Shostakovich & Kafka

So just after having posted...


and after being prompted by a question from someone an hour ago on Facebook...

As an afterthought: The music:

Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, aka (in my estimation) the greatest (and perhaps saddest) musician of the Twentieth Century, was asked in 1934 to compose a piece for a “Leningrad light jazz ensemble” (this was also the year he wrote his lyrical D minor cello sonata, if you are curious to hear what a more typical idiom for DSCH was). Evidently (according to his publisher) Shostakovich was “delighted” by this commission and subsequently wrote not one, but two “Jazz Suites,” a section from which is the soundtrack for the Kafka animation linked to above.

The composer of such light fare as the Leningrad symphony, the Babi Yar symphony, the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District and the great 8th (C minor) War quartet, fabricated these delightful little suites from popular dance forms of the time: Klezmers, Blues, Foxtrots, Waltzes, Polkas, etc. & the instrumentation is brilliant. If you thought that a Stalin-era Soviet composer wouldn’t be a fan of the “electric Hawaiian guitar,” you’d be dead wrong (there’s also a fiendishly difficult xylophone part).

Anyway, I had these pieces stuck in my inner ear throughout my last re-reading of Kafka’s Amerika, and the foxtrot in particular wouldn’t leave me alone during the section involving the “Nature Theater of Oklahoma.” It’s that Eastern-European-does-New-World-and-gets-it-deliciously-wrong kinda deal (Kafka has, in this book, not only the Statue of Liberty holding aloft a sword, but mentions a bridge linking New York and, erm, Boston.) A while ago I made this image (below) in hommage to the strangeness (and strange aptness) of Kafka's vision...



Another thing: if you haven't heard Shostakovich's arrangement of Tea for Two, well



PSS. Another strange fact: Kubrick used this Jazz Suite in the soundtrack for Eyes Wide Shut— which, also, come to think of it, is an amalgam of old world and new, based as it is on the 1926 play by Schnitzler…



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