«It isn’t obligatory to listen – there’s nothing but the music» – with this unpretentious joke the composer presents us his new discs. Release from the slightest shade of deliberateness helps us to remove the wrapper from this thin disc of real generosity. From what horn of plenty these marvelous gifts came? Maybe it is not obligatory but so desirably to hear and listen to them. The first sounds of the morning bagatelle return me to my forgotten night mood. Through the bustle of preparations for the work they bring the news of a new beginning possibility. A tuning fork is a trifling thing, but it saves people’s ears from floods of monstrous falsehood. As to me, I am saved from my inside cacophony of not related bits of information with the tune fork of these bagatelles («trifle» in French). The shortest form, but within minutes their sounds straighten my spine. Faster than coffee or tea, it revives my feelings. Using the clearest of all human languages this music speaks very simply: «Good afternoon.» Calmly and without a shadow of any doubts Valentin Silvestrov’s bagatelles make me to think boldly that this day is going to be good. The music enters into me and makes me to trust this risky promise. With childish persistence it defends its philosophical thesis: «The day is good», without limitation of a neutral «hello» or «ciao». By inertia we do not notice it, as we do not notice, day after day, the solar disk rising. From those who are accustomed to the comfort of mistrust, each sunrise begins with a joke: «It isn’t obligatory to look, you will not see from me anything but light.»
What stereotype arrays are fencing us off the music and the philosophy of «outdated Sun»? These stereotypes were being formed not yesterday. For contemporaries of Mozart and Schumann it was also difficult to enclose the «music as the singing of the world about itself.» Hegel defined the era with the formula: «A morning newspaper substitutes the morning prayers.» During the day, one array of information displaces another. Irretrievably. A working day at the same time clutters and wastes the space to the limit. The space for re-listening to the same, known by heart, singing is dramatically shortened. The habit of re-listening is taken under suspicion. The gap with the classics is gradually expanding frontiers for the rule of anti-tradition. Routine is seen in everything – from the ritual to the stars rotation – «Catch the Sun» instead of «Wait for Its arrival.»
But in every bit of the freeborn melody the philosophical choice is sounding: «Wait for the music.» And it’s not about the master’s return to his childhood that was anything but idyllic. Valentin Silvestrov was born in Kiev in 1937, in the most dangerous time and space of the «bloody lands» described by historian Timothy Snyder. His early childhood was spent in Kiev occupied by German troops. Persistent rejection of military marches and bravura combatant compositions remained with him for life. But today the composer shares with us not his early traumas, his new discs are witnesses of his escape from the circles of hell.
The new 8th Symphony by Silvestrov breathes with liberation from the outer power of symphonic style. It sounds like a «long-range echo» of the destroyed language that cannot convey tragic nonsense of former and current outbreaks of violence. Radical wordlessness and ineffability of grief discards every slain creature into that archaic state where any psalm has not yet emerged, where it remains inconceivable and unpronounced. Anyone who has
been in hell but did not accepted its mutual responsibility of despair, he has carried out not the nihilism bacillus but extreme attention to the transition from non-existence to birth; the transition from the nonsense of the ruined language to the first chord of the nascent bagatelles – the mustard seed of a new symphony, an epiphany of the branched structure of its wood. There are naked link of meaningful communication between small and large forms, of the great expectations in the small event.
In the bagatelles the micro-history of the initial element of the musical sense (music from nothing) sounds. A Silvestrov’s listener gets opportunity to open a creative state according to the author’s genial formula: «creative state is sensitivity to appearance.» The composer performs his bagatelles in such a way that the border between recollection and improvisation is being deleted, and listeners get sensitivity to music creation here and now. «His inherent distinctive pianism is supersensitive touch to piano, hundreds of the finest gradation of sound, impulsive permanent rubato» (I. Monighetti). Silvestrov overcomes the widespread idea of music as an audio material to be processed methodically. However, his rehabilitation of the simple «childish» melody cannot be limited by the scope of music aesthetics.
Silvestrov, forgetting about his age and calling his friends to take care of themselves, with all his being reacted to the Dignity Revolution in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine. His extensive cycle «Homage to the Maidan» is dedicated just to these events. There are two main forms of music taken directly from the events there: a hymn and a prayer. Their mutual relationship is opened originally in the Silvestrov’s compositions. Psalm, the «Song of Ascension», is the key to their unity and the main form of resistance against violence over a human being and desecration of the God’s image in him.
Bagatelles are musical seeds of new psalms, they evoke them from the isolation in the sacrality zone and return to the sacred circle of life (beyond the opposition the sacral becomes a profane). Music itself collects them grain to grain. Transfer of attention to these musical seeds leads to bridge the gap between «the songs that we sing», on the one side, and psalms, on the other side.
Such innovation does not contradict Ukrainian melos traditions in which carols, chants and folk songs easyly flow into each other. Silvestrov is going further on this path and his songs on poems by Shevchenko he calls psalms. This is not about Shevchenko’s transcriptions of the Psalms of David. Silvestrov heard in poems of Shevchenko «Dumi Moї, Dumi Moї…», «Sadok Vishnevy Kolo Haty», «Reve tai Stogne Dnіpr Shyroky» biblical predecessors of psalms. He updated the roll-call of two string instruments, hymnals and kobza, and saw in the Kobzar the «living metaphor», the psalmist. Ivan Dziuba was amazed – where these thoughts came to Silvestrov’s mind from – «to the first of millions of Shevchenko readers and hundreds of researchers.» They came from bagatelles, from trace elements of musical structures. From the seeds of the pre-word granary, generating new abundant shoots of spiritual songs. And that’s in them Dziuba, after Silvestrov, finds weighty historical evidence that «this language and this people – they will not have to disappear.»
Today the Babylonian confusion of languages (and our own bitter experience – «we do not have a common language») once again became the symbol of the post-Soviet space. Alas, but this symbol is relevant for the whole contemporary Europe. French philosopher Marguerite Lena, impressed by Silvestrov’s music, generated an interesting hypothesis: in a remote room of the Babel Tower musicians were so caught up by their playing that they
did not participate in the general pandemonium, and the storm of the languages confusion passed the music over; the music remained a kind of a «meta-language». Rigorous scientific verification of this hypothesis is left for Silvestrov’s bagatelles listeners. E = mc2, by the way, is also a bagatelle.
In conclusion, I cannot ignore the initiator of these discs emergence. Leonid Finberg loved listening to Silvestrov in his car, and opened to his companions an anti-Babylonian language of his music. So, this hospitable driver has found the philosophical key to humanize our small planet. His friends also began to put in their cars this contagious music, starting with it their close and distant travels, meeting new listeners. Messengers of a new civilization? Simple, just as the sunrise, from which we started to memorize the musical seeds of this pre-Babylon language: to hear and to thank – they are synonyms.