Saturday 13 March 2021

Sleeping Forever Beneath the Dry Earth (Part 1)

Here's something I finished writing two years ago - the text of my graphic novel about Shostakovich in the 1960s. I don't know if I will ever finish the drawings; life at the moment gives no opportunity to tackle it. The thought of it sitting unread is bad, though, so here it is, if you want to read it. This is the  first part of five. There may be typos ahead; there are certainly a few spots I'd like the change. But I'm pleased with it. 

Read it now, because I might change my mind and remove this soon.

(The pic above is by me, and the pic a little down from here is one of the drawings I've actually done for the first few pages)

Sleeping Forever Beneath the Dry Earth

Part One – December 30th 1961

Scene one

Street scene, outside DS’s Moscow apartment

Maxim Shostakovich: (from within the building) Father, Isaak Glikman’s here with the car.

Inside. We see DS’s glasses on a table, and Maxim’s distorted image in the lens.


DS puts on his glasses. He goes to the piano and lifts his hand to the cover of his Fourth Symphony, which is on the music stand.

MS: Do you want me to bring the score?

DS: Mm? No, thank you Maxim. It’s all still up here. (taps head)

DS opens the score and puts his hand to the opening line of music. He picks out a few notes on the piano.

MS: Father, Glikman will be starting to panic. The car?

DS: Don’t worry, I’m coming, though the Fourth Symphony has waited a quarter of a century so I hardly think another few minutes will matter.


Scene two

At the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservertoire. DS, Isaak Glikman and Maxim Shostakovich are entering the hall.

DS: My goodness, Isaak Davidovich! So many people. It’s like a public execution.

Isaak Glikman: Come now. Save the gallows humour for the music. Ah, we’re seated here, I think.

DS: Good. Just where everyone can see me. But not too close to the Composer’s Union. Small mercies, I suppose.

IG: Oh dear. I think Khrennikov has spotted us. And Apostolov’s with him. Do you think they’ve been drawn here by lust for the blood of a more talented composer? I’ll head them off…

DS: No need. One may as well take one’s medicine.

Tikhon Khrennikov (head of the Composer's Union) approaches, with Pavel Apostolov (another composer) just behind.

Tikhon Khrennikov: Ah, Dmitri Dmitrievich! We are all so… impatient to hear this long lost masterpiece!

DS: As am I, Tikhon Nickolayevich! Though I am quite sure it will disappoint…

TK: I fear so – we have all made such advances since that time. It is good to be reminded of this from time to time.

Pavel Apostolov: Though you could have made the lesson a bit shorter, Dmitri Dmitrievich!

IG: Forgive us, gentlemen. We must take our seats now. The orchestra is ready to tune.

Aside to DS as Khrennikov and Apostolov leave:

IG: It is remarkable… Khrennikov’s found a follower even more idiotic than himself.

Kirill Kondrashin (the conductor) enters and the orchestra is seen playing the music.

One hour later. Full page view of the hall and audience, with thought and speech bubbles all around:

What a cacophony!

I feel I’ve aged ten years from the fright!

That ending. How utterly bleak.

Of course, his music now is much more appropriate to the times than that.

Why doesn’t Dmitri Dmitrievich write music of such force and power today?

I feel as though my ears have been assaulted!

Remarkable – like no music I’ve heard before.

No wonder he pulled it from performance all those years ago. He’d have been shot!

DS: Now the torture begins, Isaak. Pray that I don’t fall into the first violins.

DS appears on stage with Kondrashin and the orchestra.

Kondrashin: Remarkable music, Dmitri Dmitrievich! As fresh as if the ink were still wet on the page!

DS: Oh no, my friend. You and your wonderful musicians made up for the many shortcomings.

DS bows.

Scene 3

Outside the hall, IG and MS get into the car. The driver, Mischa, is in the front.

IG: Oh dear, I think your father has been swamped by admirers. And he so loves admirers.

MS: Mischa, could you go and rescue my father, please? Believe me – he would be forever in your debt.

When they are alone in the car:

MS: Isaak, I just cannot believe what I just heard!

IG: I can. Imagine what it’s like for an old hand such as me. I never thought I’d hear such music again.

MS: I saw the score, but hearing it is something else! That ending will haunt my dreams, I’m sure of it. How can he have turned away from that complexity and vision?

IG: Now Maxim, you know your father had to make difficult choices. In the 30s, we all did…

MS: I know. Yes, I know.

IG: And he did try. Has he ever told you what happened after Lady Macbeth?

MS: No, he doesn’t really speak about the past. My mother told me about the Pravda review…

IG: Yes – he was at a railway station when he read that. I saw him soon after – he was still shaking with fright. Maxim, you still have to be careful what you say now, but friends don’t disappear in the night any more. That review scared us all, but still he pressed on. Did you know that the Fourth Symphony was rehearsed several times before they finally convinced him to drop it? He worked on it for months and months after Lady Macbeth closed and all the time I thought I would grow grey with worry. I think he still believed that different rules applied in the concert hall and the opera house. But they didn’t. He never told me all the details, but I heard he got a visit one afternoon from some men who told him in no uncertain terms to drop the whole thing. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t got the hint earlier, but he did eventually.

