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The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, December 19, 1897, Image 33

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1897-12-19/ed-1/seq-33/

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Paoli the Musician.
In two small rooms on the ground
floor of a rickety tenement lived Paoli,
his wife Flosca and their baby girl,
Anita. They had not intended to live
in such an humble manner when they
left their Italian home a year ago — ah,
no, they were coming to America — to
I California, another sunny Italy — and
Jirnia, and make lots of money.
i happy and make lots of money.
-^Fcr was not Paoli's father a prosper
ous fruit merchant in the city so far
away in the west, and had he not sent
I them the gold that would bring them
across the sea and land to him?
So they smiled farewell to the good
friends, the holy father had himself
blessed them, and then the little
family started for the land of sun-
shine and — Paoli, Flosca and the
babe Anita and the little harmonium
that was too precious to leave behind.
But Paoli arrived in San Francisco
only to find that the fruit merchant,
his father, had been dead a month,
and instead of the proud array of
fruits and vegetables he had expected
to see nothing but a cheerless "For
Rent" sign greeted his tearful eyes
when led to the place by a sympa
thetic countrymen. All the money of
the deceased fruit dealer had been
used to defray the funeral expenses.
Alone, friendless and almost penni
less in a strange land the little family
stricken with the awful blow sought
shelter in one of the big tenements
that rear their gloomy fronts on the
narrow alleys, which in mock cour
tesy are called streets.
Every day Paoli would kiss his
weeping Flosca and little Anita and
tramp the streets of the big city look
ing for something to do, he knew not
what. His countrymen were kind, but
alas, so poor! and Paoli would not
' accept alms. It was work he wanted. I
But when he asked for employment I
his countrymen would shake their j
heads kindly; he was too small, too
delicate; the work was too rough;
could he not find something to do with
his music? But Paoli would explain j
to them that he did not speak the i
language s and besides, he would add
J with "a bitter smile, he did not belong I
1 to the union.
So for many weary days he sought
vainly for work, only to meet with dis- !
appointment and rebuff. Then he |
Many times during the last few
months I have taken up my pen to give
to the world the story of Geza Domen
ico, but always after having written
several pages entirely unsatisfactory
to myself I have felt upon my own the
V' restraining touch of an invisible hand
and laid aside my work.
But now that I know he is dead the
impulse to write has come strongly
upon me, and I know that it can be
The family of Domenico is one of the
oldest and most aristocratic in Italy.
It has been for generations one of the
greatest refinement, has never been
connected with scandals at court, and
has always lent the influence of its
wealth and great name to the music
and art and the literature of the time.
j* Geza first saw the light of day in Flor
**. ence,
Where the quiet Arno flows,
and up to his twelfth year breathed,
in the atmosphere of bis romantic sur
sroundings,5 roundings, the poetry and dreamy ro
mance of that most beautiful of all
Italian cities. Then through some fan
cied intrigue of bis father the elder
Domenico was banished from Italy.
Crossing with his family into Austria-
Hungary, he located after several
years in Buda-Pest, that center whence
so many musical geniuses flash upon
the world, weaving into their Hunga
rian melodies all the wild dreamtngs of
love and battle and death which we
find threading so much of the Hunga
rian composition.
Here Geza, with every opportunity
wealth could afford, perfected himself
in his studies on the violin, and in his
twenty-first year produced his opera,
"The King and the Subject," scoring
an instantaneous success. The score
was of the highest order, and pro
duced a profound sensation in the
Hungarian capital. Not so, however,
.Vie libretto, which I had the misfor
tune to writ*-. Innocent enough in it
-2* f, in its allusions to the rulers of the
ciWtry, •-. artists reading more deeply
'beVveen the lines than even I hud
dreamed, and adding to the sentiment
the buffoonery of the 'stage, the libret
to, when it reached the court, was as
unpopular as the music was accept
The mandate issued from Vienna and
Geza was compelled to Quit the coun-
„ try. I, being an American, was treated
■'- less cavalierly, but in various ways,
•which one even less observant than
. myself could not fail to note, I was led
'■-' to believe my continued residence in
would sigh and say to himself, "Rome
is so far away— far away!"
