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Imaginary Scramble Chapter 1: Unknowable reef (3/6)

Prologue: Part 1|Part 2
Chapter 1: Part 1|Part 2
Fujimaru: Crew, / report!
Nemo: 5 hours since the rescue operation. No attacks so far. The deputy commander's suggestions are working. Yang Guifei is very helpful, and the boy? girl? we rescued is already cooperating. We got out of that despairing situation, and things are slowly starting to look brighter... I think.
Yang Guifei: Ehehehehe, you're making me blush, captain! I'll keep being the best eyes and ears you can have! By the way, can't I operate outside, too? How did you materialize those suits, goddess?
Scathach-Skadi: Simple... The swimsuit gifted to us by the moon has "chip of memory" installed in it. [Skadi shows BB's memory chip] It's branded with a strange magecraft formula. Most likely one of Imaginary Numbers Magecraft. A swimsuit or Spiritron Dress installed with its spell enables the wearer to interact with Imaginary Numbers, and strengthens all of their parameters. This trick can only be used by Servants who have a Swimsuit Saint Graph, or have once gained a Swimsuit Spiritron Dress. Only Mash and Osakabe currently conform to the conditions. I am... my apologies... That is... not for me... If you summon any Servant that fits the conditions, I have my way to provide with the outfit. I am not versed in electrical technology, but I was able to make whole new chips with Rune Magecraft.
Nemo Engineer: Just a comment from the engine room: the Nautilus has seen better days! We're "lucky" the damage wasn't fatal, but the consequences of the crash are showing themselves all over the vessel. Our fuel consumption got worse, and the noise won't stop until we get maintenance on a decent dock! With how much our fuel reserves dried, don't count on accelerating fast in an emergency!
Nero Marine: All beds are set in the bedroom sector! But we might need to be frugal with the meals... A lot of our food and fuel were taken away, so the Servants will have to stay only on magical energy. No other problems. The ship feels like a party with so many guests ☆
Mash: Thank you, crew! Then... let's talk about our currently biggest issue. Or rather, biggest mystery. About Gogh. The questions are is she really Gogh, and is she really an ally.
Nemo Nurse: I'll start with the mage point of view. The results of her blood check show a high density of extraneous ether circulating in her spiritual body. Servant blood is different from normal blood; it's the constant magical energy that drives the Saint Graph, but Gogh's blood is even more unique. Professor still hasn't finished researching it, but it should be safe to say... her spiritron composition and reactions resemble a species of vegetal elixir. She might be a Heroic Spirit substantiated using a non-human body as a host, like a special homunculus, for example. Also, while she already stated she's a woman, I can say she's a 100% a woman from the medical point of view.
Scathach-Skadi: Hm, it is no surprise. It happens often in Chaldea.
Nemo: That's not an issue we can ignore just because there's precedent. All other cases had reasons why their gender was swapped, did they not?
Mash: Yes. Some were like Arthuria and Raikou, where history was lost or misrecorded... Some were like Hokusai, where the name was actually the name of an unit rather than an individual... Musashi is a completely unique case... Regardless, most cases happen in sparsely recorded eras. Conversely, Vincent van Gogh was a famed painter who worked in France and the Netherlands on the 19th century... He left photos, even if not many. Also self-portraits, and many personal stories that indicate he was undoubtedly a man.
Nemo: What is her claim about it? Master, you talked to her a little, right?
Fujimaru: About that...
[Flashback starts]
Gogh: Uhuhu, ehehe, about the past? That's embarrassing, I didn't live a, very blessed life. I failed to become a merchant, or evangelist, spent all my time drawing, leeching off of dad and my little brother Theo... Sold poorly... I made a lot of artist friends, but things didn't go well with Gauguin, and I got a little sick... In the end, I was in Auvers village and, bang, uhuhu... Who could have imagined my art would get so popular one century later... Ehehe, sorry, it hurts to think about it. Someone I loved? I had some, uhuhu, there was Ms. Kee, the one with the famous quote, and there was Sien... Yes, they're women. Woman-woman relationships? What are you talking about...? Gogh was a woman and Kee was a... Ah, e... ... ... Ehehe, what were we talking about?
