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A Guide to Tonight's Concert: The Clandestine Symphony

By 

Michael Smith

T

he title of this symphony has reference to Balinsokov’s paranoia that Czar Nicholas would steal his composition and sell it to the Americans, who were short on composers in the early 19th century. To reduce the Czar’s incentive to steal the piece, Balinsokov’s score provided only the notes the musicians were to play, without indicating other instructions such as volume, tempo, and the length of the notes. As a result, only he could conduct the Clandestine Symphony, and he did so by relying on thousands of margin notes that were scribbled in an early Yiddish version of the Morse Code—often during performances he would cause the orchestra to pause briefly as he attempted to make out his own penmanship. In addition, his performers hid their identities by dressing as stevedores; Balinokov himself preferred to be disguised as a broom closet. As is often the case with great artists, fame found a way to elude the composer, and he died in one of Moscow’s many alms’ houses over a bowl of cabbage soup.

Joseph Freedman has spent the better part of his life studying Balinsokov, and his just released biography on the composer provides certain clues to understanding the score. For instance, it is believed that Balinsokov shunned whole notes because his own father, whom he despised, had a round head. A second clue is that whenever he caught his lover in bed with another man, he would add a coda; described by his own mother as having the face and body of a pumpkin, no piece of music contains more codas than the Clandestine Symphony. With regards to tempo, Balinsokov’s notes simply say “if the audience falls asleep, make it a fitful sleep.” We are pleased that Freedman himself is here tonight to lead what can be called nothing more than a daring experiment, an experiment that may well lead to Freedman’s public abasement and demise. In keeping with the spirit of the work, the stage lights will be dimmed to obscure the musicians’ faces. However, from time to time the lights may be turned on to allow Freedman to decipher his own margin notes. Please do not applaud during these unplanned intervals.

Quiz question:

Which of the following statements is true?

Balinsokov's father hated him.

Balinsokov's father hated him.

Balinsokov had the body and face of a cantaloupe.

Balinsokov had the body and face of a cantaloupe.

Balinsokov was German.

Balinsokov was German.

Balinsokov shunned whole notes.

Balinsokov shunned whole notes.

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Issue 17

published 

April 23, 2017

Michael Smith’s fiction has been featured or is forthcoming in The Hopper, The Delmarva Review, Drunk Monkeys, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Michael Smith is a writer, photographer, and Francophile residing in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Issue 17

This writing was originally published in Opium Magazine, and is not listed in the Lit.cat archives.
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