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Category: Dmitri Shostakovich

an homage to the victims of the Titanic

the-fighting-temeraire-tugged-to-her-last-berth-to-be-broken-up-1839.jpg!Large

  The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up (1839) 

          William Turner

                _______

while I’m on the subject of threnodies
which is to say “song[s] of lamentation
for the dead”, as I earlier statedlet me 
bring your attention to this extraordinary 
piece, an homage to the victims of the
Titanic
 
it doesn’t even have a title, much as 
Mozart and Haydn didn’t before music 
went mainstream, into public forums 
rather than merely aristocratic salons, 
and when an identifying moniker 
instead of a number became manifestly 
more practical, especially when the 
emerging Middle Classes were 
becoming the ones who were paying 
the composer’s bills, at the opera 
houses and the other sprouting 
concert venues, when some composers 
had even up to 32 sets of piano sonatas 
to remember, three and four often to 
a single set, opus number, as many as 
there are movements in a very sonata

and that’s not counting the numbered 

symphonies and string quartets of 
theirs, left to similarly calculate, 
decipher, extricate

it doesn’t have a title, I think, because
to my knowledge, it is the first of its
kind, a composition created by 
computer, for computer, an entirely 
self-contained digital work of, 
manifestly, art – I’d been waiting, 
diligently, for one – and like Beethoven, 
after the work was done, the artist(s)
just felt the title best left to the 
wordsmiths, thus – you’re welcome –  
Threnody for the Victims of the 
Titanic

sure, computers have done practical
things before, admirably, but never 
told a story, and certainly never one 
as profound as this one

these are the last moments of the 
Titanic, digitally reproduced, in real 
time, 2 hours and 40 minutes, they
are mesmerizing, you don’t want 
to miss a thing

there are no voices, apart from a 
few radio transmissions at the 
start, spotting the iceberg, calling 
out commands to beware, stop 
the engines

afterwards only silence, and the 
sound of the waves, the churning
of the engines, which have been 
restarted, sounding as rhythmic, 
incidentally, and numbing, as the 
wheels on the railroad tracks of
Steve Reich‘s Different Trains“,
another powerful threnody 

later the flash and crack of flares,
the crunch of the ship sinking  

the pervasive, however disrupted, 
silence and the inexorable passage 
of ever ticking time combine to be, 
thereafter, transfixing, meditative, 
ultimately transcendent, a fitting 
setting for a threnody 

I know of only another work to take
you to that venerable place,
Beethoven’s opus 111

and often enough Pink Floyd, for 
that matter, and the visionary 
Alan Parsons Project, of course, 
discoursing on inexorable Time 

and, now that I think of it, Elgar‘s
The Dream of Gerontius, whose 
character goes from his deathbed 
in the first act, to his afterlife in 
the second, effecting transcendence
for us by, yes, ingenious 
metaphorical proxy

but I digress

what I call Threnody for the Victims 
of the Titanic is a narrative with 
sound, not a movie, not a television
program, it has more commonality 
with a musical production than 
anything else but painting in art 
history, though its means are 
intuitively literary, ship stories go
back to The Odyssey through
Gulliver’s TravelsTreasure 
Island and to one of my very 
favourites, Ship of Fools“,
relatively recently

I could add Mutiny on the Bounty“,
Moby Dick“, “The Caine Mutiny 

in art, a precedent would’ve been set
in our collective consciousness by 
William Turner‘s celebratedThe 
Fighting Temeraire …, but I would 
mention as well Caspar David 
Friedrich‘s The Wanderer above 
the Sea of Fog for its existential
pertinence

a few literary points I’d like to stress
to back up my overt adulation, I find  
it impressive that the Classical rules
of tragedy have been maintained, 
unity of action, time, and place, 
prescriptions going back to 
Aristotle‘s Poetics in our cultural 
history, to profoundly express 
tragedy, iconic, epic, misfortune

not to mention the Classical musical
imperatives of tempo, tonality and 
repetition, none of which can be 
faulted here in this consummate 
composition

there is a no greater leveller of tempo 
than time, larghissimo here*, in the 
largest sense of that word, the 
cosmic, the inexorable pace of 
temporality in our brief heavens

a greater leveller of tonality neither  
is there than the rigorously impartial 
hum of the imperturbable Cosmos 

nor is there greater repetition than 
uniformity, however disrupted by  
however fervent ever human 
intervention, see Sisyphus, or 
Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf for iconic disrupters

