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The Lone Man and His Play



* Edouard Manet, Music in Tuileries
(1862)

(Always more of a struggle it is to employ a substantial to represent something abstract. Instead of displaying a vignette of an afternoon alfresco concert, Manet’s Music in Tuileries seems to me more like a delineation of how the music travels and sizzles amid the immaculately-dressed crowd. To judge on the whole the music played must be more Romantic than Baroque, the many expressions adopt such leisurely enjoyment that are unmistakably characteristic. The music seems to have its bewitching hooks too, for the barely distinguishable throngs in the centre and at the rear end, they are so enchanted with it that they eventually sozzled under its spell.)


He loves the city he lives in. Still much of an alien of the city, he only moved to the place three years ago and has yet familiarized with his surroundings or talked unerringly in its accent. Nevertheless the city is the place he is ready to call home, with its wild provisions of epicures, dilettantes, connoisseurs, dandies, braggadocios or sheer amateurs like him. In a staggering contrast with the city he last inhabited, this one is rid of any small-minded bumpkins or parochial feudalism but instead offers the greatest taste of art, literature, music, film and other cultural heritage. For an aspiring playwright and some-time inveterate reveler like him, the city is buzzing with unceasing joy and excitement. There is a play that has been harboured for long in his head and is planned to be finished within days. Before setting to write his play he has the ritual to read a poem or two. Borrowing a snippet or a stanza of the poem or not he can feel a flush of spring reaching down to the very end of his tingly spine- he thus calls that inspiration.

His play is to process in unison with a fantasy he has in mind. He has no knowledge at all with the commonest music theory, but every time he sets to write something the ringing of music always materializes before the formation of words. He admits those intricate music notes elude him, but as his fingers trigger inadvertently, a grand symphony begins. Thus here starts the playwright’s blueprint of his yet-unnamed play that weaves together the story and the music.

[Variation 1: The Parting Kiss]

The opening of a story can disguise itself so much that readers will often mistake it as a tragic ending. The play ruthlessly dashes all details of a beautiful romance, but instead this scene is focused solely on the last goodbye of our hero and heroine.

For the occasion, any elegiac music or moderato masses will do. This scene should progress almost like a silent film, with any motion or emotion little to be discerned. He and she stand upright facing each other. Her lips tremble somewhat but her eyes exude determination. She is to leave him, yet he is too numb to express his sorrow, anger or consternation. She turns and leaves a kiss on a nearby tree, presumably the object bearing most of her memory when she finally departs. She thence departs, uttering not a single word to him, whose face is an unspecified mixture of nothingness. Slowly though he raises his forefinger, as if by wiggling it slightly he can summon his own play, or, to be precise, a duo dance mocking a morbid style of a pair of dying swans. To divorce is to enter the grave together only with the souls parted. Only that she is gone.

[Variation 2: The Tree, the Sole Company]

She is gone but the tree before him seems to be approaching. Forestalling the action he approaches the tree himself. The background music becomes intense, as the cello spearheads several discordant yet distinctive notes. The whole scene should be made unnerved by his hesitant steps; he walks to the tree as if he was propelled to meet the judge of his fate. As soon as he catches the sight of the imprinted kiss any sign of suspicion dissipates. Just by touching the fading mark he can virtually feel her presence like little bells gently teasing him. So agonizing is the tease that on the spur of the moment the last trace of the kiss might be wiped off. Now the thumb ready to execute becomes hesitant. The looming music returns before he suddenly circles the trunk with his arms. The whole earth quakes with the intermittent echoes of dire reluctance.

[Variation 3: Despair and Engulfed by the Swirl of Memory]

The world answers him not. How he wishes the earth will burst asunder and there spring up a merry-go-round. Neither he nor she indulged in such childish play, but the swirling accompanying the fairy-like jingly music best represents a giddying romance between the two. The background music asserts its incandescent levitation. He pricks up his ear to hear the far-away sound. With much effort those sweet notes still fail to filter through his ears. What he eventually savours are the trails of them that traipse around barely perceptibly; penetrable almost like faces touching a screen of fine silk. Something velvety at length dissolves.

[Variation 4: The Sun Rises and Stares]

The rising beam skims from one corner to another, like radars that scan every line and crack of the house, leaving no nooks unrummaged. Finally home, what happens when a man is finally lone. The house is emptier and its figure made formidable. He feels like an alien in this house, and so as the house to him. He is an intruder, as if every object in the house he touches will turn into particles; as if the house itself is as well lumping the blames on him. Our hero stands there irresolutely.

The playwright fails to add a final fifth variation and feels every possible score ill-fitted for the fourth variation. Staring out his net-like window he feels his city expand itself abnormally vast, so much so that any gauche ones will be pushed to their exclusion. He is still the alien in the city he loves.

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