[Flashback ends]
Fujimaru: Her accounts were detailed. / But there's something off about them.
Mash: They matches perfect with the historical accounts of van Gogh's life, but whenever we reach a contradiction regarding his gender, she abruptly changes the subject. For example, mentioning how Vincent is a male name, how her situation with Gauguin would be seen as a man and woman living under the same roof, asking about all his problem with women mentioned in the database, it all yielded the same reaction. She's not intentionally throwing us off track... it's safe to assume her memories are confused. She undoubtedly perceives herself as a woman.
Fujimaru: If she were a woman Gogh from another world, / she would have different memories, right?
Nemo: Then that leaves us with 3 possibilities. A complete stranger deluded into thinking she's van Gogh, Gogh himself with his gender and memories confused by an abnormality in his Saint Graph, or an enemy coming to us with a terribly flimsy lie that they're Gogh. Which one do you think it is, Master?
Fujimaru: At very least, she doesn't seem to be an enemy. / She's friendly. Super friendly, even.
[Flashback starts]
Gogh: Eeeeeeeeeeh! Hokusai manifested?! Really?! Ehehe, ehehe, I want to meet him...! I love Japon lots, and was very influenced by it! You're also japonais?! Hot!! I don't know very well what Foreigner is, but I'll do anything you want for a contract! Ehehe!!
[Flashback ends]
Nemo: A Foreigner without self-awareness already gives us a lot to worry about, but at very least, she doesn't seem to be an enemy, huh.
Mash: Yes, but on the other hand, the self-proclaimed van Gogh already gave us a fair amount of valuable information about the Imaginary Number Space.
Nemo Professor: I'm analyzing if the claims are true now. But as things are currently going, the info seems accurate 9 out of 10 times. I presume her coming pre-installed with information about this place has something to do with how she manifested in Imaginary Number Space. On top of that, she already proved she can function in Imaginary Number Space without needing to wear Imaginary Number interaction chips, so I can say for sure that she has a Blessing related to the sea, on the same rank as us... Heroic Spirit Nemo.
Mash: As you can see, it feels like we can expect her to do well both as an information source and as an extra combatant, but...
Nemo: Decisions about Servants fall to Master alone. Both from our command hierarchy's perspective and from our Master-Servant relationship's perspective. Fujimaru, what do you think?
Fujimaru: Sealing a provisory contract is the obvious choice. / Sealing a provisory contract is the logical choice.
Mash: Your will is solid like a sea turtle's shell! Oh... sorry, I just wanted to try out Captain Nemo's speech quirk...
Nemo: If you wanted to make it sound more impressive, you should have said it's solid like a limpet's teeth. Wait, that's not the point. You want to seal a provisory contract? Fine. I can find resources to keep 1 more Servant manifested. But... I want a little 1-on-1 talk with you, deputy commander. Can everyone else leave the room for a sec? Sorry, but I'll need to keep this topic confidential to you too, deputy vice-commander. Please keep guard outside so no one can eavesdrop.
Mash: (! They'll be discussing a very important subject... Understood!)
[Everyone leaves]
Nemo: Professor set up a Jamming Bounded Field, so Yang Guifei shouldn't be able to hear us. Our topic now is... kinda delicate. But it's something you need to know now that you're my Master. I have a theory about who that Servant is.
[Scene shifts to outside the room]
Yang Guifei: Hmm, I can't hear with all that loud jamming... I'm so curious... Aren't you curious too, Deputy Vice-Commander Kyrielight?
Mash: Just Mash's is fine, Yang Guifei. I can't have a queen addressing me like this!
Yang Guifei: So, Mash, what do you think Master and the captain are talking about?
Mash: I believe they're arranging very delicate parts of the operation. Something that absolutely must stay classified to the upper echelon.
Yang Guifei: Really? I need to know more~ But I know how things are, politics will always be a mysterious and complicated monster anywhere you go. To clear away these worldly grieves, I'd hunt for love talk partners! How'd you think it goes with those two...?
