Maestro Summary and Analysis of 1977


After returning from his travels overseas, Paul moves to Melbourne, where he begins teaching piano, marries Rosie, and they have their first child. He corresponds frequently with Keller but never goes to visit him.

In late 1977, Paul receives a letter from the sister in charge of the hospice ward of the Darwin Hospital saying that Eduard Keller has been suffering a long illness. Paul had corresponded frequently with Keller since his return, but had not visited him. The next week he flies to Darwin and goes directly to the hospital.

At the hospital, Paul finds Keller in a room with two other dying men. Paul begs the nurse to turn off the muzak, but she says their patients find it soothing. Keller realizes Paul is there, and Paul greets him in German. He suggests that he can bring Keller some other music, but Keller does not respond and his breathing slows. The sister tells Paul that Keller comes and goes, and Paul waits for a while before heading for a hotel.

Paul returns to the hospice each morning to see Keller and reads to him from a book or the newspapers. Keller is sometimes aware of his presence, though conversation is impossible. He wonders what happened to Keller's scrapbooks for stories of human foolishness and greed. During the afternoon, Paul explores the rebuilt town before returning to the hospice ward in the evening.

On his sixth morning in Darwin, Paul receives a call that Keller has passed away. He goes to the hospice, where he slips his arm behind Keller's head and kisses him. After signing the papers, he walks out onto the streets, unsure of how to commemorate the great man's death.

Paul tries calling Rosie, his father, and his mother, but none answer. He calls the newspaper to get an article published, but they refer him to the death notices. He searches through the phone book for friends' numbers with no luck, and then leaves a message for Keller's doctor saying he died. He gets soup at a Thai restaurant on Smith Street and, in need of some comfort, considers asking the waitress when she gets off work.

Paul returns to his hotel and dozes. He realizes Keller's death has stripped him of his lasting hope of returning to Keller's room at the Swan and making another assault on the world of music. Paul realizes he is fast approaching middle age and a teacher at a minor music school. He says Keller was, in a sense, bad for him, as he showed Paul musical perfection then left him to toil for years, only able to achieve second-rate perfection. Filled with nostalgia, Paul mourns the loss of both a great man and times and possibilities of his youth that will never occur again.


Just as the novel begins the first time Paul meets Keller, it ends with the last time Paul and Keller see each other. Their relationship serves as a bookend for the story. This reaffirms how significant a role Paul believes Keller has played in his life.

When Keller and Paul first meet at the beginning of the novel, they are merely student and teacher. By the time Keller dies and the story ends, Paul has become Keller's surrogate son and the closest thing he has to family. Just as with the loss of a parent, Paul wishes he had more time with Keller. With his kiss, Paul seals the bond between the two and finally shows his true realization of and appreciation for both Keller's musical genius and how much he cared for Paul.

This relationship is symbolized by Keller's response to the muzak. Knowing how much his former teacher cares about good music, Paul demands that the nurse turn off the muzak. However, Keller does not care about the music, only about Paul's presence. In the end, the relationship between them is more important than the music itself.

The mood of the book's final pages is quite somber. This is largely because of Paul's sadness over Keller's death, but it also stems from Paul's realization that he is unhappy with his current place in life. He holds himself up to Keller's standard, and he is disappointed in himself for only becoming a piano teacher at a mid-level school and not achieving Keller's level of perfection.

The final chapter also ends the book's theme of growing up. As he walks through the rebuilt town of Darwin, his unfamiliarity with a landscape he once knew so well makes him realize that his childhood is finished. He realizes too late that his chances have passed him by. Paul mourns both Keller's death and the times and possibilities that he himself will never again experience.