A petition. A simple piece of paper was the trigger. Ten thousands of Russian workers claimed the rights that the government had promised them two months before. They were hungry and underfed. In January 1905, they marched towards the Winter Palace of Nicolas II outside St. Petersburg, and while they marched, they prayed and sang. They were led by an Orthodox priest. But the Czar’s soldiers drowned the peaceful march in blood. Nicolas II. was afraid. The world was changing and he did not accept change. His soldiers were afraid. The once glorious army had lost the Crimean War and the war against Japan. The country was in uproar.
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.
St. Petersburg 74 years ago: Leningrad, as the Russian city at the Baltic Sea was called at the time, lies in ruins. Over the winter of 1941/42 thousands have died – starved or frozen to death, killed by the relentless attacks of the German air force and artillery. Under those dramatic circumstances, the Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich composed his famous 7th symphony, the “Leningrad” Symphony. Shostakovich was evacuated from Leningrad shortly before completing the symphony, but on August 9, 1942 the work was performed in Leningrad by a makeshift orchestra: the survivors of the Leningrad Radio-Orchestra assisted by military musicians and led by the conductor Karl Eliasberg.
Those of you who have followed this blog for some time, know that I am infatuated with Russian music. A gifted high school teacher ignited my love for Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s music (see my very first post), and over the past weeks, I have discovered the extraordinary richness and beauty of Dmitry Shostakovich’s works. Without any doubts, both composers are acknowledged on a global scale as two of the greatest Russian artists. Russia’s appreciation of the two men always was ambiguous and still is. We are speaking about tolerance of diversity, of freedom of expression or rather the lack of both in Russia – then and now.