Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Evanston: fallow; Shostakovich
A friend wrote that I must be impatient to get back to GANNET and the ocean. While I am eager, I am not impatient. I don’t like to rush and I have time until I don’t have time. That my time has been my own for more than forty years did not happen by chance and is my greatest wealth.
Lying fallow is necessary for fields and people. A season of ease and replenishment. I haven’t done that much this year. GANNET and I only sailed 1700 miles as shown by our 2018 Yellowbrick track above. I have been fallow more than long enough. I am not impatient. I am ready.
How does one prepare to sail oceans alone in a small boat?
Currently I am preparing by reading an unusual novel, EUROPE CENTRAL, by William T. Vollmann and listening to the music of Dimitri Shostakovich. The two are related.
EUROPE CENTRAL, loosely about the insanity and inhumanity of the Europe of Hitler and Stalin, is deeply interesting, very well written, and long. I am reading the Kindle edition, but the hard cover version runs to more than 800 pages. I am only a quarter the way into the book. Unexpectedly a long section of what I have read is about Shostakovich who for many years went to sleep each night, if he could get to sleep at all, fearing that there would be a knock on the door and he would be taken away and shot.
He was in Leningrad at the start of the 900 day siege and saw the bombing and starvation.
I have enjoyed some of Shostakovich’s music for many years, particularly his Preludes and String Quartets.
Vollmann particularly mentions three of his compositions.
Opus 40, Sonata for Piano and Cello, which Vollmann says was written during an affair Shostakovich was having with Elena, the woman he perhaps most loved and certainly most lusted after in his life. Vollmann says the first movement “composed of firelight and kisses, remains the most romantic thing that Shostakovich ever wrote.”
Opus 65, Symphony No. 8, was written during the war and first performed in 1941. It, in Vollmann’s words, “half-illuminates sorrow’s carpet: burnt earth which will soon drink in blood and groaning.”
Opus 110, String Quartet No. 8, is Shostakovich’s most performed string quartet. Vollmann describes it as “terrifying”. Officially Shostakovich dedicated it “to the victims of war and fascism,” but remarked to a friend, “I reflected that if I die someday, it’s hardly likely anyone will compose a work dedicated to my memory. So I decided to write one myself. You could even write on the cover: Dedicated to the composer of this quartet.”
I note that Shostakovich writes: “if I die someday” not “when”. As I have observed, none of us really believes in our own death.
Of these, I only had Opus 110. So I bought the other two from iTunes and have been listening to all three, curious to discover if I hear what Vollmann does. Thus far I don’t, but I am enjoying them anyway.
I wrote about this to my friend, Tim, the marathon running violinist, who sent me a link to a moving short video from the film, SMOKE, with background music by Shostakovich.
I thank him.