R ! chard

*   Shostakovich had asked the 
     Beethoven Quartet to play the first 
     movement of his 15th String Quartet,
     “Elegy: Adagio“, so that flies 
     drop dead in mid-air, and the 
     audience start leaving the hall from 
     sheer boredom  

     well this inspired elucidation is even  
     slower than that

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Shostakovich’s String Quartet no 15, opus 144 (revisited)

on a day of commemoration, or at a moment even of
merely contemplation, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to
revisit Shostakovich’s String Quartet no 15, in E flat
minor, opus 144
, his flurry of mournful adagios, his
string of stately dirges, his penetrating meditation
on mortality

complete this time around, on one only site, though
just a short while ago indeed I said it wasn’t to be
found, March 28, 2012, again I was wrong

today it stood, perhaps not coincidentally, directly
before me as I clicked onto my list of music,
unadulterated, intact, complete, apart from an
irrtating audience member coughing at one point,
unforgivably, for marring so sincere an expression
of fervent string sounds, though only momentarily

by the “Filarmonica” Quartet, of Novosibirsk, Russia,
a city just north of Mongolia and Kazakhstan, the
players are not at all unimpressive

accompanying images are apparently of Russian
inspirational countryside nearby, and of
neighbouring Mongolia

Richard

Dmitri Shostakovich – String Quartet no 15, opus 144

several years ago when an angel I knew passed away
I read at his commemoration something I had written
for him, adagios, I said, always remind me of John

only a few days later, after I’d spoken, an adagio in
the distance was weaving its magic spell as I
abstractedly washed perennial dishes, a pivotal
spot, it would appear, for me, in my mystic
wanderings, my spiritual peregrinations

gradually I recognized the presence I’d apparently
inadvertently evoked with my unsuspecting but
thoughtful and caring script, opening a key, like
Ali Baba, it would transpire, to the very undiluted
infinite, something I’d wished for from my dad,
who’d died just a few months earlier, promising
me he’d speak to me if he could, though by then
I hadn’t yet heard from him

later when I was browsing for music to get into
to while away my pensive hours I happened upon
some Shostakovich in a nearby record store, I’d
recently been exploring his stuff, having reached
forward from the Romantics and even the
Impressionists, and looked to a relatively more
recent touch, the early Twentieth Century

which is to say the atonalists, Schoenberg, Berg,
Stravinsky and so forth, of which Shostakovich,
I would argue, has proven to be the most
significant voice, his music being that of a
desperate, nearly broken people enduring
the atrocities under Stalin

he is the most important composer of the
Twentieth Century, I think, along with Olivier
Messiaen, who survived a German prisoner of
war camp, two tough, even heroic, spirits

and here were not one, not two, not even three,
but six adagios in his 15th String Quartet, when
anything faster was too much for me to bear,
otherwise it would have to have been silence,
I was elated

I was not let down, Shostakovich’s 15th String
Quartet, opus 144, is a masterpiece, and helped
me through my rigorous Calvary with compassion,
grace, and ultimately golden hope, to health and
resignation

it is not an easy piece, you might find it
overwhelming, but it is the last word in adagios,
and for me it means the world, I couldn’t leave
it out

I found the distribution awkward however, I
haven’t found the quartet complete anywhere
on the Internet, you’ll have to access the movements
separately, pee breaks are therefore allowed, there
are six movements, not usual but we’ve seen
Beethoven do five already for his Sixth Symphony,
so not entirely unexpected

the first movement, Elegy (Adagio), is played by the
Rubio Quartet, but with only an image of war torn
Leningrad to inspire visually

the second, Serenade (Adagio), by the Borodin String
Quartet, perhaps Shostakovich’s best interpreters, are
also presented visuals inert

the third, fourth, and fifth – Intermezzo (Adagio),
Nocturne (Adagio), and Funeral March (Adagio molto)

in that order, are played live by the Shostakovich
Quartet, named of course in the composer’s honour

and the sixth, Epilogue (Adagio), again by the Borodin

may you be granted the poise and profound grace
of the adagio

Richard