I also have to add that I'm seriously amused by this community :)
Your Wish is My Wish, Part I - Paganini
dedicated to my friendly internet stalker, Imogen
In my mind-storm I did carry you
Through the briars of disbelief
Through the woods of lethargy
Through a groaning dark so deep
I thought I died
Nicolo knew he was the best.
Everyone had been saying as much his whole life and really, who was he to disagree with everyone? Mother had taught them to be polite, after all; good children didn’t argue with their elders. Elders were invariably right, so Nicolo invariably held his tongue and listened.
Such talent, so gifted, they all said to his parents, as they smiled down at him. Nicolo would have one hand wrapped around the neck of his violin, the other caught by the thumb in his bow.
Father’s left hand would have a firm grip on Nicolo’s shoulder, because Father was a firm sort of person. He would never once tell his son that he’d done well, but Nicolo knew all the same; knew that father was proud of him. On the days that Nicolo was to perform, Father would storm silently about their small city house, getting more worried than Nicolo himself. Father showed his pride like this, and in the way that he said my son to the neighbours, like it meant something special.
Mother would be there as well, or as there as she ever was. She would smile in the flustered, half-attentive way that she did and then look around, to see what trouble the other Paganini children were getting up to. Where Father measured his words, Mother fussed over everything – clucking over Nicolo’s hair, making sure it stayed tucked behind his ears; yelling at them to hurry, else they be late and shunned from respectable society for sure; throwing her hands in the air halfway to the church because she’d remembered that Nicolo’s music was sitting on the kitchen table back at home.
Not that it mattered – Nicolo had practiced the sonata enough that he could recall it from his memory, note for note.
How curious, a most impressive feat - they would all squint down at him with a smile on their mouths and a touch of condescension in their eyes.
No one’s done that before.
Of course not, Nicolo was the best. Which is, of course, why they sent him away.
Nicolo spent three years in Parma where he was told what he already knew; he was clever, wonderful and very gifted.
Later when all is said and done, he doesn’t remember much of the journey. He does remember, though, a dark ducal theatre - the lair of Alessandro Rollo, the great master of all things music.
Rollo was a round, thoughtful man with ink stains on his sleeves and a manic glint in his eyes. Nicolo was sure that Rollo could see straight through to his soul; those eyes, he was certain, saw things that others didn’t.
“So you’re the boy, then, hm?”
Rollo always called him ‘the boy’, as if he were the only one.
“And you’ve brought your violin?”
With a small frown (Nicolo wondered what he’d done to upset the man), the music director dug through a stack of manuscripts and produced a hastily scrawled violin part for something or another.
“Here,” Rollo placed the sheets on a stand. “Play this.”
So Nicolo tuned his violin and took comfort from the smooth, familiar wood as he tucked it under his chin. The music was finicky and nothing spectacular; he hoped that Rollo hadn’t written it.
“Dio, Dio!” Rollo exclaimed, causing some singers conversing in the shadows to look over. “The boy can play!”
Nicolo bit his lip to stop his protest. Of course he could play – why else had he earned the money to come all this way?
“Good heavens boy, don’t look at me like that – and why have you stopped? Play, Play!” Rollo shook his head, giving in to excitement. “With talent like this, you should never stop.”
Nicolo sighed inwardly; Rollo was turning out to be a disappointment, just another squabbler.
As Nicolo picked up where he left off, Rollo waved the singers over to tones of “And he can sight-read too – like an angel. What talent! It’s poetry to my ears…”
Nicolo played to the repeat sign before stopping. “So you’ll take me then, Signore?”
Rollo stopped aghast, mid-sentence as his lips turned down. “Take you, boy? Who do you think I am?”
Nicolo looked down, hurt. The man didn’t particularly impress him, but it was why he had come after all. And to be told he wasn’t good enough – well that had never happened before, to be sure. His parents would be very upset with him, not to mention the shame.
Perhaps he could convince the man otherwise. “But - ”
“No, absolutely not.”
Nicolo could feel himself welling with humiliation – he wanted to shrink, hide, or run. Even more than all those combined, he wished that he were back in Genoa where everyone knew that he was good.
And he was good – wasn’t he? Or had that all been some horrible mistake?
“I’m sorry, Signore, to have wasted your time.”
Rollo raised an eyebrow. “Wasted my time?”
“Well, if I wasn’t good enough then - ”
Then, to Nicolo’s complete amazement, Alessandro Rollo threw back his head and let out a bark of laughter.
“My dear boy, Nicolo, I think you’ve misunderstood my words. I won’t take you as my student – cannot possibly take you as my student – because there’s simply nothing left that I can teach you. Someone who plays as brilliantly as you,” Rollo gestured vaguely, “is beyond my teachings.”
Oh, so that was all right then.
Relief washed over Nicolo, leaving him weak. He wasn’t horrible and lacking technique after all, but if Rollo wouldn’t take him… then what?
