Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Opil Lorbin part 1

1. The Letter
I was woken by the slap of letters through the letterbox on the wooden floor of my hallway. The early morning sun streamed through a gap in the curtains. I had worked late, notebook still on my lap, and fallen asleep on the sofa. Bleary eyed and half awake, I made some coffee and sifted through the mail. Bills, bills, predictably, and an unfamiliar envelope. I opened it.  I read:
Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility, Bennington, Vermont
Dear Mr Colcroft,
I am the sister of Opil Lorbin. The Sheikh said that if anyone can tell my brother’s story, it’s you. After Opil died I rescued all his papers and songs. When I was sent to prison, the Lorbin Foundation reluctantly agree to look after them. They never valued his pop songs. The Foundation is now bankrupt and its collection, with all my work on his songs, is due to be dispersed. I am very worried it may be lost. Go to: The Lorbin Foundation at 167 E7th Street. New York, and see the caretaker. All the material is in three black sacks. Please help me. I am in prison and unable to do anything. I can offer you $5000 to put his story together. I know it is not much, but more will follow I’m sure. It’s a story that needs to be told. I know you will help me. The Sheikh said you would. 
Thank you,
Sylvie Lorbin
Lorbin.. Lorbin.....Opil Lorbin... I tossed the name around the recesses of my brain, but no biography, no dates, but no fact, no location, no association came back. ‘Who was he? Why didn’t I know about him? Who was Sylvie? the Sheikh? What is the Foundation? Why was Sylvie in Prison? Why was she writing to me? How come the name Opil Lorbin was so familiar yet I could not place it? Was this a hoax? Was someone teasing me?’ My breath fluttered. My heart fluttered; too many questions, too many unknowns, unknowns caused anxiety, and anxiety made me ill. I had learned to avoid it. Once I was a violinist, a bizarre set of events had ruined my hearing, leaving me with tinnitus, and damaged tendons in my left hand, forcing me to lay down my violin. The damage was permanent so I’d been told ‘you need quiet life, low stress, so I got a job as a music writer etching a quiet life writing biographies of composers for a small but successful record company, who needed copy for their CDs. My violin was still in its case, in the corner. I looked at it every day, while I regretfully  habitually rubbed my ruptured tendons. At least the pain didn’t trouble me now. The tinnitus had subsided too - they still flared up when I was under stress, but since I left the city and opted for a quieter life, it was dealable. The record company sent me a list of ten new releases every month that needed blurb. It was easy work. I had a magpie memory. I was a walking treasure trove of musical trivia, I could reel off the dates of every classical composer, where they were born, their teachers, their muses, their influences, their masterpieces, what movements they belonged to … on and on. All I had to do was regurgitate my knowledge in the house style, and the check would arrive a few days later. It was so easy I would always leave it till late, spending days alone, at home doing nothing but looking, listening to the birds singing in my garden, looking at my violin case in the corner, wondering if my hand would ever get better, wondering if I would ever take the violin out of its case again, looking at my work, leaving it to the last minute, looking out the window, at my hands, at the phone, at the violin willing it to ring, living in the hope that if I looked at things for long enough, they might just change for the better. And now this letter arrived to set the creaking wheels of my life into motion. ‘Opil, Opil … Opil Lorbin… Lorbin, who was he?’ The question nagged me and so on that crisp February morning, as the letter instructed me, I caught the train into town to 7th Street. Next to a Polish Travel Agents, was a dilapidated brownstone, with the paint peeling off its front door. I read the heavily tarnished brass plate.“THE LORBIN FOUNDATION”.
I rang the bell, and looked through the letterbox. A dull, dusty, rusty tinkle came from the bowels of the building. No answer. I rang again. An old man hooked a bony finger round the edges of a torn lace curtain behind a grimy window-pane, and squinted at me. the finger let the lace fall across the man’s face. he left the window. I heard footsteps in the hall, fingers on the catch, and then the front door creaked open
Who are you? Who sent you?”
‘David Colcroft … Sylvie ... Sylvie Lorbin sent me. Are you the caretaker?”