MS: I wonder what we lost, though.

IG: Ha – it’s much better to be grateful for what we didn’t lose. Speaking of which, here he comes now.

DS gets into the car.

DS: I thought I’d never escape! Thank goodness for Mischa – compliments, Mischa! My saviour.

IG: I’m sorry – we lost sight of you as we left.

DS: I’m not surprised. I was mobbed and I looked for you but without success. Mischa prised me away from a young man who had a remarkable theory about the Symphony’s finale representing the vanquishing of the motherland’s enemies! I’m glad to see the minds of the young as creative as ever.

IG: Did Khrennikov accost you? I half expected him to goad that fool Apostolov into shrieking during a quiet part and ruin the recording.

DS: Yes, he hunted me down. Of course, I agreed with him wholeheartedly that my more recent music shows admirable restraint in comparison with the formalist excesses of my earlier works. Naturally, all the other composers agreed too – how perceptive and generous they are. Mischa, let’s go home. There is a distinct lack of vodka here.

The car travels through Moscow.

MS: Were you pleased with the performance, father?

DS: Yes, yes! All very fine.

IG: Did it sound as you remembered it?

DS: Indeed!

A short silence.

IG: Forgive me. I feel quite overwhelmed by the Symphony. I remember a little of those rehearsals a quarter of a century ago, and do you remember playing the piece for Klemperer at the piano?

DS: I do. I prefer to not dwell on what has been, though.

MS: But father – think of the possibilities.

DS: Paths not taken, Maxim. They are closed to us now.


Scene 4

The car pulls up outside DS’s apartment.

DS: A drink, Isaak Davidovich?

IG: Seems in order.

DS paces the living room.

DS: Maxim, could you see if there’s anything in the cupboard to drink? 

IG: It’s over now, Dmitri Dmitrievich. You could at least sit down. What is it?

DS: My goodness. Standing on that stage was even worse than usual.

IG: But it was a triumph! And much deserved.

DS: Maybe, but not by me. It says my name on the parts, but that’s music from another lifetime. Since you mentioned it, yes, I do remember Klemperer. He was so enthusiastic about the Symphony. It seemed at that moment that anything was possible.

IG: Trust me – it only seemed that way. You look awfully pale.

DS: They all looked at me on stage, the great composer of such visionary, wild music. I looked around for that composer too. He isn’t here anymore.

IG: I won’t hear it!

DS: But I’m serious! What happened to that young man? What have I done in the past 20 years to equal that?


DS: No, you’re too kind, but I don’t want a list.

Maxim enters with drinks.

MS: Father, for you…

Hands DS a shot of vodka

DS:  Thank you… just what I need.

DS drinks.

DS: Forgive me, Isaak. Quite enough melodrama for one night.

IG: Quite alright. A gulf of time and so much else separates us from our younger days. I feel it too.

MS: My goodness! What a mood has descended.

DS: I felt like the ghost at my own feast! That music was written by these hands, but with youth on their side. These days, when I write a slur or even a stem, the line wobbles as though I’m at sea.

MS: I think you’re being rather silly, father. When we heard your 8th Quartet, last year, my friends wouldn’t stop talking about how wonderful and wise it was.

DS: Wisdom so often councils against. It never throws caution to the wind.  Anyway, listen to me! I’m pining for a past we were lucky to outlive. And after tomorrow, a new year! What a thing.

IG: 1962… we are explorers!

IG knocks back the last of his vodka

DS: I am sorry… having dragged you back here I find I would rather sleep. Would you stay here tonight, Isaak? I feel I’d like to know you’re nearby.

IG: Of course.

DS: Thank you. Maxim, would you mind making up the spare bed up, please?


Scene 5

A little later. IG lying in a dark room. The door opens and lets in a wedge of light.

DS: Isaak…

IG: Yes?

DS: Oh good – I was worried you might already be asleep.

IG: Not with the coda of your Fourth Symphony still ringing in my ears.

DS: What if I never write anything like that again?

IG: Then you will be a composer of many remarkable works whose voice will nonetheless resound down the ages.

DS: But what if there were great things to be done, if only I hadn’t been so cowardly?

IG: To do great things, first you must live. I would not call that cowardly.

DS: I worry so often that I will die.

IG: We will all die… You do know that?

DS: But die soon. There’s still so much to do.

IG: There is. And I have no fear of you leaving us anytime soon. But sleep and a little less vodka will help. Good night Dmitri Dmitrievich.

DS: Good night Isaak Davidovich.

Quiet for one panel.

DS: Isaak?

IG: Yes?

DS: Do you think I could write a symphony like that now?

IG: You have many more wonderful symphonies in you, though I think they will surprise us… and you.

DS: I hope so. In truth, the Fourth seems better than some of my more recent symphonies. Anyway, good night.

IG: Good night.

Read part 2 here.

No comments: