Peter Goldsworthys coming of age novel Maestro discusses the implications of lost dreams, deep regret and human limitations, but also delivers a message of encouragement and hope. The protagonist, Paul Crabbe, is raised with a sense of self-entitlement and a predestined career as a concert pianist, but is forced to deal with an inability to attain perfection or concert glory. The high hopes of his parents eventually give way to the realization that their son lacks the rubato and musical flair for a performance career. Likewise, the novels namesake, Eduard Keller, loses his faith in society during World War Two, upon the death of his wife and child. This traumatic experience forces Keller to perpetuate his feelings of guilt and regret, so much so, that he lives his life a broken man, but goes to his death with the hope of reuniting with them. Ultimately, Paul learns to appreciate the beauty of music, unfettered by expectation or external influences, and this parallels the realization that the love of his family is the most important thing in his life. Thus, whilst the novel deals with despair and broken dreams, it largely conveys a message of hope and encouragement, of love and family.
John and Nancy Crabbes uncritical fuss and praise for their son, Paul, gives him a false sense of confidence and contributes to his obsession to succeed as a professional pianist. His father exclaims that Paul is going to be better than [him], much better, and his mother toasts his wonderful talent upon receiving his exam results. This contrasts with John Crabbes own personal hopes and dreams that were cut short during the war, as Nancy remarks that your father didnt have the same opportunities as you. It is this repressed ambition that manifests itself during the annual Gilbert and Sullivan performance, as Paul glimpses some frivolous, joyous core that hardship, childhood tragedy and the war had buried inside him too long. As a consequence, Paul becomes the facilitator for his parents ambitions and longings for success.
Paul also develops some ambitions of his own, proclaiming that he wants the centre-stage, up front, and works equally as hard redoubling [his] efforts to defy the theory of limits. Paul not only hopes for success, but believes that he is inherently capable of it. The starkly contrasts with Kellers acerbic criticism, and often derogatory and humiliating remarks, that puts Paul down and lowers his self esteem. Keller rarely compliments his student, and often speaks his mind about Pauls inability to attain musical brilliance. He describes Pauls playing as a forgery in which something was missing. Additionally, Keller prophetically predicts Pauls failure on the concert circuit in Europe, justifying his critique by remarking: better a small hurt now, than a wasted life. Thus, despite his best efforts, Paul dream of becoming a virtuoso eludes him as the Maestro expects: [you are my] best student yes, one in a thousand. But a concert pianist is one in a million. The hope that Pauls parents imbue within him is thus contrasted and contradicted with Kellers lack of faith in his student, and the eventual despondency that Paul experiences through a string of competition losses.
Similarly, Keller also experiences a mixture of hope and despair in his life. Telling Paul that we always hope for the best, Keller hides his true emotions of guilt and anger through a veneer of indifference more complex and contradictory than Paul senses on face value. Indeed, he suffers an acute contempt and self-hatred over the perceived guilt of losing his wife and child to the Nazis. Remarking that I was too insensitive, the Maestro recognizes his youthful arrogance, snickering: Who would harm the wife of Eduard Keller? The depths of his anguish are highlighted when Paul meets with Henisch, who believed that the Maestro [had] died - something that Paul interprets from a metaphorical and psychological standpoint. In this sense, Paul realises the Keller who played with passion and rubato died symbolically and lost hope after his wife and son died in the Holocaust. Moreover, Henisch remarks that if he ever felt the desire to play again, he would hack his fingers off one by one. With hindsight, Paul realizes that Keller could not finish the job of mutilating his hand indicative of the Maestros desire to live out the rest of his life, by atoning for his actions through music. Perhaps his correspondence with his student, Paul, gives Keller a newfound hope to live, and he begins treating his protg as a son through a fathers hardness. His affection and hopes for Paul are indicated by the gift of precious sheet music that he sends to Adelaide, and his rare confessional to Paul on his last night in Darwin. Thus, Keller becomes a changed man, and although he never overcomes the grief of his personal loss, his new student gives him hope for the future.
