Beautifully Waltzing from Brutality

I think I’ve fallen in love. A piece of music is so sumptuously beautiful that I cannot stop listening to it. It brings forth a nostalgia for mid-nineteenth century ballrooms, with handsome men sporting improbable sideburns and red military tunics, along with pretty ladies in delicate Crinoline. A number of YouTube videos set this music to film scenes of such couples waltzing the dance-floor.

In fact, the piece comes not from the gorgeous ballrooms of Victorian London or imperial Vienna, but the grim, utilitarian world of Soviet Russia. The communists, though brutal and oppressive, were no ‘filistines’, and generally appreciated high culture, using it as a means to legitimise their power. Its composer, Дми́трий Дми́триевич Шостако́вич, or Dmitri Shostakovitch, though sometimes lauded by the USSR, often feared arrest on account of his music failing to impress dictator Josef Stalin. Several times in the 1930s, he and his work were denounced in Pravda, the official communist newspaper. Some of his other works were banned, or he was obliged to withdraw them. In 1948, he was forced to appear before the Central Committee and apologise for his music not being sufficiently ‘proletarian’, the authorities believing that too much of his work was ‘formal’ and Western. His works were banned and he once more faced arrest and deportation to the gulags. Later, he was forced to write music which praised Comrade Stalin.

How could such a wonderful artist truly thrive and operate in these terrifying and restrictive conditions? Despite the ever-present threat of denunciation and night time visits by the KGB, his music in general, and his Second Waltz in particular, are truly beautiful. Indeed, I wonder if the ugliness of authoritarian rule further drove him to seek beauty in composition. It was after David’s sleazy affair with Bathsheba that he penned the beautiful lines of Psalm 51 

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Hide thy face from my sins and blot out all mine iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Likewise, the powerfully thoughtful book of Job is one of the oldest works of literature in the canon, and, though almost certainly not penned by the man himself, is still borne from the ubiquity of suffering. Human existence is both a vale of tears and a fiery furnace, through the flames of which come tremendous loveliness: 

So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.1 Peter 1:7 

Just as Soviet brutality helped produce a beautiful waltz, so our trials and tribulations produce a beauty of character. You may enjoy Shostakovitch's Seventh Movement (Waltz 2) here

Image by lictorzz from Pixabay