(Essentials of European Literature)

Melchior Krafft was a virtuoso, his father Jean Michel a famous conductor. It was no wonder that Melchior’s son, Christophe, should be a musician.

Louisa, Melchior’s wife, was a stolid woman of the lower class. Her father-in-law had been furious at his son for marrying beneath him, but he was soon won over by the patient goodness of Louisa. It was fortunate that there was a strong tie between them, for Melchior drank and wasted his money. Often the grandfather gave his little pension to Louisa because there was no money for the family.

Melchior by chance one day heard his three-year-old Christophe playing at the piano. In his drunken enthusiasm, Melchior conceived the idea of creating a musical prodigy. So began Christophe’s lessons. Over and over he played his scales; over and over he practiced until he was letter perfect. Often he rebelled. Whipping only made him more rebellious, but in the end the piano always pulled him back.

His grandfather noticed that he would often improvise melodies as he played with his toys. Sitting in a different room, he would transcribe those airs and arrange them. Christophe showed real genius in composition.

At the age of seven and a half, Christophe was ready for his first concert. Dressed in a ridiculous costume, he was presented at court as a child prodigy of six. He played works of some of the German masters and then performed with great success his own compositions gathered into an expensive privately printed volume, THE PLEASURES OF CHILDHOOD: ARIA, MINUETTO, VALSE, AND MARCIA, OPUS 1, by Jean-Christophe Krafft. The grand duke was delighted and bestowed the favor of the court on the prodigy.

Before reaching his teens, Christophe was firmly installed as official second violinist in the court orchestra, where his father was concert master. Rehearsals, concerts, composition, lessons to give and take—that was his life. He became the mainstay of the family financially, even collecting his father’s wages before Melchior could get his hands on them. All the other phases of his life were neglected; no one even bothered to teach him table manners.

When Melchior finally drowned himself, his death was a financial benefit to the Kraffts, but when Jean Michel died, it was a different matter. Christophe’s two brothers were seldom home, and only Louisa and her musician son were left. To save money, they moved into a smaller, more wretched flat.

Meanwhile, Christophe was going through a series of love affairs which always terminated unhappily because of his unswerving honesty and lack of social graces. In his early twenties he took Ada, a vulgar shop girl, for his mistress. Because of gossip, he found it much harder to get and keep pupils. When he dared to publish a criticism of the older masters, he lost his standing at court. He had almost decided to leave Germany.


(The entire section is 1184 words.)