The strains of a mysterious tune wafted through the night. It floated through the misty forest and found its way to a small cottage by the woods. As 10-year-old Marie was preparing to climb into her cozy bed, the music reached and almost immediately enthralled her.
Marie and her mother, Giselle, had moved into the cottage after they lost Paul, Marie’s father, in an accident near Munich. Paul’s absence made the familiar locations unbearable with a barrage of memories constantly flooding in. Also, the expenses of living in Munich proved tough to bear on the earnings of Gisele alone.
That’s when Gisele took up the offer to teach music to little kids at a school on the outskirts of Hamburg. The quiet, scenic life and the presence of the little ones around her, comforted Gisele. Marie was happy to roam the countryside and play with the 3 kittens her mother had recently adopted.
One night, as Marie opened her bedroom window to look for the source of music, something made her immediately turn to the cathedral a mile away, on the road towards the school where Gisele taught. She visited it with her mother for prayers every Sunday. Marie wondered how a service could be in progress at this time of the night.
There was only one way to find out; she would have to pay the cathedral a visit.
Ordinarily, Marie would never consider going out that late. However, there was something about the music that called out to her. Her inclination towards playing the piano added to the appeal of the notes, enveloping her senses. As she quietly made her way out of the house, she didn’t seem to notice that the door had opened by itself and softly closed behind her as she walked out. Gisele’s sleep was not disturbed.
The cathedral loomed over Marie like a prehistoric monster. Built in the 17th Century, it once served as a shelter for the town’s residents during the World Wars. On its frame, one could still spot bullet marks and damage caused by shelling from tanks when the Allied army had stormed it towards the end of 1944, dragging out Gestapo officials hiding in it and executing them in the porch.
Marie walked past the aisles towards the altar. As she approached it, she turned right to take the stairs towards the priests’ quarters. Unerringly guided by the music, she approached a small room adjacent to the balcony on the first floor. The door opened for her and she entered, looking at the German soldier who was playing a piano.
The soldier’s uniform was nothing like she had ever seen. The untucked shirt was held by a belt around the middle. Several medallions hung from the breast pockets while a curious cross adorned the shoulder.
The soldier looked at Marie and smiled. He seemed quite young.
“Come here, child. Do you play the piano?” he asked.
“I do, but not as beautifully as you. I have a lot to learn”, Marie replied.
“Would you like to learn from me?”
“I would be happy to, Sir”
The soldier left his seat and let Marie take it. The instant her fingers touched the keys; a rush of notes overwhelmed her mind. The notes were jumbled at first, making no sense, just noise, but gradually, they fell into place and arranged themselves into a composition.
Marie had no clue how it occurred to her. Her fingers flew over the keys, producing an unfamiliar but enchanting wave of music. She realized it was an entirely new tune that she was playing. Something great, which generations would remember.
Yet, after playing for an hour, she stopped-or rather, her fingers stopped moving. The notes which seemed imprinted in her mind suddenly vanished.
Puzzled, she looked at the soldier standing beside her, a wistful smile on his face.
“We seem to have learnt a lot already”, he said.
“I did not play that. It appeared my hands were no longer in my control.” said Marie, “It all occurred to me on its own.”
“And why did you stop?”
“Because the notes ended abruptly. The composition seems….incomplete”
“You are right! So let’s finish it. I started composing this piece but was interrupted while I was at it. Afterwards, the tunes just wouldn’t come to me no matter how hard I tried. Maybe you can help me find them”, said the soldier with a note of determination in his voice.
“But how can I assist you with a grand composition such as this? I can barely play”, exclaimed Marie.
“Creation has a way of completing itself, child. Music can manifest itself through a passionate mind and strong will. I believe it has a life of its own. It only needs a dedicated medium to come together”
The soldier put Marie’s hands on the piano again. As her eyes closed and fingers hovered over the keys, the notes engulfed her mind again. Through the familiar stream of chords she had played earlier, she started to envision new ones which made sense as extensions. As her fingers conjured the new pieces, the soldier laughed in excitement.
“Yes, yes! We are making progress!”, he was elated.
Marie played in frenzy-repeating the entire composition over and over with the new additions which took it forward. She hardly felt the transition of her existence from normal to ethereal through the steady stream of music which seemed to fill the entirety of her existence.
The next morning found Gisele sick with worry as she looked for Marie all over the place. She could not figure how she left the house when the door was locked. She hardly knew anyone in this town, having moved in only a month back. After informing the authorities, she stopped by the cathedral to talk to the priests in the hope of comforting herself.
Father Arno Moriani listened gravely as a tearful Gisele narrated her story. When she told him how much her daughter loved playing the piano, Father Moriani gasped in shock.
“What’s the matter, Father?” asked Giselle
Father Moriani escorted Giselle to the first floor. Towards the corner, she spotted a heavily bolted room which didn’t seem to have been opened in years.
Father Moriani asked one of the cathedral helps to get the keys to the room. As the ancient door creaked open, it revealed a decrepit piano in the middle of a dusty, disheveled room.
However, there was something on the piano which caused Gisele to almost faint. Marie’s gloves!
“Those gloves…they are my daughter’s”, screamed a hysteric Gisele. “Where is she?”
“I am afraid your daughter is no more, my child”, said Father Moriani in a gentle voice.
“But…why…how?”, Giselle stammered.
“This room was the hideout of Colonel Dieter. His army had been massacred by the Allied forces near Cologne. He had managed to escape and find shelter here.
Apart from being a decorated soldier, Dieter was also a gifted musician. Those who heard him play said that had he devoted his life to music, he would have become a great composer. Away from the battlefield, Dieter confined himself to this room, pouring out his anger and agony through music.
Unfortunately for Dieter, the Allies found out about him and few of his men who were hiding here. As Dieter was in the middle of his composition, they stormed the cathedral, overcame the weak resistance his men offered and dragged him out. As they prepared to shoot him, he kept pleading with them to allow him to finish the composition before they killed him.
From that day, the piano seems to have taken up the mission to complete Dieter’s work. It makes itself heard to those who play and bring them here. In exchange for their lives, a new section is added to the composition. Each note in that composition is music perpetuating itself through sacrificial souls”
Later that evening as Fabian, one of the young students of Gisele at the music school, was passing by the cathedral, he was surprised to hear an unfamiliar strain of music being played in it. As he found his way to the source, he walked into the room in the first floor to see a young girl of 10 intently playing the piano. Transfixed, Fabian listened as she played the most wonderful tune he had ever heard, only to pause suddenly in the middle of it.
“That was fantastic! Why did you stop?” asked Fabian.
The girl turned to him, “I can’t think of the next tune. Will you help me?”