Chapter 4:

What is someone like him doing in bloody Belgium?

Phantom Adagio

The music for chapter 4:

(I've put a copy pastable version in the comments)


When I got home, I was still seething with anger at the insults that man-made me endure. It had been ages since I had interacted with someone, and this was how the universe treated me when I tried? I was having serious second guesses about the whole contest thing. My world was more comfortable in my solitude, but I did promise Aunt Christina. Why did I have to be such a good girl and promise something like that?

I looked at the new music score I got. Well, it wasn’t new. There were already several pencil markings on it, but I could not really complain about that since you should not look a gift horse in the mouth.

Singing the score in my head, this score really put me into a dilemma. This really could go down any road. I looked at the notes he made and when I applied them in my head, they did not really make any sense to me. It was going against the flow of the piece.

Why was I taking this so seriously? Who exactly was Aleksei anyway? I decided to google him. If he is really known “Aleksei and Cello” should be enough.

Immediately the top hit showed me a picture of a younger Aleksei playing the cello. The picture made me feel a little nostalgic for some reason, but I could not really place that feeling. I tried to probe my mind where I had seen that image before, but I was immediately assailed by a sharp headache and my breathing started to grow heavy. I used the breathing exercises I learned to calm down again. I did not know what had set this attack on this time, but ever since the accident I got these kinds of panic attacks. Usually when someone mentioned something that had to do with the accident.

I decided it wasn’t that important. If he was that known, I had probably seen that picture somewhere before.

But Aleksei Fjodorov… That name sounded vaguely familiar, so I decided to read a little more.

The article said he was one of Mstislav Rostropovich’s* students and considered one of the best cellists alive. He was known mostly for his recordings of Schubert’s* Arpeggione Sonata in A minor which was said to be legendary, but sadly after that, he had refused any more recordings always answering “A recording is dead. Music should be alive and experienced live.”

Legendary… I’ll be the judge of that. I doubted he really was that good. The article seemed like it was written by a fan. I put on my headset and put on the recording they talked about. After just one note, I was getting goosebumps. It was a deeply romantic impression. For a minute it transported to a beautiful sunset at a lake. So beautiful, it was sad that it would be gone as soon as the sun went under. I felt a little dazed by what I just heard. They had not been exaggerating. He was the real thing alright.

I started looking further and on his Wikipedia page, I read he had played with all the great orchestras. The Berliner Philharmoniker, the London philharmonic, the chamber orchestra of New York. What was a man like that doing in bloody Belgium?

I scrolled down in the article to see what he was up to now, but it said he retired a few years ago to take care of his granddaughter who had been orphaned after her father’s suicide. He was being sorely missed on the international scene. Suddenly I felt sorry for the man. I had experienced loss, but to lose someone as close as your son to suicide… I could not imagine how it would feel if someone close to you willingly chose to lose their life.

I looked back at the score. If I took those feelings of loss and his words earlier into account, those notes he made were starting to make sense. He was trying to change the flow of the song. If the river was life, he was trying to change what happened before in his life. This was a version of the suite about regrets. As I sang the music with those feelings in mind in my head, I could feel the pain emanating from the scores.

I prepared my cello for a practice session and started to play the first suite incorporating Aleksei’s notes. Shivers went through me, but I did not agree with him on the changes. I wanted my version to project the fact that I was missing Lise. The hurt of my loss. The hurt of the promise she had broken. I made a few notes of my own and started practicing again.

Later that night at the dinner table, Aunt Christina asked “I heard you started playing Bach. I thought you did not like Bach?”

I realized she was just trying to break the ice. I thought about if I would answer her or not. After a moment I thought “What’s the hurt?” So, I just answered, “I got the advice to play that for the entry exam.” I did not want to hurt her again, but I did not feel like suddenly becoming best buddies and sharing everything with her either.

“Advice? By whom?”

“An old man in the music store.” If I kept my answers short, I was sure she would not keep pestering me...

“Frank? I agree he used to be quite formidable on the trumpet and he became a great conductor afterward, but what does he know about the cello?”

She knew him!? She looked strict with a hint of worry at me before continuing: “And don’t go there by yourself anymore. That dirty old man undresses any woman with his eyes the second they come into his sight. The last time I was there I constantly had to remind him that my eyes are up here.”

I could perfectly imagine him doing that, the way he was ogling me… And Aunt Christina was an attractive woman for her age with a voluptuous chest.

“No, not Frank, there was a friend of his there that was really knowledgeable about cellos. He promised to help me if I practiced the cello suites. He even gave me the scores for free. He told me to come by his house on Fridays.”

“And you are taking the help of a strange old man? You did not even want to go to the academy anymore claiming they were only holding you back. “

“They just wanted me to play with another accompanist than Lise! And that teacher here does not understand a thing of what I am trying to do. He just looked with eyes full of pity at me.”

And I doubt that at this point he could still teach me anything. The teacher at the local academy was some low-brow concert cellist that taught music just to be able to live off music, but you could feel he had no passion for the instrument anymore. It had become his job. His playing was correct… very correct, but dead inside. I felt nothing when I heard him play. But I would never say that out loud. I knew that would only sound arrogant.

“And this man understands? Now I am getting even more worried.”

“I need his help. Otherwise, I won’t be able to…”

“Be able to do what?” Now, Aunt Christina was looking at me with big eyes. Like she was finally going to find out a secret.

I am happy I managed to stop right there. If I had said out loud that I wanted to bring Lise back, I am pretty sure it would not have ended well. I would probably have gotten stuck with extra sessions with the counselor.

“I won’t be able to reach the right level for the contest.” I lied while looking downwards.

Aunt Christina sighed. She seemed really conflicted. “I know that was a lie. I hope one day you’ll trust me enough to tell me. I’ll talk to Frank about it. But if I don’t like it, you aren’t going. I’m still responsible for your safety.”

“Frank told me that offer was an honor.”

“Frank did?” Aunt Christina looked really surprised. “That does not sound like something he would say. That man hardly ever says a serious word when there is a woman in the room. Are you sure he wasn’t just setting you up with that man in his twisted mind? What’s this teacher’s name?”

Suddenly I started doubting everything that happened in the store… “Aleksei did not seem me like that kind of man…” I said a bit uncertain. In the end, Aleksei did tell me to change my appearance for my visits…

“All men are like that Fleure. You’ll learn that soon enough.” Aunt Christina said, with atypical anger in her voice. Wow, where did that come from? It seemed like I touched on a sensitive subject. “Have you got any more information than just the name Aleksei?”

Tired of this talk, I just passed her the card I got earlier. How had this escalated so much? Why did my usual tactics like trying not to say much never work on Aunt Christina?

“No phone number.” She sighed again. “I guess I will have no other choice than to visit Frank…”

She looked a bit dejected at the prospect of having to visit the music store. I wondered what happened between those two. It was clear that that anecdote she told me earlier wasn’t all there was to it…