Siege Diaries 10/11/2020


I’m expecting to start my Stoic-influenced meditations (ha!  See what I did there!) tomorrow, but in the meantime, finishing out my look into the works of Galina Utvolskaya.  But first:

The above is my latest embroidered piece.  I’ve been in love with this cat “who is out of f*cks to give” since I first saw him in 2017, after the floods in Houston.   Here is the original post about the photo that inspired this work:


 This is, in all senses of the word, needlepainting.  I started out with a line drawing of the basic shapes and contours of the original photograph, then reached into my box of DMC cotton thread to actually “paint” the cat’s face.  I’m pretty happy with how it all worked out.  I’ll be on to #4 in my series of Shostakovich embroideries next, and then, after that, I may tackle some of my favourite marginalia.

Back to Galina Ustvolskaya.  I mentioned yesterday how much the pounding on the wooden box in Composition no. 2  reminded me of Shostakovich’s 13th quartet (my absolute favourite) which is dated a couple of years before.  Having not read much about Ustvolskaya before, or about the timeline when she and Shostakovich were actually…um…influencing each other?…I had wondered whether she had gotten the idea from him.  But Shostakovich is said to have said about her, “It is not you who are influenced by me, it is I who am influenced by you.”  And in this case, as it turns out, he very well might have been.    In 1952, Ustvolskaya composed her Sonata for Violin and Piano.  This is considered one of her “earlier” pieces, from a period in which she had not yet largely retreated from society (even still writing pieces for friends).  It’s also during the period where she had a close relationship with Shostakovich, which, whether or not it was romantic, was at the very least intense.  The Violin Sonata is a modernist piece, but still in something at least approximating the classical sonata form.  And almost at the very end, something remarkable happens:  The violinist taps her instrument with the nut of her bow.   It’s very soft, understated, but suddenly, there is a percussive effect that is startling and unexpected.

And here is Shostakovich’s Quartet no. 13.

It’s tempting to play the game of “but what does it all MEAN”? with this, just as plenty of scholars have with the quotation of Ustvolskaya’s Clarinet Trio theme in Shostakovich’s 1974 Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarotti, in the song on the poem “Night.” But at the very least, what we have is Shostakovich using something unique (this is the only time he has players strike their own instruments) that his former student, colleague, friend, maybe romantic interest had used nearly 20 years before. He had once called Ustvolskaya his “musical conscience.” Somehow, in his last years, he is remembering her. And there is even a connection to his final work–he had given her the score to his unfinished opera The Gamblers, and in 1974 he asked her to return it so that he could use it in his Viola Sonata–which she apparently did, but it may have been the final straw that damaged any residual goodwill she had towards him.