Yesterday, a rainy day, was the 42nd anniversary of my father\’s death. Today, another rainy day, I don\’t much feel like writing about what\’s going on outside, so I\’ll write about something that my 92-year-old mother recently told me about my father.
Our memories of him, as his life and death recede in time, are growing fewer, and the ones that remain tend to take on a sort of oracular tint. But my father was no oracle. He was a man. Or, I should say, he was a musician. He would have wanted that to come first, I think.
A few months before he died, the local symphony put on the first performance of his Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer, been told in the heartless way of that era that there was nothing, nothing at all that could be done for him. I attended the performance–in a miniskirt so short that I had to spread the program over my lap when I sat down–with my brand-new husband. I don\’t remember anything about the music. I just remember, despite the miniskirt and the new husband, the crushing, constant awareness that my 53-year-old father had been sentenced to die.
Here is what my mother remembers. As they were getting dressed for the concert–his dark suit already hanging loose on his thin shoulders–she asked him if he was nervous.
\”Why should I be nervous?\” he said.
\”What if they don\’t like the piece?\” she said.
\”That would be too bad,\” my father answered. \”But they could never take away the pleasure I had in composing it.\”
That, I like to think, was my father all over. He played his violin, he composed his music (always, alas, with a cigarette nearby), and if people liked it he was pleased, but that probably accounted for no more than three per cent of the reason he did it. Did he look ahead? Did he scheme for ways to promote himself, to get attention? According to my mother, despite her best efforts, this aspect of the artist\’s life never interested him in the slightest. And because after all he supported us with his music, she couldn\’t really complain.
These days, my father\’s entire opus has been published by a Barcelona firm. His music is being performed in Spain and other countries. A number of recordings have been made. The Spanish press wants to know more about his life.
I can imagine what it would have been like if he\’d been around for all this. He would have said \”Life is good!\” and smiled. Then he would have gone to the piano, spread his long, tobacco-stained fingers over the keys, and started work on the next piece.