A few years ago I sat on a transatlantic flight to Europe. All was well. The excitement of embarking had died down, the plane was quiet, dinner had been served and passengers were getting ready for the night. I felt comfortable. I was flying home. I had a window seat, I looked outside and for the first time on a plane I saw the sun set. The sky changed its colors in fractions of ten, twenty seconds and it was beautiful and overwhelming to watch. An idea of the vastness of space. An idea of the vulnerability of earth and humanity. A glimpse of God.
Triumph! The fanfare at the beginning of this piece is a statement in itself. Here comes a composer who is not afraid of pushing the envelope. A piano concert with a first movement lasting 20 minutes? 688 bars? Well… A second movement written in the form of a triple concerto with a constant dialogue of the piano, the violin and the cello? He who dares wins. Harmonies in abundance, alternating with harmonic experiments? To hell with the critics! By now you should have guessed that we are speaking about Pyotr Tchaikovsky. What a man! What a composition!
A year ago, I published my first post on Johann Sebastian Bach, not really knowing where my journey through centuries of classical music would lead me. I have learned a lot since then, about music, about history, about mankind. The journey made me meet Dmitry Shostakovich, a controversial and fascinating composer. Today’s post will be about Shostakovich and how he followed-up on Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Now wait a minute, that’s a leap of 250 years. Yes, indeed. But isn’t Bach God? Isn’t he immortal and eternal? Bach was, is and will be.
For many years I have lived in Eastern Germany in a region of extreme contrasts. I worked in Bitterfeld, the heart of the former GDR’s chemical industry marked by extreme environmental pollution and the layoff of tens of thousands of workers after the collapse of the socialist system. I worked and lived in the Halle, where Händel was born, a town with a vibrant theater and music scene and an attractive university. My job often took me to Leipzig, home to the Bach family for many years, with its opera, its museums and art galleries. And over the weekend, I hiked through the lovely vineyards in the Saale-Unstrut valley, mostly during autumn when the leaves would start to turn yellow or orange. I visited some amazing castles there, and the beauty of the landscape made me quickly forget that the whole region was not doing well at the time.