Short Story #297: Wunderkind by Carson McCullers

Title:  Wunderkind 

Author:  Carson McCullers


Photo of Carson McCullers.  Source: arrives early at her piano instruction when her instructor, Bilderbach makes note of her early arrival.  The other instructor Mr. Lafkowitz enters the room and greets Bienchen.  He asks her how she is doing and she admits to doing bad.  Before Lafkowitze can make a suggestion, Bilderbach encourages the start of the session.  Before starting Lafkowitz makes mention of a boy named Heime being featured in a magazine, Musical Corner and is being invited to a play in the Beethoven Concerto.  Bienchen sees this and reflects on how much practice she had put into her playing in just that day.  She remembers how she was considered a wunderkind like Heime at a young age and both of them now--of similar age, though she is slightly old--are in different places with their music.  Her first performance is impressive to the instructors in her ability to play from memory but they insist that if she is to do something, the playing needs both mind and heart.  Determine to live up to the title of wunderkind, she sets hard to practicing as much as she can, including lessons twice a week.  Over the years of training, she would occasionally spend Saturday night at Bilderback's home with him and his wife.  While Bilderbach trained her, Lafkowitz worked with Heime over the same time.  During this time though, it was clear that Heime solely focused on his playing to the exclusion of all else, whereas Bienchen had to focus on her normal routines.  Much of their divergence came from a concert they were a part of and the artificial differences (he appeared younger and thus was perceived differently than she) and the music selection that was chosen.  While Bilderbach recommended another set that would better illustrate her skill, she insisted on another set that was also agreeable to Lafkowitz and Heime.  Well after the concert, Bilderbach has her play the piece he wanted her too and he is pleased with it but Lafkowitz rudely comments on her playing, which angers Bilderbach.  Still later, it is apparent that both Bilderbachs dote on Bienchen as a daughter-they-never had.  This swirl of backstory and context, help to show Bienchen's own realization that while Heime is excelling, she is beginning to slip.  Less and less is she successful and she can tell she no longer has the appeal of a wunderkind, now that she is closer to adulthood.  However, this afternoon, Bilderbach wants her to start anew and forget everything else.  He introduces new music and is attempting a fresh start. The attempt is filled with guidance and directions from Bilderbach.  She no sooner finishes it than she realizes how little she can work the piano in a passionate manner. He insists that she plays another song that she knows quite well in a particular manner and though she tries and struggles through, she finds it impossible.  Finally, she gives up and leaves the house as quickly as possible.


It's a tale about coming to terms with one's own limited abilities, especially after years of being told that one is exceptional.  There is a sadness to that realization for many of us as we come to terms with such limitations (and the overall implied mortality).  

Short Story #297 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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