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  writings of  Peter Tammer  






It’s the dark of night. The light is off in the lounge room. There’s a faint light coming from the record player and from the hallway beyond the lounge room.


The house is very quiet. I’m playing a new LP I’ve just bought with some money I’ve earned working over a holiday break at the Victorian Railways, as a porter at a suburban station.


I’m lying stretched out on the carpet, a horrible floral-patterned Axminster A1, Mum’s pride and joy. The music is Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier Sonata” which is being played for me by Mr. Wilhelm Kempff. And my Dad is sitting on a couch in the darkened room, not smoking. Is he listening, or is he thinking about some deep worry? Is he going through a financial crisis which we may only hear about some years later?


Is he wondering about his sixteen year old first-born who is more than a handful, but whom he loves, despite all the friction?


I have just purchased this LP, it’s one of the first classical LPs I have ever bought. Liszt was the first, and then either Maureen or I had bought Beethoven’s “Eroica”. The year before I had taken up playing the piano again, having recovered from the dreaded Mr. Dempster and his brutal attacks upon my ribs with his stumpy fingers. I was now studying piano under Mr. Kevin Casey. I was enthused. I loved the Eroica, and had just read a book on the life of Beethoven by a man called Emil Ludwig.


And wow! This music! What a high! In particular, my favourite, the third movement. “Adagio Sostenuto”. Followed by the extraordinary fugal fourth movement, “Largo”. And I thought Kempff was just the most wonderful pianist in the world, having not yet heard Gieseking, Schnabel, or Solomon, nor any of the many other virtuosi who would soon follow.


This is a new stage in my life. I’m really now just starting to make a move from the simpler ‘attractive’ pieces e.g., “Moonlight Sonata”, Chopin’s “Nocturnes”, Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsodies”, into more ‘demanding’ music. Music which is still wonderfully lyrical, ecstatically beautiful, but more cerebral, more formal, more structured.


However, I’m a really poor player, struggling with even the simpler pieces. OK, passable on the first movement of the “Moonlight”, collapsing after three pages into the vigorous third movement. But I give it a try and practice a fair number of hours, considering I’m now at Matriculation and studying quite hard.


I’m in a state of blissful reverie, and for some reason which I still don’t understand, I was deeply conscious that my father was also in some similar state. I’m never to find out what it is that he is experiencing, because he doesn’t talk about it at all. Not that he can’t speak, he just chooses not to. To this day I don’t know what was the nature of the reverie which we shared, whether he too was having a musical high, given that he had no musical training in European classical music, and also no education beyond a chequered career in primary school in Lebanon, where his father reputedly dragged him out of school, frequently, while still a child of eight or nine, to do adult work, buying and butchering livestock.


Later in life when I was in my forties I took Mum and Dad to see “Padre Padrone” which I had already seen a couple of times. It reminded me very much of Dad’s stories of his life in Lebanon, especially his hardships as a child. Even though it was set in a Sardinia I think it made a big impression on him, but all he said was that his own father, Jiddie, was much harsher than the father in the film.


I’m frequently reminded of this night whenever I play my favourites in the wee hours, as I did last night, when by coincidence I listened to the “Hammerklavier Sonata”, No. 29 performed by Emil Gilels, and then followed it with the other late Sonatas 30, 31, 32 played by Schnabel. These four last piano works by Beethoven are totally overwhelming works. One is forced to use that much overused word “sublime”.


Another coincidence... I had very recently reconnected with Hal, who lived not far from my place in those old days. Now we’re both fifty years older. He was astonished to hear from me for the first time since we were twenty, when I’d asked him to play some Bach organ selections for my Easter film, “And He Shall Rise Again”.


During this phone call he told me two surprising things. First that he remembered me quite well because I had introduced him to the “Hammerklavier Sonata”. I had entirely forgotten that. He also told me he was struggling with prostate cancer which was diagnosed about eighteen months earlier and was inoperable. Now he’s undergoing radiation and hormone treatment, wondering how much time he has left! He’s still deeply into music, and works three days per week as a Radiologist! How ironic! We’ve agreed that we’ll meet over the Xmas period.


However, what surprised me most was to find out that it was not just Hal who had influenced me with his deep love of Bach, which became so important in my life, but that I had left a memorable mark upon his life and musical interests. That was just wonderful to hear.


Anyhow back to my Dad and me, and that evening.


I often wonder in these wee small hours: just what was he thinking about that night?


Was he mulling over some financial problem which he could not discuss with anyone?


Was he wondering about which horses to place bets on the following Saturday?


Was he wondering what was to become of his troublesome first born child?


Or was he just floating with this music, finding that he actually liked it, even loved it, unable to discuss it at all, because he lacked the musical training, or the jargon which often goes with it, but nevertheless, floating in the same high reverie as his erratic sixteen year old son, who had so impulsively spent his entire first pay-packet on this strangely beautiful music which he’d brought into his house?


In the years to come this father-son relationship would not be quite so harmonious. Despite all the troubles we had, despite all the arguments and many irreconcilable differences which erupted, I never forget that this man who came from Lebanon at the age of seventeen, to a country which was so different from the country of his birth, who fled from a brutal father, and who, despite an almost total lack of education, together with my mother Rita, managed to raise five children whom they fed, clothed and educated, and gave every one of their children the same gift of music which was given to me.




June 2010