a sudden chill of dread.
" Poor little thing," she said, quaveringly. " Lying dying."
Tony knew that she was speaking of his mother, and in a certain terror and desperation he ran down the steps as fast as his legs would cany him.
The word " dying " conveyed to him a new, strange impression of hoiTor, but he felt that if he could only sell his nocturne and take his mother away, he could keep this phantom at bay.
Yes, yes — the nocturne would end all their troubles; there would be no more illness — no hunger — no .
He had reached the publisher's abode, and straight to the publisher he ran, breaking in upon that gentleman's revery and holding out to him the sheet of paper — forgetting even to be shy in this new teiror. " Mine" Tony gasped, " it's mine ! "
The publisher looked at him, then at the paper, laughed a great deal and then frowned.
Tony was staring at him in blank-eyed unhappiness. He knew very well that he had never intended the nocturne to be funny. He was struck dumb with bitter amazement
" Take it away," said the man. " 1 am very busy, don't interrupt me."
Tony grasped the paper and then suddenly sobbed aloud in the anguish of his overcharged soul.
" Mother ? " questioned the publisher, not unkindly. " What's the matter ? "
" Dip— dip "
" Diphtheria?" prompted the busy man. " H”; run along now," and, handing him a dime, he pushed the broken-hearted composer from his sanctum.
Karl Lanzberg, coming home at dusk, found the child crouching by the window, in his own room, feverish and half-delirious. The Monaldi Nocturne had failed to accomplish its mission, for Tony's mother was dead and the boy himself had symptoms of the mysterious illness with
Wi^r ' ;jt. the unpleasant name.
•0^ jf , The Old Lady who owned
the melodeon and who had praised Tony's composition, was the only one who could have told Karl anything about that effort ; but such old ladies forget quite easily, and the little composer that week took a very long jdumey indeed, — and never came back to tell Karl about it
But it came to pass, by the irony of Fate, that one day, years after, when Karl Lanzberg had become a famous musician and had died, the folio wing, paragraph appeared in a newspaper :
" Among the manuscripts of the late celebrated Karl Lanzberg was discovered a hastily-penned fragment, evidently embodying the motif into a nocturne.
" Most of the notes were merely indicated, and the whole was suggestive of a vague musical idea, carelessly expressed ; but the relic was of great interest as an unknown sketch by so great an artist. It was sold at auction with the rest, for a large sum, and the proceeds of the sale were sent hy the trustees to the Fresh Air Fund of this city."