MAESE PEREZ, THE ORGANIST
By Gustavo Adolfo Becquer
From "Modern Ghosts." Translated by Rollo Ogden.
"Do you see that man with the scarlet cloak, and the white plume in his
hat, and the gold-embroidered vest? I mean the one just getting out of his
litter and going to greet that lady—the one coming along after those four
pages who are carrying torches? Well, that is the Marquis of Mascoso,
lover of the widow, the Countess of Villapineda. They say that before he
began paying court to her he had sought the hand of a very wealthy man's
daughter, but the girl's father, who they say is a trifle close-fisted—
but hush! Speaking of the devil—do you see that man closely wrapped in
his cloak coming on foot under the arch of San Felipe? Well, he is the
father in question. Everybody in Seville knows him on account of his
"Look—look at that group of stately men! They are the twenty-four
knights. Aha! there's that Heming, too. They say that the gentlemen of the
green cross have not challenged him yet, thanks to his influence with the
great ones at Madrid. All he comes to church for is to hear the music.
"Alas! neighbor, that looks bad. I fear there's going to be a scuffle.
I shall take refuge in the church, for, according to my guess, there will
be more blows than Paternosters. Look, look! the Duke of Alcala's people
are coming round the corner of Saint Peter's Square, and I think I see
the Duke of Medinasidonia's men in Duenas Alley. Didn't I tell you?
There—there! The blows are beginning. Neighbor, neighbor, this way before
they close the doors!
"But what's that? They've left off. What's that light? Torches! a litter!
It's the bishop himself! God preserve him in his office as many centuries
as I desire to live myself! If it were not for him, half Seville would
have been burned up by this time with these quarrels of the dukes. Look at
them, look at them, the hypocrites, how they both press forward to kiss
the bishop's ring!
"But come, neighbor—come into the church before it is packed full. Some
nights like this it is so crowded that you could not get in if you were no
larger than a grain of wheat. The nuns have a prize in their organist.
Other sisterhoods have made Maese Perez magnificent offers; nothing
strange about that, though, for the very archbishop has offered him
mountains of gold if he would go to the cathedral. But he would not listen
to them. He would sooner die than give up his beloved organ. You don't
know Maese Perez? Oh, I forgot you had just come to the neighborhood.
Well, he is a holy man; poor, to be sure, but as charitable as any man
that ever lived. With no relative but a daughter, and no friend but his
organ, he spends all his time in caring for the one and repairing the
other. The organ is an old affair, you must know; but that makes no
difference to him. He handles it so that its tone is a wonder. How he does
know it! and all by touch, too, for did I tell you that the poor man was
"Humble, too, as the very stones. He always says that he is only a poor
convent organist, when the fact is he could give lessons in sol fa to the
very chapel master of the primate. You see, he began before he had teeth.
His father had the same position before him, and as the boy showed such
talent, it was very natural that he should succeed his father when the
latter died. And what a touch he has, God bless him! He always plays well,
always; but on a night like this he is wonderful. He has the greatest
devotion to this Christmas Eve mass, and when the host is elevated,
precisely at twelve o'clock, which is the time that Our Lord came into the
world, his organ sounds like the voices of angels.
"But why need I try to tell you about what you are going to hear to-night?
It is enough for you to see that all the elegance of Seville, the very
archbishop included, comes to a humble convent to listen to him. And it is
not only the learned people who can understand his skill that come; the
common people, too, swarm to the church, and are still as the dead when
Maese Perez puts his hand to the organ. And when the host is elevated—
when the host is elevated, then you can't hear a fly. Great tears fall
from every eye, and when the music is over a long-drawn sigh is heard,
showing how the people have been holding their breath all through.
"But come, come, the bells have stopped ringing, and the mass is going to
begin. Hurry in. This is Christmas Eve for everybody, but for no one is it
a greater occasion than for us."
So saying, the good woman who had been acting as cicerone for her neighbor
pressed through the portico of the Convent of Santa Ines, and elbowing
this one and pushing the other, succeeded in getting inside the church,
forcing her way through the multitude that was crowding about the door.