“Oh its you .” He eyed me and I him. Both cagy.  He said “Come  this way” as he turned his shoe squeaked on the old linoleum floor. Brown suede shoes, I noticed.  “I didn’t think you’d come” he pushed past me and took 3 plastic sacks out of a battered tin dustbin on the side walk, and brought them inside. “Yes its these, take them” he gave me the sack and led me along a hallway that smelt of cabbage, cat’s piss and candle wax. A dull throbbing drone came from the depths of the building. II knew that if it drew my attention it would set off my tinnitus. “Yes I threw nearly them out. Didn’t think you’d come. This place is nearly clear now- the builders will be in next week.” I was about to leave when the old man glared at me “I was there on the 21st of May 1971, you know. I saw it happen”. 21st of May 1971? He was there? Where? I didn’t have a clue, but I noted the date, and looked at him. He ushered me towards the door and I was sure I could see a slight cruel knowing smile, flicker into the corner of his mouth. He half turned before he shut the door, and said ‘Goodluck. You can’t carry all this bags, You’ll need a cab. Don’t worry the Foundation will pay’
  I hailed a cab and headed home clutching three large black plastic sacks. I was relieved to get out of the city noise and back home. I took the weight of the sacks off my back as soon as I shut my front door. My shoulders ached. I rubbed my muscles, left the sacks on the floor of the hall while I made myself a cup of coffee, sat down and  and stared at the sacks in the hall for a few minutes and as I got my breath back I began to wonder what was inside before I opened them. The first thing I pulled out was a plank of wood, about eighteen inches long with a crudely drawn musical stave scratched into it, and a row of five 2 inch nails hammered, carelessly, but precisely on the bottom line of the stave, Eb. At one end, there was a yellowing label with neat handwriting that I recognised as Sylvie’s from the letter. It read: ‘Kirk Yetholm 1969. A bookshelf.’ I looked through the rest of the sack. It was full of scribblings on pieces of wood, toilet paper, cigarette packets, and several bits of writing on the back of labels from tins of Ambrosia Creamed Rice. Some of the scribblings were clearly bits of music, others seemed like arcane and unknown alphabets, and each scrap was labelled and numbered by Sylvie. I opened up the second sack, and found three box files. They contained notes, again in Sylvie’s hand, that listed the items in the first sack, and arranged them together, by song title. The scraps from the first sack contained the fragments of songs that Sylvie had painstakingly put together. The third sack had another box file, labelled “Press cuttings/obituaries.” and a book, “The Sound Virus: Abna Dforlock’s Piano Miniatures”. Abna Dforlock. I hadn’t heard that name in a while- he was the infamous Viennese composer whose impossibly difficult piano compositions were rumoured to make the player ill. To the few aficionados who knew of him, the very mention of his name was considered bad luck, and he was never mentioned by name 'The Polish man’ he was referred to, the Macbeth of music. And what had he to do with Opil Lorbin? Who? I was hooked. Opil Lorbin had entered my life. It took the best part of a year to sort all the scraps, press cuttings, objects and Sylvie’s notes into a coherent story, I had to talk to Sylvie and others who knew him and slowly I pieced together the extraordinary story of Opil Lorbin. This was the story I put together:

Opil Lorbin     by David Colcroft 
Opil Lorbin was in born 1949 in upper Silesia. His mother, Vala, a cellist, had a very sheltered childhood in a Hungarian musical family, and then, at the age of eighteen, went to study cello at a conservatory in Vienna. Letters to her best friend revealed that, she had a brief, passionate but troubled relationship with an unnamed lover, after which she dropped out of the conservatory, and to the consternation of ambitious parents and teachers, abandoned her plans for a career as a concert cellist. She moved to a very poor part of Vienna, her parents refusing to support her, and there, whilst working in a bar she met and sought refuge in the man who was later to become her husband, Larry Lorbin. Larry Lorbin was an Anglo-Lithuanian engineer brought up in the East End of London, who left England with his family after being harassed by Mosley’s Black Shirts in the early thirties. Larry was a handsome, uncomplicated, good-humoured man, who Vala found easy to be with, and she threw herself into loving Larry. They were so much in love that they did not see the storm clouds of Nazism gathering about them, clouds that burst in May 1938 when the SS broke into their home and took Larry into forced labour, leaving Vala to survive on her own. She moved to Slovakia and joined one of the most feared bands of resistance fighters in Slovakia, living rough and on the run in the High Tatras. They were a constant thorn in the Nazi’s side, throughout Slovakia and South Poland, until they were discovered by scared panicking Germans retreating from the Russians in March 1945. After a messy gunfight in which most of her comrades died she was shot in the chest and left for dead in a muddy forest clearing, where she lay for three days before she was found by an eighty year old Polish woman, Petenya Moroscyk, A herbalist who nursed her back to health in a cave, high in the Tatra mountains. Vala had been so badly injured, she was confined to her bed for six months, and unable to play or hear music, without any music around her, she could only listen to the animals and the birds, the sounds of wind and rain, the rustling of sheets and the slow gentle footsteps of Petenya her healer and guardian, half humming half mumbling to herself, as she pottered around the cave, cleaning cooking and preparing her medication.
