“Nature gives me more than useless layers of fossilized academicalism”. To whom Edison Denisov may he have referred too? Certainly not to his teacher Dmitry Shostakovich. To the “Union of Soviet Composers” who ostracized him for the influence of Western contemporary classical music on his work? Denisov’s music did not intend to charm the ear and certainly not to conform to the official doctrine of Socialist Realism. It did rather intend to express the composer’s ideas and feelings about the Socialist reality in the Soviet Union, an ambition that the Communist party could not tolerate.
“Once in a lifetime one must have been a Marxist”, we used to joke at my former workplace, the newsroom of a liberal German newspaper, and there is some truth in that joke. One has to believe first in Marxism in order to reject it later. At high school I had to come to grips with concepts like the historical and dialectical materialism, and later, while studying political sciences, I felt for a short moment the fever of revolution when it came to demonstrating against the World Economic Forum in Munich. But by then I had already studied enough of Karl Marx’s works (and Lenin’s for that matter), to conclude that although Marx correctly diagnosed the problems of capitalism, he got it all wrong when it comes to the remedies. And he had greatly underestimated the inventiveness and flexibility of capitalism.
Freedom from tyranny, salvation, renewed hope – those were the keywords when I started to think about Dmitry Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 68. Shostakovich completed it in just 19 days in September 1944. It was the first string quartet he wrote after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Three years later the German armies were retreating everywhere while the Red Army had reached the Baltic states and a victory over the Nazi regime appeared inevitable. The composer stayed at the time in a government retreat for artists, some 300 km north-east from Moscow.
Everything is connected – isn’t that so? Whatever we do, it has consequences, big or small, harmless or deadly. Whatever we decide, it affects people around us, positively, negatively. At the end, our life is the sum of our decisions, well-meant, often misguided and mostly overrated as to their importance. A couple of things come together here.