The church was profusely lighted. The flood of light which fell from
the altars glanced from the rich jewels of the great ladies, who,
kneeling upon velvet cushions placed before them by pages, and taking
their prayer-books from the hands of female attendants, formed a brilliant
circle around the chancel lattice. Standing next that lattice, wrapped
in their richly colored and embroidered cloaks, letting their green and
red orders be seen with studied carelessness, holding in one hand their
hats, the plumes sweeping the floor, and letting the other rest upon
the polished hilts of rapiers or the jewelled handles of daggers, the
twenty-four knights, and a large part of the highest nobility of Seville,
seemed to be forming a wall for the purpose of keeping their wives and
daughters from contact with the populace. The latter, swaying back and
forth at the rear of the nave, with a noise like that of a rising surf,
broke out into joyous acclamations as the archbishop was seen to come in.
That dignitary seated himself near the high altar under a scarlet canopy,
surrounded by his attendants, and three times blessed the people.
It was time for the mass to begin.
Nevertheless, several minutes passed before the celebrant appeared. The
multitude commenced to murmur impatiently; the knights exchanged words
with each other in a low tone; and the archbishop sent one of his
attendants to the sacristan to inquire why the ceremony did not begin.
"Maese Perez has fallen sick, very sick, and it will be impossible for him
to come to the midnight mass."
This was the word brought back by the attendant.
The news ran instantly through the crowd. The disturbance caused by it was
so great that the chief judge rose to his feet, and the officers came into
the church, to enforce silence.
Just then a man of unpleasant face, thin, bony, and cross-eyed too, pushed
up to the place where the archbishop was sitting.
"Maese Perez is sick," he said; "the ceremony cannot begin. If you see
fit, I will play the organ in his absence. Maese Perez is not the best
organist in the world, nor need this instrument be left unused after his
death for lack of any one able to play it."
The archbishop nodded his head in assent, although some of the faithful,
who had already recognized in that strange person an envious rival of the
organist of Santa Ines, were breaking out in cries of displeasure.
Suddenly a surprising noise was heard in the portico.
"Maese Perez is here! Maese Perez is here!"
At this shout, coming from those jammed in by the door, every one looked
Maese Perez, pale and feeble, was in fact entering the church, brought in
a chair which all were quarrelling for the honor of carrying upon their
The commands of the physicians, the tears of his daughter—nothing had
been able to keep him in bed.
"No," he had said; "this is the last one, I know it. I know it, and I do
not want to die without visiting my organ again, this night above all,
this Christmas Eve. Come, I desire it, I order it; come, to the church!"
His desire had been gratified. The people carried him in their arms to the
organ-loft. The mass began.
Twelve struck on the cathedral clock.
The introit came, then the Gospel, then the offertory, and the moment
arrived when the priest, after consecrating the sacred wafer, took it in
his hands and began to elevate it. A cloud of incense filled the church in
bluish undulations. The little bells rang out in vibrating peals, and
Maese Perez placed his aged fingers upon the organ keys.
The multitudinous voices of the metal tubes gave forth a prolonged and
majestic chord, which died away little by little, as if a gentle breeze
had borne away its last echoes.
To this opening burst, which seemed like a voice lifted up to heaven from
earth, responded a sweet and distant note, which went on swelling and
swelling in volume until it became a torrent of overpowering harmony. It
was the voice of the angels, traversing space, and reaching the world.
Then distant hymns began to be heard, intoned by the hierarchies of
seraphim; a thousand hymns at once, mingling to form a single one, though
this one was only an accompaniment to a strange melody which seemed to
float above that ocean of mysterious echoes, as a strip of fog above the
waves of the sea.
One song after another died away. The movement grew simpler. Now only two
voices were heard, whose echoes blended. Then but one remained, and alone
sustained a note as brilliant as a thread of light. The priest bowed his
face, and above his gray head appeared the host. At that moment the note
which Maese Perez was holding began to swell and swell, and an explosion
of unspeakable joy filled the church.
From each of the notes forming that magnificent chord a theme was
developed; and some near, others far away, these brilliant, those muffled,
one would have said that the waters and the birds, the breezes and the
forests, men and angels, earth and heaven, were singing, each in its own
language, a hymn in praise of the Saviour's birth.
