Valentyn Silvestrov: “But what role did the muses play during the war?”

Валентин Сильвестров і Віоліна Петриченко

On August 13, the famous Ukrainian pianist, soloist of the Lviv National Philharmonic Violina Petrychenko gave a recital in Berlin. The program was called “Dialogue with Silence”, and in it the pianist once again turned to the best examples of Ukrainian chamber music, thereby popularizing it abroad. Compositions by Vasyl Barvinskyi, Vitezslav Novak — Barvinskyi’s teacher, and music by Levko Revutskyi and Yakov Stepovyi were played.

The second part of the concert was dedicated to the work of the famous contemporary author Valentyn Silvestrov. A special feature of the program was the world premiere of his recently completed work, namely, a dedication to his Georgian colleague, Giya Kancheli.

The cycle “Five melodies for the New Year”, according to Silvestrov, is a gift from Kancheli, which shows all his facets as a composer who appreciated “quiet” music, loved spirituals, and often sang. The Ukrainian premiere of the cycle will take place on September 30 at the 29th International Festival of Contemporary Music “Contrasts” on Silvestrov’s birthday.

In the conversation after the concert, we asked the composer only one question: Can melody and war coexist?

I remember the words of Shevchenko that: “Remember, be human, because disaster will come to you”, and the second: “The judgment will come, Both the Dnipro and the mountains will speak…” — this is music relevant now. And also “And on the renovated land There’ll be no enemy, no rival, There will be son and will be mother, There will be people on the land!” These people are God themselves, and not the person who sits there alone with a beard and cannot do anything. And people, because their life is a value that nothing can replace. They say, when somewhere “an icon has cried”, it is a miracle. No, to be alive now is a miracle, there simply cannot be anything else. And if music is alive, then it is a miracle too.

But the melody can exist when there is no war. When there is a war, you don’t need a melody. No tunes will help you win. If the rascal does his job, he should be beaten and that’s all. And this is also God.

Let’s recall the story when Hitler attacked the USSR. (Why did he attack? And because the USSR attacked Finland!) And besides, Stalin had a friendship with Hitler, these two “spiders” attacked Poland and robbed it. But here there is a situation related to the melody.

When Hitler attacked, this idea of “brothers and sisters” arose. Before that, there were no brothers and sisters when the Union attacked Finland, Poland. And when they attacked him — “help, brothers and sisters”, So Aleksandrov wrote this famous melody “Stand up, great country”, it is really very strong, about the “holy” war. And what happened? This tune seemed to be against the Germans, but facts and testimony say that the Germans liked it too. If something appears in wartime that is expressed truthfully, it affects and inspires both sides. There is this, as I say, proverb — “when the cannons roar, the muses are silent.” What is its meaning? The muses should not stand foro the guns. Should not create this ambivalence.

After all, war is the killing of people. Lao Tzu has a thesis: “To rejoice in victory is to rejoice in murder.” And this is not a Christian saying, but an ancient Taoist. The world celebrates the day of victory in the Second World War as the Day of Mourning. And for these bastards in the Kremlin, this is joy. Is it when millions of people died because of the stupidity of their government?! Therefore, the muses must be silent so as not to play along with anyone.

So the muses played a role during the war, but what role? Not by playing “The Country is Great” on the radio, but by exclusively supporting the soldiers with simple songs, not against Hitler, but songs about their relatives, about the fact that they are fighting here. This is support, which, however, is associated with kitsch. Why did I call my cycle “Kitsch Music”? This is Robert Musil, a well-known Austrian writer who has a great novel “The Man Without Attributes” as well as an essay related to kitsch written after the First World War. He says: look, kitsch, this is when an outside observer sees how soldiers in the trenches, before an attack, sing some modest, even sentimental songs about family, about women, about children. To a person from the outside, it seems “what nonsense”, but to them, it is the truth. They are going to die tomorrow.

This contradiction between the alleged ordinariness of music and the fact that it serves some important borderline state of a person is important. It often happens that what we do not pay attention to in ordinary life turns out to be the most necessary in an extreme situation.

When Shostakovich wrote the Seventh Symphony, it was a historical act, but I am sure that the soldiers liked this symphony, it had a purely political character. And despite this, there is evidence that the conflict episode is not entirely about the Germans. For Shostakovich, this was an allusion to the fact that KGB workers entered every apartment in the morning, knocked, and took people away…

I noticed another thing while admiring this symphony. When I was at the institute, I tried to expand people’s world-views, and I put this tune on to them. And then I hear, by the way, while doing their projects, they are whistling this melody. But it is mean. Here are the ambivalences connected with music.

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