Pauloni in Paris

This essay first appeared on the electronic
mailing list Piporg-l

Part 4

In fact the narrow beam of my pocket torch fell on a magnificent diamond tiara worn at a jaunty angle. That it was on the head of a beautiful young lady became apparent in due course.

The narrow beam of my pocket torch fell on a magnificent diamond tiara

When I recognised, in its circle of priceless gems, the Coat-of-Arms of the Winkelberg-Romanoff-Plazatoros, I at once fell to my knee.

'Your Royal Highness!', I whispered hurriedly, my head bowed.

Princess Adelie of Andorra (for it was she), stepped nimbly over my prostrate body and extended a perfectly-formed hand towards Pauloni. She squeaked with delight as he bowed and kissed it.

'Aaaa! My deeee-arr Count! How wonderrful to see you!

I jumped back to my feet. The members of our group immediately formed a line and Carlo presented us. (My man Cedric, who was standing in the shadows nearby, deftly brushed some specks off my coat and retied my shoelace just before the Princess reached me).

'Your Royal Highness, I preee-sent!' announced Paulo loudly; 'Meester Cor-di-Bassett, a craftsman of Boston!'

'Orrgans?' asked the Princess simply.

'Indeed, ma'm' murmured Horatio softly in reply.

'Yaasssz?' she enquired, quite clearly intruiged.

Paulo continued immediately: 'Meester Jaeger of New York!'

Brad adjusted his spectacles and turned a brilliant beetroot.

'Orrgans?' asked Princess Adelie, inspecting him. Brad nodded.

She then turned to me.

'Orrgans?' came the inevitable question

'..and Meester Bicknell of Londra', I heard Pauloni say. I lowered my head in assent.

'Yassz? - all zthrree of you?', enquired the Princess with obvious amazement, before turning to Sister Muriel. 'And who, prrray, iss ziss?' A small silver candlestick clattered to the ground as Sister Muriel made an awkward curtsey. 'Aaa! Eet iss ze Seester Murrrielle - you haf, of her, told me, Pauloni!'

The Princess and the Count then began to converse. I felt a sharp kicking at my left shin. It was Sister Muriel trying to get my attention.

'Mr. Bicknell!', she hissed urgently into my ear, 'ask her to play!'

'Play what?' I retorted, 'The Andorran Alp-Horn??!'

Before the evening of January the fifth this year I did not know that Princess Adelie, like her distant relatives Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia, played the organ (I have witnessed Her Majesty The Queen Mother play a chord of C major on the organ in the chapel at Eton, but I am not sure that counts).

I was frozen stiff, hungry and by now rather grumpy. The organ at St. Mustache had not moved me, despite its five manuals, four Barker levers, three thirty-two foot reeds, two consoles, and one swell box. As far as I was concerned the arrival of the Princess announced a further impending round of formal socialising that left me feeling weak with ennui. While I weighed up in my head the possibility that I was part of the intricate planning that surrounds a typical Royal Visit, Paulo came to my rescue:

'Principessa, you know the organ of St. Mustache! I, Pauloni, have heard you play it - SUPERBO! Perhap' you permeet me to ask .... I beg for you: to play eet ....!'

To my astonishment Princess Adelie clapped her hands together and emitted a tiny squeak of delight. A single spotlight came on, as if by magic. From the direction of the South transept there appeared a team of six unusually well-dressed janitors, wheeling the mighty five-manual moveable console of the Hertz van Rentaal organ towards the pool of bright light. I backed away from the activity to watch from a discreet distance.

The Princess dropped her fantastic ermine coat from her shoulders. One of the janitors stepped forward and caught it before it hit the ground. By that time she had kicked off her shoes and had slipped on another pair. Wearing only a black Dior dress, the tiara, and some other minor ornaments, she then ascended the bench. The wind had been switched on remotely. With a few dismissive waves of her hands she set up her registration on the enormous quadrant-form terraced jambs, and began to play.

The entire organ was immediately brought to life, and my carping reservations about the instrument were brushed away in a pure flood of musical joy. I found my chosen vantage point by the altar steps to be unnecessarily distant (and in any case I was distracted by the glint of Secret Service rifles from behind the pulpit). I was magnetically drawn towards the amazing sight of the tiny Princess flinging her limbs about the console. Her playing was that of a ballerina at the peak of her skill. No unnecessary movement, to be sure: every gesture a marvellous and deeply artistic indication of her interpretative skill. But the music was so astonishingly difficult! What on earth was it?

Princess Adelie of Andorra played to us a hitherto un-heard arrangement, of her own devising ('I haf not wrrritten eet down!', she squealed later). We heard three selected movements from Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin.

If I had been told in advance that someone would play me such a thing, I would have refused to attend. You know my views about organ arrangements: if the Good Lord had intended decent folk to listen to Wagner then he wouldn't have allowed him to devote his life to the Opera! But this was something quite different. She had not merely rearranged the notes of a piano score on three staves - a task that could be performed by a child of three, and would result in a poor facsimile that could be played on the organ by any competent typist. She had redistributed the entire composition in each case, and had additionally devised a truly kaleidoscopic scheme of registration. Her vivid pallette evoked, at every twist and turn of the music, half-forgotten or half-hidden aspects of the original. Beyond this, she was in addition possessed of a technique so accurate and so formidably virtuosic as to render the entire task utterly subservient to the interpretation. It was a most wonderful recreation of three sparkling gems of the modern pianoforte repertoire, newly polished and showing hidden facets.

