Yesterday I got a note from a friend, asking if I could identify a story he remembered reading long ago which was still haunting him. It felt vaguely familiar to me but I had no idea from where. I thought probably someone here would remember. Can you help? Here's what he wrote, poignant in itself for the way he describes the hold that certain tales have over our imaginations, and the almost obsessive way we seek to recall them much later, suspecting, perhaps, that they hold a key to something we'd now understand.
From time to time, when I think of readings that left a mark, I recall a short story from many years ago. By now it is almost a dream memory, imagined and distorted by desperate reconstruction more than recalled. I don't know the author or title, and have tried, even recently in these days of online tools and cooperative reference librarians, to find it again, unsuccessfully. It seems now like a story that might have been by L. Buñuel or H. Hesse (and I know I was fond of both these authors at the time), although I have searched the works of each of these authors recently, and unsuccessfully.The main character was a young man living an ascetic life in a frosty garret of some Bohemian city, a dedicated and solitary violinist who never performed in public, despite his excellence, although he often enchanted his neighbors, listening through the walls. Through some fairy-tale scheme, he was given an opportunity to wish for a life of comfort, or companionship, or riches. Of course he turned these all down, and wished instead that he could learn to play the violin. Whether through a pact with the devil or a djinn, or some other supernatural agent, he indeed learned to play the violin as no one had before. He remained, however, a solitary ascetic in a frosty garret in some Bohemian city with no friends or comfort, besides his music, which gave him unbounded joy.
I have probably embellished or distorted key details in this story, maybe even the unbounded joy part, and certainly left out what makes it a story instead of a dream synopsis. I'd love to find and reread this story again some day. By any chance does this sound familiar? Or only archetypal?