Vala slowly recovered and spent her days walking amongst the mountains around and in August took a trip to the Southern Polish town of Zakopane, where as she told Petenya, she wanted to visit an ‘old friend’. As she was walking back along the mountain path, she saw a scrawny unkempt unwashed and unfed figure, with a deep furrowed brow shading piercing deep sunken eyes. It was Larry. He had been searching for her for two years, since being released from concentration camp. Separation and adversity had affected them in different ways; Vala’s spirit was strengthened, whilst Larry’s spirit was almost broken. At first she was a little reluctant to let Larry back into her life, but, moved by all he had suffered and wanting a family she let him back into her heart
Opil was born, one morning in May 1949, eight months and two weeks later, “Premature by three weeks” they entered on the birth certificate.

Vala and Larry decided to stay and build their family home in Murzasichle, for after the turmoil of war, they loved the peace and quiet of the mountains. Larry had a plentiful supply of work to keep the family alive, repairing everything from clocks to kettles, from cameras to cars. Vala, ever industrious, took on a part time teaching post at the village school, and began to play music again with the local villagers, most of whom seemed to play an instrument, and all of them joined together to sing at the slightest excuse. When Opil was two, the family was completed with the arrival of a baby girl Sylvie. Old Petenya had become part of the family, and acted as Nanny, cook, and granny to the family, always clean, always neat, but wearing the same red checked blouse. She took a pride in her appearance and became an  imposing but slightly scary figure and almost part of the family. She never lived with family though, at the end of the day she would leave the cottage and disappear up the mountain path. No-one knew where she lived, no-one visited her it was rumoured she lived in a cave. The one day, about eighteen months after Sylvie was born she just left after saying to Vala “I want you to have these and pass them on to Sylvie and David”. To Sylvie she left a necklace and some ancient lace, and to Opil, in an old wooden box, an old brass key.
“ It belonged to my mother,” she told Vala “and her mother before. it fits the lock of a cottage in the hills in Scotland and my cave here We come from a travelling family. Someday Opil will need a refuge. He can go there. I hear it is very beautiful.” She left that day, but did not appear the next morning, or the next, or the next. Vala, busy with two young children was so busy she carried on but sometimes wondered ‘where’s mum?’. 
It was evident at an early age that Opil had a precocious talent. Vala heard tunes in his first gurglings in the cradle. She could tell by the melody of his voice, his every infant need. When he was hungry, when he was happy, when he needed to be held and she noticed his extraordinary ability at a very young age to mimic and sing every sound around him. She persuaded Larry to renovate the dilapidated piano, that had been left in the shed in the backyard. Opil first touched the piano at the age of eighteen months, and a few months later, when Sylvie was born, and his mother was taken up with looking after the infant Sylvie, he would always crawl to the piano in the corner. Most babies, on first touching a keyboard, would plink clumsily around, gurgling at the thrill of their action producing a sound, but not Opil. Every time his hands touched the keyboard, a clean note would sound, and after a little playing around with different notes, he seemed to decide that Eb was his note, and all he would play would be Eb. His mother, when Sylvie was quiet and content, would join him at the piano, and gently improvise chords around his one note, playing suggesting, leading chords, to wean him off the one note, and he slowly very slowly, began to respond by inventing melodies of exquisite beauty and simplicity, over the structure she supplied. The inhabitants of Murzasichle, a hard working, but anxious breed, would always slow their walk down for the few paces it took to walk past the Lorbin house, when Opil and Vala were playing, for the hearing of would lift the weight of all worries from their shoulders, and when they moved on it was with a saunter, and maybe a skip or even a jig in their step. So this idyllic life, in a mountain village, was Opil’s cosy cradle for the first four years of his life.
The Lorbin family grew and prospered until late May 1953 when Opil was four. Vala was tragically killed in a car crash, whilst returning from a music lesson in a nearby village. The family was thrown into turmoil, Opil withdrew inside himself, and would not utter a word except for the throwing of occasional violent tantrums, during one of which he wrecked the piano, and he would hurl obscenities and abuse at anyone in his presence. His father, by this time an invalid, and totally distraught at the loss of Vala, was unable to look after Sylvie and a disturbed Opil.

