Friday, 23 May 2014
The Piano at the heart of The Housemaid's Daughter
Music is at the centre of my novel, The Housemaid's Daughter.
For the two main characters Cathleen Harrington and her housemaid, Ada, music is an inspiration - and a refuge in troubled times. For Ada, it goes on to become a crucial path out of poverty.
My personal piano is a Zimmerman, built in Leipzig in 1911, and at some stage taken on a journey to Africa. After a full reconditioning, I bought it in South Africa in the early 1980s - struck by its magnificent tone and that "extra" that a great piano gives.
When thinking about the piano that would play such a vital role in the book, there was no need to look further. The Zimmerman became Cathleen's beloved piano, and later Ada's. Because Cath and Ada are better pianists than me, I made sure to give them pieces to play in the book that would have stretched the venerable Zimmerman, and revealed its true richness! Liszt's La Campanella, Chopin waltzes and nocturnes, Debussy's Clair de Lune...
I often reflect on what Ada said about music, and the instruments we play.
Every piano has its own heart, and deserves to be given its due if you want it to recognise you and give you its music.
And, later, when life became harder for her
Music - and maybe life? - depends less on the quality of the instrument or the player, than it does on the commitment with which it is played...
My old Zimmerman is nearing the end of its journey. After many years in the heat of Africa, it returned to the northern hemisphere with me in the mid-90s, and has been here ever since. A little faded and somewhat bruised, but still possessed of that great heart.