Mondays With Mozart

Sarah had dreamed of performing as a pianist in the world’s most prestigious concert halls. Instead she finds herself in Munich, playing Mozart in the musty sitting room of a very elderly German. It is there that she explores his Nazi past, redefines her own relationship with music, and considers what is most important to her – both in life and in death.

Read an excerpt from my forthcoming debut novel here. Watch for the whole book coming soon!

Mondays With Mozart (an excerpt)

It was still sleeting as Sarah wandered through the Altstadt, the Old Town, letting the inside of the open umbrella rest on the top of her grey wool beanie. A few brave tourists were looking lost, some wearing plastic garbage bags over their coats, bulging like walking sausages. She passed a Starbucks and St. Peter’s, Munich’s oldest church, meandered right, left and right again through a few side streets and almost missed it. She double-backed and took a deep breath as she read the aged sign: Notenfachgeschäft Bauer.
A bell sounded when she opened the door. The walls were lined to the ceiling with disorderly shelves stuffed seemingly randomly with spines reading “Strauss”, “Brahms”, “Debussy”, “Schoenberg”, or “Chopin”. The scores weren’t used, but the shop reeked of time nevertheless. Yellowed photos of tuxedoed men were signed “für Franz” by Vladimir Horowitz, Alfred Brendel and Glenn Gould. Sarah tried not to touch anything; she felt like she was in a museum and half expected a guard to admonish her at any time.
Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?” An elderly man with spectacles stood behind a glass counter, skeptically peering down his nose at Sarah while asking how he could help her. He was spindly with a wrinkled face and a muted paisley silk scarf tied meticulously around his neck. Sarah looked around quickly, spotting a book of Czerny exercises on the top of a stack of scores on a small, marble-top table. No one seemed to really care about poor Czerny’s other compositions, but many young pianists religiously repeated his monotonous exercises.
“I’m looking for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20,” she heard her voice say.
“Hm, D Minor. I believe I sold my last copy earlier this week. With piano accompaniment or the full orchestra version?”
“With piano accompaniment is fine. I would prefer the G. Henle edition, if possible.” Even if she could dig one up and fit it in her apartment, an orchestra would stress her out. G. Henle was a German publisher known for remaining faithful to composers’ original scores.
Freilich. I’ll be back in a moment.” The man disappeared behind a tired tapestry dividing the small shop from an even tinier office.
Sarah hadn’t even noticed the other, even older man in the shop. He’d buried his nose in a shelf with a faded, hand-written sign reading “Romantic works for piano solo”. He addressed her in English, but with a heavy German accent.
Sarah didn’t feel like engaging in small talk and stuck to German. “Ja. But I live here in Munich.”
“The Americans are good people. They have elected some unfortunate presidents over the years, sadly. But I will never forget what they did for us. I have never been to America, but I know its people are good at heart.”
Sarah smiled and nodded, letting her eyes drift around the shop for the third or fourth time, up and down the chaotic shelves and across the overlapping oriental rugs on the floor. Most Germans she met wanted to know, as they would put it, how her countrymen could possibly have lost their minds and elected Donald Trump. She tried to avoid superficial conversations about American politics when she could. How could she explain decades of cultural development in a few sentences to someone who’d already settled on an opinion?
She did know a lot of good Americans, Sarah thought, but also a few jerks and egotists. The same was true of Germans. At that moment, her phone beeped. It was alien in this preserved analogue haven. She reached for it, but only hastily glanced at the lock screen before burying it in her pocket again.
“Theo Vogl: Hey I’ve got a venue for our project. Hope you didn’t…”
She would read the rest later.
“You are a pianist? You have the hands of a pianist.” The man gripped the curved handle of his cane with bent fingers. He was hunched with age, but would not have been tall in his youth. His camel wool ankle-length winter coat was still buttoned to his neck, even though it was warm in the cramped shop. His dark green beret was set at a cheeky tilt and had a military air to it.
“I used to be.”
“No such thing,” he said, frowning slightly and audibly tapping his cane on the Turkish rug beneath their feet.
Just then, the shop owner reappeared shaking his head. “I don’t have it in stock and the publisher says it can take several weeks. Would you like to place an order?”
“The Henle edition of Mozart’s D Minor Concerto? I have a copy.” The elderly customer butted in with a straight face. “It’s from the mid-80s, probably before you were born, but Mozart hasn’t made any changes in the score since then. I will sell it to you for a small but appropriate fee.” He turned to the shop owner, “That is, if you don’t mind, lieber Franz.”
“As the lady likes,” Franz conceded cordially.
Before Sarah could utter a word, the deal, it seemed, had been sealed.
“It will cost you one American dollar. I don’t think that will be too much, will it?” He produced a calling card that also appeared to be from the mid-80s and read “Otto Steinmann”. “You can call me tomorrow afternoon to arrange an appointment to pick it up. Call after 2 p.m., after my mid-day nap.”
Sarah slipped the card into her pocket as she stepped out of the shop, pulling her scarf over her lips and breathing into it. She felt her phone in her coat pocket and remembered Theo’s message.
“Hey I’ve got a venue for our project. Hope you didn’t forget 😉 The mixer works now but was a bitch to fix. Didn’t get home until 4. Going back tonight to watch Andreas’s band if you wanna come. Need to kiss you again ASAP 😘”
She remembered his hands, his long fingers, round short finger nails, and the ink spot on his left palm. He was one of those people with gravity, but she was unsure where his orbit would take her and couldn’t see over the horizon. She slipped her phone back into her pocket and put her gloves on. She would try to wait until tomorrow to write him back. It was almost 11:00 a.m. Sarah decided to cross Marienplatz, Munich’s main square, on her way home and crane her neck like a tourist to watch the famous Glockenspiel which depicts a 16th-century royal wedding featuring a chivalrous tournament of knights.