So in 1953 Opil and Sylvie were sent to America and were looked after by distant relations, a rich musical family of Silesian descent, the Oblotskins, who lived on the Upper West Side of New York City. For the first few months he was in New York he was totally uncommunicative, apart from the tantrums, he threw every few hours. The family despaired, and took him to a succession of therapists, and, as therapists do, all diagnosed him as suffering from their favourite illness, which they pronounced fascinating and incurable unless he committed to years of expensive therapy. The family were at a loss what to do. Opil was often left alone in the house. One day, Mrs Oblotskin came home to find Opil sitting at the piano, tears streaming down his face, banging out furious chaotic chords, impossible chords that used every note, in every octave except Eb, the one note that he played incessantly with his mother. This continued until Abigail Figussonsdottir, a close friend of the despairing Mrs Oblotskin, contacted Johin Balamarkian, a demanding but brilliant piano teacher with a reputation for being able to bring the best out of awkward children, and suggested a meeting with young Opil.
Johin Balamarkian came from a well-known Viennese family. His father was a friend of Arnold Schoenberg, Sigmund Freud and Abna Dforlock. Balamarkian’s methods as a teacher were a mixture of naive Freudianism, and a Nietzschean belief in The Triumph of the Will. He thought that the free expression of repressed anger was the root of all creativity he believed that the 20th century was a time of splintered psyches, ripped asunder by the strain of modern living, of souls, angry and confused by a rapidly changing world, and he thought  art and artists should embody that fragmentation and confusion; he saw the anger and pain in young Opil Lorbin, and thought this was wonderful and marvellous and should be encouraged. He gave Opil only the angriest and most tortured music to play, which made Opil more tortured and angry. He became more and more unmanageable at home. But when Mrs Oblotskin came to him to complain of Opil’s terrible temperament, Balamarkian would say,“Patience. We must tolerate to nurture.   I am getting him to express himself, with me he is so free, so much himself, and Mrs Oblotskin, he is marvellous he is a prodigy! His earnings on the concert platform, will more than repay the not inconsiderable sum you owe me for his lessons. To stop now would be a terrible waste of my time,  Opil’s talent and er your money”.  Balamarkian had never had a harder working pupil. Opil Lorbin, oblivious to the world around him tore through everything that Johin Balamarkian put his way, playing with an intensity Balamarkian had never seen before, and he would say to his friends “such anger! such intensity! the boy is a genius!” But if he had known the cause of Opil’s anger and intensity, how, in the early years he would play the sweetest of one notes on the piano, accompanied by his mother, he would know there was another side to Opil Lorbin, a simple sweet soul buried far beneath the tempestuous monster that Balmarkian teaching had nurtured. At night when at last his tortured and angry soul would rest, a silence would enter his head like a night breeze entering through an opened bedroom window, and on the cushion of that silence, wafted a murmur of the wind, rain, birds and animals of his beloved Murzasichle through which rang his single piano notes his E flats, behind which his mothers’ gently shifting, suggesting, cajoling chords, massaged his soul. But his silence would depart, as surreptitiously as it had entered, submerged beneath the shouts, sirens and engines of trucks of New York. As the morning hubbub jolted him into angstful wakefulness, the silence would be well and truly forgotten as he, oblivious, prepared to walk through that hubbub to Balamarkian’s studio. 
News of Balamarkian’s young prodigy spread and the clamour for him to perform in public grew, despite Mrs. Oblotskin’s best efforts to protect Opil. Inevitably in 1961 at the tender age of twelve, he made his concert debut. The reviews were ecstatic, not only praising his remarkable technique and the depth of his interpretations of the most difficult 20th century piano works, but also noting his extraordinary charisma as a performer. Tour followed tour and Opil quickly developed cult status within the avant garde elite, and then became a legend with a wider classical audience, as the premier interpreter of 20th century piano music. His fame mushroomed as stories spread of his uncanny ability to move an audience to the most extreme reactions. There were frequent stories of people in floods of tears, people passing out, rolling of eyeballs and shaking of heads. His concerts became more like rock concerts and began to attract pop stars, film stars, and their entourages, the paparazzi, the groupies, and inevitably, drugs.