The weeks passed. The little hoard
of money was almost exhausted, and
Poali's shoes were worn out from
much weary walking over the hard
cobbles. And then, when sore and
discouraged from his unsuccessful
tramps, the tired musician would step
softly into the big cathedral and re
fresh his heart and sou! with the mu
sic that was so dear to him.
It was on one of these days that a
kindly priest, noticing the pale and
haggard face of the stranger, and rec
ognizing a countryman, stopped to
speak a word of encouragement. In
a few moments Paoli's sad story was
Buda-Pest, or indeed in any part of
Austria-Hungary, would be greatly det
rimental to my health.
Geza realized enough from the sale
of his score to organize an orchestra,
which he took across the Atlantic for
an American tour.
Either because New York had been
favored that season with several im
ported orchestras or because of incom
petent management, Geza's venture
proved a dismal failure. It certainly
was not because of any lack of ar
tistic ability.
Too proud to write home for assist
ance, crowded to the wall by local
musicians who were jealous of his su
perior ability, unable to speak fluently
the language of the country, Domenico
in a moment of folly and desperation
enlisted in Uncle Sam's army and was
sent to join a regiment stationed at
Fort McKinney, in Wyoming, in the
heart of the Wolf Tongue Range of
the Big Horn Mountains.
Several years afterward chance sent
me to Wyoming, and at McKinney we
renewed our friendship of former
years. Here, at least, where Geza was
as much out of place as an arpeggio
in a dirge, there was no danger of pun
ishment for any shortcomings in the
wording of librettos or the manner in
which they were produced.
Every evening after guard mount 1
used to sit in Domenico's room in the
musicians' barracks and listen to his
music by the hour. Often he impro
vised, but more frequently with his
score before him he was forgetful of
his surroundings until weariness would
recall him to himself.
To me, with only a rudimentary
knowledge of written music, his books
were only a hieroglyphic maze of bars
and plashes, but to Geza they were
the open sesame which threw wide the
gates of paradise.
Many months passed with these even
ings of delight, and I grew to love the
man as I loved his music. Later I be
gan to notice tbat he absented him
self more and more in trips to th*-*
little town of Buffalo, some four miles
from the post, at that time, like the
majority of frontier towns, peopled
with a rough but generous class. Of
the women who had drifted into the
locality little need be said. Among
them, however, was one more attrac
tive than the rest, musical, and an ap
preciative listener. Geza, not under
standing the degradation of the life
told. In the course of the conversation
the good father learned that the stran
ger was a musician, and familiar with
the music of the church. The inter
view ended by Paoli receiving an invi
tation to call that evening at the study
of the priest, who would give him
some music to arrange, and if the
work was well done there might be
much of it to do in the future. With
a hearty clasp of the hand and an
admonition to be of good cheer Paoli
was sent home with a light heart to
tell the good news to Flosca and to
dance joyously around the room with
Anita cooing in his arms.
So the months passed and Paoli
worked hard with the music. He
into which choice or circumstance had
led her, lost his heart to her.
Not until it was too late did the ter
rible and shameful truth flash upon
him. When he came home that night
I knew. He picked up the violin and
listlessly drew the bow across- the
strings, then laid it aside wearily, but
he told me nothing.
I left him alone with his grief, wait
ing till he should come for me. Several
days later he was reported missing
from the post. He was not in the town
and after forty-eight hours I started
out alone to seek some trace of him.
Clear Creek Canyon is one of the
most beautiful in all Wyoming. The
creek lashes itself to foam over its
rocky bed; on either side the tree-clad
mountains rise to a great height, and
in the far background the snow-clad
peaks lift themselves into the impene
trable deep of the sky. To the mere
plodder a mountain torrent is a thing
of danger, venting its anger in inces
sant roaring; but to the artist, the
musician and the poet it is at once a
delight and an inspiration.