The people listened, amazed and breathless. The officiating priest felt
his hands trembling; for it seemed as if he had seen the heavens opened
and the host transfigured.
The organ kept on, but its voice sank away gradually, like a tone going
from echo to echo, and dying as it goes. Suddenly a cry was heard in the
organ-loft—a piercing, shrill cry, the cry of a woman.
The organ gave a strange, discordant sound, like a sob, and then was
The multitude flocked to the stairs leading up to the organ-loft, towards
which the anxious gaze of the faithful was turned.
"What has happened? What is the matter?" one asked the other, and no one
knew what to reply. The confusion increased. The excitement threatened to
disturb the good order and decorum fitting within a church.
"What was that?" asked the great ladies of the chief judge. He had been
one of the first to ascend to the organ-loft. Now, pale and displaying
signs of deep grief, he was going to the archbishop, who was anxious, like
everybody else, to know the cause of the disturbance.
"What's the matter?"
"Maese Perez has just expired."
In fact, when the first of the faithful rushed up the stairway, and
reached the organ-loft, they saw the poor organist fallen face down upon
the keys of his old instrument, which was still vibrating, while his
daughter, kneeling at his feet, was vainly calling to him with tears and
"Good-evening, my dear Dona Baltasara. Are you also going to-night to the
Christmas Eve mass? For my part, I was intending to go to the parish
church to hear it, but what has happened—where is Vicente going, do you
ask? Why, where the crowd goes. And I must say, to tell the truth, that
ever since Maese Perez died, it seems as if a marble slab was on my heart
whenever I go to Santa Ines. Poor dear man! He was a saint! I know one
thing—I keep a piece of his cloak as a relic, and he deserves it.
I solemnly believe that if the archbishop would stir in the matter, our
grandchildren would see his image among the saints on the altars. But,
of course, he won't do that. The dead and absent have no friends, as they
say. It's all the latest thing, nowadays; you understand me. What? You do
not know what has happened? Well, it's true you are not exactly in our
situation. From our house to the church, and from the church to our
house—a word here and another one there—on the wing—without any
curiosity whatever—I easily find out all the news.
"Well, then, it's a settled thing that the organist of San Roman—that
squint-eye, who is always slandering other organists—that great
blunderer, who seems more like a butcher than a master of sol fa—is going
to play this Christmas Eve in Maese Perez's old place. Of course, you
know, for everybody knows it, and it is a public matter in all Seville,
that no one dared to try it. His daughter would not, though she is a
professor of music herself. After her father's death she went into the
convent as a novice. Her unwillingness to play was the most natural thing
in the world; accustomed as she was to those marvellous performances, any
other playing must have appeared bad to her, not to speak of her desire to
avoid comparisons. But when the sisterhood had already decided that in
honor of the dead organist, and as a token of respect to his memory, the
organ should not be played to-night, here comes this fellow along, and
says that he is ready to play it.
"Ignorance is the boldest of all things. It is true, the fault is not his,
so much as theirs who have consented to this profanation, but that is the
way of the world. But, I say, there's no small bit of people coming. Any
one would say that nothing had changed since last year. The same
distinguished persons, the same elegant costumes, the crowding at the
door, the same excitement in the portico, the same throng in the church.
Alas! if the dead man were to rise, he would feel like dying again to hear
his organ played by inferior hands. The fact is, if what the people of the
neighborhood tell me is true, they are getting a fine reception ready for
the intruder. When the time comes for him to touch the keys, there is
going to break out a racket made by timbrels, drums, and horse-fiddles, so
that you can't hear anything else. But hush! there's the hero of the
occasion going into the church. Goodness! what gaudy clothes, what a
neckcloth, what a high and mighty air! Come, hurry up, the archbishop came
only a moment ago, and the mass is going to begin. Come on; I guess this
night will give us something to talk about for many a day!"
Saying this, the worthy woman, whom the reader recognizes by her abrupt
talkativeness, went into the Church of Santa Ines, opening for herself a
path, in her usual way, by shoving and elbowing through the crowd.