Mash: Huh, are suggestion that Master and Captain Nemo are... doing things not related to work?
Yang Guifei: I have no basis for my claim, but~ don't you think it's very mengran1 to abuse your authority to secure some private moments with a subordinate?
Mash: ... I don't think they would do anything like that.
Nemo Marine: Hello, crew! Everyone seems to be taking a break, so I brought some drinks from the pantry!
Mash: Thank you very much (gulp gulp).
Yang Guifei: Oh, what a wondrous taste. Is this modern alcohol?
Nemo Marine: Yes, ma'am! It's a cocktail named Depth Charge!
Mash: (Cough?!)
Nemo Marine: Don't worry! That one's non-alcoholic! The Captain drinks it straight from the jug whenever he's alone!
Yang Guifei: Haohao! A drink everyone can enjoy! So, Mash, how does... it... tas-...
Mash: Tha's uh no good. Just hearing the word cocktail I
Yang Guifei: Oh dear~?! What an unique trait to have?! Whoa, you face is redder than a peach!?
Mash: Heart rate, blood pressure, rapidly increasing. Reasoning fading. If this doesn't stop, I'll barge into the bridge and interrogate Master. I Mash Kyrielight need to shut down, fast. This button?
[Skadi enters the hallway]
Scathach-Skadi: Look. A self-destruction switch I found in warehouse. What a rascal Sion is for putting it there.
Mash: Thank you! Shut dooown! (Hic)
Scathach-Skadi: Ah.
[Mash presses the switch. The explosion is heard from the bridge.]
Nemo: Argh!? What's happening?!
Nemo Professor: Provisory computer room speaking. All indicates the fake self-destruct button we made for April Fool's Day has been detonated. Over.
Fujimaru: Why do you have that? / Huh? Is everyone safe?
Nemo: I was against it, but Sion insisted it wouldn't any harm...! Marines, report on the victims!?
Nemo Marine: Agh! Everyone got their faces scorched black, and bomber hair, but they're otherwise fine.
Scathach-Skadi: You call this fine?! H-how am I supposed to fix my hair?
Yang Guifei: OUCH, my ears... Wait, this sound is not the ringing from the explosion... Oh no!! Joke scene over, everyone! And amazing amount of enemies are approaching outside!!
Nemo: What?!
[Gogh enters the bridge]
Gogh: Gogh ready for battle! I forgot to mention, but Imaginary Number sea monsters are very sensitive to sound! So making blast noises like you did can cost your life! Ehehe! Sorry, that laugh now was out of nervousness and fear!!
Nemo: Who can go fight now?
Scathach-Skadi: Mash is collapsed, Osakabe... has not been seen for a while, must have ran away...! I wish would not have to go again, but I am the only one! Oy, Marines, bring me a cup of courage! I will need to get drunk to forget my embarrassment!
Nemo: That's not enough, I can't authorize anyone to go alone...!
Scathach-Skadi: Then how about this?
[Skadi switches Guifei into her second Ascension]
Yang Guifei: What what what what?! My outfit changed out of a sudden!?
Scathach-Skadi: I was able to improvise a solution due to you being unascended. I forced the Imaginary Numbers formula into you. You should be able to operate outside now.
Yang Guifei: Really?! Xiexie! Ok, Ascended Yuyu ready to go out!
Gogh: Hey, hey, uhuhu, I want to go...!
Yang Guifei: Huh, you too?! Can she...?
Gogh: Yes, I'm compatible with Imaginary Number Space, and I need to move my brush before the ink dries... Ehehe... Fujimaru, if you don't mind... can you... please... contract... ... Not happening... right...? My whole life... I never could find... a good patron...
Fujimaru: Captain Nemo, / ok?
Nemo: Contracting or not is your decision. As Captain, I have no objections to adding a rescued person to the crew.
Fujimaru: Vincent van Gogh.
Gogh: Ee- what?!
Fujimaru: Let's seal a contract!
Gogh: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?! Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees!! ............................. Thank you so much! Ehehe, ehehe, Gogh ready for action!