“This is what I propose. Ciro here – ” Rollo nodded at one of the younger singers who looked mildly surprised to be included in these strange turn of events. “- Will take you down the road to Signore Servetto. He’s a fine young man; play for him, and he’ll know what to do with you.”
Nicolo stammered his thanks, hoping that he didn’t sound as incompetent or stupid as he felt, and followed Ciro feeling both elated and as though he were a stray kitten that no one really wanted.
But then there was that small voice in his head that pointed out that it didn’t matter, really, if no one wanted him now because if Alessandro Rollo could teach him nothing, then he really must be the best.
Giovanni Servetto was a reckless man in his twenties, who knew everything worth knowing.
He admired Nicolo’s skill on the violin, gave him a room at the back of his apartments and set out to teach him everything that he knew about composition.
Giovanni taught Nicolo other things too, like how to throw dice and flirt with the pretty girls downstairs. He taught him to play the guitar, and to sings songs that couldn’t be performed anywhere near churches or concert halls.
In return for his education, Nicolo made sure that the rent got paid, fielded anxious ladies when Giovanni was otherwise engaged and in general, worshipped the older man endlessly.
Giovanni showed Nicolo the art and applications of well-placed charm and besides this, gave Nicolo the connections necessary to get work in the right circles of society.
The arrangement was, most days, of mutual benefit.
“Aren’t you going to answer the door then?” Giovanni shouted across the apartment.
Nicolo had learned, fairly early on, that he wasn’t actually required to cater to his teacher’s whims. The things that he’d often wanted to say - but would earn long, heavy stares from his parents – made Giovanni laugh, startled at first and then in genuine amusement.
“No – I don’t think I will. I’m rather comfortable here.” And as an afterthought, “You’re closer.”
He could practically see Giovanni’s eyes narrow, and the corner of his mouth twitch.
“Eh, Paganini – what do I keep you for? You’re have even less uses than my last slave.”
Nicolo grinned and shouted back, “Is this the one that you burned alive?”
“A kinder fate then you’ll get – I’ll burn your violin alive!”
Nicolo’s jaw dropped before he could stop it from doing as much. He wouldn’t.
“Answer the damn door – if they’re not gone already!”
Nicolo stomped to the door, muttering ‘bastard’ underneath his breathe.
“What’s that, slave?”
Giovanni had the uncanniest ability to hear things that most people couldn’t.
“I said, ‘Yes Master’.” Nicolo grimaced, and wrenched open the door.
There was a well-dressed young lady at the top of the landing, who had turned to leave. At the sound of the door opening, she turned back around and gave him a pleasant smile.
“Err – yes?” He didn’t have the slightest clue whom she might be. This was the trouble, thought Nicolo, with having so many adoring fans.
“Is Signore Servetto in?”
Okay, so not his adoring fan.
“Erm, no I’m afraid that he’s not.” Standard door-answering policy to avoid scenes of hysteric jealousy and awkward situations in general. A lie, but Nicolo wasn’t too concerned about going to hell at this point; he’d had his share of gambling and alcohol in the past two years.
And besides, she had been so very non-specific. ‘In’ could be interpreted in a variety of ways - for example, in penance? In good health? In the shoe business? No, Signore Servetto was definitely not ‘in’. Nicolo wished, for the millionth time that there weren’t always incoherent ladies traipsing by at all hours of the day.
The worst, of course, were the worst were the “I know he’s here, and I’m not leaving until I see him” women. Nicolo was almost grateful that she wasn’t one of them – it wasn’t good for his nerves.
This woman though, seemed to be smarter than most.
She frowned, making herself look the tragically wronged heroine. “I thought I heard his voice. There was yelling.”
“Um – yeah, that was me.” He felt his face going red, and vaguely Nicolo noted that he wasn’t exactly coming off as a brilliant conversationalist here.
She raised a dark eyebrow, “Oh?”
“I was upset.” Nicolo smiled sweetly and turned on the Paganini charm. “My practicing wasn’t going so well – and see, sometimes I need to yell at myself.”
He watched her process this with a look of bewilderment on her face and hoped fervently that she hadn’t heard the conversation.
That would be weird. Or it would be, if Nicolo didn’t have the suspicion that this had already gone past weird.
After considering, she looked about to protest, so Nicolo willed himself to look earnest and stuck out his lower lip for good measure.
“You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
The woman looked away, uncomfortable. “Of course not – you’ll tell Signore Servetto that I stopped by?”
Nicolo was about to agree when the dashing Signore Servetto himself, chose that moment to make an appearance.
“Eh Paganini – who’s at the door?”
Nicolo could have died. Or strangled Giovanni.
The second option was, naturally, the more appealing of the two.
As for the lady, she gave Nicolo a disappointed look that would have been much more effective, had she not been so clearly thrilled to see Giovanni.