Conversely, Keller loses his faith in the power of music as a uniting force and the common human denominator. This is analogous to his anger at society, particularly Viennese society, as well as humanity for failing to save his family. For this reason, he remains suspicious as always of beauty and the rhetoric of beauty, and much like Vienna, views life through a prism of ornamental facades, hiding the hypocrisy within a cynical view of society, lacking hope or trust. This is demonstrated by his obsessive interest in human behaviour through maintaining a journal of newspaper clippings that he describes as the goitre of the world. His quest to find meaning in his personal tragedy parallels the cynical stories he collects and studies carefully like [a] doctor.
Pauls mother, Nancy also experiences some despair upon moving to Darwin, as Paul finds her weeping silently because she had left a bluestone villa in the south for this. However as a pragmatic and resourceful housewife, she makes the best of her situation, and adjusts to her new setting, by organizing a social life for her family, as well as leading the local Gilbert and Sullivan society. Another new arrival to Darwin, Bennie Reid, is faced with the threats and bullying of Jimmy Pappas, but refuses to give in or accept defeat. Indeed, Paul notes his precarious situation with nothing to lose no known survival strategy. However, Bennie refuses to back down and bears his scars stoically, with Paul admitting that he has to admire [his] courage. The fact that Bennie is eventually accepted into the prestigious military academy at Nowra, demonstrates that he clings to a hope of a better life after school, throughout the course of the novel.
The Maestros personal dejection is reflected through his rigid arithmetical teaching style, and his rejection of the grandiose operettas he once played in his youth. The quest to find some ultimate discipline, some perfect control to set against the treacheries of emotion is mirrored in the scales and scales that Paul is forced to practice. Ultimately, Keller remarks that silence is the purest music indicative of his personal aversion to music and beauty following the war. It is this worldview and teaching style that negatively impacts on Pauls performances, and ultimately his optimism: In this sense Keller was the worst possible teacher: revealing perfection, and at the same time snatching it away. This gives Paul reason to hope, but with the knowledge that he may never be capable of attaining perfection something that leads to eventual anger and regret.
Ultimately, Paul becomes disillusioned with his musical shortcomings, realizing that I had found my level, my performances frozen into a recurring pattern of Also Rans. This provides a backdrop to his earlier expectation of eisteddfod glory. Pauls single musical victory as a keyboardist for the band Rough Stuff does not produce the expected effect of exaltation, as he feels strangely deflated. It is perhaps ironic that he succeeds where he least expects, as he feels as if the victory handed to the band is frivolous and undeserving. Pauls despair is most vividly enunciated upon Kellers death when he comments that he had reached the end of a long last hope, and the final connection in a genetic lifeline spanning all the way to grandfather Liszt.
On his deathbed, Keller senses that he will rejoin his family after death, providing him with the comfort he longs for: his face tilting upwards toward some imagined source of light and warmth, his eyes shining. This provides a benign and comforting end for a long and troubled life. Much like Keller, Paul is beyond music at this stage: the facilitator of his hopes, dreams and disappointments now becomes a source of consolation and enjoyment: a species of time, and like the world, infinitely complex.
Paul ultimately realizes that his lack of achievement is relatively unimportant, and that achievement and success come in many forms. The life lessons that younger Paul learns from the Maestro solidify in his life experiences and are reflected through the more mature Paul, who frequently comments on his childhood. Thus, he feels that despite his earlier ridiculous dreams, he still [loved] it. In this sense, he looks back on his childhood not with despair but with nostalgia, longing and affection. In addition, Pauls love for the mainstay in his life, Rosie who always seemed able to tell me exactly what I wanted to hear and the birth of his child, give him something to live for and look forward to. This provides the novel with an overall message of hope and encouragement, of personal growth and the realization that to love and be loved are the most important things in life.
In conclusion, whilst despair, anguish and torment are key themes in Maestro, the characters through their resilience, and ultimately through their love of music and each other impart a message of hope. The key idea, is that despair is necessary for hope, and ultimately the achievement of goals and desires. In this respect, Goldsworthy paints an optimistic picture and a celebration of life in all its diversity.