The tall building on Uprising Square
is a monument
to the luminary of all sciences.
But soar up in the lift,
enter Gnesin’s apartment—
and cults and monuments
slip out of your mind.
With this tall stone needle
Stalin may have scratched
the sky of socialism,
but the old composer’s apartment
makes you forget this.
“These spectacles,” I hear,
“were worn by Nikolay Andreyevich.”
(Gnesin is telling me about
his teacher, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov.)
“And this book,” adds Galina Mavrikiyevna,
“is a present from him.” A breath
of the past, of the sea, of the composers
we call
the Mighty Handful.
Gnesin sits down at the piano.
He sits there for a long time,
bowing his head
with its triangular beard.
He sits there so long
I wonder
if he has dozed off.
And Galina Mavrikiyevna
begs him not to play, not
to remember, not to upset
himself. But it’s impossible
not to remember. Not to remember
hurts. To remember
hurts still more. But then,
who really knows, who can say?
Gnesin looks pale and sad.
Not long before this, he had suffered
a stroke—soon after
an official meeting with Zhdanov.
Zhdanov had played the piano
to the assembled composers;
cruelty often likes to adopt
the dress of sentimentality—
a hatchet beside a curtain of light blue tulle.
Zhdanov had pounded away at the keys,
as if pounding his 1946 decree
into the composers’ skulls.
Prokofiev, Myaskovsky,
Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and others
had listened. Not one of them
said a thing:
What could they say?
Only Gnesin got to his feet
and, gently as ever,
said, “And you
to teach us
about music?”
No answer. The silence
did not bode well.