Peter Goldsworthy’s novel “Maestro”, set in the tropics of Darwin, the dryness of Adelaide and the cultured Vienna, explores the relationship between a piano teacher and his student. The protagonist, Paul Crabbe narrates the memoir retrospectively during the periods of 1967 to 1977 reflecting on his life throughout his adolescence, and into adulthood. With each lesson the relationship between Paul and Keller strengthens through gradual growth and development. Paul’s initially impression of Keller was ‘misleading’ but throughout the novel comes a turning point when both characters realize that their love for one another becomes almost father and son like. In the end Paul ‘mourns over a great man’ and he feels nostalgic as his views of Keller are finally completed.

Young Paul, instant to judge Keller when they first meet in Darwin 1967, views Keller as a red-faced heavy drinker ‘his face an incandescent, boozers glow’, with his thick German accent, and unusual teaching techniques with hands that seemed ‘impossible’ to belong to a pianist. Paul suspects Keller to be a Nazi and ‘possible war criminal’. When Paul has his first lesson with Keller he senses he is ‘undergoing some form of test’.   Paul acts as is he knows everything, but Keller mocks Paul constantly with comments such as ‘you know so much for your age…and so little’. Keller tells Paul he is given ‘too much self-satisfaction’ and that he is egotistical.   Keller, the harshest of critics teaches Paul in a language he thinks is ‘simple and patronizing’. It is weeks before Keller lets Paul play, and even when he does, Keller doesn’t let Paul play complex pieces, making him start with ‘Children’s Bach’. Paul portrays Keller to be melancholic and arrogant as well as inequitable and harsh. Despite all the criticism, Paul develops a sense of affection towards Keller, perhaps a form of appreciation?

Paul and Keller’s relationship progresses throughout the novel, in each lesson they share. Paul comes ‘to love...