[Battle using only Gogh (Lv 80, 10/10/8, NP4, Color Me True CE), Guifei (Lv 80, 10/10/8, NP4, Color Me True CE) and summer Scathach(-Skadi) (Lv 60, 1/1/1, NP1, Color Me True CE). Skadi still has the Embarassment debuff from the previous fight. Gogh has Hesitating to use her Noble Phantasm, which does the same thing. Only one wave with 4 Logos Pincers (Berserker hermit crab) and 5 Logos Tentacles (Berserker starfish demon).]
Yang Guifei: We did it! A great victory for Yuyu! We can fight perfectly even with me on the team! And I'm so compatible with you, Gogh! You were amazing! Can we be friends?
[Guifei hugs Gogh]
Gogh: Hah!? E-ehehe... I'm happy... I always wanted to do... a collab with an artist from another race... Uhuhu...
Scathach-Skadi: Ugh... I cannot do this, after all... I must drag Osakabe to the bridge, at any cost...
Fujimaru: Why did Okkie run away?
Scathach-Skadi: She must have immediately realized what strategy I was going to propose was.
Fujimaru: What / strategy?
Scathach-Skadi: Simple. To shoot Osakabe for reconnaissance.
Translation notes:
1) Chinese for "sexy".
submitted by ComunCoutinho to FGOGuide

The Composer and the Polymath: Shostakovich's Friendship with Ivan Ivanovich Sollertinsky

I've mentioned in an earlier essay that the Second Piano Trio, Op. 67, is probably my favourite Shostakovich work. It shines from a musical perspective- the way it utilizes recurring themes throughout the piece is genius, the melodies are wonderful, the call-and-response technique is applied to great effect, and all three instruments balance each other out well. But truth be told, I don't know much about music theory; history is where I focus my research. And although I disagree with Boulez' claim that people only like Shostakovich's works because of historical context, I will say that studying context certainly doesn't hurt, and that it has helped me to appreciate the music more, even if I would have loved much of it just as much as I do had I heard it without any background information.
If you've read anything on Shostakovich, chances are you've come across some mention or another on Ivan Ivanovich Sollertinsky. This enigmatic figure shows up again and again in even the most shallow biographies, which usually at least mention how he was Shostakovich's best friend and the Second Piano Trio was dedicated to him after he died. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find some excerpts from letters to Sollertinsky, and how Shostakovich wrote to him in a surprisingly casual and unreserved manner, as one would naturally communicate with their closest friend. These documents are rare to find translated, but extremely valuable for researchers, and some of the better-known ones may be easily available to a novice or hobbyist. You may also learn that Sollertinsky was a brilliant polymath, who spoke 26 languages, studied ballet, music, philosophy, linguistics, theatre, and other fields. Perhaps you may even learn, if you have a penchant for detail, of his knack for witty comebacks, legendary oration skills, maybe even the fact that he and Shostakovich had a penchant for roller coasters (this last odd fact is mentioned in the Elizabeth Wilson biography, the Dmitri and Lyudmila Sollertinsky biography, and the Lyudmila Mikheeva biography on Sollertinsky, if you're curious).
Maybe, if you're like me, you wonder- how did Sollertinsky practically disappear?
When I say "disappear," I'm not talking about death. We know that Sollertinsky died of heart complications in Novosibirsk on the night of February 10-11, 1944, at only 41 years old. Wanting to know more, I contacted Pauline Fairclough, a musicologist who specializes in Shostakovich's life and works, and asked if she could elaborate on these details. She wrote back, saying that it was likely that stress, overwork and alcoholism may have likely played a role in accelerating his death.
What I mean to say is this. Sollertinsky was a very prominent and highly respected figure in the Leningrad art scene in the 1920s and 30s. His popularity dropped around 1936 with the publication of the "Muddle Instead of Music" article, as his promotion of the works of Western composers, most prominently Mahler, Bruckner, Berg, and Schoenberg, along with his close friendship with Shostakovich, had caused him to be attacked in the papers. But by WWII, his status seemed to have been restored, and he was evacuated out of Leningrad with its Philharmonic. However, around the time of his death in 1944, Shostakovich notes in a letter:
I still can’t recover from my grief...Ivan Sollertinsky was a real champion of our art...It is so offensively sad that there has not been a single response to this tragic loss in our newspapers.
