An Emotional Struggle in a Desolated Country

Desolation. Charles Thibo

The quartet starts with an element of pain, a nervous anxiety. But Dmitry Shostakovich quickly introduces a balancing element, a comforting melody, trying to cover the repetitive pattern in a struggle for acoustic supremacy – in vain. Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major (Op. 92) is one more example of the composer’s amazing talent to express emotions with maximal clarity in a few, essential bars.

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A Romance Gives Birth to Dmitry’s First Trio

Can you see it? © Charles Thibo

Shostakovich in love! Young Dmitry – he is 17 – spends the summer of 1924 on the Crimean peninsula and falls in love with Tatyana Glivenko, the daughter of an eminent Moscow philology professor. There’s nothing than love to cure a tuberculosis. He has traveled south with his sister Mariya for health reasons. Mariya is not amused by this romance and when she reports home, Shostakovich’s mother is quick to warn the young man about the pitfalls of love. Shostakovich however has his own ideas, in line with the ideology of the day. “Of course the best thing imaginable would be the total abolition of the institution of marriage, with all its fetters and constraits on love.” It would be a long and tormenting affair, they would see each other on and off, but Dmitry would not commit.

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Myaskovsky, a Memory and a Promise

Myaskovsky cello sonata2
Warmth. © Charles Thibo

He had earned the nickname “Father of the Soviet Symphony”. Soviet symphony, not Russian. He was a shy, introverted musician, and he the critic Boris Afsayev described him as “not the kind of composer the Revolution would like; he reflects life not through the feelings and spirit of the masses, but through the prism of his personal feelings. […] He speaks not only for himself, but for many others.” Nikolai Myaskovsky was awarded the Stalin Price five times, more than any other composer, still, like Dmitry Shostakovich, he was accused in 1947 of writing “anti-proletarian” and “formalistic” music. Oh, brave, new Soviet world!

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Unearthing the Rhythmic Flow of Yiddish Poems

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Nocturnal thoughts. © Charles Thibo

Kafka is on my mind. It’s hard to escape him right now, and actually I do not want to escape him. I want to meet him, see him, listen to him, embrace him. He has become a companion dear to me, a friend for the rest of my life, just like Franz Schubert, Fanny Mendelssohn and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Kafka. The question of Jewishness and authenticity. During the winter of 1912, Kafka tried to promote in the Jewish community of Prague a band of Eastern European amateur actors with a Yiddish repertoire. He expected a certain hostility. The Jews in Prague generally despised the Jews from Russia as being uneducated, rough, even primitive. The saw their assimilation to the refined Austrian-Hungarian bourgeoisie as their supreme social achievement. Kafka however saw in Yizhak Lewi and his band an expression of authentic Jewishness, while he had much less interest in the lofty political dreams of his Zionist friends in Prague.

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