My twelve year old student, Lev, arrived for his lesson holding an antiquated composition book of Mazurkas and Waltzes for solo violin. Gino, the composer of these compositions, awaits his 100th birthday in a small village in the mountains of Tuscany, with a longing to hear his music before he dies. Of all the treasures in Gino's life, the violin remains his dearest, though at Gino's age he can no longer play. And it is for this reason that Lev clutches the composition book written in 1930; he will gift Gino with a recording of these never performed, cherished works.
My little Lev dutifully sets the composition book onto the music stand. He opens the first page to a Mazurka. The composition is nearly impossible to decipher; ink blotches conceal many of the notes, and some others have squiggly tails for stems covering the bar lines and rhythm. "Is that note a D," I ask, "or a B?" Both tones could belong to the key. Lev plays the D. "It's this," he asserts, and repeats the phrase from beginning to end. I observe closely as my young student strokes the thin, frayed paper with care, slowly turning to the next page: Waltz. The opening measures of this Waltz have faded over time. Other notes appear to have vanished. "What's that?" I point with my bow. Lev squints. He strokes the composition book as if it's a piece of parchment of Dead Sea Scrolls. We play our violins together and try to telepathically reconstruct the score. "That's called artistic license," I say, as Lev adds a flourish to a final measure, psychically sensing his way to the end. The creation makes musical sense, and we are both satisfied.
Gino's music has taken up much of the hour; it is time to work on the beloved Mendelssohn Concerto. Lev's sound is sweet, his interpretative style, innocent; perfect for the classicism of Mendelssohn. But an occasional incorrect rhythm and wrong note stubbornly reappear week after week, like an uninvited guest. "Lev" I say. "Play for Felix the way you do for Gino, with regard for every note, as if he, too, will hear his music for the last time—as a gift."