There once was a great Violin Maker, whose house sat right at the top of a hill, right at the bottom of a great valley. When it floods, the Violin Maker told those who asked him, I will neither be the first to disappear under the water, nor will I be the last. When people asked the Violin Maker what exactly he meant by this, he just laughed, flittering his hands in front of his face. When they asked again, when they said Once more without the fruity hand movements thanks, the Violin Maker told them he just meant that because he lived in the highest point in the valley, he would be the last of the valley’s inhabitants to be flooded, but because a lot of people lived outside the valley, on higher ground, his house would go under before theirs. Then the people who had asked the Violin Maker to explain his comment about flooding some minutes before shrugged their shoulders and wondered why they’d bothered in the first place.
One morning, the Violin Maker stuck his head from his window and announced to the whole valley he was going to make the world’s Greatest Violin. When a passing Snake Salesman heard the Violin Maker’s proclamation, he wondered aloud if such a thing is possible. Of course it is possible, declared the Violin maker. For I am the greatest Violin Maker in the world! The Snake Salesman looked up at the Violin Maker’s window and said I wasn’t actually asking you for your opinion, I was literally thinking aloud to myself as to whether or not such a thing was possible or not. Ah, said the Violin Maker, but you did wonder. And I must tell you that despite your doubts, this violin can be made!
The Snake Salesman had got quite tired standing underneath the Violin Maker’s window and said, Actually, forget about it—I don’t actually care whether or not you can make the greatest violin ever. It doesn’t really affect me one way or another. The Violin Maker stroked his beard, which was in fact not a beard, but some horse hairs stuck to his chin with gum. Ah, he said, my dear friend the Snake Salesman, do not you wish for a Violin with such sweet tones as to make any snake your pet? Not really, said the Snake Salesman, moving his cart along.
The Violin Maker spent the next weeks in immense torment. Every time he mentioned his grand plan to someone passing under his window, they showed no interest, even going as far—in one instance—of throwing sharpened shards of terracotta at him. What if he made the Greatest Violin in the world, and no one ever wanted to hear it? What if the sweetest sound e’er heard by human ears—surpassed not by nightingale nor lute, song nor babbling brook—was destined to ring out only into time’s unrepenting ether?
Unperturbed, the Violin Maker decided to forge ahead with his plan, and nearly a year later, he had done it. One winter’s night, with a final flourish of varnish, the world’s Greatest Violin was born. Aha! he said, As soon as I begin to play this instrument, they will flock to my window! All those who doubted will weep for this instrument’s beauty, and throw themselves at the feet of its creator!
It was only then, after finally letting his attention fall from the Violin he had spent so long attending, he noticed the feeling on his feet. Cold. Wet. For some reason, water was lapping over his windowsill, and it took him some moments to realise what had happened.
Some days later, a young boy, ignoring his parents warnings not to canoe near the flooded valley, found a uniquely shaped piece of wood floating towards him. A squashed figure-eight of pearly spruce and pine, two cursive F-shaped holes on its surface, a neck with strings running down it: it was a singularly beautiful creation. The young boy put down his paddle, leant from his canoe and picked up the piece of wood. He held it to his ear, detecting an almost unearthly hum. Something rose inside the young boy, the first stirrings of melodic thought. The delicate curl where the strings met suggested the possibility of true art.
But then the young boy shrugged, and, kicking his paddle down into the boat, used the violin instead to propel himself home.