psychopath was also a very gifted composer and musician. He had no formal
training, yet he could pick up any instrument and play it, master it in a year
Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
watched as the two students made their way onto the stage; the voluptuous
goddess and the unfriendly genius. Lizzie, holding her violin, immediately took
the eye, she seemed to ooze sex, with her large bosom that she always seemed to
be struggling to contain and her bottom was all curves. The professor quickly
looked away, it had been a long time since he had had an affair with one of his
students; and he wasnt going to start on that path again, even if he was
capable of it which he doubted.
partner Will, was not at all prepossessing; whilst undoubtedly handsome, he was
unsmiling and arrogant looking; giving the impression of someone well aware of
his self-worth, however, he was regarded amongst both staff and fellow students
as the best musician of the year, and possibly for several years, and he was
the reason why there were so many people in the auditorium for what was just a
Will sat down at the
piano stool, put his fingers through his hair and then stretched them out in
front of him before giving Lizzie the faintest of nods, and they started to
play Beethovens sonata for violin and piano in C minor.
was assured; strong when it needed to be and passionate, but with the
underlying rhythm which would never waver. The violin gasped in sympathy,
pushing against the rhythm, and then succumbing to it for a few bars, and for
awhile they were together as one, until the piano pushed forward into a faster
tempo and the violin sobbed on its own before replying to Wills playing.
There were forty or
so students sitting around the auditorium, many in pairs, watching the couple,
all concentrating hard, and even a few other teachers were there; Mrs Williams,
two seats away from Professor Purcell, and Mr Finzi near the front, seemingly
asleep but in reality playing every note in his head and happy with what he
Lizzie face looked
passionate; her eyes half open whilst her white breasts pushed hard against her
black dress as if desperate to escape from its confines, and her violin pushed
hard into her soft white neck. For a few moments the professor imagined
undressing her, so that she stood naked in front of him, but then the piano
came in again and the two performers drawing towards the end of the piece, came
in together as one; as close as it was possible for two humans to be.
As the applause
echoed around the auditorium, Lizzie gazed down at Will, and Professor Purcell
wished that for just once in his life he had inspired such a look of devotion
and unrestrained passion.
wonderful she told Will, I have never played anything as well, and
it was so exhilarating. Thank you.
He continued to look
at his fingers, as if he was thinking of something else; he appeared as cool
and contained as when they had been playing together moments earlier.
You were two
slow in the second movement, especially in the twelfth bar, I was having to
slow down. He sounded tetchy, and in the third movement too. You
just get carried away and lose the tempo.
sorry she told him, her ecstasy swiftly draining away.
Purcell was there and Dr Finzi, I felt quite embarrassed.
could practice together
He brushed his hair
in the mirror, with the comb he always carried around with him.
the point, the piece is played. Maybe you should work with Gerald next time. I
think that you would work well together. Hes more your level.
He walked out of the
dressing room without another word, and she heard murmurs of congratulations
from the various people who had waited for him and then she sank down, her head
in her hands.
handsome Ingrid murmured, I can see why you choose to have your
He plays very
well too; concert level. Although you are right, he is handsome in an austere
sort of way. Her accent betrayed the fact that she was from Vienna not
here in Cologne, with its massive cathedral that overlooked the Rhine.
They watched the
young man sitting at the electric piano, who was playing intently as if unaware
of the small throng of office workers in the plaza, who surrounded him,
listening intently. He came to the end of the piece and did not even
acknowledge the scattering of applause, but put a comb through his hair,
although it did not need it, and then stretched his hands out in front of him
Anna nibbled on her
sandwich, she savoured the dark bread, but never took her eyes off the
He is very
good; I could listen to him forever.
Around them the sun
shone, reflected countless times in the glass windows of the offices that
surrounded the plaza.
know you were musical. Ingrid said, but then she did not know that much
about her friend, who was just somebody she had lunch with, or who very
occasionally she accompanied to the cinema.
embarrassed; I used to play a lot when I was young; piano and clarinet
mostly. I did think of going to study it at university, maybe at home in
Austria or even here in Germany. But I wasnt good enough, not
dont know. I am happy with my job; I have always loved books, so working
on a literary magazine is a beautiful dream, and I have a piano in the flat
which I play for fun; fortunately it is on the ground floor so I was able to
get it in. He (pointing at the pianist) is far better than I could ever
What is this
piece? Ingrid asked after a moment, I am sure I know it.
