I. Allegro Moderato
THE FRANCK SONATA
As I raise my hands to the keys, it occurs to me that it is in these notes that it all started- that we started. It could be ironic, or it could just be perfect. How else could I describe us? There are no words and, inevitably, music more than suffices. The first uplifting question of half a phrase...how is this not my own self when I first locked eyes on that face, all those years ago? It was a fleeting moment, his eyes all but sliding past me- but I knew, even then.
Of course, that was before I ever heard him open his mouth.
“What’s this, chamber listings?” Sherlock asked, peering over John’s shoulder.
“Yeah, I’ve got Shostakovich 2nd Quartet- ooh, that’s interesting, don’t know that one- and you,” John tapped the print-out on the bulletin board with a finger, “You’ve got the Franck Sonata.”
Sherlock made an exasperated sound in the back of his throat, rolling his eyes in consternation.
“What? One of the best sonatas in the repertoire, not good enough for you?”
John shifted his cello case on his shoulders, easing the sore muscles in his back. “Yeah, well, you’ve got... Molly Hooper. As your pianist.”
“You’re an idiot, you know,” he said conversationally. “Any violinist would jump at the chance to have that piece as their assignment- hell, I would. Molly Hooper… I don’t think I know her, do you?”
Sherlock gave him a long-suffering look, before turning to stalk off to the rehearsal room.
“Well you could just say so, you arse- why do you never, ever answer? Do you have any idea how incredibly obnoxious- ”
“I am well aware, John, and I already gave you your answer. You never do listen, do you?” Sherlock called over his shoulder, as John dragged his cello along and into the room beside him.
Our first meeting, so far as first meetings go... well, it was an odd thing. I’d seen him, of course- across a crowded cafeteria, in passing around the campus, in the eternal struggle over practice rooms. I’m sure he didn’t remember me, but he- he was difficult to forget. He was beautiful, even then, in his own odd way, like a boy who has grown upwards too quickly for his body to have quite caught up, all angles and penetrating blue-green cat’s eyes. When I had read on the bulletin-board that my chamber music assignment was with Sherlock Holmes (and the Franck Sonata to boot) my friend giggled.
Ooh, he’s that tall one, isn’t he? With the eyes and the hair?
But I was petrified.And not needlessly, as it would appear.
On the very day that we first met,the day of our first rehearsal- he banged into the room, opening the door so forcefully it bounced off the wall.
“Um, hello, you must be … Sherlock?” I said, surprised and immediately put off balance by his entrance. I stood hesitantly away from the piano where I had been warming up, wiping my hands surreptitiously on the sides of my shorts. He looked at me with an expression of consternation, eyes lingering on my sweating palms. I clenched them into fists quickly, and sat back down at the piano bench, hovering my hands over the keys.
“Molly Hooper, I presume,” he said, stalking off to one of the chairs lining the room to take out his violin. He said it like it was the most ordinary turn of phrase in the world. I blinked. And he was English. Like me. How had I not seen that? Now that I looked at him closely, he positively reeked of posh public school mannerisms, and I suddenly felt overly aware of my old shorts and t-shirt.
So I began to play, refusing to think about the fact that Sherlock Holmes could possibly judge me. I kept my eyes on my fingers, running through familiar Hanon exercises and refusing to acknowledge him as he slammed a stand down next to the piano and dropped his music onto it.
“A?” he said.
“A, could I have an A,” he ground out.
“Oh, um. Yes,” I managed to hit an A and squeeze the pedal down, before blurting, “Oh, sorry, did you want it with a Major third? Or minor, I know some people prefer- ”
“An A, please, and a little silence would be marvelous, just now,” he muttered.
So I sat, holding down the A, and beginning to wonder just how much of an incredible arse-hole Sherlock Holmes really was.
“What do you have for me today?” he asks, leaning back in his chair with his hands locked behind his head. One ankle rests on his knee and jiggles ever so slightly. Third cup of coffee. Anxious to be done for the day.
I drop my music onto the stand. “Paganini,” I reply succinctly, flipping through the pages of the battered book to rest at Caprice No. 22. It’s not the trickiest, true- but I want them all. Not to pick and choose from the easiest, the hardest; I want to have them all in my fingers, at command, ready to go. I’m already placing my fingers in position when Mr. Lestrade says,
I flick my eyes towards him in surprise. He’s grimacing at me, his entire body speaking of aggravation. “No, Sherlock, come on- that’s all you’ve showed me, the entire summer. You’ve got auditions coming up, don’t be ridiculous!”