Opil was ill equipped to deal with the pressures of stardom. He was still very highly strung and prone to outbursts of anger, socially awkward and paralytically shy and only talked through his music, and his excuse “My music speaks for me” which had been fine within the the sheltered world he had grown up in, now seemed like an arrogant platitude coming from the lips of a star. He refused all interviews. By 1968, he had many of the trappings of a sixties icon, an Aston Martin, villa in Cap d’Antibes, a white Steinway, groupie girlfriends. for his concerts his manager, Rudolf Braga dressed him in a vivid blue velvet wide lapelled suit with very flared trousers. Opil brought psychedelic lights and dry ice onto the classical concert platform. The classical world was outraged, and during 1968, began to turn against him for, as they saw it, not behaving with the dignity expected of a classical musician. “ Nonsense” Opil would say. “I’m bringing a new audience to classical music”, and bring them he did, as the kaftans, afghans, ‘yeah mans’ and bare feet began to mingle with the dinner suits and ball gowns at his concerts. He began to get offers to play at Jazz Festivals and to this day, he is still the only classical musician ever to play at the Glastonbury Festival. But did success make Opil any happier? No, he retreated more and more behind a hazy sixties double glazed wall of silence. As soon as his concerts were finished he’d rush back to his hotel room, draw the curtains, and shut out all light and noise, take handfuls of ‘medication’ climb in his bed and lie there listening for ...for, some thing he knew not what, something lost that lay beneath the hubbub of everyday life. Until one day, when he was due to play in front of a sell out crowd at the Fillmore East, he slipped out of his hotel room, clutching the old brass key that granny Petenya had left to his mother and caught a plane for Scotland.  

The cottage was in the village of Kirk Yetholm, high in the Cheviot Hills in the Scottish borders. It was known locally as the Gypsy Palace but was far from a palace, a small but sturdy two room stone cottage on the edge of the village. Petenya’s mother, was still remembered by a few elderly citizens as the Queen of the Gypsies, and once a year presided over a mixed bag of several hundred gypsies, from all over Europe, who would congregate for a gypsy fair on the green at Kirk Yetholm.
When Opil arrived, all he brought with him was five cases of rice pudding a hangover, two reel to reel tape recorders and a cloud of angst. For the first few months in the cottage, he would rise at four in the afternoon, walk over the hills in the long summer evenings, and then, as dusk fell he would play the beaten up piano in the corner furiously for hours, rocking insanely from side to side as if in a cradle, and while he played he would gibber, and everyday, on a diet of rice pudding, he would play his way into exhaustion until he would fall asleep just as the morning light spread through the hut. This routine went on unchanging for about three months, as he tried to contact his lost self, with little success, but tenacious as ever he did not give up, knowing that persistence would pay off, and pay off it did but not in a way that anyone can have imagined. Sheikh Ibn Harrington Himm Himm Himm, an English mystic, healer and piano salesman happened upon Opil whilst on a hiking holiday along the Pennine Way. Himm Himm Himm had an immaculate sense of hearing, and had heard Opil’s crazed piano playing as he walked downhill towards the cottage At first the furious piano sound and then the gibbering, but he paused as he approached the hut and heard another sound, it was a faint, plaintive, half humming, half muttering struggling to be heard amidst the incomprehensible torrent of notes bursting from Opils fingertips. The Sheikh knocked on the door of the cottage, and it fell open. Opil didn’t notice. The Sheikh tip-toed across the carpet and sat on the frayed sofa, closed his eyes and tuned his ears to Opil. Not to Opil’s tortured playing, but to a quiet murmuring void in Opil’s heart. At first he heard the sound of wind rustling amongst pine trees, birdcalls, and the cries of a badly injured younger woman being soothed by an old woman, singing under her breath, and applying dressings to the younger woman and these sounds invoked an image of this scene happening in a cave high up on a mountainside, and then as the face of the old woman emerged into his mind’s eye, he saw that face in the photo of Petenya’s mother on the mantel piece in the cottage, and as the face of the younger woman emerged, the Sheikh saw Opil’s aquiline features. The Sheikh began to hum what he heard, echoing back the murmuring to Opil, but on one note, as a drone, on an Eb. Opil’s gibbering began to anchor itself, on that Eb and, as it did so, Opil’s piano playing began to mellow, Opil’s hands began to soften, even out and slowdown, and sculpt flowing shapes on the keyboard, and until his right hand settled on an Eb and his left hand shaped chords around it, and into Opil’s mind for the first time in his waking hours, floated memories of his childhood, of his mother, her smell, their playing together, while old Petenya listened on, rocking in her armchair Now you might have expected that the refinding of such powerful hidden memories after such a long long time- 20 years- would cause a surge of grief, but for Opil, the memory brought him feelings of bliss. For three days and three nights, without pause for sleep Opil Lorbin and the Sheikh Ibn Harrington Him Him Him, hummed, mumbled, droned, murmured, and gibbered and giggled to each other non stop, until at long last Opils’ eyelids dropped shut and he slept deeply for seventeen and a half hours. When Opil awoke the Sheikh was gone.
