Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Shostakovich - this is myself

We went to see Shostakovich the next day, without having eaten or slept. He was expecting us and opened the door himself. 'Hello, how are you? Thank you for coming,' he said rapidly, convulsively shaking all our hands. Four music stands were waiting in the room. Shostakovich sat down in an armchair and waited impatiently. We quickly opened our cases, took our places, and immediately began playing.

The five-movement Quartet No. 8 in C-minor, Opus 110 is played without interruption. The slow fugato, with its theme, 'D-S-C-H'; the furious scherzo, with the Jewish melody from his own second trio, Opus 67; the agitated waltz; the requiem for those who perished; and once again the original bitter fugato con sordino, with his initials.

As he listened, Shostakovich picked up the score and a pencil, and put both aside, his head bent. What he must have felt at this moment, we could only guess. Having openly said at the beginning of the quartet, 'This is myself,' he sat before us, tormented, listening to his story about himself, his musical confession, the sorrowful cry of a soul, where each note weeps with pain.

We tried not to look at him. We began the fourth movement, which imitated either bombs falling from above and exploding on the earth or just hearts breaking. Then came the old Russian song 'Tormented by Heavy Bondage,' and finally the culmination of the quartet, which comes from his opera Katerina Izmailova. In the last scene, when the prisoners are being moved across a Siberian river, Sergei, for whose sake Katerina has sacrificed everything on earth, betrays her with Sonetka. The impact of the scene is that the entire audience, the orchestra, and all the characters see this; even the gendarme spits at Sergei and Sonetka; only Katerina alone knows nothing and is happy to meet Sergei. The insolent Sonetka appears, and slowly the irremediable catastrophe reaches Katerina's consciousness. She throws herself into the icy water, pulling Sonetka with her. Thus is happens in the opera. The same melody sounds different in the quartet: here, it is the loneliness of the composer himself and his premonition of his inevitable end.

We finished the quartet and looked at Shostakovich. His head was hanging low, his face hidden in his hands. We waited. He didn't stir. We got up, quietly put our instruments away, and stole out of the room -
Rostislav Dubinsky, founder of the Borodin Quartet writing in Stormy Applause , Making Music In A Workers State.

In memory of Anna Politkovskaya, crusading Russian journalist famed for her exposés of corruption and the Chechen war. Born 1958, murdered October 7 2006.

Image credit - Patricia Zipprodt, costume designs for Katerina Ismailova, New York City Opera via Ohio Arts Council. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Shostakovich's persecutor finally speaks out

2 comments:

Pliable said...

And an excellent article in today's Guardian - http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1891506,00.html

peter said...

There's a great documentary coming out. You can watch an interview with the filmmaker at ScribeMedia.org