Of course, it
is the Goldberg Variations by Bach.
a bit repetitive. Why dont you go and talk to him when he has
Ingrid looked at her
in surprise; she knew Anna was shy and could not imagine her taking the
initiative with someone she liked.
he is staying with me, he has been at my flat for over a
Ingrid looked at her
in admiration, you kept that quiet.
hasnt been long really. But I do love him, I could not imagine him
leaving me now.
Oh is he
planning on going.
Yes, I keep
asking him to stay, at least for the summer. We have got something, and I
dont know why he cannot just enjoy himself for a bit, playing the piano
here and there, and taking baths with me.
thing Ingrid laughed.
The pianist finished
and there was another smattering of applause. Anna said goodbye to her
friend and with a thoughtful look on her face, picked up her bag and walked
over to her lover and, without stopping, stroked him lightly on the shoulder as
she walked past. Ingrid noticed that whilst several men and even a
couple of women - had looked at her friend as she hurried over towards her
office, the pianist did not even give her a glance.
I am worried
about Anna, the young woman spoke to the receptionist, I
havent seen her for a few days and when I rang her flat it just rings
looked at her for a moment and then called someone, and an older man came out
and took her to an office.
She did not
come in on Thursday last week and we havent seen her since.
Oh, so did
someone check her flat?
Yes, on Monday
I went round and knocked, but she did not answer. Perhaps she wasnt happy
and wanted to leave; she was quite a private person with no close friends here,
she was very quiet.
But she loved
this job, it was her ambition, and she was doing so well, or thats what
she said. Did you call her next of kin?
I rang her
brother, but he did not seem too concerned, apparently she has done it before,
just upped and left. I posted a letter through her door asking her to contact
us. I am not sure what else we are supposed to do.
always ring the police.
I doubt if it
is that serious, people are allowed to quit their jobs if they want
But it is so
out of character.
The police seemed
similarly unconcerned, but, perhaps just to shut Ingrid up, they managed to get
a key for her flat and break in, but that is as far as they would go.
nothing to suggest she was done away with. The policewoman told her the
next day, her flat was tidy as if she had packed a few things. She
isnt from Cologne and may have gone back to stay with family or a friend
back in Vienna.
Ingrid leaned back
on the uncomfortable plastic seat in the interview room, and looked at the
uninterested young woman, who clearly wanted to get this over with and deal
with something more important.
But she had no
family, well none that she spoke to. I am really worried about her.
I am sure she
will contact you if she wants to. You said you werent that
I am not sure
she was close to anyone, but I know that she was happy in her job and she
wasnt the sort to just disappear without letting anybody know.
She thought for a
moment, knowing the policewoman wanted her to leave, what about the
pianist? He was living with her.
pianist? the young policewoman asked, Anna lived alone, the
neighbours said there were never any visitors.
There is a
pianist who plays in the plaza near where we both work; he is English I think.
She told me that he was living with her.
First we have
heard of this, there was no sign of anybody else in the flat. She may have made
it up, she was quite lonely by all accounts. But we will investigate. What was
remember. Come to think of it he hasnt been there for a few
Well if he
does return be sure to let us know, she stood up to go, and Ingrid
reluctantly did the same, we will list her as missing and see if anything
comes up. She may even have run away with this pianist; it would explain why
you havent seen him.
On Monday the
pianist was still not there; a smiley quartet were playing something by
Schubert and Ingrid watched them for a few moments and hoped that Anna was
somewhere with the rather cold pianist, listening to him playing and sharing
languorous baths, but somehow it felt unlikely. She continued to pester the
police until they made it clear that she should not visit them again, and then
she spoke to Annas brother who seemed heartbreakingly uncaring, and she
wondered if anybody but her cared about Anna.
