John F. Hanley

Beethoven challenges Caroline

Chapter Twenty-four Page 207

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No 23 in F Minor, op 57 Appassionata 3rd movement Allegro ma non troppo

This is the piece Caroline is practising when Jack arrives at her house.

She reached out and grabbed my wrist. ‘How can I get the passion into this? Do I have to be a man?’ Her intensity was frightening. What could I say? I didn’t know much about music. I glanced at the sheets on the piano’s deck. Beethoven. So I had been right about that. Piano Sonata No 23 in F Minor, op 57 and, in brackets, Appassionata. Bit of a clue that, but what was she asking? Was it about strength or feeling? ‘I asked Schnabel the same question, you know,’ she continued before I could respond. ‘We were in his piano room at Tremezzo, overlooking Lake Como. Do you know what he said?’ I shook my head. I remember her writing about Schnabel and his extraordinary abilities. She confessed that he’d frightened the pants off her. I hoped she hadn’t meant that literally, as he was old enough to be her grandfather. ‘He laughed and told me to stop trying so hard. What use was that? How can I get the passion, Beethoven’s manic intensity, those roaring fortissimos without bloody trying hard?’ ‘Perhaps —’ But she cut me off, pulled me towards her and pointed into the piano. ‘Look, that soundboard, it’s beginning to split; the plate’s fine and, yes, there’s Cortot’s signature. My bastard father must have paid a fortune for this pile of junk. Oh, Christ. I know it’s not the piano. It’s me. ‘Look, Jack, I’ve watched you play water polo, the way you and the others throw the ball. It seems so effortless, yet so powerful. I’ve tried and it’s just pathetic. I can’t get the momentum. I’m not weak, so why can even the youngest boy throw a ball better than me?’ I was incredulous. It was as though none of the unpleasantness between us had happened — as though we were still a close couple. I would never understand women.