Opil went to the piano and wrote a song, his first song, and one of his most beautiful tunes. He dedicated it to the Sheikh, it was called “a Hummed Hymn to Him Him Him.” After the sheikh left, tunes poured out of him. Some were a melody against a hypnotic drone and then in the scales of his home, developed into crass pop songs. He began to write lyrics to his tunes, in a made up language, a mixture of his gibbering, Petenya’s murmuring, the Sheikh’s murmuring. and the strange Scottish dialect of the locals wandering past the gypsy palace. His ears were attuned to the music of the dialect but he didn’t understand the words but didn’t care because when he sang in his new language he felt happy, it was straight from the heart he began writing it down in his own symbols, letters and alphabet, and, as he had no paper in his hut, he wrote on anything that came to hand. In a feverish burst of three weeks he wrote over thirty songs. At the end of this time, he wrote to his sister:
Dear Sylvie,
I am writing to you with a clear and light head for the first time since mama died. I am writing many pop songs, sometimes ten a day, they just keep pouring out. I am a writing in a new language that makes the speaker and the listener happy. I don’t really know where its coming from but singing keeps the anger at bay. I could stay here in the mountains, but I need to record these songs - soon. Could you get in touch with George Martin? I think he’d be the right producer. But please be quick- good weather seldom lasts. 
All my love, 
Sylvie contacted George Martin, who arranged to have Opil flown down to London for a recording session. Overnight they recorded what became Opil's biggest hit it was released hurriedly and entered the charts at no2. The following week it was No1 and it stayed there for six weeks. But the world would not let Opil be himself for long. One evening at dusk at about seven,  there was a knock at the door of his hut. Opil had been tracked down by his manager, Rudolf Braga..
“I found you at last!. The whole world is wondering where you’d gone you rascal! Feeling better? Good! I have a great idea”
He took a book out of his bag and waved it at Opil. 
“ You’ll love this.” 
The book was called, The Sound Virus: Abna Dforlock’s Piano Miniatures. By Gyorgy Stoichkov.   
“I want you to do a concert tour performing Abna Dforlock’s piano miniatures. You’ll get £15,000 a concert, plus your recording royalties.”
Opil refused point blank, telling Braga that his days as a concert pianist were over and sent Braga away, but Braga left saying 
“Pity. I’ll leave the book, night time reading on a lonely boring night?”
Bragg left and Opil went back to working but after a few days, he picked it up and couldn’t put it down. He stayed up all night reading it.

Abna Dforlock is most famous  for his notoriously difficult expressionist piano miniatures. Many pianists refused to go near his works, complaining of headaches and nausea and even epilepsy when they as much as glanced at his scores. He wrote the miniatures after abandoning his study of Zen calligraphy, with the Japanese Master, Doh. He studied Zen meditation in the hope that it would help to delay the onset of the mental infirmity, that had afflicted his family for generations. In Eastern calligraphy there is the notion that calligraphy should be spontaneous, should be ‘a picture of the mind’ at the moment of the ink making its mark on the paper. Abna was taught to meditate on a blank sheet of paper until the right moment and then to flourish the brush in a couple of rapid gestures of absolute precision. “Meditate until your mind is clear of any worries and thoughts and desires, then and only then, in one pure gesture, let the brush hit the paper” Doh had said. He made it sound so simple and Abna went away to practice. but however hard and long Abna meditated he could not rid his restless mind of doubt desire and anger, and because he was never able to completely clear his mind, the meditation merely concentrated all his anxieties into minute balls of anguish, surrounded by silences filled with a brooding, suffocating gloom. When his brush hit the paper, he invariably covered the valuable cartridge paper with ugly blotches of ink. Abna was banished from the class, Later on Abna then meticulously translated the ink marks into notes on the page, the piano miniatures were the result. They were characterized by lengthy silences, followed by extravagant chords and impossibly rapid bursts of notes, ’ in the end Abna spent his last days at a sanatorium near Zakopane
Was it the technical difficulty of playing the miniatures that kept pianists at bay, or was there any truth in the rumours that the Piano Miniatures of Abna Dforlock made those that played them so distressed that they became ill? To Opil, the mere thought of Abna Dforlock’s work was frightening but fascinating - the idea that a composer could encode his madness as a virus contained in the notes on a page, was a little too close to Opil’s own reality for comfort, and anyway he had found a vein of happiness, why should he go back to pain? There was no way he would take up Braga’s offer.  After all, his preparations for recording his songs, musicians had been found, sessions were booked at Abbey Road Studios, George Martin had arranged to be there in order to work with Opil on his songs- Opil flew down to London and recorded for a couple of days. Then, on January 4th 1970, shortly after returning to Kirk Yetholm after his recording session in London, Sylvie and Opil were working on an arrangement of one of his new songs, Opil took a short break and picked up the Abna Dforlock book. He gasped inward at something he saw, Sylvie says, how he, muttering “fuck fuck fuck fuck, no oh no I gotta gotta do it oh fuck” under his breath, stormed out of the Gypsy Palace, clutching the book, walked to the nearest phone box, and called Rudolf Braga, and said “ok I’ll do it get me the scores of  Abna Dforlock’s Miniatures. Sylvie tells there was a loud crack from the piano as a string broke, seconds after Opil left the cottage. It was an Eb… Opil dropped everything and returned to London to see Rudolf Braga. Shortly after he left some executives from the record company had arived at the cottage only to find a distraught Sylvie and  told her that one of the songs he had recorded at Abbey Road had entered the charts at number two and they wanted him to do some Interviews with music magazines.