Eventually she gave
up; she had a new job in another part of the city and began to make friends,
but sometimes when she was walking down Colognes main high street she
would see a familiar figure in front of her and her heart would stop and she
would run after her, but it was never Anna.
Two years later
Ingrid went to a concert in Berlin; her lover was an older man who was a fan of
classical music and as they had done mostly what she wanted on their holiday
she agreed to go. Already bored, she watched through half-closed eyes as the
pianist walked on stage, passing his fingers through his hair as he did so, and
she came fully awake.
him she told her lover, who already had his pompous classical music face
on, he killed my friend.
But her lover just
looked at her in that dismissive way he had started to affect and turned away
to enjoy the music. And when the pianist a William K - trilled
beautifully, she wondered if it was him or whether her friend had imagined the
whole thing, somehow close up it seemed impossible to imagine someone so
talented as a murderer. Anyway she had more important things to think about; in
particular how to survive another three days with this big bear of a man, who
bored her beyond words.
He hit her before he
left; a hard punch in the stomach that left her clutching her tummy in agony;
she was still winded as he walked out of the door and got in his car to set off
for London. He liked to drive, in fact it was the only fanciful thing about
him, the only thing he seemed to do for the pleasure of the thing, unless
hitting your wife and daughter was also pleasurable, rather than a
arent you happy? Maria had once asked him.
But I am
hungry and Anna is crying all the time.
Maria could have
pointed out that he lived in a beautiful house in the Yorkshire Dales with a
wife and daughter who would adore him if he gave them the chance, that he was
doing a job that she assumed he loved, and he was one of the best-known living
pianists in the world and thus money had not ever been a problem for them,
especially as he would play anything for anyone, if they paid enough. Yet he
seemed miserable all of the time, even when playing the piano, as if he were
incapable of enjoying life, and that each day was filled with difficult tasks
that he had to negotiate his way through.
make you happy? She asked.
My dinner and
for Anna to stop crying.
She is only
two years old, of course she cries.
But I need to
practice, I have a concert in less than a month.
She had sighed and
left Anna weeping in her bedroom whilst she finished cooking him his
Anna was lying on
her bed whilst her mother packed. If it had just been Maria, she would have
been finished by now; just some clothes and toiletries in a case would be all
that she needed, but Anna had so much stuff. Although Will was frugal,
especially with other people, his daughter had still accumulated many
possessions; in part because she was Marias parents only grandchild and
they were a very generous couple who ignored their son-in-laws grim
comments about spoiling children.
Anna watched her as
she walked into her room.
What are you
doing? she asked, her face still red where her father had slapped her,
which is why Maria had intervened and been punched in her turn.
We are going
on a holiday, I am just packing some of your stuff.
forget Big Ted.
Will daddy be
considered why he had married her, or why he stayed with her when he clearly
did not love her. Perhaps he just needed a wife; someone to enable him to do
his job without bothering about the trivial things in life, such as meals and
buying clothes, and someone to have regular sex with without having to go to
the bother of seducing somebody each time. She used to ask do you love
me?, but now she never bothered, because it had just seemed to confuse
Later as she and
Anna drove down to her parents house down in Hertfordshire, she thought
about Will and what he was doing now; he had gone down to London to play a
concert at the Barbican, Mozarts twenty-third piano concerto; it was the
opening piece of the concert and she could picture him sitting in his dressing
room flexing his fingers and looking at the score, and then running a comb
through his hair time and again.
Although she could
imagine what he would be doing, she could not imagine what he would be
thinking, but then she never could. Would he be feeling guilt about hitting
Anna and her? Somehow she doubted it; he would be preparing for his mind for
the concert, blocking out any disturbing thoughts and making sure he had
urinated before he went on stage, no concern about anyone else, not even his
wife and daughter.
daddy? asked Anna a few minutes later from the back seat of the car.
