Carpe Diem and the Loss of a Friend

Waiting. © Charles Thibo

Waiting. How much time we spend just waiting. Currently I am waiting for my daughter. She’s taking swimming lessons and I am waiting dutifully in the car listening to extraordinary music: Dmitry Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67, recorded by the Beaux Arts Trio. The time we wait for someone to come or something to happen is not to be considered time lost. It can be turned into something useful.

Relaxing time for example by consciously doing nothing. Like not looking at the smart phone. Like closing both eyes and just being there. Hearing the ambient sound, feeling the temperature, the wind, smelling whatever is in the air. Focussing on all those parameters we usually disregard. Try it. You will be surprised by what you experience. Waiting time can be used for meditation. That’s what I am currently doing. Listening to Shostakovich, reflecting the phenomena of waiting and typing this text (on my smartphone by the way – really useful!).

Remembering Ivan Sollertinsky

What did Shostakovich wait for when he wrote the trio for piano, violin and cello in 1943/44? He waited for relief. His closest friend and companion Ivan Sollertinsky had died and Shostakovich was desperate. “It is impossible to express in words all the grief that engulfed me on hearing the news about Ivan Ivanovich’s death […] I am indebted to him for all my growth. To live without him will be unbearably difficult”, he wrote to Sollertinsky’s widow.

Shostakovich had been evacuated to Moscow from Leningrad. his besieged home town, and he had been plotting to make Sollertinsky follow him. The composer wrote the trio to pay tribute to his dearest friend – it is an extraordinary piece of music.

A lamenting violin…

In the first movement, the depth of Shostakovich’s loss became all too visible: a barely audible lament, a strident melody surrounded by an opaque and oppressive silence, the absurdity of death, the bitter taste of grief and desperation – brilliantly expressive. But this dark mood is balanced by a more optimistic voice, illustrating perhaps how Sollertinsky’s death spurred Shostakovich into action. My best friend is dead, what can I do? I can compose!  I can praise him and create a bond with him transcending death.

The second, rather short movement continues on an energetic, power-ladden mood, a well-balanced part for all three instruments and emotionally a relief, heavily contrasting with th first movement – exactly what we have been waiting for. The largo then is a solemn part introduced by solitary long-held notes for the piano, that curiously remind me of Frédéric Chopin’s Funeral March. Then the strings set in with a slow, very slow sad melody – the sweet memory of the departed.

… a grotesque piano

And finally the last movement, allegretto, staccato notes for the piano, pizzicato for the strings, a dance? A dance, distorted and grotesque as only Shostakovich could write it – this absurd thing called death. Why live if it all ends with death? From birth on we are wiating for the moment we will die, whether we like it or not. For Shostakovich this is a fact and asking such a question is absurd in itself – we may resolve the question but it will not satisfy us. We will still die nevertheless.

Is this too much black for a summer day? I find it useful to think about my mortality on a regular basis. It helps me enjoy life as it is. Carpe diem.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.