The artist, in the mad swirl of the
waters, sees such graceful curvings in
infinite variety as he can find nowhere
else; the musician finds there the
many-throated lute attuned to the
great orchestra of nature forever voic
ing its "Ti Salutiamo" to the infinite;
for the poet it is the siren wooing him
with seductive sweetness of her voice,
pitched at times to some ruder note as
though she sought jealously to drown
the whisperings of the leaves. Know
ing Domenico as I did I felt certain
that somewhere here I should find
trace of him, and I was not far wrong.
After riding nearly the entire day
along the winding and sometimes dan
gerous trail at last I reached a com
paratively level spot where the waters
flowed quietly for a space.
My horse, affrighted at something I
could not see, snorted suddenly ' and
rearing turned and started to run down
the canyon.
No amount of coaxing, nor even a
vigorous application of the spurs
could induce him to return. Slipping
the reins over his head so that he
might graze along the trail, I shoul
dered my rifle and proceeded on foot.
Tremulously, as the faint stirring of
the leaves when the day begins to
make itself felt, there came floating to
me the tones of Geza's violin. Strange
that I should have happened upon
him at such a moment. I recognized
the piece that he was about to play;
it was the prolusion of the second act
of his opera, and entitled the
"Awakening of Love." One who has
witnessed a dawn in the tropics, when
a thousand feathered songsters were
piping their matin lays, might form a
fair conception of the riotous irre
sponsibility and joyousness of the
music that came drifting toward me
across the open. At Buda-Pest, on .the
occasion of its initial production, the
audience rose en masse and called for
the composer. Again and again was
proved himself to be possessed of rare
musical genius, although he was too
modest and timid to tell his benefactor
at the cathedral all he could do.
All day long he would write at the
little dingy window— all day long and
far into the night— O'Rourke, the
policeman, would peer through the
broken shutters and speak a kindly
word to the brave little man bending
over his work, while from the inner
room came the soft breathing of
Flosca, the wife, and Anita, the babe.
It was hard to live on the slender
earnings of the little musician, how
ever, for Paoli was so conscientious
and neat with his work that he spent
much more time in arranging a mass
Geza compelled to bow his acknowl
edgments, and finally, leaving the or
chestra, he rendered the obligato from
the stage.
Never, and I have witnessed many
ovations at the Continental theaters,
have I seen the height of enthusiasm
which attended this performance.
A peculiar feature of the composi
tion was the impression it conveyed of
absolute purity. Resting under its
spell the mind became calm and se
rene and clear as the depths of a
mountain spring.
A short distance up the canyon I
saw Geza standing by a large boulder
and near him, to my amazement and
horror, a huge mountain lion was
dancing and playing with all the
abandon and agileness of a kitten.
Thrilled as I was by the music, I
realized his dangerous position. Fol
lowing the overture, he played the
part which formed the climax of the
second act, "Amor Trionfale." It
rang forth with all the strength and
vigor of the "Hallelujah" chorus.
Then it seemed a miracle was being
worked. A black cloud fell across the
sun and the canyon was in heavy
shadow. A feeling of Intense dread
crept over me; the linn, whining, thrust
his head between his fore paws and
lay there quivering. Through the
quiet of the canyon stole the measure
of a "Miserere," the equal of which
has never been produced. Low over his
violin Geza was bending, throwing all
the sadness of his soul into those
quivering chords while unconsciously
my lips framed the words —
In death's dark hour remain thin near.
Again the theme failed, and I felt it
was the denunciation.
I could feel him cursing fate or God
or what you will with all the depths
of his nature. The setting sun had
slipped around until it shone squarely
into the canyon, a ball of blood, pur
pling the leaves of the trees and the
grasses, while against the Eastern sky
the snow mountains rose like pillars
Of fire.
I felt the mad blood rushing to my
head, and through me crept the desire
for retaliation on an untoward fate,
which must have animated Geza as he
played. Then suddenly the lion broke
the spell.
