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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Whistling in the Dark to Keep Monsters Away

Shostakovich cello sonata
The fangs of darkness. © Charles Thibo

Watch out, because they are watching you. They lurk behind every corner, ready to grab you and lock you up. They are monsters. Stealthy, cowardly, insidious. They have the power to destroy you and to make you shine. They are everywhere. Paranoid times. Gruesome times. Stalin’s evil empire. You can sing however to chase away your fears. You can whistle in the dark and hope for the danger to pass. You can be bold and show your strength by acknowledging publicly your fear. You can find allies by being true to yourself.

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Shostakovich Crosses the Desert of Solitude

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Bagh-e Miri. © Charles Thibo

Infinite sadness. Fear. Pending violence. I see a man. The man is alone and he walks through the desert. Glaring heat. Sharp rocks hurt is feet. Behind him – nothing. Ahead of him – the unknown. The man kneels down and prays silently. He rises up, stretches his arms towards the sky in a silent cry of pain.

February 1948. The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party lashes out against a number of composers and condemns them as “formalistic” and “alien to Soviet art” after Andrey Zhdanov, a close collaborator of Stalin, had stated that Soviet music was in a deep crisis since “…under the banner of illusory innovation, [the incriminated type of music] conveys a rejection of the classical heritage, of national character in music, and of service to people in order to cater to purely individualistic experiences of a small clique of aesthetes.”

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May Contain Traces of Scepticism…

All is well!? © Charles Thibo

Shostakovich, the master of irony. Shostakovich, the pawn. Shostakovich, the genius. Shostakovich, the believer. Shostakovich, the patriot. A man with multiple facets. A man who continues to fascinate me. During the summer of 1964 he wrote his String Quartet No. 10 in A-flat Major, op. 118. It reflects many of Shostakovich’s facets. His tenderness, his love for beautiful melodies, his penchant for the grotesque, the tension that dominated his life and permeates every piece he wrote. The question of life and death of an artist in the Soviet Union that in some way or other haunted him for as long as he lived.

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