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The ward lights are dimmed.
I listen over and over to Shostakovich’s Fourth, that wild hairy unkempt teenager of a symphony – the problem child – the one he had to withdraw
after the debacle of Lady Macbeth, because he knew it was eclectic and it was formalist and it would have incurred the wrath and there would have been a knock at night, the silent car and the Gulag, the White Sea Canal, or a bullet in the basement of the Lubyanka, because all of Meyerhold, Karms, Zhilyaev, Sollertinsky, Mayakovsky, Mandelstam, had been, or were to be, tortured, shot, suicided or ground into death.
There is pain. I call the nurse. She attaches sensors. Reads the trace. “All fine,” she says. I and the night.
I listen over and over to Shostakovich’s Fourth, which lay hidden – the wild genius of it – for twenty-five years, until well after Uncle Joe’s death (and what a fucking holiday that should be) – the Great Leader and Teacher.
I listen over and over to Shostakovich’s Fourth: the huge, wild, disparate aggregation of it, the young composer assembling chunks, like bric-a-brac, jamming it together, some lyrical, some tender, some vulgar, some jaunty, impish, playful, some terrifying, some utterly, utterly, despairingly sad, the whole wild bag of it, a piece I’ve known for decades and sometimes loved, and sometimes railed against and was frustrated by, and now I think I get it, I think I get it, it coheres, it persuades and this is the soundtrack to the twentieth century.
The twentieth century: my century. My century. (I am a guest in the twenty-first.)
‘Do you know Tukhachevsky?’
I said ‘Yes.’
‘And what did you discuss?’
‘No, we never talked politics.’
‘Dmitri Dmitryevich, this is very serious. You must remember.’
Shostakovich is frozen in dread. Dread of the endless bright hours of morning.
He has a bag prepared.
At the very end, the very end, a lone, weak, muted trumpet, shallow breath,
and again, at the very, very end, the very, very end, the fragile, frail, forlorn celesta, and everything that was: civilization, creativity, courage, love….. all has expired.
© Graham Buchan 2020