The Elusive Tune


Composer Jacques Offenbach had eight bars of a tune running through his head–a waltz that his mother had sung to him as a lullaby.

Offenbach’s father overheard him humming it and told him that it was by a once-promising young composer named Zimmer, who had suddenly dropped out of sight.

Sometime later, Offenbach’s publisher mentioned a poor old composer named Zimmer who had brought by a score that the publisher intended to reject because the composer was an unknown.

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Zimmer was due to return the next day to hear the publisher’s decision.

Offenbach became excited. “Do me a big favor, he said. “”Publish his piece, pay him ten times what it’s worth, put it on my account, and send him to see me. I’ve got meet him.”

Zimmer never showed.

Some years later, in Vienna, Offenbach came across a crowd gathered outside a low-class dance hall where an emaciated old man lay unconscious on the pavement. The man worked at the dance-hall doing odd jobs, but he had once been a music teacher. His name was Rudolph Zimmer.

Offenbach saw to it that he was cared for, and eight days later Zimmer called on him at his hotel room to thank him. Offenbach played the eight bars of the haunting waltz and asked Zimmer to play the rest, but he, too, got stuck after eight bars.

A month later, when Offenbach returned to Vienna, Zimmer was dead. But he had left Offenbach four things—the waltz, a sapphire ring, a faded envelope, and a letter explaining that he had never recovered from the death of his beloved just before their wedding day. He asked Offenbach to keep the sapphire ring, which he had given to the girl as an engagement ring, and to burn the faded envelope, which contained a lock of her hair.

After complying with the requests, Offenbach had the waltz published.