In these terrible days, when innocent people fall victim to the criminal violence of invading forces, I am struck by the sad realization that history does indeed repeat itself over and over again. And that there are always politicians who want something from others at the expense of those same others. Interestingly, classical music makes the nonsense of war and violence clear. I will give some examples.
The liturgical Mass by Tchaikovsky
The first example comes from Tchaikovksy. During the communist regime, it was impossible to perform this Mass, let alone record it. Strange how a mass whose very purpose is to do good for the audience, for humanity in general, is banned.
And the music is so beautiful, from the start with the ringing of the church bells you are captivated, the choir answers the cantors and then you know, this is an exceptional composition. It serves a combination of powerful and dramatic voices, a chorus that can whisper beautifully but also fly over our souls. The dramatic difference between the singers who complete prayer and the choir who greets the news is compelling. Listen to it, and you will notice the purity, the suppleness of the voices, the beauty of the message; this is one of Tchaikovsky's best compositions.
The Mass is the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostomos, Op. 41, composed in 1878 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, called by others a monumental work in the Orthodox spiritual world. I will try to explain briefly what this liturgy entails. The word liturgy has a Greek origin and means service or work and interprets the revelation of the Church in Jesus Christ. The Divine Liturgy is the culmination of all services in the Orthodox Church. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is the most celebrated in the Byzantine rite. The name stems from its centerpiece, the Holy Anaphora, attributed to John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, in the 5th century. It reflects the work of the Cappadocian Fathers, who fought heresy and set the theology for the Christian Church.
The horrors of Terezín
The second example wears the name of a Czech town near Chemnitz and Teplice, namely Terezín. It was home to the Theresienstadt hybrid camp and ghetto during World War II. The Nazis were keen to pretend that this was an artists' colony, a safe "resort" where Jews were "allowed to resettle." The reality, however, proved otherwise. What was true was that they housed many artists and lawyers here before they got relocated to another ghetto or an extermination camp. They also had a kind of self-government and were very wryly allowed to decide who could stay. Moreover, Theresienstadt had a rich cultural life because of prominent people and artists.
In addition, it served as propaganda for the Nazis, so well that they even fooled the Red Cross with it. There were fake cafes and stores during an inspection, and the illusion the Nazis created was that there were humane conditions for the residents. Now we know how it was, too little living space, too few amenities, hardly any food, and the knowledge for each resident that they could soon be transported to another camp or ghetto lead to a torturous existence. Despite this, some composers managed to write music and organize concerts.
Horowitz's glorious return
The third example is of a noteworthy occasion. It is still in my mind like yesterday how Vladimir Horowitz, in 1986, brought a trip to his native country. He called himself 'the last romantic,' born in Kyiv, and decided to leave his motherland in 1928. Years later, Perestroika allowed him to make a concert tour to the Soviet Union. This concert in Moscow is recorded both for television and albums.
I saw the registration on TV, where a frail old man was behind the piano, all alone on the stage. He played with hands that seemed to slide over the keyboard. Nevertheless, with power, devotion, and unimaginable perfect timing and purity, he had the passion boiling in both him and those present. It is unbelievable how much force and volume he manages to produce at times while seeming to do almost nothing. But perhaps it is the energy of nearly 60 years of nostalgia that speaks. On the recording, you can hear how he gets the audience more and more enraptured, and at one point, they erupt into what seems to be a folk celebration. It was terrific to witness on TV. The concert begins with Scarlatti (a beautifully idyllic work, an appropriate warm-up) and ends via Rachmaninov, even Mozart (he has not played this for a long time) Skriabin, Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Moszkowski with a Polka by, how could it be otherwise, Rachmaninov. The composer with whom he more or less began his career. Throughout the concert and recording, your heart wants to go in all directions: cheering, crying, hugging, loving, and screaming. Then, starting with Skriabin's Pathetic Etude, the audience goes into overdrive. Vladimir continues to play, seemingly unaffected, but nothing is what it seems. Everybody's heart, in the audience, and listeners at home, melts!
No to war: Musical Experiences in the East
When I travel, I like to visit a concert locally. So many times, I visited concert halls in Eastern Europe. In countries that were under strict rule in the past, each time, it struck me how people enjoyed and celebrated the fact that they could make their own free choice and listen to their favorite music in complete freedom.
At a concert in Zagreb, I vividly remember how a violist created magic. So completely unexpected, he plays an intermediate song. The lights are out, a spotlight comes on, and the violinist walks down a gangway into the theater. An image I will never forget. A caprice by Paganini was quietly started, and believe it or not; it was as if the violinist was released from the ground and floated a little above the audience. So magical, the whole hall was enchanted, and breathless mouths fell open everywhere.
The experiences in the East have taught me that we, the people, do not want war. We want to enjoy our music in peace, regardless of the wealth or opinions of the neighbors. By the way, I am sure you remember how Napoleon's violence made Beethoven change his mind about him (and the third symphony). Therefore, stop the war and leave your next-door neighbor alone! Freedom and peace to Ukraine!