The ceremony had already begun. The church was as brilliant as the year
The new organist, after passing between the rows of the faithful in the
nave, and going to kiss the archbishop's ring, had gone up to the
organ-loft, where he was trying one stop of the organ after another, with
an affected and ridiculous gravity.
A low, confused noise was heard coming from the common people clustered at
the rear of the church, a sure augury of the coming storm, which would not
be long in breaking.
"He is a mere clown," said some, "who does not know how to do anything,
not even look straight."
"He is an ignoramus," said others, "who, after having made a perfect
rattle out of the organ in his own church, comes here to profane Maese
And while one was taking off his cloak so as to be ready to beat his drum
to good advantage, and another was testing his timbrel, and all were more
and more buzzing out in talk, only here and there could one be found to
defend even that curious person, whose proud and pedantic bearing so
strongly contrasted with the modest appearance and kind affability of
At last the looked-for moment arrived, when the priest, after bowing low
and murmuring the sacred words, took the host in his hands. The bells gave
forth a peal, like a rain of crystal notes; the transparent waves of
incense rose, and the organ sounded.
But its first chord was drowned by a horrible clamor which filled the
whole church. Bagpipes, horns, timbrels, drums, every instrument known to
the populace, lifted up their discordant voices all at once.
The confusion and clangor lasted but a few seconds. As the noises began,
so they ended, all together.
The second chord, full, bold, magnificent, sustained itself, pouring from
the organ's metal tubes like a cascade of inexhaustible and sonorous
Celestial songs like those that caress the ear in moments of ecstasy;
songs which the soul perceives, but which the lip cannot repeat; single
notes of a distant melody, which sound at intervals, borne on the breeze;
the rustle of leaves kissing each other on the trees with a murmur like
rain; trills of larks which rise with quivering songs from among the
flowers like a flight of arrows to the sky; nameless sounds, overwhelming
as the roar of a tempest; fluttering hymns, which seemed to be mounting to
the throne of the Lord like a mixture of light and sound—all were
expressed by the organ's hundred voices, with more vigor, more subtle
poetry, more weird coloring, than had ever been known before.
When the organist came down from the loft the crowd which pressed up to
the stairway was so great, and their eagerness to see and greet him so
intense, that the chief judge, fearing, and not without reason, that he
would be suffocated among them all, ordered some of the officers to open a
path for the organist, with their staves of office, so that he could reach
the high altar, where the prelate was waiting for him.
"You perceive," said the archbishop, "that I have come all the way from my
palace to hear you. Now, are you going to be as cruel as Maese Perez? He
would never save me the journey, by going to play the Christmas Eve mass
in the cathedral."
"Next year," replied the organist, "I promise to give you the pleasure;
since, for all the gold in the world, I would never play this organ
"But why not?" interrupted the prelate.
"Because," returned the organist, endeavoring to repress the agitation
which revealed itself in the pallor of his face—"because it is so old and
poor; one cannot express one's self on it satisfactorily."
The archbishop withdrew, followed by his attendants. One after another the
litters of the great folk disappeared in the windings of the neighboring
streets. The group in the portico scattered. The sexton was locking up the
doors, when two women were perceived, who had stopped to cross themselves
and mutter a prayer, and who were now going on their way into Duenas
"What would you have, my dear Dona Baltasara?" one was saying. "That's the
way I am. Every crazy person with his whim. The barefooted Capuchins might
assure me that it was so, and I would not believe it. That man never
played what we have heard. Why, I have heard him a thousand times in San
Bartolome, his parish church; the priest had to send him away he was so
poor a player. You felt like plugging your ears with cotton. Why, all you
need is to look at his face, and that is the mirror of the soul, they say.
I remember, as if I was seeing him now, poor man—I remember Maese Perez's
face, nights like this, when he came down from the organ-loft, after
having entranced the audience with his splendors. What a gracious smile!
What a happy glow on his face! Old as he was, he seemed like an angel. But
this creature came plunging down as if a dog were barking at him on the
landing, and all the color of a dead man, while his—come, dear Dona
Baltasara, believe me, and believe what I say: there is some great mystery
Thus conversing, the two women turned the corner of the alley, and
disappeared. There is no need of saying who one of them was.
