LAST EDITED ON Oct-23-20 AT 03:58 PM (EDT)|
Sunday, July 14, 1946
Colmar, Alsace, Gallia
It was a hot, slow summer afternoon at Oberlin et Fils, Colmar's finest (admittedly also, so far since the Réoccupation, only) music shop. Lolling on his stool behind the counter, the one person in the establishment stared at the slowly ticking regulator clock on the wall and waited for the day to end.
Twenty-four-year-old Jean-Frédéric Oberlin, the et Fils in the sign on the front of the shop, had never understood why his father insisted on the place being open on Sunday afternoons. No one ever came. Who ever bought a piano on a Sunday? Saturday, yes, the shop was always busy on Saturdays, but Sunday? People in these parts spent their Sunday afternoons at home with family, not shopping for musical instruments. But every weekend since he and his family had moved back to the reviving city, here Jean-Frédéric had sat, watching over the silent shop and wondering whether the time might be right to run away to Paris. Or Guiana. Someplace where interesting things happened.
The chime of the bell above the door startled him out of a pleasant half-daydream of jungle adventure. Looking up, he was vaguely stunned to see two people entering the shop. He drew breath to greet them and ask how he could be of service, but then forgot about that mundane duty as he got a better look at them.
One was a man in his late twenties or early thirties, brown-haired, neither short nor tall, dressed in nondescript civilian clothes—dark trousers, a white shirt, and a blue necktie tucked into the front of the shirt the way military men did it when they had no jacket. He was hatless, unusual for a man in this part of the world, and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, no doubt in an effort to get some relief from the heat.
By himself, this personage wouldn't have been particularly striking, but his companion made up for it. She was a girl in her early teens, slender and long-legged for her modest height, her blonde hair gathered into a ponytail on the left side of her head and topped with a floppy-brimmed white sun hat sporting a lace-edged red ribbon tied in an elaborate bow, her eyes concealed by dark glasses. She wore a summery skirt-and-vest set of what looked like red silk, the hem of its knee-length skirt similarly trimmed in white ruffles, and under it a short-sleeved white blouse secured at her throat with a yellow ascot.
Oh—and she had wings. At least Jean-Frédéric assumed they were wings: a pair of branch-like limbs growing from high on the small of her back (which her vest and blouse had a cutout to expose), "feathered" with glittering crystals in all the colors of the rainbow. They moved, the crystals scattering the afternoon sunlight in multicolored twinkles around the walls of the room, as she passed her bowing male companion and entered the shop ahead of him, folding her parasol politely at the threshold.
So arrested was Jean-Frédéric by the sight of this duo that he said nothing, and neither of them spoke to him; instead, without hesitation, they crossed to the middle of the showroom and sat down together at the Bösendorfer concert grand that was the centerpiece of the shop's inventory. Without unfurling any sheet music and with only a quick glance passing between them, the two began to play./* Scott Brothers Duo
"Let Rolling Streams Their Gladness Show"
Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, HWV 74 (1713)
G.F. Handel, comp. / Jonathan Scott, arr.
The girl, sitting on the right, began alone, with what at first sounded like a fairly simple melody. After the first phrase, the man joined in with the lower register, completing the piece's opening statement, and they were off.
The piece they were playing was Baroque, Jean-Frédéric recognized that at once from its increasing complexity and ornamentation, but it took him a few moments to identify it specifically. Only once the duo had completed the piece's initial musical statement and started on its second iteration did he realize it was an excerpt from Handel's Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne. He'd never heard it played in anything other than its original arrangement, for orchestra and vocalists, so to hear it translated for four-hand piano took him aback.
Once he'd gotten over his surprise, though, he found himself very much enjoying it. He quite liked the arrangement, for one thing. Though not as musically adept as his father, Jean-Frédéric was no mean pianist himself, and he appreciated the way that whoever had transcribed the piece for four hands hadn't given one or the other part all the virtuosic bits—both pianists had to be on their game to pull off this arrangement.
And these two were, which, along with the slight surreality of their sudden and wordless appearance, made the experience of hearing them play almost magical. They were perfectly in time and in tune, their rapport at the keys almost visible as well as plainly audible. Their hands—his right, her left—occasionally overlapped, but never got in each other's way, their shoulders periodically bumping comfortably together as they swayed, hands ranging up and down the keyboard. Let rolling streams their gladness show / with gentle murmurs whilst they play...
The song was only about two and a half minutes long, but relentless; it seemed only to go up through the gears, becoming ever more demanding, and these two mysterious musicians were up to the challenge. They swooped into the finale together, putting the Bösendorfer through its paces in a way rarely experienced by the display piano in a small-town music shop, and ran down the final notes like a hunter running his prey to ground, finishing up with hands outstretched to the keys and heads tilted back at almost the same angle, eyes closed.
Jean-Frédéric considered applauding, but it somehow felt as though breaking the quiet that descended once the piano stopped ringing would be a sort of blasphemy. Instead, he sat silent on his stool and watched in bemusement as the pair, still without a word, rose from the bench, turned, and—the gentleman once again holding the door while his companion unfurled her parasol and stepped out onto the sidewalk—departed.
"... Qu'est-ce qui vient de se passer?" a bewildered Jean-Frédéric asked the empty shop, but even the Bösendorfer had no answer for him.
"Let Rolling Streams Their Gladness Show" - a Gallian Gothic: Notes from the Scarlet Mansion Interlude by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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