Maestro Summary and Analysis of Intermezzo


Paul and his parents drive south to Adelaide to spend Christmas with his maternal grandparents. He sends Herr Keller a Christmas card and receives in response a card and parcel containing a battered, yellowed copy of Czerny's Opus 599 studies.

Paul is initially disappointed at receiving a gift he already has. Upon further examination, however, his father discovers that it is actually a signed, 150-year-old first edition. The valuable gift piques Paul's curiosity about his piano teacher and his mysterious past.

Bored with television and out of pocket money, Paul begins visiting libraries in search of clues about Keller's past. His mother accompanies him to search the Adelaide University library with few results. The only items they find are Keller's year of birth, 1887, and one book that gives his date of death as 1944, which Paul's mother passes off as a simple error.

After his mother abandons the quest, Paul finally makes a breakthrough in a biography of Richard Strauss. The book mentions almost offhandedly that, "Marriage to the Austrian pianist Eduard Keller could not save the celebrated Jewish contralto and Wagner specialist, Mathilde Rosenthal, who died in Auschwitz, probably in 1942."

Paul is fascinated by his find and returns to the library the following day. While in the stacks, he hears the voices of a couple who have come to have sex amidst the shelves. Paul removes a large book from the shelf and watches the couple through the hole before creeping away on his hands and knees.

Later that evening, on the way to a musical performance, Paul's parents discuss his findings about Mathilde. Meanwhile, Paul's mind is more focused on reliving the other activity he saw in the shelves.


The contents of this chapter reflect the meaning of its name: as in music, it is a brief change of pace. The family leaves Darwin for the holidays and Paul takes a brief break from his studies with Keller and his interactions with his friends and fellow students. This brief change allows Paul the chance to reflect on his time in Darwin and the events of the first chapter.

The intermezzo also begins to points out the ways in which Maestro is a bildungsroman. It draws attention to the ways Paul has changed since he previously lived in Adelaide and the shifts in his perspective.

One sign of Paul’s transition away from childhood is his lack of interest in the Adelaide amusements that had captured his interest as a child. While Adelaide—"the City"—seemed magical and joyful to him as a child, sixteen-year-old Paul does not view the city in the same way. He feels he has grown beyond the amusements of the city and it no longer peaks his interest in the same way. He is much more fascinated by Keller's gift and by his more adult curiosity about Keller and his past. Paul grows increasingly interested in the realities of the world instead of childish fantasies.

Another way in which this section reflects the bildungsroman genre of the book is through Paul’s burgeoning sexuality. Paul's visit to the library is one of the multiple instances in the novel in which his interest in learning about Keller's history comes in conflict with his own sexuality. While Paul is fascinated by his discovery about Keller's wife, he is more excited about having witnessed the couple having sex. This instance juxtaposes his identities as a serious budding pianist and a teenage boy.

In addition to the bildungsroman elements of the chapter, Keller’s Christmas gift to Paul foreshadows Paul’s realization of how important a pianist Keller was. The value of the gift and the careless way Keller gives it to Paul are also symbolic of Keller’s unspoken care for Paul, which Paul will become more and more aware of throughout the novel.