The Legend of 1900 is a monologue written by Alessandro Baricco in 1994 for the theatre. Staged then by director Gabriele Vacis and later adapted in 1998 film The Legend of 1900 by Giuseppe Tornatore, with music composed by Ennio Morricone. According to the author the text can be defined as in between of “a real theatrical piece and a tale to read aloud”. In our view is one of the most original and deep short story ever. 

Danny Boodman T.D Lemon 1900’s music

The plot revolves around the life of Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon 1900 as told by the trumpet player Tim Toone who meets him on the Virginian – an ocean liner travelling between Europe and North America. His particular name is related to his early years of life. Just born he is abandoned on the liner in a box labeled T.D. Lemon left on the first class piano, where he is found by Danny Boodman, one of the Virginian’s sailors, who decides to raise him and name him also after himself as Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon 1900.

When Danny dies, 1900 is ‘adopted’ by the Virginian, where he will spend all his life revealing an unusual talent not only for music but also for reading people’s souls.Through his music he is able to unveil the desires, ambitions, fears and dreams of the passages he meets on the Virginian: translating into melody their memories and their stories.

A journey that moves people close

The Legend of 1900, as many of Baricco’s works, speaks about sensitivity that becomes empathy: its beauty and its side effects. The author particular style creates pages that can outline the deepest emotions and the most elaborate concept with the tone and rhythm of storytellers. 1900 is an excellent pianist with the heart of a child. He spends his life on the liner absorbing the dreams of those who travel towards America in search for a different place, a different life, a different self.

The journey towards America has always meant the research of new horizons where one may be able to have a second, third, forth or further chance. An adventure that allows, in the mind of those who go for it, to dream as only children are used to doing, believing that everything is possible, at least for the time of the trip, during which not just one, but infinite lives seem like being feasible.

Surrounded by all the stimoli Virginian’s passengers provide, 1900 evolves. He is still a man of course, but a man able to grasp easily someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in their situation, moving people close. So he seems like absorbing all the wonderful life expectations and expressing them in his music.

Enchanting wishes

However, this almost mystical transformation that makes him a sui generis prophet, as all magic has its price and rules. In his case, these concern the place where he lives: the liner, a limited life experience that allows his sensitivity to be confined in a reduced portion of world that he can process. But, on mainland, how would he be able to? He tried once to leave the ship but he stopped in front of the never-ending sight of a sprawling New York:

“did you see the streets? There were thousands of them! How do you choose just one? One woman, one house, one piece of land to call your own, one landscape to look at, one way to die. All that world weighing down on you without you knowing where it ends. Aren’t you scared of just breaking apart just thinking about it, the enormity of living in it?”

He is like a child who has never learnt the attitude of making choices, whose mind has always been free from constrains except for music that rather than selecting taught him to accept and integrate infinite possibilities. The piano, the ship are the limits within he is able to live in the only way he knows namely connecting to people to the extend of realising, celebrating their expectations, his wishes and imagining of making them sound beyond the choices that would restrict their infinite potential. 

“I, who wasn’t able to descend this boat, to save myself I descended from my life. Step after step. And every step was a wish. For every step I took, a wish I was saying goodbye to. I’m not mad, brother. We’re not mad when we find a way of saving each other. We’re cunning like hungry animals. Madness has nothing to do with it. That’s genius. It’s geometry. Perfection. Wishes were tearing my soul apart. I could live them, but I didn’t manage. So I enchanted them. And one by one I left them behind me. Geometry. A perfect job.”

Reading 1900

The Legend of 1900 is a simple and extraordinary story about the ability to actively listen to people who surround us, those we know but also those we don’t: learning to see them as a part of ourselves. A story about the limits of individual experience and the difficulties of making choices. The fear of choosing that often leads to paralysis and incapacity to finish what we have started. 

But here, that very fear manages to turn into devotion to art, to music, to the humanistic spirit able to recognise the value of people sharing dreams, hopes and illusions, creating a space where there is always room for imagination to be prolific. And this is like reading 1900: it conveys a pure sense of joy and hope towards the entire world, people and the refreshing power of a good story.

Have you read it? Have you seen the theatrical piece or the film? (here an extract)