Loud and terrifying, but resonant as
a huge bass viol, the roar of the brute
woke the echoes of the forest and
sounded in perfect unison with the
shriller fury of the violin. The lion's
jaws were open, his tail was lashing
furiously from side to side, and he be
gan crouching ready for a spring.
Then 1 raised my rifle and sent a bul
let through his heart. He was in the
air when the bullet struck him.
His huge paws knocked the violin
from Geza's grasp, and the dead body
falling upon it crushed it completely.
Then I approached Geza, and he start
ed at the sight of me. He did not re
alize the danger he had escaped. The
loss of the violin was a great grief to
It was a valued Guarnerius, which
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than less careful musicians would.
There was much music to arrange for
the service in the great cathedral, and
Father Bassini kept his protege at
work. Some of the masses were in
manuscript, and must be copied for
the different singers, and sometimes a
whole mass must be transposed a tone
higher or a half tone lower, because, for
sooth, the prima donna's voice ap
peared to better advantage in the new
Then Paoli would say to his wife:
"Just think, Flosca, they must have it
transposed! It is too high it is too
low! Ma fois! If I were the organist
I would play it in any key," and his
eyes would fill with tears as his
thoughts flew back to the happy days
in Italy, when he played one of the
grand organs. Yes, and to that blessed
day in St. Peter's, when the Pope
had praised his wonderful playing and
presented him with a seal ring — a
priceless treasure which the musician
always wore.
Then Flosca would caress him and
say tenderly: "Never mind, dear
Paoli, some day they will appreciate
your genius, and you will play here as
you did in Rome. Some day it will be
so, my Paoli." And with such encour
agement the work was so much
lighter, the days so much brighter.
O'Rourke, the big policeman, took a
strange interest in the little musician,
and every night would stop at the
shutter to speak a few cheering words
or to give a vivid description of the
latest brawl at the corner saloon.
Once, when the rent man was making
daily trips to the poor little home, and
Paoll would plead for more time
O'Rourke took the collector to one
side as he left the door with a scowl
on his face and guaranteed the pay
ment of the amount due. The big
patrolman had a heart in keeping
with his huge form, and his admira
tion for the "plucky little Dago," as
he affectionately called him, was great.
One day Paoli, with many gestures
and much broken English, had told
his sad story to O'Rourke, and from
that time on the policeman was a
friend indeed.
It was nearing the holidays, and
great preparations were being made
at the cathedral for the celebration of
the services of the Christmas season.
The singing was to be grander than
ever, and the music especially fine.
Father Bassini called Paoli into his
study, and placed in his hands the
mass of a famous composer.
"Here, Paoll, is cur Christmas mass.
It is all manuscript, as you see, and
written for low voices. Transpose it
a tone and a half higher, and arrange
it for organ, with full orchestral ac
companiment. It is a task to try all
your skill, my son, and you must work
fast. Have it ready the week before
Christmas and here is something to
keep your spirits up" — the good
man pressed some gold pieces into the
trembling hand of Paoll, who fairly
flew home to Flosca, only stopping
long enough to tell the good news to
O'Rourke, as he encountered that
worthy abstractedly filling his pockets
at a corner peanut stand.
What joy it was to Paoli's heart as
he lovingly turned page after page of
the great mass and it was in Mo
zart's own writing, too! Late into the
night he poured over the manuscript,
noting each chord and note of the ac
companiment. He must study it well
if he would arrange it to his satisfac
tion, and the little musician could not
repress a feeling of pride to think
that he had been intrusted with the
precious task.
As he scanned page after page he
came to the prima donna's solo. This
had been in his family for generations
and had been his constant companion
since childhood.
He picked up the scattered frag
ments and wrapped them up tenderly.
I secured the skin of the lion, and find
ing my horse Geza mounted him and
together we returned to the post. Geza
lay in the hospital with a fever for
several weeks, and shortly after his
recovery his troop was ordered to an
other post, and except in memory he
passed completely out of my life. A
soldier taxidermist prepared the skin
for me and applied a preservative to
the head which preserved its natural
This was fifteen years ago.