Another year had gone by. The abbess of the Convent of Santa Ines and
Maese Perez's daughter were talking in a low voice, half hidden in the
shadows of the church choir. The penetrating voice of the bell was
summoning the faithful. A very few people were passing through the
portico, silent and deserted, this year, and after taking holy water at
the door, were choosing seats in a corner of the nave, where a handful of
residents of the neighborhood were quietly waiting for the Christmas Eve
mass to begin.
"There, you see," the mother superior was saying, "your fear is entirely
childish; there is no one in the church. All Seville is trooping to the
cathedral to-night. Play the organ, and do it without any distrust
whatever. We are only a sisterhood here. But why don't you speak? What has
happened? What is the matter with you?"
"I am afraid," replied the girl, in a tone of the deepest agitation.
"Afraid! Of what?"
"I do not know—something supernatural. Listen to what happened last
night. I had heard you say that you were anxious for me to play the organ
for the mass. I was proud of the honor, and I thought I would arrange the
stops and get the organ in good tune so as to give you a surprise to-day.
Alone I went into the choir and opened the door leading to the organ-loft.
The cathedral clock was striking just then, I do not know what hour; but
the strokes of the bell were very mournful, and they were very numerous—
going on sounding for a century, as it seemed to me, while I stood as if
nailed to the threshold.
"The church was empty and dark. Far away there gleamed a feeble light,
like a faint star in the sky; it was the lamp burning on the high altar.
By its flickering light, which only helped to make the deep horror of the
shadows the more intense, I saw—I saw—mother, do not disbelieve it—a
man. In perfect silence, and with his back turned towards me, he was
running over the organ-keys with one hand while managing the stops with
the other. And the organ sounded, but in an indescribable manner. It
seemed as if each note were a sob smothered in the metal tube, which
vibrated under the pressure of the air compressed within it, and gave
forth a low, almost imperceptible tone, yet exact and true.
"The cathedral clock kept on striking, and that man kept on running over
the keys. I could hear his very breathing.
"Fright had frozen the blood in my veins. My body was as cold as ice,
except my head, and that was burning. I tried to cry out, but I could not.
That man turned his face and looked at me—no, he did not look at me, for
he was blind. It was my father!"
"Nonsense, sister! Banish these fancies with which the adversary endeavors
to overturn weak imaginations. Address a Paternoster and an Ave Maria to
the archangel, Saint Michael, the captain of the celestial hosts, that he
may aid you in opposing evil spirits. Wear on your neck a scapulary which
has been pressed to the relics of Saint Pacomio, the counsellor against
temptations, and go, go quickly, and sit at the organ. The mass is going
to begin, and the faithful are growing impatient. Your father is in
heaven, and thence, instead of giving you a fright, will descend to
inspire his daughter in the solemn service."
The prioress went to occupy her seat in the choir in the midst of the
sisterhood. Maese Perez's daughter opened the door of the organ-loft with
trembling hand, sat down at the organ, and the mass began.
The mass began, and went on without anything unusual happening until the
time of consecration came. Then the organ sounded. At the same time came a
scream from Maese Perez's daughter.
The mother superior, the nuns, and some of the faithful rushed up to the
"Look at him!—look at him!" cried the girl, fixing her eyes, starting
from their sockets, upon the seat, from which she had risen in terror. She
was clinging with convulsed hands to the railing of the organ-loft.
Everybody looked intently at the spot to which she directed her gaze. No
one was at the organ, yet it went on sounding—sounding like the songs of
the archangels in their bursts of mystic ecstasy.
"Didn't I tell you a thousand times, if I did once, dear Dona Baltasara—
didn't I tell you? There is some great mystery about this. What! didn't
you go last night to the Christmas Eve mass? Well, you must know, anyhow,
what happened. Nothing else is talked about in the whole city. The
archbishop is furious, and no wonder. Not to have gone to Santa Ines, not
to have been present at the miracle—and all to hear a wretched clatter!
That's all the inspired organist of San Bartolome made in the cathedral,
so persons who heard him tell me. Yes, I said so all the time. The
squint-eye never could have played that. It was all a lie. There is some
great mystery here. What do I think it was? Why, it was the soul of Maese