The Linen Symphony part one
Updated: Sep 1
As promised, here is the first part of a story I wrote six years ago and kept adding to it over time. Just click here to open it up.
I hope you enjoy this final version, which is only available only on this website.
“Sold!” The auctioneer called out with an exuberant smile and lively clack of a gavel. The tension in the room was replaced with hearty applause as the exhilarated audience collectively caught their breath. The high-stakes bidding war on one of the world’s most rare and coveted violins had come to a climactic conclusion.
“Lot 187, The Chamberlin Guarneri,” he continued, “an instrument unequaled in timbre and performed upon by such notables as Paganini and Renardy.” He pointed to the winning bidder and added, “As well as your great-grandfather, the incomparable Sir Henry Stanhope Chamberlin. Sold to the gentleman for twelve million dollars.” He offered a humbled bow to the esteemed violinist. “Our congratulations to you, maestro.”
Charles Chamberlin stood briefly, turned to the crowd with a triumphant smile, and returned the gesture.
The excited murmurings faded to a low thrum as a large framed musical manuscript was gingerly carried out and placed upon an easel. The auctioneer studied it curiously before leafing through the pages on his pedestal and selecting the proper document.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have come to the last item for auction this evening. For many of you, this piece needs no introduction. Sotheby’s Lot 188, the one-of-a-kind treasure, Vols d’anges, The Flights of Angels, or as it is more commonly known, The Linen Symphony.”
The packed room full of high-end bidders and upper-crust socialites momentarily forgot their refinements and chattered noisily like unattended school children. The auctioneer stood by patiently and allowed them their moment. When silence returned, he continued.
“For those unfamiliar with this most unusual manuscript, a little history: The Linen Symphony is dated between 1755 and 1770. It has undergone laborious testing and analysis and has been positively linked in style to previous compositions by Phillippe Trazomme. As many of you know, Trazomme was the virtuoso composer and violinist who performed extensively throughout Europe before his mysterious disappearance. His gifts to the world include nine magnificent symphonies, two operas, and eight concertos. Although his accomplishments were overshadowed by the works of such notables as Haydn and Bach, his portfolio has since gained the recognition it deserved. Trazomme was, indeed, one of the greatest composers of his age.
“There is an enigma attached to this composition that exists to this day; it was written after the maestro’s disappearance, and it was not penned in his own hand. And yet, according to every expert in the field, the work itself is unquestionably that of Trazomme. Most agree it is the crowning achievement of this brilliant composer, honed by a lifetime of servitude to his craft. But the greatest riddle of all is that of the medium chosen upon which to inscribe this musical masterpiece. A remnant of ordinary linen, more typical of clothing from that era than writing stock. The blood splatters along the top edge also raise the level of intrigue and suggest the maestro may have met an unfortunate end.
“Ladies and gentlemen, before you stands the only copy of this incredible work in existence. And despite the mysteries of its origin, it has been universally accepted as the last composition of Phillippe Trazomme. I will begin the bidding at ten million…. ”
* * * * *
A bright sliver of sunlight slowly crept across his grime-streaked face as he slept in a puddle of his own urine. He awoke, startled and confused, as the new day’s warmth shone like a spotlight in his eyes. The joyous, fleeting sounds of his dreams still resonated, echoing perfectly in his mind. The notes danced rhythmically as the ray of sun lit his face from a jagged hole in the roof. An oboe sang a mysterious melody that seemed to move in unison with the light across his cheek, wrapping him in a warm and loving embrace. He dared not move for fear of losing the connection to this memory, this beautiful apparition.
Eventually, the sounds and images would crumble away to reveal the present and the squalid pit of despair that now housed his broken spirit. A trickle of a tear cleansed away a streak of soot as it ran down his face and blended with the pooling liquid in which he lay.
The stench of his surroundings was overwhelming, but few outsiders ventured near enough to behold the suffocating odor or hear the muffled screams, rants, and cries of pure agony that the massive century-old doors concealed within. Some of life’s darkest unpleasantries were best dealt with by feigned ignorance.
The Institution stood as an apathetic monument to grief. The roughly hewn river rock walls, mossy and weathered, appeared to have arisen from the dull gray loam on which it stood. Submissive to the demands of history, the structure had transitioned as needed, beginning as a bastion of trade in its infancy and later becoming the last shelter against the raging plague. These soot-darkened walls were the last worldly images glimpsed by hundreds before life fleeted their diseased and withered bodies.
