martes, 8 de marzo de 2011

The Return of the Curse of the 9th

Yeah, intriguing eh, that curse of the 9th symphony? Since there were many questions from all of you (especially those who tweet to my @anandasukarlan account) who needed answers of (much) more than 140 characters, I've decided I'd blog (again) about this theme.

As I have answered in my radio program, the composer who broke, but not completely, the curse was Dmitri Shostakovich (oh yes, yes, I have this inextinguishable urge to say that he's the greatest composer of all time, too!). He managed to write 15 symphonies, and curiously enough, a same quantity for his string quartets, also 15. The last one is perhaps the most amazing quartet ever written in history, which consists of 6 adagios. Try to listen, if you can get hold of it.

Now Shosty, as I use to call him, wrote his 9th symphony and waited until the death of Joseph Stalin to write his 10th. Curiously enough, Stalin died at the very same day of the death of Prokofiev. It's rather disconcerting to know that when Shosty started to write his 9th he told his friends that he was writing a grand symphony, with choir etc. It turned out that his 9th is a very light, even Mozartian kind of music, and one of the (if not the) shortest of his symphonies. It's that kind of music which Stalin would be able to chew, or in a cooler term, "appreciate". So, was this a case that the curse was "transferred" to someone else?

At his lifetime, up to the death of Stalin, Shosty wasn't the "greatest" of Russian composers. Oh nooo, not at all. On the contrary, he was the biggest enemy of Russia's dictator. In fact, Shosty always kept a small suitcase in his house with some clothes and toiletries, just like any enemy of Stalin at that time. He was prepared that someone from the Secret Service would knock on his door anytime and take him to Siberia where he would "disappear". Can you imagine packing that kind of suitcase?
At that time the official composer (which means that he should be the one to be promoted so that the Russian people should know and admire) was Tikhon Khrennikov, who held high positions in the Soviet government. Needless to say, his music is that kind of "light" classic, that which entertains those who listens to it, just like any other "official" artists of any dictators (it also happened in other dictatorships. If you come from a dictatorship country, well, it's time to think and reflect about this). Everytime I came across his music, I always ask "so what?" when it's finished. It's nice, but it lacks a raison d'etre. From his music I learned that real music is not just something nice. Art, I think, should reflect the truth, and the truth, my dear friends, is not always nice.

Meanwhile the real artists, who created "honest" and profound art should be banned as much as possible, and in (not too) extreme cases, taken to "disappear". Some of them preferred to be exiles and live in another country where he could live and earn his living with dignity, and at that time the USA became the refugee camp for Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Korngold, Rachmaninov and many other great composers of the last century. A situation which is not exclusive for a dictatorship; it still happens in many countries until now. But it's always like that. A prophet is never loved in his own land.