I recently had the opportunity to see a colleague in her mid-40s whom I will call Clara Wiseman. She was finishing her analytic training at an Institute in another city when her husband, Johann, was transferred to New York. Clara and her two sons, ages 4 and 6, followed him and were moved by Johann’s company to an expensive Park Avenue cooperative apartment. She called me soon after her arrival. When she came in I asked her why she was here.
"I don’t think my training analyst ever really understood me," she said. So I asked her to tell me the story of her life.
"When I was 3 and put before a piano for the first time, I could play instantly. My parents, both German Jewish physicians, were thrilled and realized they might have a child prodigy on their hands. I was given piano lessons and continued to get better and better. I became totally enveloped by music. I played at school recitals as well as for my parents and their friends. I went to a famous music school and practiced 5 hours a day, and, if you could believe it, I even enjoyed the scales and exercises! These were the golden years. I daydreamed of being a concert pianist."
"Sounds great. What happened?"
"When I was 14 and had passed through an early puberty, my father called me to his office for ‘a little chat.’ He then said the words that have haunted me all my life: ‘Clara, you are not a pretty girl, and you may well never get married. You had better learn a profession so that you can support yourself. I suggest medicine or law or banking.’ I was devastated to hear this and to sense his cold attitude toward me." (Her eyes teared up as she said this.) "On the one hand it meant giving up the dream that I had had since the age of 3; secondly, fathers are supposed to think their daughters are beautiful no matter what."
"Of course they are. What a terrible thing to hear. What did you do?"
"I did what I was told, as always. I took classes in science and became premed at college but continued to practice the piano on my own. I took revenge on my father by becoming a psychiatrist, the least medical of the medical specialties, then by becoming a psychoanalyst, the least ‘psychiatric’ of the psychiatry fields.
"I met Johann in medical school, married him, and had two children right away.
"One time during our third year together, I asked my training analyst, Dr. X, whether I might not take a 6-month leave of absence from the Institute and try my hand at full-time piano. He was a pedantic follower of the rules and said, ‘No, no, no. Here we discuss fantasies. That would be acting out and forbidden. Keep it a fantasy and your analysis will go very nicely.’
"That’s where I was when Johann was promoted. What do you think of all this so far, Dr. Druss?"
I said, "You know, this Dr. X of yours (whose name was not familiar to me) was repeating what your own father did: ‘You can plan and daydream all you want, but you may not act on your life’s dream.’ You are married now, and there should be no financial problems anymore to worry your father or anyone else."
This was to be a 2-hour consultation; when an hour and a half had gone by, I asked her what questions she had for me and told her I would do my best to answer them.
I always ask for questions at this juncture, but this was the first time the patient’s response totally surprised me.
"Who is your favorite piano player, Dr. Druss?"
I said, "That’s an interesting question…you know it really depends on the composer. For example, with Beethoven I would pick Alfred Brendel."
Her first smile. "So would I, and what about Bach?"
I said, "Either Andreas Schiff or Glenn Gould."
She said, "I’m with you on Andreas Schiff but think Glenn Gould is too peculiar."
I said, "Have you ever heard of Helene Grimaud?"
She laughed out loud and said, "She’s the one who keeps wolves, right?"
I said, "Hands down, she’s my Brahms person." Becoming more serious, I asked, "In all your daydreams about being a concert pianist all these years, who was the person you had in mind?"
She blushed and said, "Would you believe that no one ever asked me that question before? It is Martha Argarich."
I said, "Oh, no, one of the greatest and most beautiful, yet one of the most defiant and temperamental artists around today."
She said, "I guess I am still a rebel at heart." Then she said she thought she would be in a win-win situation with me because I loved both psychoanalysis and music. We made arrangements for her to begin twice a week, and as she left I made a note that she had not indicated a need to discuss any of it with her husband. The needs of her two little sons were, she felt, taken care of by full-time nanny help.
Clara began the second session by saying she felt I could really help her.
"What is our plan?" I asked.
She said, "There is plenty more about me I want you to get to know, but let’s set a limit of 1 year and then come to a decision as to whether I should become a psychiatrist here in New York or put it all aside and try my hand as a full-time pianist."
I said I would add one more requirement—that at the end of this year of treatment she get an audition with a major pianist whose name I had at least heard of. This was to get an objective appraisal of her skill, presence, marketability, etc. She readily agreed.
I will not go into the interesting psychological material she produced but will say only that music was always most important to Clara. After the year went by, she said she would like to give up psychiatry and take up playing the piano full-time. She was able to get an audition with the late Eugene Istomin. He told her that she could be a fine and respected pianist with any of the small orchestras and choruses that circle the city.
"So, what do you think of that?" I asked.
"I couldn’t ask for more," she replied.
We set a termination date for 3 months after that, and it came and went with little fanfare. I had not heard a word from Clara for almost 2 years when she sent me a flyer about a New Artist’s Showcase. Her name was on the program; she was to play Haydn’s famous Sonata in A Major (Hob.XXI:63). On the flyer she had scribbled, "Come if you can—Clara." I sent a good-luck telegram to the box office. Shortly after this I received a boxed set of two CDs containing six Haydn sonatas published and financed by Clara’s husband. They are wonderful, and I cherish them still.
Now if anyone should ask me who my favorite interpreter of Haydn is, I would answer promptly and honestly, "It’s someone you probably have not heard of, but she is great: Clara Wiseman."
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Druss at 180 East End Ave., Suite 1D, New York, NY 10128.