It played its part, indifferent and equally, and now stood as a refuge for the mentally unsound of France in 1762. The fragile monarchy had more pressing issues than the damaged and useless souls within. Warehousing the defective citizenry was at least partially efficient; it removed the problem from sight.
He lay in a heap, oblivious to the darkness and despair surrounding him, struggling futilely to seize the last notes of his subconscious concerto as a tree would cling to its few remaining leaves of autumn. This masterpiece was gone for all eternity. Only to have been momentarily beheld by the brilliant mind that brought it into this world. He cursed his condition and this godforsaken existence, then sighed deeply as he focused on his cupped hands. These brilliantly crafted, incredibly gifted hands, with their long, agile fingers, could effortlessly coax the melodies of life itself to bloom from a violin. He fought himself away, shunning the present, and once again closed his eyes, turning his back on the warm blade of daylight.
He returned to his private inner world and once again found himself standing at the portal to his past. The mental doorway that separated him from the life he had once known. With hands strong and articulate, he reached for it and pulled himself through with little effort. Down through the darkness he plunged. His ears rang as he was enveloped by the numbing abyss. Gradually, disorientation passed, and his senses returned. He opened his eyes to familiar surroundings.
“I’m in the King’s court. Oh, how many times had I performed for him? Eight? Nine, at the very least.”
He noted the excited expressions on the faces gathered about as he searched among them for the one most important. His breathing stopped as he caught sight of his father a short distance away, standing stoic, unrevealing of all emotion. He knew better. His father would be infinitely more nervous than he was himself. This man, who had nurtured and trained his son to develop his extraordinary talents, would remain on edge until the last note rang out.
He bowed humbly to his mentor, then raised the violin to his chin.
“The Amati,” he noted, admiring the fine Italian instrument. “Only my second violin. That would mean this is the first time I am performing before his excellency. So I am. . .I am eight years old. Very well then,” he whispered. An exuberant smile escaped as he lifted the bow over the strings. He gave his father a wink, then launched into one of his first compositions.
His fingers danced along the ebony neck, feeling every vibration of the instrument as its deep, melodious voice filled the room. The sound flowed over and through him like an uplifting tide. Sweeping him along in that place which existed now only in the furthest reaches of his mind. He surrendered himself to its beauty and power.
The musical community championed the child prodigy with pride as the next great French composer to flaunt in the face of Germany and Spain. He spent his days practicing and writing his craft and was brought forth each evening to entertain the local snobbery, who wore his presence like a crown as proof of their elite status in society. But all that mattered to the young virtuoso was attempting to capture the serenades that would flow freely from his next vivid dream. That, and pleasing his father.
He had reached a pinnacle in his life when his hands could keep up with his imagination. He could play whatever musical passages danced through his thoughts, and they came to him at a furious pace.
When asked about the source of his inspiration, he would always offer the same reply: “I am awoken in the middle of the night by complete musical scores swirling through my mind. New and magnificent, complex and complete. I learned early to rise from bed, no matter the hour, and pen these visions as they occurred. On those nights when I simply laid there and enjoyed their splendor, I would wake the next day with the emptiest feeling that something most precious had been lost forever.”
By his mid-teens, he had written a staggering four symphonies and was testing his hand at an opera. His music was published and performed throughout France and he was, by all accounts, a successful and seasoned composer and artist, well on his way to legendary status.
His thoughts returned to his recital before the King, feeling every note as though each was a portion of his soul being offered as food to the ravenous crowd. The entire room seemed to breathe in rhythm with his tempo.
The music reached a powerful crescendo. Then, suddenly, the ornate hall and everyone within disappeared behind a dark curtain. He found himself lying on a wet cobblestone street, face down and bleeding. He blinked through streams of tears, rain, and blood, wincing at the sight of his outstretched hands. Those finely tuned instruments. Broken and twisted. The unbearable pain hurled him back to the present, and he squinted down at those same hands, now healed from their open wounds and crushed bones but still deformed and barely functional. His despair was all-consuming, and he cursed himself and his wretched life. He sobbed and moaned through the day until, finally, the darkness of night once again allowed him to escape into his dreams...