* * * *
Last evening at home I answered a
ring at the door. A figure dressed in
black and but dimly discernible in the
gloom outside handed me a roll of pa
per tied with a black ribbon, and ere I
could ask any question disappeared in
to the night.
I returned to the parlor, where my
: wife was sitting at the piano, and
opened the roll* curiously. It was an
arrangement for the piano, dedicated
to me and composed by Geza Domen
My wife looked it over for a few
minutes and then began playing, slow
■ ly at first, and then more and more in
terestedly. It was the music of Clear
Creek Canyon, softened and subdued.
Gradually as it developed, however,
I felt the old sensations creeping over
me, and then beautifully sweet and
clear rose the notes of the violin blend
ing with the piano in a composition of
exquisite harmony. How can I ade
quately describe the return of the old
emotions as the piece progressed? The
hot blood surged to my temples as be
fore, and then to my utter horror the
lion skin on the hearth gradually as
sumed the shape it held in life, the tail
lashed madly from side to side and
the jaws were red with blood. Then
there was a blood-curdling growl, a
crash of broken strings and all was
After a time, which seemed very long
to me, I bent to touch the lion skin
and it fell to pieces in my grasp, and
as I lifted the head, which had fallen
entirely flat, there was underneath it
only a handful of ashes on the hearth.
You, who never rested under the
spell of Domenico's music, may say
that I was imaginative or under the
influence of a self-Induced hypnotic
condition; but I, I know that Geza Do
menico, intangible and invisible, stood
in the room last night, compelling
through the perfection of his art a per
fect interpretation of the score and
joining with his violin in a production
of incomparable beauty.
And through my life long I shall
carry the conviction that with the
brute creation there is a to-morrow of
death, and that an all- wise and benefi
cent God doth in his own good time
guide even these
By ways we cannot comprehend
To some uwruesped, benignant end.
was to be the grandest part of the
whole mass, and Paoli followed rap
idly, breathlessly, note after note of
the music.
Suddenly he stopped . short and
jumped to his feet, with eyes aglow
and nerves atremble. One moment he
bent over the music with fascinated,
burning gaze, the next to walk up and
down the small apartment humming
softly, then to seat himself again, mur
muring, "I would not have arranged it
so; a B flat here and a minor there" —
the words came rapidly, almost inar
ticulate with the intensity of the in
spiration that came to him as he view
ed the music spread out on the
table. Then suddenly seating himself
at the precious harmonium he com
menced to play, softly, tenderly, using
the composer's air, but his own har
mony, humming the words In low,
sweet tones. At the solo he began to
sing aloud, in the enthusiasm of his
improvisation forgetful of everything
but the music before him.
His voice rose clear and sweet, full
of the intense emotion that filled his
soul. Bell-like it rang out through the
cold night air, and O'Rourke, startled
from his dozing in a friendly doorway,
looked heavenward, half expecting to
see an angel host. , A drunken man,
stumbling by, paused in his uncertain
walk, then took off his hat and crossed
himself. Flosca smiled in her sleep as
the first sweet tones flitted by her
dreaming ear; but now awakened she
stole to the door, fearing to disturb
Paoli's inspiration by so much as a
sound. She stood there, clasping her
night robe over her breast, staring
with soulful, tear-dimmed eyesmo
tionless, speechless— Paoli had
sung to the end of the mass, uncon
scious of everything but the music his
"It is grand, O Paoli! It is heavenly!"
Flosca murmured, in low tones, as one
speaks in the sacred precincts of a
cathedral. The player staggered to his
feet and turned toward her a face
"It is Mozart's Mass, and • I have
changed it. Do you hear, Flosca mia?
I, Paoli,' have made more beautiful the
work of the great master. I — but,
unable to bear up under the excite
ment, the little artist sank to the floor,
with Flosca's soft, warm arms around
his neck, a smile on his lips and the
music of paradise in his ears.
