October 2009

Arts & Letters

‘Piano Lessons’ by Anna Goldsworthy

By Zora Simic
Black Inc., 224 pp; $27.95

At first glance, Anna Goldsworthy’s memoir, Piano Lessons, appears rather modest: she revisits her childhood and adolescence in comfortably suburban Adelaide, with the passing years marked by her development as a classical pianist under the tutelage of her piano teacher, Mrs Eleanora Sivan, a Russian émigré and one of a formidable line of teachers dating back to the nineteenth-century Hungarian composer Franz Liszt.

Under Mrs Sivan’s guidance, young Anna shifts her ambitions from appearing on Young Talent Time to becoming a concert pianist. High school induces in the multi-talented teenager the predictable panic that she might be a “square” or “worse: a dork, a dweeb or even a geek”, but this is a temporary blip. She surrenders to the demands of over-achievement, and all sorts of accolades accumulate. The rites of passage described here are not ordinary – from “her first first prize” at the Adelaide Eisteddfod we can trace a line to dux of the school and beyond.

Yet what Goldsworthy manages to pull off in Piano Lessons is far richer than a mere catalogue of achievements or self-congratulatory reminiscence. With eloquent flair and deft insight, she manages to convey the magical effects of fine teaching, an often-mysterious process that can easily turn attempts at translation into utter cliché. Here, however, the student matches the teacher: the memoir can be read as a product of their shared labours. Goldsworthy’s writing, like Mrs Sivan’s pedagogic style, is both disciplined and impassioned – and sometimes cleverly revealing – with just the right amount of self-mockery. Recalling the response of her adolescent self to a virtuoso performance, Goldsworthy writes: “The fact that I was moved moved me further, and I sobbed once, out loud.”

Mrs Sivan, with her inductive teaching methods and idiosyncratic English, is a gift to any writer, particularly one as fine as this: indeed, it was the author’s father, Peter Goldsworthy, the celebrated Australian writer, who first evoked an approximation of her in his novel Maestro. By claiming her teacher back, Goldsworthy revisits the lessons of her youth, of which only some involved a piano. She learned, for instance, by reading her father’s work, of the difference between fact and fiction: “… with each revision, the mirror became more opaque, until I realised it was no longer my story at all”.

In Piano Lessons, Goldsworthy places her own story among those of the great composers, not presumptuously, but in tribute to the teacher whose ideas were such that, as her student explains, by “the time I properly understood them, they were absorbed into my body, and I could no longer tell where her ideas began and mine left off”.

Cover: October 2009
View Edition

From the front page

Image showing installation view of Refik Anadol’s Quantum memories, 2020

NGV Triennial 2020

With a mix of eye-catching works, the second NGV Triennial blends the avant-garde with the populist

Bangarra’s Spirit. Photo © Lisa Tomasetti

Healing story

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s ‘Spirit’ pays tribute to collaborators

Image of ‘Jack’

‘Jack’ by Marilynne Robinson

History and suffering matter in the latest instalment of the American author’s Gilead novels

Image from ‘The Dry’

‘The Dry’ directed by Robert Connolly

Eric Bana stars as a troubled investigator dragged back to his home town in a sombre Australian thriller


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Frank Sinatra & Bob Hawke

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Bad behaviour

‘Barley Patch’ by Gerald Murnane

Giramondo Publishing, 320pp; $27.95
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Death notice


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Dhambit Munuŋgurr's Bees at Gäṉgän, 2019

Blue is the colour

The idiosyncratic work of Yolngu artist Dhambit Mununggurr

Image of ‘Empire and the Making of Native Title’

Dividing the Tasman: ‘Empire and the Making of Native Title’

Historian Bain Attwood examines the different approaches to sovereignty in the New Zealand and Australian settlements

Image of Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard’s wider world

The celebrated Australian author’s ‘Collected Stories’ sets private desperation in the cosmopolitan Europe she revered

Image from ‘Mank’

Citizen plain: ‘Mank’

David Fincher’s biopic of Orson Welles’s collaborating writer favours technique over heart


More in Noted

Image of ‘Jack’

‘Jack’ by Marilynne Robinson

History and suffering matter in the latest instalment of the American author’s Gilead novels

Image from ‘The Dry’

‘The Dry’ directed by Robert Connolly

Eric Bana stars as a troubled investigator dragged back to his home town in a sombre Australian thriller

Image of ‘The Living Sea of Waking Dreams’

‘The Living Sea of Waking Dreams’ by Richard Flanagan

The Booker Prize winner’s allegorical new novel about the permanence of loss

Image from ‘Kajillionaire’

‘Kajillionaire’ directed by Miranda July

A family of con artists are the American writer-director’s latest offbeat protagonists in a surreal but heartfelt film


Read on

Image showing installation view of Refik Anadol’s Quantum memories, 2020

NGV Triennial 2020

With a mix of eye-catching works, the second NGV Triennial blends the avant-garde with the populist

Bangarra’s Spirit. Photo © Lisa Tomasetti

Healing story

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s ‘Spirit’ pays tribute to collaborators

Image of movie still from Mangrove

Deep cuts: ‘Small Axe’

Black solidarity is a palpable force throughout Steve McQueen’s five-film anthology

Distortion nation

Why are we more outraged by cheating cricketers than alleged war crimes in Afghanistan?


×
×