He was probably on
stage now; a slightly confused look at the audience and then he sits down at
the piano, ignoring the applause. And then listening to the orchestra before
coming in with another melody. Was this the only way he could communicate with
his fellow man? Through the piano, repeating themes, and then elaborating on
them? Almost a showing off, a preening. And afterwards he would walk
away, so that by the time the concert was finished he would be halfway back to
Yorkshire, not realising that he was coming home to an empty house.
television that evening; he had to practice in the morning and as he liked to
get up early to do so, he would need to go to bed early. If Maria had been
there she would have made him some Ovaltine and made sure that his pyjamas were
folded neatly and on top of his pillow ready for him, but unfortunately now
that she was gone he would have to do it himself. He sighed petulantly as he
put on the kettle.
Once in bed he found
to his annoyance that he could not sleep straight away, something that rarely
happened. For some reason he thought about Anna; the clingy Viennese girl who
he had had to kill because she would not let him go; who threatened to follow
him or to go to the police and accuse him of rape, which wasnt
technically true. For years he had forgotten about her; he had not even
realised that he had named his daughter after her for a few months. As he lay
there, he remembered her; her dark hair and brown eyes, looking up at him with
what might have been love, before they flickered shut. Oh these women who had
ruined his life.
Disturbed by the
past, he got back up and walked into his daughters bedroom; he noticed a
doll that was left on the floor and put it on the shelf; so that it stood
straight. But what was the point? He liked everything neat, although presumably
everything would soon be taken away and he knew that he would never see his
daughter again. For a moment he felt something in his bowels and swallowed a
tear, even though he knew that his daughter had only ever been a distraction
and a problem for him.
by an emotion that he could not understand he went back to bed. As he lay,
tightly curled up he could smell Maria; her fragrance so strong as if she was
lying beside him. Had he really killed her? The knife in her flesh; her sharp
cry of surprise?
But why had he done
it? Although she had left him he could have carried on, met somebody else or
hired a servant or a secretary to cater for his needs? He could find somebody
to have sex with; an arrangement as they did so well in France.
Perhaps that was what he had needed all along.
So why? He had not
even thought about it; as if possessed by some kind of demon or monster he had
driven down to St. Albans to her parents house, where he knew she would
be. She had opened the door and foolishly let him in, although he did not think
What do you
They moved into the
kitchen, and he noticed where the knives were, kept in a wooden block close
But you hit me
and you hit Anna. I cannot live with you anymore. I gave you
He looked at her
Can I have a
drink please? It was a long drive and I am thirsty.
She sighed and
walked towards the kettle, he swiftly moved across the kitchen and pulled the
largest knife out of the block and before she had realised what was going on,
he had pushed her hard against the wall, and thrust the knife into her belly
twice. She gasped and after a moment silently slid to the floor, whilst he
watched her curiously.
And then he had
heard his daughter crying upstairs he had not thought about her since
getting to the house, being so concentrated upon his wife - he ran up, and
stopped by the doorway of her bedroom looking at his daughter, the knife tight
in his hand, his wifes blood on the blade.
Anna was talking
with Big Ted, pretending to give him a drink, her momentary bout of sadness
over. After watching her carefully for a few minutes as if she were a stranger,
he raised the knife, but then he heard a noise outside and after a second he
put the knife into the laundry basket and walked downstairs and out of the
front door, and drove back to Yorkshire.
He woke up slightly
later than he had planned, but he felt refreshed and happy, despite the fact
that he would have to make his own coffee and porridge. He had a concert in
Dublin in a months time and was to play Shostakovichs first and
second piano sonatas, so as he ate, he thought about the music and how he would
tackle the two pieces.
He sat down in front
of his Steinway piano. The sheet music was waiting for him, ready to be
transformed into sound; but to his horror when he looked at it, ready to play
the music, it was all dots and lines and meant nothing to him, he could not
understand what it wanted, what it meant. He tried to play some scales to get
his brain working, but his hands would not move in the way they were supposed
to, they were like blocks of woods banging against the piano keys with no
rhythm and no melody.
He sat there lost,
desperately stretching his fingers, unaware of the increasingly loud bangs on
his door and then the crash as it came off its hinges and fell forward. And
as the house was filled with the sound of shouting and heavy boots, he
started to play.