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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2017 - Vol. 14, Issue 3

"The Song of the Rose"

written by

Alicia Cole

In the golden hall, symphonic practice progressed. Master Cossoto, his white hair tied back revealing his famous, cavernous right ear, considered the orchestra.

He stroked his left ear, dainty and well-proportioned in juxtaposition to the right, and thoughtfully said to a question from the horn section, “Aim for silver, please.”


The trumpeters sighed in relief. Silver was far easier to achieve than gold.


Rumors of the Master’s synesthesiac concerto had Vienna in an uproar. As Cossoto was known for three things–his gracious patronage of the arts, his generally austere habits, and his voluminous right ear–his musical genius was only secondarily remarked on. But whispers of his new innovation, straight from Dusseldorf and the hands, it was said, of an old lover, sold out the show months in advance.

Aiming to acquire more information for the papers, a young socialite named Sofia interjected herself into the Master’s company at a café. Cossoto’s blue eyes, wrinkled at the edges with laughter, scrunched with pleasure as she spoke of his earlier work, her pink lips perfectly round, her pale, elegant fingers lifting a demitasse to her lips.


“But have you seen my music,” the composer said, his own thin lips stretching into a smile.

From his coat pocket, Cossoto produced a cut glass eyepiece, an ordinary monocle at first glance. When it caught the light and shone a diaphanous pink, Sofia said, delighted, “Why it’s crystal. Isn’t it?”

“It’s rose quartz, prized by the Romans for its healing properties.”

Cossoto placed the monocle in Sofia’s hand.

Attracted by the glint of pink, the beautiful young woman, the sonorous musicality of the Master’s tone, several nearby tables grew still to observe. A waiter, jingling silver on his tray as he passed, coughed apologetically.

“Now,” Cossoto made a circle with his right thumb and forefinger and placed it to his right eye. “If you will raise the crystal like so…”

While Sofia did as instructed, Cossoto chose the smallest silver spoon on the table, perfect for the eating of egg custard, and, holding up his own demitasse so it was directly in the line of sight of the crystal eyepiece, struck the spoon against the cup with a most delicate ping.


Sofia’s mother later reported that her daughter wept for half a day in trembling joy after that note.


The night of the symphony, the streets of Vienna flooded. Concert goers, wreathed in finery, ambled down the streets in pairs and larger groups. The wealthiest rode in carriages, the horses’ great heads held aloft in the pride of their owners’ wealth. It being a pleasant evening, the majority of the city walked. Between Karlsplatz and Kärntner Ring, near the Wein River, the Musikverein waited for their arrival.

Inside, behind the great velvet curtain, Master Cossoto also waited. The plumage of Vienna, atwitter and effervescent, rustled just out of sight, taking their seats in a murmur of satin and muffled curiosity. The curtain felt cool against Cossoto’s cheek.

A speech was given by the manager of the concert hall. Along with the expected announcement of upcoming shows, he haltingly, and sincerely, stated how honored he was to present the night’s performance. With a flurry of applause, Cossoto stepped onto the stage to take the gentleman’s hand. The rectangular hall, every seat occupied, was lit with lantern, scarlet and gold surfaces gleaming.

Cossoto bowed his head toward the crowd and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, my sincerest welcome. Though the music may be soft at times, I advise you to keep your eyes open tonight!”

With that, and a brilliant smile keen enough to wash out the lanterns'


glare, Cossoto stepped upstage, the velvet curtain parted revealing the orchestra, and the machinery began to turn.

With the sibilant hiss of rope slowly uncoiling and a squeal of turning mechanisms, a sheet of the palest pink descended from the ceiling to hover in front of the orchestra. The Master Cossoto stood clear of the shining surface, separated from his musicians.

The concert hall exploded with gasps, hurried exclamations, and notes of wonder.


“Remark,” Cossoto said, placing the tip of his gloved left pointer finger against the separation, “this surface is pure cut crystal, rose quartz from the Himalayas. My associate, Dr. Merganst, after learning of the unique properties I am about to demonstrate, advised several expert craftsmen in the construction of this remarkable screen.”

With a gesture of his right hand, the Master Cossoto motioned to a man in a box adjacent to the stage. Elegant and thin, with short, dark hair and a graying beard, Dr. Frederic Merganst stood and bowed to the crowd. Though he exchanged little more than a fond look with the Master Cossoto, supposition ran rampant among the social circles for weeks.


Turning back to the orchestra, Cossoto raised his baton.


The music crashed over the audience in a wave of color. Each sound, as it hit the crystal surface, refracted in a corresponding wave of the light spectrum. The flutes trilled a barrage of yellow. The bassoons thrummed startlingly blue. The trumpets’ glorious arcing silver stained the air.


The audience sat stunned until the last note when, with thunderous applause, they leapt to their feet crying, “Encore!”



As the Master Cossoto related in an interview, after, it was the gift of his malformed right ear, combined with the experiences of Dr. Merganst, which made the fantastic screen possible. After acquiring several crystals on a visit to Burma, Frederic found himself reunited with Cossoto. Over a bottle of wine, after one of the Master’s concerts in Berlin, Dr. Merganst dropped two of the crystals. Both regrettably chipped, but the Master’s right ear was so attuned, he was able to ascertain a faint singing from one of the crystals that the other did not produce.


After winnowing out the stones which sang from those which were silent, a final discovery was made. At a party, when a violin was played near the crystals, Cossoto observed waves of color released. The singing stones turned music into light.


“After proving the crystals indeed behaved as I initially observed, I financed several expeditions to find the correct stones,” Cossoto admitted to a journalist. “The results proved worthwhile.”


The journalist heartily agreed.



The crystal screen was unfortunately broken in transit to the Master’s second show in Venice. It was only the splendor of Vienna that would be remembered. The concert, said to be one of the Master’s finest, would never be repeated. But, the Master was only briefly deterred. He wept, yes. Then, partnering with an eyeglass maker, he turned the tragedy into a tidy sum of trinkets. Since a small crystal “glass” was sufficient to call color into the air, children and young wives begged for such a gift. The eyepieces sold quickly.



After his death, a series of letters was uncovered, a dialogue between Dr.


Frederic Merganst and the Master. In these letters, along with the Doctor’s indecipherable pseudo-science concerning the usage of rose quartz, a repeated phrase tumbled from Cossoto’s manicured script.


It was real.

Dr. Merganst responded compassionately and with fervor, again and again, in his long, scripted arc. “That night, husbands,” Frederic wrote, “strong men with grown sons, wept at the sight of love.”

The two friends spoke after of younger, promising artists, the flower markets, and breakfast.

Cossoto, as the letters attest, was satisfied. Was gold.

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