a semi-critique of diary of a composer: a one note symphony by Carmen Mérimée

​Thesis: the sun, the sun, the sun...

To know me is to know music and the bridge to heaven. In all the world and its history the mechanism through which one forgets (for bursts) the isolation and (out of fear of misshapen cartography) immolation of the self (everyone has their own and mine is self).  

I understand this symphony as a woman in a lace dress, her earrings the Romanian gymnast. We make her so and her soul in paradise. The symphony comes from her tears. The cartography of her hip and spine when she turns—they come from her tears. The harmonica written on her smooth belly in backward arcs around her naval a spiral and aloft we spy (as such aloft) the outlines of her remarkable, unconquered lands.

She cannot hate us no matter the depths of our cruelty. She wants to do something (if just for a moment). Something to the world (if just for a moment). She is more noble than we (we hear it in the singular note).  She falls apart whole. She comes to pieces whole. And we are to blame.

-- ​Carmen Mérimée

“One Note Symphonies"

diary of a composer: a one note symphony

blue balloon

  Malene rests on her back with her right leg pointing toward the wooden ceiling. A blue balloon descends on her from a hanging stained-glass lamp, and she raises her right arm, then spreads her fingers to push it gently away. She glances at you and turns onto her side.

  Your eyes move casually from her breasts to the book you are reading, and the blue balloon waits for her to roll onto her back again before falling towards her face.

  The first novels you read to her were westerns, during which time she wore cowboy hats and boots, and once even a full Indian headdress. Then you tiptoed on to romances, but skipped the details of seduction, leaping over paragraphs with a simple "they went into the bedroom and closed the door." You were terrified.

  It was only recently that you stumbled upon the courage to read the more amorous, even erotic narrative, and began adding details, lengthening sentences to a few paragraphs, and paragraphs to a few pages, with the result lying comfortably naked before you.  

  You cross your legs (thin pants) to hide your growing erection, and continue reading where you left off.

diary of a composer

  ...I whispered 'hello' into my cigarette and exhaled, guiding the smoke towards a woman sitting at one of the front tables. But my message reached a man only two tables away who turned and smiled.

  "Not you,” I said, shaking my head.

  The man sneered and looked away. The band was taking the stage when I took my trumpet from its case, stood on my chair and played one note, holding it for as long as I could. People glared at me in amazement. Napkins were beginning to rise from the tables, but I was interrupted by two waiters who stomped toward me.

  I jumped down from the chair, took a quick bow for my appreciative audience, and left the small café, my trumpet's one note (h flat) still buzzing in my ears.  

  You see music lover, I have spent my whole life composing a symphony, and have written one note, one perfect note...

a dolphin passing

  ...the Palae Bar on Ny Adelgade was filled with people. Outside, animals crowded the windows: dogs, cats, birds of every kind. Someone screamed (jerking his hand back and forth like a woodpecker) he saw a dolphin pass by, but no one turned to look--Cæcilie was singing.

  '...no time for chittin' and chattin' and chittin'...'

  (cue piano solo)

  The dolphin was me, and it is peculiar that someone mistook me for a dolphin, because there really is no resemblance (other than the glossy, wet look of my skin). I don't like swimming, unless the water is deep--ocean deep, and even then it's only the sensation of floating from bottom to top that I relish. The act of swimming itself never appealed to me. (In fact, between you and me, I don't know how to swim, and have never been near an ocean my entire life)...

  (piano fades, cue drum solo)

a flying rook

  ...the dull brass of my trumpet reflects a rising sun in my opening and closing eyes. I have a frightening secret to tell you music lover, prepare yourself. 

  (drum roll, the sound of thunder)  

  It is I who make the sun rise, and if I so desire, can make it stay fixed in the sky for as long as I play my symphony. Modestly stated, I am the most dangerous human being in the world, for I fear (with practice) that I could make the sun rise so high it would disappear; its rays wouldn't reach the Earth and everything would be in darkness.

  An old man in a nearby balcony appears moments after me and I free one hand from my trumpet to wave to him, but he doesn't wave back. It is the same every morning.  

  After raising the sun, I walk to Amagertorv and play my symphony over and over again until darkness falls. Three drunks throw bottle caps in my hat; others toss me a few kroner. I'll admit it is a meager amount, but I don't leave discouraged (what is money to me?). Throughout the day I feel the wind picking up, and witness with my own eyes, hats flying from heads, and a chess piece (a rook I believe) rising towards a broken tree limb...  

a torn page

  You glance over the books on the shelf in search of a novel that will help you take the next step with Malene, and you finger de Sade's Juliet, but move on. (A well-planned step remember, not a reckless leap.)

  Your eyes work backward to P, Paya, Señor Oneypa Paya, and you pull out the master's latest work (Don Quixote's Map of the World), an erotic expedition of the female body. You browse through a few pages when you notice a piece of paper trapped between the books and the shelf. You see what's written on the paper and gasp (actually gasp) in amazement.  

  "What does it say?"

  You don't answer, but look to see if anyone is watching you, then hide the paper under your jacket. You flip conspicuously through Paya's novel, replace it on the shelf, and leave the bookstore.  