“I thought you weren’t in,” she exclaimed as if that would, indeed, be the most tragic thing in Italy.
“And miss your enchanting smile?” Giovanni had apparently found his charm somewhere between his study and the front foyer. Nicolo resisted the urge to choke, or roll his eyes, and moved to make his escape but Giovanni stopped him.
“Why, Nicolo, did the lady think I was not at home?”
“Err – because I told her you weren’t.”
Giovanni looked scandalized, something that Nicolo was sure took a lot of practice.
“Why, why would you do such a thing?”
Nicolo protested – “But I thought you weren’t here.”
He was rewarded with a look that said good boy. Giovanni took the lady’s hand and ushered her in.
“May I introduce to you the stunning Signorina Amadora Ondretti? And to you Signorina Ondretti, my faithful apprentice Nicolo Paganini.”
Signorina Ondretti smiled pleasantly and everything was clearly forgiven. Not that it mattered, thought Nicolo as Giovanni gave him a wink and shoved him on his way; she’d be gone in two weeks.
Except that she wasn’t gone in two weeks.
One night after one of Nicolo’s concerts, and when he was well on his way to having gambled away half of his week’s earnings, Giovanni clambered his way up onto one of the card tables that was very much in use.
He had a wine glass in his hand that, no doubt, accounted for the added poetry in his speech and his eyes never left the head of the raven-haired girl across the room. Giovanni vowed his undying love for her and as she turned a perfectly innocent shade of pink, he announced his engagement to the daughter of Signore and Signora Ondretti.
At the age of fifteen, Nicolo lost his position of faithful apprentice.
Not that he had lost it through any acts of his own, so much as it had been stolen. Stolen by an annoyingly pleasant woman who made Giovanni smile twice as much as Nicolo ever had.
How was this even possible?
After a night of cheap wine and expensive sex, Nicolo stumbled upon the horrifying revelation that maybe he wasn’t the best after all.
Maybe, devasting though it was, he was just the best at violin.
This was obviously the case, so Nicolo moved in with some musicians from the theatre where he drank twice the amount that was healthy and cut his practice time in half.
But that was all right, because everyone still loved him.
There was the occasional person who, when he showed up late for engagements, didn’t love him so much – but they didn’t matter anyways. Who were they? Nobody.
He was Paganini.
Nicolo went back home to Genoa to visit his family because he’d had a streak of brilliant luck at the Casino one night and because he felt he ought to too, of course.
Mother still clucked and fussed as if he were twelve, baking him his favourite dishes and telling stories about the neighbours. Father gave him tight smiles to his face, and long heavy stares that Nicolo could feel, although he didn’t think he was supposed to see them.
He played for his parents who were proud and impressed; Mother cried, and Father gave him his first real smile, since he had come home to stay. He played for his nephews and nieces who pronounced Haydn to be boring but shrieked with delight when he imitated animal sounds. Nicolo thought that they might have a point.
As for his brothers and sisters, they were people that Nicolo loved but couldn't claim to know. And they asked uncomfortable questions, too.
Are you happy?
Is that even healthy?
When Nicolo went out in Genoa, people stopped to stare and whisper. He was used to this of course, but not without his violin and a stage. That never used to happen, there.
Genoa had changed in three years and so had the people who lived in the city. It felt odd and somewhat unfair, that he had no childhood place to go back to, where everything was safe and familiar.
It was all strange and new and Nicolo found himself thinking, with a sinking feeling, of Parma as home.
When he arrived back in Parma, Nicolo was glad to have returned but missed his childhood home all over again, and it was just like it was his first time away. With notable exceptions; this time, Giovanni wasn’t there to make it better.
Nicolo drank more and more, because surely drink could cure the flaws of his life, and thought vaguely that he was going nowhere fast. Not to say that he couldn't have been good, had he wanted to, because he was the best violinist to ever set foot on Italian soil.
He woke up one day, in the shadows of the world, where his friends would no longer lend him money and his audiences looked on in fascinated disgust. After concerts and engagements his adoring fans were replaced thugs with knives and demands for money.
Nicolo was roughed up in alleyways, and told to watch his step. He considered learning how to use a knife, but dismissed the idea as soon as it’d come – he’d likely get himself killed. He’d have to find another way.
Nicolo sold his violin to pay his debts.
He had work that night too, so he asked all the violinist and violists he knew to borrow their instruments. When they heard why he needed to borrow one, what had happened to his own, they flat out refused. Not, upon reflection, that he could blame them. He looked like a beaten alleycat and didn’t have an ounce of credibility to his name.
So when Paganini showed up drunk, to explain why he couldn’t perform for the man’s daughter’s birthday – Mother had taught them manners, after all – the gentleman in question looked as if his suspicions had been confirmed, rather than shocked or upset.
The last thing that Paganini remembers is a fist connecting with his face.