Siege Diaries 10/30/2020


Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  What time can I claw back for myself–and how will I use it?

My initial reaction to this was that it was ironic this question came up in the midst of a pandemic, when suddenly my life is bereft of weekend events and concerts and parties and the like–but those activities always were a kind of “time for myself” and a source for both social interaction and internal reflection, so their absence has created a need in my mind to “replace” them.  

Yesterday came news that plans to revamp the old Packard plant in Detroit for adaptive reuse–perhaps as space for artists or other innovators–have apparently been scrapped, and now widespread demolitions are being considered for everything but, perhaps, the administrative building.  I am now exceedingly grateful that we found a way to tour the ruins last year when we had the chance.  More and more, 2019 is standing out to me as a year when I found a way to seize opportunities to pursue a few dreams as they arose, confirming to me the soundness of my thinking on these matters.   A year later, things are very different, but I still have that privilege and gift of time, and there are still dreams I can chase–not those same dreams from a year ago, but just as valid dreams and projects–and making sure I not only claw out time for them, but pursue them with the same sense of focus and urgency I had last year around visiting the Packard plant is a key.  I have today.  What can I do today that will both make good use of that gift of time, and lay foundations for a better future?

Evening:  Some foundations:  So with my Russian language course book here, I’ve started working on the basics–which means, initially, a push to read Cyrillic.  This is something I had already started doing, but had not specifically worked at.  Some of the letters were easy for me, since they resemble Greek letters, but others–particularly some of the “extra letters” –are a little more challenging. But I’m starting to be able to sound out words and recognize common endings.  In a similar wise, I’m currently watching videos about Pathfinder character development.   As I think I mentioned earlier, I am very much of the opinion that more roleplaying is in my future–and that I’ll be working to consciously carve out time for it even at some future point where concerts or in-person events become possible.  

Mostly prepped for Halloween now.  I have treat bags pre-made to just leave on the front porch.  I got out the decorations–the light-up hissy cats and the cat pumpkin.  But this year they will be joined by the first carved pumpkin in…decades?  A local realtor left pumpkins on all the porches–just little ones–and I decided to actually carve it.  The result above:  A small pumpkin pi.

Another sterling performance by the Jerusalem Quartet today of Shostakovich’s 4th quartet.  Once again, while all four musicians shine, I just love watching cellist Kyril Zlotnikov.  There is absolute joy here in the 4th movement.

I also listened to the Piano Trio #2. One of the people on Reddit who researches Shostakovich (and is, I think, about 20 years old) posted a super interesting piece on Ivan Sollertinsky, Shostakovich’s close friend, who the Trio is dedicated to. Sollertinsky, who was a rather spectacular polymath who knew 26 languages, was an accomplished scholar in many fields, and was apparently an absolutely mesmerizing public speaker and wit (so, yeah, all those things I’d want to be), died unexpectedly after Shostakovich had started composing the Trio. He was distraught for awhile and could not write, but he finally resumed and dedicated the work to Sollertinsky, and many folks think the klezmer influence in the final movement was a reference to his friend’s Jewish faith–although it’s apparently not completely clear that Sollertinsky was actually Jewish. So I have my own theory:

So I read this late last night, too late to pull up a recording with score of the Piano Trio #2 to confirm my memories, but today’s lunchtime listen solidified a few thoughts around the piece, the silence between the second and third movements, and what happens there. It seems obvious to me that there is a narrative to this entire work, with the first movement starting off with a ghostly kind of reverie and then the rest of the first movement and the second focused on life. And then, the third movement starts. First thing to note: The change in key from the six sharps of the second movement (ending on an F# major chord to the five flats of the third (starting with a B flat minor chord). This is a fairly dramatic shift in the colour of the piece, especially for the strings. The third movement is a passacaglia, written by a master of the form, and to me synonymous in Shostakovich’s music with a kind of working through of sorrow, a kind of wandering through the constantly-moving ostinato line. Except this passacaglia is nearly static– just chords for the piano, all dotted whole notes, except right before the figure repeats, when a whole note chord is layered on top of the dotted whole note chord, for just the faintest movement. This repeats six times. The pianist is reduced to a kind of numb, frozen banging out of these barely moving chords, while the voices of the cello and violin weave in and out of each other in what to my ears sounds like speaking through tears.

And then, moving directly into the fourth movement without pause, it’s the piano that suddenly jerks to life. The klezmer-influenced motif that is featured so prominently in that movement (and in the 8th quartet) is (as you have mentioned) sometimes seen as a kind of homage to Sollertinsky, and sometimes cited as “Jewish prisoners in the camps being forced to dance while Nazis shoot them”, and it may be all of these things, but I have a theory that it’s something else as well–because right around this time, even before he finishes Rothschild’s Violin, he meets Miesczlaw (Moisei) Weinberg, who absolutely does have a rock-solid connection with the klezmer tradition and is known to have influenced Shostakovich. Shostakovich said later, of meeting Weinberg, ” It was as if I had been born anew.” That, to me, is pretty damned significant, especially in the way the piano line “comes alive” in the 4th movement. I think Shostakovich is both mourning his dear friend and acknowledging that another, new friend has been a lifeline. And there is a moment, right at the end of the trio, when the piece suddenly, quietly, after the passacaglia motif is recalled, resolves into E major on the piano, and it ends in this kind of ethereal haze, with the strings pluck or strum out the E major chord over the sustained note of the piano. So this intense, emotional work, dedicated to Shostakovich’s dearest friend, ends quietly…in the major. That happens rarely enough in Shostakovich’s work to be deeply touching and moving.

So here’s the video with score I listened to:

And, on a lighter note, then there is this:

Danny Elfman counts Shostakovich and Stravinsky as influences, and both of them show in this piece. The intro reminds me of the Shostakovich 8th, as does some of the orchestration, and there’s something a little Rite of Spring about the whole thing.