  If Don Quixote were to mount his pitiable steed Rocinante and go in search of adventure today, he would be arrested for trespassing. His map of the world has changed from vast spaces and open fields to the naked body of a woman--a frontier as ambiguous and complex as Don Quixote's. 

  But I can't believe that you, faithful reader, are still searching for adventure. Together, you and Malene have visited Dodge City, Paris, St. Petersburg. You have fought bandits, married, divorced, bore children, honeymooned in Singapore, had affairs, grew old, and even died together. But when Malene smiles, you wonder if it is a smile at all; if her hand caressing the sofa is a flirtatious intimation of things to come between you or just capricious housework? Are those giants or windmills off in the distance?

  (Speak philosopher…)

  It isn't adventure you're searching for dear reader, but certainty. The certainty of a smooth, heavy stone in your hand, or of a dense book. You can be certain of those things. You feel their weight. But you can't be certain about a strand of a woman's hair, or of a woman's love. Such things lack the weight of certainty. They float away, vanishing like words read from a page, specters of an already grasping memory.

  I have come to the conclusion that you aren't acting like a man at all (vacillating, rationalizing, procrastinating). You aren't like the characters in the novels you read to Malene, and don't dare attempt an assault on those delicate borders I have established between you two. 

  However, we grant you some reprieve, for you were last seen (good eyes Sancho) mounting a horse, grumbling in a voice that was hardly your own, about giants somewhere in the distance.

unmeasured sky

  ...I am on a ferry crossing the sound to Malmö. The sun beams down on me. Earlier this morning, for the first time in my life, I woke up late. I thought of the confused, certainly terrified people in the world who expected sunlight already. But when I rushed out onto my balcony, I realized the sun was making a rapid ascent without me.  

It was I who became confused.  

  I couldn't believe my symphony was being performed without me. Yet, before my disbelieving eyes, a red-orange note scaled a barless, unmeasured sky. 

  I gave my trumpet a suspicious sidelong glance to which it responded with a sinister gleam. (I had sensed in the last year or so a growing ambition in the devious horn.)  

  I grasped the situation immediately and struggled to hide my feeling of panic, smoking a cigarette, walking around the room, speaking as if to remind myself of plans made for the rest of the day.

  Then, like a sudden fortissimo, I charged the unsuspecting instrument and locked it in its case. I decided to get rid of it, but quickly, before the sun disappeared forever. I went to a pawnshop and traded in my hat for another trumpet.  

  Don't worry music lover, I am the near antonym of stupid. I realize just as you have (you have realized it haven't you?) that if I simply throw the trumpet overboard, it will make itself float to the surface. Even sealed as it is now, it still raises the sun higher and higher.  

  I will take the twisted brass into the sound myself and anchor it somewhere deep, where its diabolical rendering of my symphony will be muffled forever. Then I will play my h flat symphony on my new trumpet and float safely back onto the ship. Tomorrow I will raise the sun as always, wave to the old man, then walk to Amagertorv.  

  But before I go music lover, I must confess that for a brief moment this morning, hidden in the shadows of panic and fear, a feeling of relief gripped me. The sunrise is a great responsibility... 

the heaviness of love makes blue balloons float

  You dismount and walk into the room where for the last year or so you have read to Malene. She sits naked on the couch, playing with the blue balloon, and you sit beside her. She is startled.

  "Isn't he going to read to me?" she asks.

  "I don't know,” I reply.

  "Yes,” you say.

  You look down at the solitary piece of paper you found at the bookstore and lean over to Malene, singing into her ear.

  "Again,” she says breathlessly. 

  You take a deep breath, and once more sing into her ear (this time the left one).

  Malene puts her arms around you and pulls you on top of her as she kicks the blue balloon away and watches it float outside the window. You relish the heaviness of your own body lying on top of hers as you tear the page into pieces (pieces I try in vain to collect), humming over and over again, softer each time, into her ear.

  Malene brushes some lint from the sofa's arm with her free hand. (revenge of a jealous author)

the old man waves

  ...you didn't think you would hear from me again, did you music lover? But here I am, and here is what happened--sans drame ou melodrame.  

  I forced the treacherous instrument under a large rock near swaying kelp, then put the new one to my lips. I closed my eyes and played my symphony, holding it longer than I had ever held it before, and felt a rush of water and air surrounding my body. When I opened my eyes, I saw København below me. Around me, there were fish, hats, picnic benches, people, bicycles, people on bicycles, circling passing clouds.  

  A blue balloon drifted to and fro and I grabbed it by its string (I have it in my hand even now). I saw the old man with his feet pointing toward the sky, clutching the railing of his balcony with both hands, and I waved to him. He released one hand to wave back, and the other hand slipped and he floated away.  

  My tears float as well music lover, because I am sad to tell you that my diary has come loose in this wind, and the pages fly about like leaves. I must find them, because my symphony (my life's work!) is written there, and strange as it may seem, it has--absolument--vanished from my memory...

a semi-critique of diary of a composer:  a one note symphony
by someone I sketched:  Carmen Mérimée