Maestro Summary and Analysis of Vienna, 1975


In Europe waiting between one competition and the next, Paul takes Rosie's advice to visit Salzburg, Austria. He takes a short-term position there teaching piano at a finishing school. While living at the school he thinks often of Keller, knowing that Vienna is only an hour away. Paul begins writing letters in pidgin German to musical acquaintances, journals, and institutions in Vienna, asking that his letters be pinned to the bulletin boards for a few days. In his letters, he feigns an interest in the piano school of Leschetizky. He says he wants to write a brief biography of his student Eduard Keller and asks for any anecdotes or information about Keller.

Paul receives two responses to his letters. One says that Keller died in 1944, just like the book he found in the Adelaide library. The other is from cellist Joseph Henisch, who says he played trios with Keller before the war and is glad a biography is being written about this prize pianist and teacher. Paul immediately packs up his things and takes the next ferry to Vienna.

Amazed by the familiarity of Vienna, Paul makes his way to Henisch's small third floor apartment. The two sit in Henisch's dark front room. Henisch says that Keller accompanied him many times, though Keller was a far greater musician. Paul asks about Keller's wife, and Henisch says she was the same age as him and much younger than Keller, who was in his forties when the couple met between the wars.

According to Henisch, when the Nazis arrived, people began to leave and to disappear. Henisch said he stayed because he did not have enough money to leave. Paul asks if Keller tried to hide his wife, but Henisch says no. Adolf Eichmann heard Keller play in Vienna in 1938, and Keller was flown to Berlin several times to play for him and Adolf Hitler. He attempted to make himself so visible that no one could touch him or his family. However, his plan backfired and his wife was captured while Keller was in Berlin for his last performance for Hitler. Eric refused to be separated from his mother and was captured as well.

When Keller returned home, he sewed a yellow star to his clothing and registered as a Jew. Keller was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942. Henisch says Keller was part of the prisoners forced to march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald to Bergen-Belsen, and that he died on the last journey. Paul asks how he knows this, and Henisch unbuttons his sleeve to show his own six-digit tattoo.

Paul is initially hesitant to divulge about the new life Keller has created for himself, but he ultimately ends up telling Henisch that Keller did not die but was his piano teacher in Australia. Henisch says this is impossible, that one of his friends saw Keller fall, and that all that fell by the side died. Paul tries to convince him by telling him that Keller had a finger missing from the right hand. Henisch said Keller had all his fingers, but once told him after an SS guard asked him to play the piano in the camp that if he ever felt the desire to play again he would cut his fingers off one by one.

Paul continues to try to convince Henisch that he knows Keller, to no success. He describes Keller to Henisch, saying that his teacher loves Bach and Mozart and hates the Romantics, but Henisch says the opposite. Paul plays Beethoven's Arietta from Opus 111 to show that he knows Keller's style, but Henisch says Keller's student played with more rubato. He gives Paul a copy of Keller's last recording from Berlin 1934 and sends him off.


After years of evading Keller and focusing on his own desires, Paul finally comes face to face with Keller's hometown and the truth about his past. His desire to write the letters and the immediacy with which he jumps on the ferry show that Keller has had a lasting impact on Paul, who very much wants to know Keller's story.

The timing of this revelation is particularly notable. Paul is now teaching piano when he finally begins to ask questions and seek the truth about Keller. It is after Paul has become a piano teacher himself that he finally knows the truth about his former teacher.

Vienna seems oddly familiar to Paul, alluding to how much Keller's knowledge and perceptions have shifted onto Paul. Paul has journeyed both physically and intellectually from his distant place of origin to the center of his teacher's pain and suffering. While details of Keller's life have been disclosed throughout the story, this chapter finally brings the story to a climax by revealing the full truth behind Keller's past.

Henisch's room and piano are both described as "dark," an ominous characterization that reflects the sobering information contained in the room. Paul is shocked to hear that Keller played for Hitler, and this experience is a final loss of innocence for Paul.

Henisch and Paul go back and forth describing two very different Kellers. Ultimately Paul says, "If we were discussing the same man, how different our two versions. Or perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps they were not the same man, in a sense." This seemingly paradoxical statement reflects Paul's realization of how far Keller has tried to distance himself from his past. Paul realizes that perhaps Henisch's version of Keller did die in 1944.