This does make sense. With the war still ongoing and with Leningrad recently liberated, the news would certainly be primarily focused on covering these events, and it's possible that Sollertinsky, who primarily worked as a professor, lecturer, and critic, would have gone forgotten without much of a way to stay relevant. Even today, Sollertinsky remains a relatively obscure figure. To my knowledge, there has only been one biography published about him- Lyudmila Mikheeva's "I. I. Sollertinsky: Life and Legacy," published in 1988, which, although I was able to find, I was unable to find an English translation and so had to run it through a program in order to read it, regrettably most likely losing information in the process. There is a classical music festival named for him in his birthplace of Vitebsk, Belarus, but his name wasn't listed in the Wikipedia page of notable people born there (until I went and added it).
It's a shame that most of the information I've been able to find on Sollertinsky, apart from Mikheeva's book, was from sources primarily concerning Shostakovich. Despite all his accomplishments and knowledge, despite the fact that- according to Mikheeva- he enthralled sold-out crowds comprised of people from all over Europe with captivating speeches, history remembers him mainly as Shostakovich's friend who died too young. For now, yes, I'm discussing Sollertinsky's friendship with Shostakovich and how they influenced one another's work. But I also want to shed some more light, if I can, on Sollertinsky himself, because he certainly deserves to be remembered for who he was.
According to Shostakovich, he had met Sollertinsky twice before they became friends: first in 1921 (around age 15), where he "backed off as quickly as [he] could" after being introduced to him by another friend, intimidated. We also get this humorous account, which he dates from 1926:
"The Leningrad students were taking an exam in Marxism-Leninism so as to be able to go on for a higher degree. Among the people waiting to be called before the board of examiners was Sollertinsky. Before the exam I was nervous. Presently, Sollertinsky was called in. Very soon he came out again. I plucked up courage and asked him: 'Excuse me, was the exam very difficult?' 'No, not at all,' he replied.
'What did they ask you?'
'Oh, the easiest things: the growth of materialism in Ancient Greece; Sophocles' poetry as an expression of materialist tendencies; English seventeenth-century philosophers and something else besides!'
Need I say that I was filled with horror at his reply?"
A year later, in 1927, Shostakovich recounts their third meeting, where they were able to form a friendship:
Finally, in 1927, I met him at the home of a Leningrad musician. There weren't many guests, just three or four including Sollertinsky and myself. The time passed quickly, without our noticing. I was completely bowled over when Sollertinsky turned out to be an uncommonly merry, simple, brilliantly witty, and entirely down-to-earth person. Our excellent host kept us until late, then Sollertinsky and I walked home. We lived in the same neighborhood. The way seemed short because walking with him was no effort: he spoke so interestingly about the most varied aspects of life and art. During the conversation it emerged that I didn't know a single foreign language, while he couldn't play the piano. So the very next day Sollertinsky gave me my first lesson in German. and I gave him a lesson on the piano. The lessons came to a swift and unsuccessful end: I didn't learn German and Sollertinsky didn't learn to play the piano, but we still remained great friends to the very end of his remarkable life.
On Sollertinsky's end, it's clear that he valued his friendship with Shostakovich very much as well. We get a note from his diary- "At the beginning of the summer- Bruderschaft with Shostakovich." ('Bruderschaft' refers to a drinking tradition from Germany also practiced in Russia, where two friends link arms and drink a toast to commemorate their referral to each other with the informal form of "you"- in Russian, "ты" as opposed to the formal "вы.") And of course, he went as far as to name his son, Dmitri Ivanovich, after Shostakovich, breaking a family tradition in which every firstborn son was named Ivan.
