The Corner

Culture

Great Souls

Dmitri Shostakovich (Wikimedia Commons)

On the homepage today, I have a piece about a great musician, Mariss Jansons. A conductor from Latvia, he died in recent weeks. In the last few years, I had taken to calling him “Mahatma Jansons” — not “Maestro” but “Mahatma.” The title means “Great-Souled One,” and it certainly fit Jansons: not just a great musician but one whale of a guy.

In my piece, I tell several stories about him, and several stories from him. Here on the Corner, I’d like to relate a couple of other things, just for fun.

I asked him to talk about Shostakovich, in one of the interviews I had with him. Dmitri Shostakovich was our last great composer, many think — not “last” as in “last ever,” but “last” as in “most recent.” (Shostakovich died in 1975.) Jansons said that Shostakovich was an anxious, guarded man. (He lived a life of almost unimaginable pressure in that Soviet state.) He mumbled.

There were two things he liked a lot, said Jansons: soccer and women. Or, as Jansons put it — I can see him and hear him right now, with a big smile on his face — “soccer and woman.”

Here is a story. Shostakovich and Mstislav Rostropovich, the cellist, were close. One day, Shostakovich called him and said, “Slava, I need you. Can you come over?” Rostropovich would have done anything for the great man, understandably. “Right away,” he said. When Rostropovich entered, Shostakovich said, “Thank you so much for coming, Slava. Please sit down. Now, let’s think.”

So, they sat and thought. At least Shostakovich did. Rostropovich didn’t know what to think. They sat in silence. Ten minutes passed. Twenty minutes. A half-hour. Forty-five minutes. An hour. An hour and ten minutes.

Without warning, Shostakovich turned to Rostropovich and said, “Thank you so much, Slava. You’ve helped me a lot. You can go now.”

That story has the pure ring of truth, and occasions a number of thoughts.

Again, my piece on Mariss Jansons is here. If you have not known him up to now, it’s not too late — it never will be (thanks to recordings, testimonies, etc.). A man to know.

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