Violist Mahoko Eguchi
The end is near
by James Leonard
From the January, 2004 issue
If you were a Russian who died before 1917, chances were you expected to go to heaven or hell or maybe someplace in between, because most Russians were Christians. But if you were a Russian who died between about 1920 and 1990, chances were when you died, you'd died and that was all. Under the Soviet Union, most Russians were obligatory atheists who perforce professed to believe ashes to ashes and dust to dust, and that was that. And unlike other atheists, a Russian atheist couldn't even count on being remembered by the living. At its whim, the Communist Party might decide to erase you from records, airbrush you from photographs, and banish all memory of you to the dustbin of history.
Imagine, then, how Dmitry Shostakovich felt, in the summer of 1975, when he knew he was facing death. His right arm was crippled by polio. Both his legs were crippled after a car crash. His lung cancer had recurred. His heart was weak. His eyesight was failing. Despite it all and the impending end of it all, he kept on writing, using his left hand, because, after all, what else could he do but write, write against the dying of the light. He knew that there was no Resurrection and that the Party might decide to make him a nonperson, a nonmemory. So he had to write as if there were no tomorrow.
The last thing Shostakovich wrote the summer before he died was the Viola Sonata, the central work of Mahoko Eguchi's recital at Pease Auditorium on the EMU campus on Sunday, January 25. Eguchi should be up to it. Anyone who heard the Arianna String Quartet at Pease while it was the EMU quartet-in-residence remembers Eguchi's strong, soulful performances as the group's violist. She's now a member of the National Symphony in Washington, but she still comes back to Pease to perform the occasional recital, and on this occasion Eguchi will perform
the memento mori by the greatest atheist composer who ever lived and died.
Calling the piece Le Tombeau de Beethoven would be closer to the mark, because Shostakovich was said to have dedicated the work "to the memory of the great Beethoven." The work is in three movements: a deeply expressive Andante, a brutally dancing Allegretto, and a monumentally mournful Largo built on the doleful arpeggio theme of the opening movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. There will be other works on the programBrahms' autumnal E-flat Major Sonata, Penderecki's diabolical Cadenza for Solo Viola, Elgar's lyrical Salut d'Amour, and Tchaikovsky's dismal Melodie, but with Shostakovich's eschatological Viola Sonata on the program, the end is near.
[Originally published in January, 2004.]
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