As time went on, the two friends talked to each other about pretty much everything. I have not been able to find any letters from Sollertinsky to Shostakovich (who had a habit of discarding letters after reading them), but the letters from Shostakovich reveal a completely different side to him as opposed to with any other correspondent- from sharing his insecurities about romance, to making snide and sarcastic remarks about people who annoyed him, to discussing music and art- there's a true sense of closeness implied in these letters, from someone whose writing was often so businesslike and reserved. They would visit each other whenever they could, and when they couldn't, they would write to or call one another. Even a few days apart would leave one pining for the other.
As for the artistic side of things, Sollertinsky was absolutely instrumental in a key part of Shostakovich's composition style- his tendency to draw on Mahler's influence. Plenty of scholars have pointed out similarities between Mahler and Shostakovich's symphonies, including the technique of building off of a simple, repeated theme, implementing music associated with folk dances, vocal symphonic works with poetic settings, and percussive rhythms. There are plenty of instances where Shostakovich's works quote Mahler's, or evoke the atmosphere of a Mahler work, such as the final movement in the Viola Sonata and its parallels with Das Lied von der Erde's "Der Abschied". Sollertinsky, a prominent supporter of Mahler's work, had pushed for its performance in the Soviet Union, and had even written an article attempting to argue the similarities of Mahler's work with socialist realism, in hopes that Mahler symphonies could be further promoted despite their often individualistic and "formalist" themes. He also believed that Mahler, like Beethoven, made use of a concept called "Shakespearean symphonism," in which the elements of a symphony were developed and multidimensional, much like one of Shakespeare's characters. As Shostakovich's compositional expertise evolved, he began to experiment with Mahlerian techniques more and more, starting with the Fourth Symphony. These techniques can be seen throughout his oeuvre, even as it evolved drastically into the Late Period of 1953-75.
Shostakovich had also changed the course of Sollertinsky's career as well. Sollertinsky, who had started out studying literature- particularly that of Spain- soon took an interest in ballet and dance theory, a field that he was fascinated by for quite some time. But after meeting Shostakovich, his intellectual tastes shifted more towards music, and became a Conservatory professor. During the 1936 denunciations, which saw both friends criticized in the papers, Sollertinsky had gone as far as to consider quitting his position at the Philharmonic, now becoming an increasingly risky field of study, and focus instead on linguistics. Shostakovich had written to him:
Whatever happens I strongly advise you not to contemplate changing your profession. I don't just advise you, I implore you. Russia has many linguists but very few musicians. And to lose someone like you would be a catastrophe. Carry on with your important and valuable work.
Sollertinsky and Shostakovich were perfect foils for one another- one talkative, sharp-tongued, and assertive, the other withdrawn, introverted, and shy. Despite these differences, they got along splendidly, and we have plenty of accounts of the two of them comforting each other in times of crisis, or enthusiastically exchanging ideas in happier times. But all this was to change unexpectedly during the Second World War. Soon after Germany invaded, Sollertinsky and the Philharmonic were evacuated early, but Shostakovich chose to stay until it was absolutely mandatory that he leave. They ended up in different cities- Shostakovich in Kuybishev and Sollertinsky in Novosibirsk- but still managed to maintain their correspondence, deeply missing one another. Anxiously, Shostakovich wrote in 1941, "Often at night, suffering from insomnia, I begin to weep. Nina [his wife] and the children sleep in the other room so I don't disturb them. I often think of you and I can't do without your company." Another letter reads, "I miss you terribly[...] your company is as essential for me as the air I breathe[...] each day I dream I will soon come to Novosibirsk and we will see each other after almost a year's separation."
Although the biography by Dmitri and Lyudmila Sollertinsky, Pages from the Life of Dmitri Shostakovich, is lacking in details when it comes to political circumstances, it's valuable in that it documents Shostakovich's interactions with Sollertinsky very well. According to this book, they would meet once again in 1943, in Moscow, where Shostakovich was living at the time. Sollertinsky was invited to give a speech commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Tchaikovsky's death, and they reunited for a few short days before saying goodbye to one another at the train station before Sollertinsky headed back to Novosibirsk. The tides were turning with the Battle of Stalingrad. There was hope that life would change for the better soon enough. Sollertinsky had accepted a position teaching music history at the Moscow Conservatory starting in 1944, meaning they could once again live near each other very soon. They wouldn't be separated for long, they thought. In just a few months, they would be reunited once again, and make up for all the time the war had taken from them.
Pages tells us that this meeting at the train station was the last time they ever saw each other. What follows are three letters from Shostakovich- one to his close friend, Isaak Glikman, one to the conductor Boris Khaikin, and another to Sollertinsky's widow, Olga Pantaleimonovna Sollertinskaya. (Note: the first two letters are available to read in both Russian and English on the DSCH Publishers website; the third is recorded in Pages.)
To Glikman, Feb. 13, 1944:
Ivan died on February 11, 1944. We shall never see him again. There are no words that can express my grief which is eating away at my whole being. May our love for him and our faith in his great talent and phenomenal love for the art, to which he devoted his magnificent life - music - serve to immortalize his memory. Ivan is no more. It is very difficult to come to terms with this. My friend, don’t forget me and write to me. I have a request: wherever you can, get hold of some vodka and on March 11th at 7 p.m. Moscow time let’s drink (you in Tashkent and I in Moscow) a glass and by doing so mark the month that will have passed since Sollertinsky’s death.
To Khaikin, March 25, 1944:
“I still can’t recover from my grief...Ivan Sollertinsky was a real champion of our art...It is so offensively sad that there has not been a single response to this tragic loss in our newspapers. [...]
I am terribly busy and not composing anything. There have been periods like this before, but it always seems as if this time it is so serious that I shall never be able to compose another note again. I wish this bad patch would soon be over because it’s very unpleasant."
To Sollertinskaya, c. Feb 11-12, 1944:
Dear Olga Pantaleimonovna, I cannot express in words all the grief I felt when I received the news of the death of Ivan Ivanovich. Ivan Ivanovich was my closest and dearest friend. I owe all my education to him. It will be unbelievably hard for me to live without him. The times kept us apart. In the last few years I rarely saw him or spoke with him. But I was always cheered by the knowledge that Ivan Ivanovich, with his remarkable mind, clear vision, and inexhaustible energy, was alive somewhere. His passing is a bitter blow for me. Ivan Ivanovich and I talked a great deal about everything. We talked about that inevitable thing waiting for us at the end of our lives-about death. Both of us feared and dreaded it. We loved life, but knew that sooner or later we would have to leave it. Ivan Ivanovich has gone from us terribly young. Death has wrenched him from life. He is dead, I am still here. When we spoke of death we always remembered the people near and dear to us. We thought anxiously about our children, wives, and parents, and always solemnly promised each other that in the event of one of us dying, the other would use every possible means to help the bereaved family. Dear Olga Pantaleimonovna, if you are in difficulties, if you have any problems, tell me, I beg you, for the sake of the memory of Ivan Ivanovich which I hold sacred, and if I can help you in any way I shall do my utmost to do so. If it is not too hard for you, please let me know what Ivan Ivanovich died from. The telegram about his death was of the briefest kind, and it is very important to me to know what happened to him. I warmly shake your hand, and embrace the poor children. Yours, D. Shostakovich.
In December of 1943, Shostakovich had begun work on his second piano trio, and, after hearing of Sollertinsky's death, dedicated it to him. He completed the first movement sometime in February 1944, but was hit with a creative block, possibly due to depression and grief. For months, he produced no work, save for a score for the film Zoya. He finished the Second Piano Trio sometime around August 1944.
When I talk about the Second Piano Trio, there is one moment I can never go without mentioning, and I've mentioned it in an essay before. It's the pause between the second and third movements. The second movement, to me, evokes the image of a fast-paced conversation. It's a delightfully confusing call-and-response segment, lasting only a few moments. For a second, we can forget Sollertinsky is really gone. The second movement tells me, I feel (and of course this is my own interpretation of the piece, which does not necessarily mean this was the composer's intention), that he and Shostakovich actually did get to see each other again after that meeting at the train station. I picture an alternate scenario: The war is ending. Leningrad has been liberated after a long and brutal siege, and the two friends eagerly discuss the news as they briskly walk through the streets of Moscow, each trying to say as much as they possibly can before changing the subject to their current work- perhaps Shostakovich is writing another work in a new burst of inspiration, and Sollertinsky is having riveting discussions on Bach and Beethoven with his students. The pain of separation, it feels, never happened at all, and they can pick up right where they left off.
Then, the movement ends, and we're reminded that this isn't reality. Sollertinsky was never able to teach that music history class, and Shostakovich produced very little work in 1944, left to cope with the grief of losing his closest friend. And then, we're hit with the third movement- a long, slow dirge that painfully drags us into what actually happened. Reminiscing about the past brings nothing but emptiness. Maybe it's preceded by a happy memory, immediately turned bitter with the thought that the dead are gone forever. Inside jokes don't bring laughter in the same way that they used to. Upcoming hardships will be all the more difficult now. Shostakovich lived until August 1975, meaning he and Sollertinsky spent about thirty years forever separated.
The fourth movement is particularly interesting- a percussive allegro based heavily on Jewish themes. Many people have wondered what this movement could "mean" (and to clarify once again, my interpretations of the previous movements are not necessarily their "meanings"), but it's possible that, as news of the Holocaust reached the Soviet Union, Shostakovich was making a commentary on these atrocities. Although the Second Piano Trio is usually credited as the first of Shostakovich's works to use Jewish themes, I would argue that it was preceded by the little-known work, the opera Rothschild's Violin, which he completed on February 5, 1944. This work, however, is not completely Shostakovich's; it was partially written by his student, Veniamin Fleischmann, who died in the war in 1941 before he could finish the piece. As to why the Second Piano Trio- a piece dedicated to Sollertinsky- uses Jewish themes in its final movement, it's hard to for me to say; I have read mixed sources on Sollertinsky's ethnicity, with some saying he was Jewish and others saying he wasn't. His father, also named Ivan Ivanovich, came from a background of Russian Orthodox priests, and I haven't read any evidence of him practicing the Jewish faith. However, it's important to note that his birthplace, Vitebsk, historically had a large Jewish population (unfortunately, many perished in the Vitebsk ghetto massacre in 1941 during Germany's invasion of the USSR), as well as Jewish villages in the surrounding areas, such as Liozna, where the painter Marc Chagall was born. It's possible that Shostakovich was paying homage to Sollertinsky's origins in Vitebsk here, or to the Holocaust victims, or both. Or perhaps he had some other reason we'll never know. Nonetheless, this theme was reused in the Eighth String Quartet, which raises a dozen more questions on interpretation. But the Eighth Quartet is an essay on its own, which I'll perhaps revisit later.
Shostakovich never forgot Sollertinsky. His son, Maxim, recounted in an interview with Mikhail Ardov that his father would constantly tell stories about his friend, and in 1961, while in Novosibirsk to participate in the Fourth Plenum of the board of directors of the Siberian Composers' Organization of the RSFSR, Shostakovich visited Sollertinsky's grave. While searching for photographs of Sollertinsky, I recently came across a picture of Shostakovich standing in front of the tombstone, his face distraught. It's hard to imagine what must have been going through his head. And in an interview twenty years after Sollertinsky's death, Shostakovich was recorded to have said, "even now, whenever I write a piece, I always think, what would Ivan Ivanovich think of this?"
I will conclude this essay by sharing a link to a recording of one of Shostakovich's own performances of the Second Piano Trio, recorded in 1946. At the time of this recording, it's been about a year since the war ended. About two years since the liberation of Leningrad and Sollertinsky's death. Shostakovich took up a teaching position at the Moscow Conservatory in 1945, the same year he also wrote the Ninth Symphony. Life moved on. But every time I hear this recording, played just a little faster than the written tempo, as many of Shostakovich's own recordings happen to be, I have to wonder- What would playing this piece have felt like to him? And what memories did it resurrect?
submitted by TchaikenNugget to classicalmusic

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