After spending a day  in discussions with Rudolf Braga and a team of lawyers, in a room at the Ritz, Opil Lorbin locked himself in a rehearsal room in Whitechapel. Two delivery men brought round Abna Dforlock’s hand written scores, and despite obeying the warnings about not looking at the manuscripts, they couldn’t resist taking peek but both were off work for two weeks afterwards, complaining of searing migraines. Opil began to tackle the miniatures. He worked insanely hard, often up to twenty hours a day, hacking a trail into the dense jungles, thickets and musical mires that were the Piano Miniatures of Abna Dforlock, But the further he got along the path, the more moody he became, he started complaining about a clamp that would screw tighter and tighter on his temples. He referred to it as “That Grey Snail”. At first he was able to alleviate the pain by humming and rocking, but as the days progressed, he got totally drawn into the suffocating aural universe of Abna Dforlock. He could not stand human company. If there were other people in the room, he would stand against a wall, nervously shifting from foot to foot, waiting for them to go, and then after they had gone he would nervously pop his head round the door to make sure no-one was listening. He got Rudolf Braga to post bodyguards at the rehearsal room door. Nothing would deflect him from his goal of conquering the piano miniatures. He would precede each run through of a miniature by cursing an imagined Dforlock peering over his left shoulder. Then, poised over the piano, emphatically hunch backed away from Dforlock he would begin to play. If he succeeded in getting through one of the miniatures, Opil would giggle mercilessly at Dforlock as if he were in the room, but if he made a mistake he would throw seething tantrums. He refused all visitors, even the sheikh, who made repeated attempts to see him, and entreated Sylvie to try and persuade him. Opil rebuffed all Sylvie’s attempts  to see him. The only contact Sylvie had with him during this time was a strange request for her to find his birth certificate. No explanation, no pleasantries, and Sylvie knowing the futility of crossing her brothers’ mania, just sent it off to him. Slowly and surely over the next six months miniature after miniature fell to Opil’s tenacious efforts. The only person he would see would be the deaf cleaner who, to fill his empty mundane days, often while cleaning the corridor outside the studio slyly watch Opil through the soundproofed glass by the door and mutter to himself “Its only music. You’d think he was trying to save the world”. But when Rudolf Braga came, on May19th to see if Opil was ready for the opening concert, Opil was weirdly serene. “I am ready. This is going to blow your minds.First the miniatures” he told Rudolf. ‘And then, the Opus 68’. Rudolf Braga rubbed his hands in glee ‘that’s my boy!” he said. 

THE CONCERT          
On May 21st, 1971 Opil Lorbin stepped out onto the stage at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam to play his first classical concert for three years. His fame had grown immeasurably during his absence from the concert stage. Everyone who was anyone was there. The packed theatre dripped with expectation. When he walked on stage he was showered with flowers, the cheers and applause went on for minutes before he had even played a note. He would perform all the early miniatures in the first half, and the second half would be the Opus 68 that Dforlock had written in a feverish burst at the end of his life. Opil began to play. The effects of his hard labours had left him gaunt and emaciated, yet when his hands touched the keyboard, a manic energy sped through his veins, as he hurled his hands at the piano in a blurred frenzy of such power passion and intensity, that every breath of every person in that hallowed auditorium froze in wonder, during the lengthy silences, and then burst out as another Dforlock frenzy poured from Opil’s fingertips. Another furious flurry, and collective sighs, in-breaths, some moans, then silence and held breaths. The music was beginning to dictate its malignant content to the whole audience. They began to breath in unison, hold the breath in unison, sigh in unison, in response to the sick tense erratic rhythms of the Miniatures and as they fell under the influence of the music, tears began to roll down the cheeks of some, some started shaking, some hyperventilated, others blushed uncontrollably, and after a particularly edgy flamboyant passage, the man in seat E34 had started twitching manically and then froze, with a contorted mouth, hands trapped and claw like, his eyeballs rolled back into his skull. Some tried to leave during the 23rd miniature, but a furiously glutinous silence stopped them in the tracks, trapping their breath and freezing their feet to the aisle, motionless apart from the panic skipping around their eyebrows. And so it continued: Opil becoming more and more demonic as he worked his way through the miniatures, until at last the interval arrived. Opil went forward to the front of the stage as if to bow, but there was no applause, no collective sighs of appreciation, the audience remained transfixed in their seats, breath held, faces reddening mouths open, a look of terror on their faces. Opil just looked. He couldn’t bow.  