Friday, May 19, 2006

Political music

If such a thing really exists. It's always struck me that we humans put far too much energy into politics and if we were to divert that energy to really useful things we might be a trifle better off. But that's a classic 'motherhood and apple pie' statement and about as useful an observation as that the sky is blue. It may be true but it doesn't move us any further toward 'the ideal society'.

As a statement it also contains the seeds of it's own politics. 'Really useful things'? What are those? Can you and I agree or do we play politics?

And so it is that how the taxpayers dollar is spent becomes the object of a tug of war. Does it get spent on defence? Or on health care? How many dollars should be extracted from each taxpayer.

Do we invest in the future and if the future which future? The next election or the next generation? What if I'm the voter and I'm old enough that I won't be around in the next generations time?

Or do we go to war on some other country for whatever expedient reason presents itself at the time?

Wow, deepish philosphy from someone who usually writes about the superficial detail of life! :-)

All thoughts brought about by listening, after a gap of nearly 30 years, to Shostakovich's 7th Symphony, 'The Leningrad'.

Overtly political music; it was written during the siege of Leningrad and touted to the world as the Triumph of Soviet Spirit in the face of terrible opposition[^].

The first Shostakovich I heard was his 5th Symphony in 1971. I well remember buying a second hand RCA recording at a trash and treasure market in Flemington, reading the cover notes and listening intently. Among other things the cover notes quoted Shostakovich as having written, in 1937, that this symphony was 'A Soviet artist's reply to just criticism'[^]. You understand that at that time I had no idea of the significance of the year 1937[^] in Soviet Politics.

Nope, all I heard in the safety of 1971 Melbourne, a time when the Gulag system was dragging it's weary way to an end, to be replaced by 'committment to mental insitutions', was some rousing music. You'll recall that in Solzhenitsyn's 'Gulag Archipelago' he writes of an occasion during 1950 when he was present at a roll call of new prisoners; in addition to name and number they had to call out their release date. 1971, 1973, 1975, each with a 'quarter' instead of the 'tenner' he'd been 'pasted' with.

I remember reading that passage in 1973, just after the book had been published, wondering if the unfortunate prisoner was still just that, a prisoner. At 19 the idea of being in the Gulag was unimaginable and at nearly 52 it still is.

Without wanting to ever have been a part of the Soviet system I've always found it immensely interesting. Just as I can name every US president since about 1920 I can also name every Soviet leader and enumerate the years of their power. Heck, I even remember the story about how the Soviet Encyclopedia commissioned a longer article about the Bering Strait, just long enough to be pasted over the article about Lavrenti Beria following his fall at the death of Stalin.

Do I believe that story? I'd need to see the proof that there was no article in the Soviet Encyclopedia that sorted, in the Russian alphabet, between Beria and Bering.

Of the symphony itself; the Shostakovich 7th. At the time it was a short term favourite but that was merely in the context of so many symphonies, so little time to listen to it all. I went off it after a few months; it seemed so bombastic and even though I kept the LP until I moved to the US 3 and a half years go I don't think I played it even once for at least a quarter of a century. The 5th and the 8th, for me, had much longer longevity and, even though they weren't in the regular playlist I'd have listened to them at least once a year.

But tonight, on my way home, I stopped at the Phoenix Public Library and there was a CD recording of it. Gave it a listen. It was much better than I remembered.

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