The wind gently tapped at the window panes, chinks of light streaming in through the freshly polished glass.
Anna gazed at the battered, case in front of her. The same battered case that had once been her world; that had once pushed her to perform on the biggest stages in front of hundreds of blurry, unknown faces. But she had failed. She had let the fame get to her head. She knew that now.
She unzipped the case. Holding her breath, she carefully opened the lid, half expecting dazzling rays of gold to emit from within, blinding her. Like in all the films she had seen. But this was real life. This was her life. She stared at the lump of wood before her. As she was growing up, Anna had always watched her mother take out her violin come Sunday evening and play until the first few stars had dotted the night sky. She had wanted to be just like her mother.
Her chest tightened as she pictured her first violin lesson. Her first time meeting Madame Bellegrade. She could still see it so clearly. Madame had took Anna's hands into her own and gripped them tightly.
“My child you have a beautiful gift. A talent so profound that all of France... non... the world will know your name. Anna Dubois, you are just like your mother."
Madame's words had lit a fire in her heart that day. She had wanted nothing but to simply keep her mother's legacy. How naive Anna had been.
She stared at the lump of wood again. Placing her fingers on the neck, she eased the violin out of the velvet lining.
The black fingerboard was chipped and worn away, imprints of her fingers gouged into the wood, from the hours and hours of her practise. Her fingers lightly traced the dancing letters, forever embedded into the sleek wood. Stradivari glared at her critically. Anna cast her eyes out the window and pulled the violin to her chest.
Sunlight poured in through the glass and bathed the room in a hazy, golden glow. Miles and miles of rolling fields and lush green grass, stretched before her. She was all alone here in the French countryside; just as she wanted.
How would she begin? It had been one whole year since she had played. 365 days. 525,600 minutes. Lost time she could have spent poring over concertos, marking the up-bows and fingerings on her score. There was something about the way violin sings that had set her heart into the deepest of symphonies, deeply harrowing and torrential in the way it encompassed her body. Anna had never found anything that held as much capacity in power as the violin. It might have been her friend. Might have been her enemy.
But always it was her voice, helping Anna to display her feelings to the audience. Its slender strings would caress her fingers, its curves tenderly traced under her palm, and to her, absolutely nothing in the world had been on the same level as the sense of empowerment which was achieved through the beautiful mixing of notes.
After her failure, Anna could not bear to touch the instrument again. But she could not leave it to gather in dust, on top of her bookcase, to be discovered once she had left this world.
She picked up the bow, placed it on the strings, and played. The pads of her fingers pressed into the cool, metal strings; dust from the fresh rosin playfully erupted into the air. Anna dexterously moved the bow up and down the strings, her left wrist aching from the vibrato. To the average listener, Anna’s playing sounded perfect. To her, it was anything but perfect. Her intonation wasn’t as clear as it had been, the phrasing was all wrong, her left hand pizz. made her shudder.
She was a failure. Her steely, grey eyes pierced into the lump of wood like a razor. She wasn’t as good as she used to be and the thought of being a world-class musician once again seemed like a distant dream to her.
Her mind drifted off to a time when she had watched her mother play on one of her weekly serenades, in the middle of the French fields, rays of sun dancing on her caramel skin. Anna could still hear the sweet, soulful sound of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major ringing out into the crisp air. How she had envied her mother at that moment. She had looked so free. The wind gently blowing through her hair, her mouth resting in a satisfied smile.
Anna remembered why she played the violin. Passion. Passion to allow the music to speak for her, captivating an entire audience without saying a word. She smiled. Her brow furrowed in determination. Jogging upstairs, she hastily pulled her phone free from the charger and scanned through her contacts.
“Bonjour… who is this?”
“Madame, it’s me. I need your help. Encore un fois”.
Six months later…
Anna was nervous. Her first performance in front of a live audience since the incident. Her face was expressionless, but inwardly she was fighting to remain calm. The score of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto played over and over in her mind like a broken record. She still didn’t know if her decision to play from memory had been the right one. The stage manager caught her eye and nodded. Anna sighed. Hearing the audience being silenced and her name called out, she tentatively walked to the centre of the stage, her concert dress slightly trailing behind her.
The orchestra began to play and she mentally told herself to stay calm until her cue. Scanning the blurry faces of the crowd, she found Madame, the support and hope emanating from her eyes. Anna readied herself. The conductor raised his baton. Anna played. The sonorous ring of her Stradivari filled the auditorium. Her body moved with the music, her fingers swiftly dancing up and down the fingerboard. As she approached the final bars of music, her heart swelled with serenity and she thought of her late mother.
It was over. Anna had done it. Madame looked so proud. She wasn’t a failure.
“Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman.”
― Ludwig van Beethoven