THE PIANO STUDENT
by Lea Singer
Translated by Elisabeth Lauffer
New Vessel Press. 230 pages, $16.95
THE ILLICIT LOVE AFFAIR of world-famous piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz and the less successful pianist Nico Kaufmann is recreated vividly in Lea Singer’s The Piano Student. Over the course of their relationship, Horowitz and Kaufmann exchanged love letters, some with highly erotic content—which they both agreed to burn after reading them. Horowitz kept to this promise, but Kaufmann did not. Singer has taken these letters, which were discovered in Switzerland, and used them to reconstruct the affair in a work of fiction.
The story is set in 1986, where we find Kaufmann spending the final years of his career playing piano at the Baur au Lac in Zurich. It is here that Reto Donati, a melancholic Swiss diplomat, comes in and asks Kaufmann to play the short composition Träumerei by Schumann, a piece he had heard the great Horowitz play years earlier. Kaufmann and Donati strike up a conversation, which ultimately leads to Kaufmann’s divulging his long-ago affair with Horowitz.