Shostakovich's music was written in a dark place during a dark time. He was young when he wrote the sonata, but his country was cold, scary, and usually lacking in available food. He had to comply with all of the government's wishes in order not to be deported to Siberia or killed after being mysteriously captured in the night.
In Berlin there are little brass tiles on the sidewalks, in front of some houses. Inscribed on them are the names of people who were taken from those homes and eventually killed. I think about them often. There are some houses with just one, but then there are also houses with two: a married couple, both executed for their beliefs or their looks or whatever it was that they had done to anger their government. One house I passed had five - the entire family.
When I see these, I realize to what extent I have no idea what that sort of fear is like. Shostakovich knew what that fear was like - he saw some of his friends and friends of friends disappear. Most of them were taken in the middle of the night and never heard from again. This was common, and no one wanted to talk about it too much in fear of being next. This second movement really captures what that sinking fear might be like, and it is probably the closest I can come to experiencing that.
What the movement also captures is hope. Shostakovich writes in this short but very slow movement a passage that seems to yearn for humanity in men. It calls out for some greater good, some salvation, from all of the fear and the violence.
While I wasn't calling out for that sort of humanity and salvation, I have spent the last two months really hoping someone here in Germany would give me a chance to be myself and to do what I do best. It's all been well and good for me to be here and learning German, but I haven't really had a chance to play my cello productively for a while.
This week, all that changed! I've recently started collaborating with Irishman Enda Gallery, whose music you should definitely check out.
I found his ad online, on the Berlin Craigslist, emailed him, and met up with him in the cafe by my place. The next day we had our first rehearsal in that cafe, and everything went beautifully.
I'm mostly improvising over what he plays in his album, but it changes the music completely. We played at Agora, a space that dedicates itself to showcasing art of all kinds, and had a blast.
So, perhaps my cry out for something to do did not bring me humanity and salvation, but it did bring me Enda and a bunch of awesome new music to play.
PS: kinda perfect that he made a music video using a bunch of cool-looking horses.