When he saw what the piano miniatures of Abna Dforlock had done to his audience he panicked and awkwardly fled the stage. The interval lights came on and when the management announced that “Due to circumstances beyond our control the second half of the concert, the opus 68 is cancelled”, a disgruntled murmur began to spread through the audience, that got louder as they got angrier and as they got angrier, the fidgeting and tutting grew. At first it was just programmes that were thrown, then insults, and when the stewards tried to move them on, the fingernails, fists and feet started flying. The riot was not subdued until the police were called, tear gas was used, and to this day, in the mental hospitals of Amsterdam there are still over 100 patients who have never recovered from that evening. The doctors, at a loss to explain their condition, eventually diagnosed a new disease: Dforlock’s Syndrome. I managed to piece together an account of what was happening back stage from several different sources- the stage manager, Opil’s dresser and an ambulance man, and from Sylvie herself who went backstage to find Opil at the interval. As she approached the dressing room she could hear Opil and Braga screaming at each other, she rushed in to find Opil screaming “My hands ... look they’re crabs! I’m paralysed. Look what you made me do! Those poor people! They need the opus 68, I’ve got to play it now” and Rudolf Braga leaning over him growling ‘ Opil, over my dead body. You’ve done enough. Quite enough” Opil rolled himself up into a tight ball. “You don’t understand. I’ve got to play the opus 68.” Braga lost patience and grabbed him by the collar and started bellowing at him, “You little freak, you’ve done your work. This is going to be the biggest sensation for years. They are not as tough as you. If you do any more you’ll kill them. They’ve had enough”. He started slapping him around the face, Sylvie threw herself on top of Braga to free Opil, Braga responded by elbowing her in the face, knocking her unconscious. Opil’s hands still locked into crab claw like paralysis since he left the stage, suddenly swooped onto Rudolf Braga and locked limpet like around his neck, started throttling him. Braga, a bear of a man, managed to break free and staggered out of the room, shouting “help help! lock this mad man up!”, Opil picked up Sylvie’s unconscious body, left the dressing room, headed towards the stage, muttering “I’ve got to do the opus 68”, but before he could get there, he was caught by security staff. His crab hands had a life of their own, and tried to throttle anyone that came close, until eventually, they managed to get a straitjacket on him and bundled him into an ambulance, with him still protesting’ You don’t understand I can save them! They need the opus 68.” The civil authorities in Amsterdam wanted to bring criminal charges against Opil, but lawyers could find no law for inciting a riot through the playing of music- no matter how they tried to frame it, it wouldn’t stand up, and besides, Opil was in no fit state to answer any charges. Opil Lorbin did not speak another word for the rest of his life, except to say, “ I didn’t finish the concert... I didn’t finish the... They never heard the opus 68”. But no-one knew what he was referring to. Sylvie visited him several times but, he would not, he could not recognise her. He died six weeks later having refused all food and water, his hands still frozen like crab claws, his whole body racked and riven with most outrageous tensions. Sylvie arranged for him to be buried in a forest clearing back in Murzasichle, where he had happily spent his first four years. A few of the older villagers, gathered round his coffin and sang the tunes they remembered from when they used to slow their steps as they heard Opil playing with his mother back in the 1940s. 
In the aftermath of the Amsterdam concert, the Dutch government, that defender of freedom, banned the performance of the piano works of Abna Dforlock, a ban followed by most Western countries, and his piano miniatures have not been performed since. The only copies of Abna Dforlock’s work were collected up and deposited in a safe, and could only be viewed by special request, through a Dforlock box, a specially constructed leadlined wooden box, with a unique viewing apparatus, made from prisms and polarised lens. 
One year after Opil’s death, Sylvie Lorbin sick with grief, tracked down Rudolf Braga, He was lunching with his mistress, Una Raschblom at a remote auberge in Aspen, Colorado. Sylvie laced his Borscht with strychnine while he admired the view. Sylvie was at first sentenced to death, before a Federal Judge hearing her story commuted her sentence to ten years.

So …

that was the life of  Opil Lorbin, 

but just the first part of my story …

©2016 Jonathan Stone

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