“It’s not ridiculous,” I say stubbornly, cocking my head at him and fixing him with an unflinching stare. The one that works on Mummy. Or used to work on Mummy, must address that.
“Your new chamber assignment is the Franck Sonata. I checked, d’you know how many teachers even bother to check?”
“None, if any.”
“Correct. Exactly. Sherlock, look- you’re a brilliant violinist. Not that I need to feed that massive ego of yours, but it’s the truth. But you will never, ever go any further if all you play is- is Paganini, or God knows, Sarasate, or Wieniawski- ”
“Professor, I fail to see the relevance in bringing you any other music. I don’t intend to take auditions, nor do I intend to play anything that is boring.”
Lestrade’s lips are pinched into a thin, fine line, his eyes narrowed and his jaw jutting slightly in frustration. “You are a complete waste of talent.” he says finally, but with no hint of resignation in his voice; just the whiff of a man who is steeling himself to rise to the challenge. I feel the corner of my lips edging into a smirk. I let him see it. “But I could get you a full scholarship, if you had any inclination.”
I pause to consider, conceding that perhaps, just perhaps, this may not be such a ridiculous offer. “And what would that entail?” I ask him, knowing that now he will pursue me to the end-game, because Lestrade is nothing if not tenacious. He grins at me then, his eyes gleaming wickedly.
“Start with the Franck Sonata. Show me you’re not a…machine.”
I glare at him, cross to my case and pull the offending music out and onto the stand. I place my fingers, and begin to play.
I can’t explain this to you, you wouldn’t understand it. It’s not your fault, you’re a goldfish.
Really? I must? Ohhh, very well...It’s bow control. That first phrase, it’s bow control, it’s not giving in to the urge to focus on every note.
This movement is The Meeting. What happens when you meet someone? You don’t zero in on particular things like a button, or a certain wrinkle- well I suppose I do but that’s neither here nor there- the point of the matter is, you gather an impression of a person, based on those few collective details. That’s what a meeting is- it’s fleeting, it’s elegant. When you collect these impressions into music, it is inevitably something in addition - it is mastering instincts and fusing logic and whatever’s skating around that brain of yours that is more than firing synapses and grey matter to create something new.
See, look at you, your eyes have gone all fuzzy and vacant, you haven’t listened to a word I’ve said- I haven’t the faintest idea why I even bother. Oh you asked, did you? Well that was your answer, now go scramble to pick up the pieces and see if you can put them together into any semblance of a picture, why don’t you?
The first time I touched the notes of that Sonata, placed that chord- I felt a little shiver go down my spine.
The piano was a surprisingly decent Yamaha, and I coaxed the voicing out from the mess of hammers and dampers. The snippets of a theme were drawn forth in a soft query, lingering in the air, inviting the violin to join the game.
He had been fussing with the stand, but came to stillness, to readiness, as his entrance drew near. Sherlock breathed in through his nose as his bow came down upon the strings, gently but firm- not an instance of hesitance present in the phrase.
It was miraculous, to play with him. We moved in tandem, in response to each other, the phrases intertwining and parting with a naturalness that I could not have imagined. As the climax of the movement drew near, his eyelids fluttered- the hard-edged lines of his body relaxed into the joy of playing, and I met the swell of his music with my own, carrying the phrase higher, into that plane of ecstasy that summons the artist at every turn, but is so difficult to lose yourself into.
We looked at each other as the movement came to a close, and I saw his cool eyes widen slightly with recognition. The last note dwindled in our fingers, the sound hung in the air.
As he took his violin down, leaning forward to pencil something into the music, it was lost. My breath released, my hands dropped. I wondered if it was my imagination, if I had made it up...but no. I could see how he gripped the neck of his instrument, a shade too tightly.
“Um,” I said, cutting through the sudden awkwardness in the room, “I think that went..well?”
“It did.” he replied, looking at me suddenly. The pencil clattered back down to the stand. “Which Conservatory are you doing prep at? No, stop- obviously in America.”
“Well, um- how-? I mean, yes, in- ”
“Boston, yes I know. Explains why I’ve never seen you before, even though you’re obviously from London.”
“Oh, well- oh, are we done? But we’ve only just..started..” Because he had already crossed the room and was now swiftly packing up his instrument, covering and zipping and snicking it in, inelegantly stuffing the music into the case and swinging it up onto his shoulder.
“Molly, I don’t think this will work. Thank you for playing with me today.”
And he left, just like that, the door hanging ajar behind him. I could hear his abrupt steps down the hallway, an accompaniment to the highs and lows of music issuing from every other door.
