And what was it they played? His own new symphony—the work of which he had not yet breathed a syllable—the work that was to contain his best thought—the outpouring of his inmost soul—here found expression! The listener stood entranced, and big tears stole slowly down his cheeks at this realization of his most cherished dreams. Never had he thought it possible—and never, never surely again, would it be granted him to hear his own ideas thus divinely interpreted. There was a pause, in which the performers deliberated about their improvisation, and the Master received from them many valuable hints about the treatment of those passages with which he was himself least satisfied.
The Horn had introduced a solo that was a masterpiece, and in its purity and softness almost rivaled the Violins. The obligato for the Viola was simply a revelation. And one and all they had found out perfectly new harmonies. The listener marveled at the wondrous intuition with which they appeared to seize the exact shade of meaning he intended to convey—even at times, by some subtle touch, lending a richness and fullness to the musical phrase beyond all he had dreamt of. Was that his own work, the masterly employment of counterpoint in fugues and canons?
Again they paused to collect themselves. The Master trembled, for now came the adagio, into which he had put his whole soul, and on the worthy rendering of which his life's happiness seemed to be staked. He trembled—they were not going to play it? But yes—they had begun the movement, and it was of such surpassing loveliness that the listener would have fall en on his knees in ecstasy had he not feared by the slightest movement to disturb the flow of melody. But his heart throbbed with every vibration, recognizing its own utterances in these heavenly tones. And as his glance swept around the hall, he realized that it was no longer empty. There in the moonlight sat an audience. In the next pause he looked around again more carefully and well-nigh swooned in excess of wonder and delight. For it seemed to him that he saw sitting there all the musicians of bygone days—Weber, and Gluck, and Spohr, and Bach, and Handel, too; and there was Chopin, and not far off Schubert and Schumann, and then Mozart and Beethoven! There were many whose faces were unknown to him, but that they were Masters was shown sufficiently by their attitude and by the earnest intensity of look and gesture.. And as he looked across to the orchestra again he saw that it was peopled with all the greatest virtuosi—Vieuxtemps, and Paganini, and other incomparable artists, sat at every instrument! He could not believe his eyes; could it be that all his earthly idols were assembled here in such close contact—that he had but to put out his hand to touch them!
With the first notes of the scherzo began a fairy-dance, such as Mendelssohn might barely have imagined, with melodies exquisite as Schumann's sweetest fancies.
Then like a hurricane let loose they dashed into the finale. It was as though a mighty whirlwind swept over sea and land, stirring the ocean from its depths, till the crests of the billows touched the sky, and Heaven and Earth laughed together in unison. Wilder and wilder swelled the tempest, and the sonorous blast of the wind-instruments mingled with the yearning wail of the strings, as they vied with one another in their mad pace, in their furious onslaught. Suddenly, at its height, the storm subsided; its fierce cries were hushed to a whisper. No discord and plaudits broke that lull—only an occasional sign from one or other of the spirit audience called for the repetition of some theme, bidding the ghostly players quicken the tempo here, or give to the movement there a more melting intonation. And the least hint was acted on, the slightest wish obeyed.
By what mysterious means, through what occult channel the communication was effected, was beyond the ken of the solitary mortal in that weird assembly. But he was in his own person conscious that some such medium existed, for the unspoken suggestions of the audience seemed to flash upon his brain at the very moment when they were taken up and translated into sound by the musicians. Seated over there, in the shadow of his corner by the piano, with these glorious strains surging around him, it might well seem to the Master that he was scarcely longer a creature of flesh and blood, so far did he feel himself removed from all earthly things. And but an hour ago he had doubted his own talent, had called himself a failure, a mere bungler—all the hard names one calls one's self in the moment of disgust and despair at an unachieved ideal! And now it appears that he had been cared for and watched over all this while by those whom his soul most reverenced—that the best and greatest had not disdained to lend him aid—that Mozart had whispered melodies to him, and Bach had taught him harmonies! His heart was overflowing.
The last measures drew to a close, the last chords of the orchestra died away on the air. Then suddenly new sounds arose, faint and indistinct at first, but gradually gathering strength and fullness, just as the tiny murmur of the seashell produces the ripple of far-off waves, so the chant of a seraphic choir seemed to steal to the Master's ear from within the instrument upon which he was leaning. What were these voices that echoed within his own soul like a rhapsody, in words that grew every instant more distinct? "Work on, and have no fear! Give vent to all the great thoughts in thee! Be not daunted by coldness or rebuffs. We, thy good angels, who have shared thy vigil this night, will never leave thee. We have shown thee—have let thee hear for once the perfect rendering of that which thy genius would fain achieve. Listen to its promptings, and let thy spirit soar higher and higher on the wings of Music! Write quickly now, ere thou forget the lessons of this night!"
There before him lay within reach a pile of music-paper. He pulled it toward him, drew from his pocket a pencil, and began to write. Never had his hand flown with such feverish haste over the paper; it was as if it were impossible to keep pace with the thoughts that streamed from his brain. But were these indeed his own thoughts? Was there not rather some voice dictating to him? Were not his fingers guided—was he a free agent, or merely the mouthpiece for something much greater than himself? He wrote on and on, mechanically, and must have fallen asleep while writing, for when he awoke it was broad daylight, and the fingers still held the pencil, while before him, carefully written, lay the whole work. It was all ready for instrumentation, and the recollections of the night were still fresh and vivid in him, to help him with that. He must have been writing in his sleep all through the night—or had his friends from the spirit-world done the work for him? He rubbed his eyes, and contemplated the scattered sheets of paper, wondering.
A noise at the door aroused him from his reverie. It was the musicians returning to the concert-room to take away their instruments, and they started in surprise to find him there, and stared at the pile of paper lying at his feet.
"Yes, I have been writing something," he said in answer to their astonished and inquiring looks.
They told him that they had waited for him at the banquet and had sought him at his own home, and that at last they had been obliged to content themselves with drinking his health in his absence. He scarcely heard what they said he was still lost in the remembrance of that night of wonders.
The musicians stood amazed as they came nearer and realized the work he had accomplished in those hours. "It is marvelous!" they exclaimed. "How could you find the strength, after all you had just gone through, to finish in one night what it would have taken others six weeks to do?"
"I was not alone; the Masters helped me," he was on the point of saying, but he knew they would not understand, so he only smiled, and kept his secret to himself.
He went home, and the sight of his little dwelling filled him with emotion, for he knew that it was often honored with the presence of those whom he had most revered and loved. Henceforth it would be sacred in his eyes, this modest abode into which such noble guests did not disdain to enter, and an outburst of joy and gratitude was now heard within the walls that had too often echoed his complaints and sighs. He opened the piano, and a flood of melody poured forth from it. There seemed no limits to the inspiration that had taken hold of him—no bounds to the riches in his heart and brain.
People often wondered to see the Master so lighthearted, for his path in life had been thorny, and thus far his portion had been chiefly poverty and heartache. Now he was content, whatever happened, and, when material prosperity came to him as well, he was as free and open-handed with his worldly goods as he had ever been with the creations of his genius.
The experience of that one night was never repeated. More than once it could not be granted to anyone, but the once sufficed for an entire lifetime. What need to call up again that which is always with one, of which the presence cheers and warms one's heart till death? And never again could the Master doubt his own powers. He knew who they were who watched over him and lent him their aid.