• * » * »
By working from the dark of the
morning to the dark of the night Paoli
delivered the mass on time, and, with
a few hurried words of explanation to
Father Bassini, fled, not having the
! courage to stay and listen to the re
The priest, with a look of surprise on
his face, hastened to the organ-loft
and distributed the parts to the wait
ing musicians. The organist began the
prelude, the orchestra took up the
music, the artists commenced to sing,
and Father Bassini was listening to
the grandest mass he had ever heard.
He noticed the changes that had been
made, and, thorough musician that he
was, he knew that Paoli had made no
mistake. When the rehearsal was over
the soprano excitedly inquired the
name of the arranger. Father Bassini
repaired to his study with the praises
of the players and singers ringing in
his ears and a look of pleased perplex
ity on his benevolent face.
"That man is a genius," he mut
tered to himself. "I must see him in
the morning." And when the morning
came Paoli, answering the tap at the
door, beheld the robed form of his
friend standing there to greet him with
outstretched hands and a smile of con
j gratulation on his face.
"The mass was a grand success, my
son, and I have called to congratulate
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you on your wonderful work. It was a
grave liberty to take— this changing
the harmony of a great master—
you have proved yourself equal to the
Paoli could hardly believe his ears,
and his eyes filled with tears at the
kindly words of the father, who in
leaving gave the happy musician a
cordial invitation to be present at the
final rehearsal a few evenings hence.
It seemed to Paoli that the time
would never come, so great was his
eagerness to listen to his music. At
last he started for the cathedral, but
when the entrance was reached he
faltered, a strange feeling of timidity
and restraint causing him to pause
irresolute. But Father Bassini, antici
pating the modesty of the musician,
was awaiting in the vestibule, and
soon Paoli was being introduced to the
singers and the great soprano was
smiling upon him and praising his
It was past the hour for rehearsal,
and they were all there but the organ
ist. The choir master looked at the
clock and frowned. "There he comes,"
said some one, as a form was seen
hastening up the dimly lighted aisle;
but it was only a messenger boy, who
brought the news that the organist
had been stricken with a serious ill
ness and could not come.
. "What shall we do, what shall we
do?" cried the priest, almost weeping
in his trouble. "The music all ready,
Christmas but a day off and no organ
ist," and he groaned in despair.
"If you will permit me, father, I will
play the organ," said a quiet voice at
his side, and looking up the priest be
held Paoli.
"You, my son? You play the great
"Yes, I, father. I have played for
the holy father at Rome. See! He
gave me this ring because my play
ing pleased him," and Paoli, in modest
pride, held out a delicate finger, on
which glistened the Pope's signet.
After the murmurs of pleased sur
prise were over Paoli took his seat on
the bench, and manipulating the maze
of stops with a practiced hand began
the prelude.
Through the whole mass he played
with wonderful mastery, the organ re
sponsive to an almost human degree.
The souls of the singers, thrilled with
wonder and admiration, made the
music more soul-inspiring than even
Paoli had dreamed it could be.
When the musicians had departed
Father Bassini clasped the slender or
ganist to his breast and said, "Bless
you, my son; the grand organ has at
last found a worthy master!"
"Oh, Flosca mia, I play the organ to
morrow, Christmas, and after that al
ways!" was the joyful news imparted
to the waiting wife that night, and
with a smile of ineffable sweetness and
confidence she stood with her arms
about his neck and replied:
"At last, my- Paoli, we have found
another Italy. This is our Rome!"
» * * • »
All was bustle and confusion in the
household of O'Rourke, the policeman,
Christmas morning.
"Hurry up and dress the kids, Mag
gie," said the head of the house as he
struggled with a refractory collar;
"we go to the cathadral this morning
to hear the new organist."
"The new organist, Mike? And sure,
who may he be?"
"Faith," responded the worthy
O'Rourke as he admired as much as
he could see of himself in the little
mirror, "faith, an' it's me frien', the
little Dago."

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