I stood, for a few seconds, my hand on the side of the piano, simply staring at the doorway. What had I done? Had I done something wrong? No, of course not- I knew that. And not only that, I had played well, but we- I had never felt such an honest, raw connection. We had played with the intimacy that the piece deserved. The Franck Sonata, I thought, with a jolt- the first movement, the first meeting of lovers and partners. He felt it too, I knew he had, and I held to that thought before I could talk myself out of it.
I didn’t play with him again for years.
His hands trembled as he walked down the hallway, away from her and that insufferably sentimental piece of music. They trembled as he flew down the stairs, and he stuffed them in his pockets resolutely.
He would never admit it- and especially not to John- but the experience had shaken him. Calm, he thought, Control, and collapsed onto the first bench he spotted, in the stark shade of a rather ugly building. He fished a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, hitting them against his palm and lighting the cigarette with tremulous fingers.
When they played, it had been electric. Like a high he had never experienced before, in his dabblings into assorted drugs when the opportunities had presented themselves. His senses- his hearing, it had been listening. Like the difference between seeing and observing, he had listened to her, and answered her, and they had been unshakeable in their unity. His precise control of the bow had begun to crumble, his breathing had heightened and his fingers had shuddered with an over-adrenalined vibrato, he had been carried away in the absolute ecstasy of joyful creation...and it had frightened him. Tremendously.
And he would not tell John.
The smoke swirled around his lungs as he drew it in, stilling the panicked urgency that had been growing in his breast. He blew it out slowly, leaning his head back against the bench with half-lidded eyes.
“Those things’ll kill you, you know,” said Mr. Lestrade, as he sat down on the other end of the bench. “Give it here, Sherlock, you know I can get you suspended for smoking.”
Sherlock glowered at him, but handed the cigarette over, ash dangling over-long at its end. Lestrade tapped it carefully to the side, and brought it to his lips. “No sense in it going to waste, though,” he sighed out with a puff of smoke. “So how did the rehearsal go?”
“Not well.” Sherlock replied stoically.
“Ah, well,” said Lestrade, standing and stretching, inhaling the pungent smoke once again. “I expect to hear the rest of it, next lesson, even if you’ve scared that poor girl off already. As I’m sure you’ve done. I’ll bet that’s her at that window, eh? She’s got that wilted look about her, and I know that look because I know you.” He paused, staring at Molly’s silhouette, framed in the window. As if sensing his gaze she turned and disappeared into the depths of the practice room. Lestrade turned to glance at the scowling young man beside him, who looked everywhere but into his eyes, and exhaled forcefully.
“You know, Sherlock, you’re a great violinist. And maybe, one day, if we’re very, very lucky, you might even be a great musician.”
And with those words he dropped the cigarette to the ground, crushing it underfoot, and walked away.
“You what?” said John, in as close to a shriek as he could get while still keeping his voice down.
“Shut up, I didn’t do anything. I simply informed her that if she couldn’t wait for my entrances, then she had no place playing a Sonata. It is, after all, for violin and piano.”
“For the love of- Sherlock, you are an insufferable, pompous, prick. Do you know that? You’re just upset you’re playing Franck instead of- of- Shostakovich, or Prokofiev or something, no- I know you, don’t deny it- and you’re taking it out on Molly.”
“So what if I am.”
“There’s nothing to apologize for.”
And there wasn’t.
When I was young, there was no inspirational, lofty explanation about why I wanted to play the piano. No, I simply had a toy keyboard, and a mother who loved classical music. It was an odd thing, really, her connection to music. It came from nowhere- a chance encounter with Brahms at the record store, and she was hooked for life.
I had a toy tape recorder that I would drag around everywhere, singing and recording myself. I would make up songs, anywhere and everywhere. Everywhere was, most notably, those really long sojourns to the toilet, where I would sit and swing my legs and make up songs for my dog, who stared at me morosely with her head on her paws and kept me company. And then I’d record the songs, and pick them out on the little keyboard. It wasn’t long until my parents gave in, and I had my very own piano.
Mum died too soon. She left behind her record collection- piles of haphazard music, Ravel and Vivaldi, Beethoven and Mozart. I found the present she had wrapped up for me, a few months later. Glenn Gould, playing the Goldberg Variations. I turned it on, and sat in rapture, in front of the stereo, and let myself go.
And from then on, there was only the piano.
Sometimes, when one is afraid, one lies. Blatant, ridiculous lies. In this instance, a lie meant to ensure that I would never have to be in a room with Molly Hooper and her piano again.
But through the riddled blanket of lies, points of truth show. And these truths can be connected to create any myriad of faces.