I have never seen an organ played in such a way, and I did not believe the sounds I was hearing. Within a few seconds I was standing with my kind friends round the console, while Princess Adelie demonstrated her astonishing talent. She glittered with confidence as the she worked the remains of the icy cold from her fingers. The last movement was devastatingly difficult; her hands (and lower limbs) a blur of activity. The music came alive far beyond the mere improbability of any human being playing it at all. We clapped vigourously as she bowed to us fellow enthusiasts; I even managed a presumptious 'bravo!'.

'Now I am hongrry!' Exclaimed the Princess. The ermine reappeared; the console was wheeled away; a flunkey opened a small door on to a side alley. With Adelie of Andorra at its head, the Equipe Pauloni moved briskly into the Impasse des Chiens, stepping carefully round certain obstacles (this is one of the most unforunately befouled thoroughfares in an otherwise beautiful city - on this point there can be no dicussion). Despite the late hour and the extreme cold, the Place St. Mustache contained a small crowd, held back on the pavement by gendarmes holding hands. There was applause as we emerged from the church, and cameras flashed at the party.

The Place St. Mustache contained a small crowd

My roving eye took in all the paraphenalia of modern security. A substantial and obvious statement was made by the French government, who had stationed an armoured car at each road junction, each with its contingent of vicious-looking khaki-uniformed commandos and their automatic weapons. The more discreet contribution of the Andorran Secret Service came in the form of three identical black Alfa Romeos parked by the kerb and a number of mysterious-looking gentlemen in suits and dark glasses. I was surprised, however, to see an extremely battered Moskvitch saloon, indicating the presence of a observer from the Russian Republic. I also couldn't help noticing, down one of the side streets, an enormous grey Tatra limousine with Bulgarian number plates and a muscular and grim-faced female driver. What on earth was going on?

I did not have time to ponder the Tatra question further, as we were approaching a restaurant. As we arrived, the last few members of the public were being firmly escorted from a side door by policemen: we had the establishment to ourselves. We were taken to a table and sat down (the Princess settled only after she had been assured by the proprietor that he was in a position to bring her Apollinaris mineral-water served at precisely nine degrees centigrade).

As the several courses were brought to us, Princess Adelie and Count Pauloni chattered to each other in various languages. Sister Muriel, who was sitting next to me, kindly offered to tell me a little of Princess Adelie's fascinating history.

Apparently she was a child prodigy at the piano. In the secluded and sunny Court of the tiny mountain principality of Andorra, there was no-one to teach her. Madrid? 'Ridiculous!', said her parents; Paris? 'Impossible!'.

The plan she followed in the face of this opposition was entirely of her own devising. She would go to The Conservatoire. She would learn to play properly. Twanging her Romanoff blood-line furiously, she declared inwardly that she would go to Moscow: where standards of teaching are indelibly descended from the rich culture that surrounded the Tsars. She would learn to play with an air of aristocratic definitiveness that would defy even the Germans!

Of course for a western Princess to study in Communist Moscow would have been politically impossible. Thus, after a furious and famous row with her Father (the Grand Duke Alfonso XIX), the 16 year-old princess simply disappeared. She vanished. Interpol lost her immediately. The CIA never picked up the scent. MI6 lost their copy of the file (in a men-only sauna in Liverpool). The story was hushed up. A double stood in for the Princess at once, and was accepted for real.

Meanwhile the determined royal personage made her way to Sofia in Bulgaria. She evaded her pursuers with consummate ease, having studied, from babyhood, the movements and tactics of the professional courtiers she met every day of her life. With the help of blue-blooded local relatives living in genteel decay she assumed an ordinary Bulgarian identity, and immediately won a scholarship to the Moscow Conservatoire. Over a period of five years the funny little girl from Bulgaria swept into her arms every accolade, every competition and every prize.

On day one in Moscow the funny little girl from Bulgaria also discovered the organ, in the form of the fine three-manual Cavaillé-Coll instrument in the Concert Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. She determined to play it and took lessons in organ too. Already committed to her piano studies, and unable to find much decent organ music, she immediately invented for herself a means of transferring her favourite repertoire to this wonderful new instrument, and so her unique art was born.

She then returned to Andorra to confront her father. Though happy and tearful to see her again, the prospect of having the minx return to so tiny a palace was alarming to the Duke. With his blessing, she therefore decided to take an apartment in Paris (she returns to Andorra only for State Occasions and Birthdays). While resident in Paris she has the keys to St. Mustache, and she has considerably furthered her studies in collaboration with the extraordinary M. Bouillon. I believe that you may shortly hear more of her.

I don't know quite why, but the thing I will always remember about Princess Adelie is the exact angle at which she wears her tiara. I have to confess that I think her one of the most delightful Princesses I have ever met.

(to be continued)

Part V