Devil's Trill

by The Dung-luo River Culture Association on Tuesday, 04 August 2009 Comments
That year I committed the only grave crime in my life.

Alan knocked on my door that morning. This violist whose skill was yet to be improved said to me, it’s Musikfest now; I’ve hired a car. Are you coming along with me to Salzburg?

Having heard of Salzburg Musikfest, I readily accepted his invitation and jumped in the small auto whose brand name I forgot a long time ago. As we were approaching the Germany-Austria border, I suddenly recalled that Salzburg was located in Austria; I totally forgot that I did not have an Austrian visa at all. I forgot about it because Alan my companion was American, who needed no visa for an entry into Austria.

Having driven for more than two hours and with no intention of turning back, a crime was committed. I stealthily crawled into the boot from the backseat, curled up, stayed quietly. Alan threw his rucksack to the front and with his casual bite of the apple, light-heartedly showed his American Paß to the border-guards, who were right in the middle of one of their bridge patrols. Then we whirled away towards Salzburg.

Illegal entry.

Because of Musikfest, there were artists everywhere, dressed in intricate court costumes, playing all kinds of music, on the streets of Salzburg that I was encountering for the very first time. I should have trembled for my illegality, but I was so young and vigorous that I felt not even a trace of fear. Having fooled around the streets and visited Mozart’s Geburtshaus, we attended a tiny concert. The violist, who hardly knew a single German word, recognized a name on a flyer: Igor Oistrakh. And I, right at that very moment, realized that this man must the son of David Oistrakh. The name you mentioned to me.

Devil’s trill…

In those days, you were not only my first love but also my mentor in European classic music. At the featureless riverbank you performed with your silver trumpet the overture of Suppe’s Light Calvary, for me, a very beginner. At the end of the melody, you said, abruptly, that even if I could have such dazzling skills as how Sergei Nakariakov, the genius trumpeter, could play Rimsky-Korsakov’s "Flight of the Bumblebee," there would be no day in my entire life that I could polish myself to the extent comparable with David Oistrakh.

It was the first time I heard of the name Oistrakh. I learned from you that he was a violinist who rose late, with radiance and that his being one of the reasons for you to admire the great northland. Leningrad Philharmonic under Mravinsky’s conduction, you said, had the unlimited power to convulse human minds and hearts. The Nutcracker suite he personally selected and arranged was played so lightly, gracefully and beautifully; the patheticity of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique could be most profoundly interpreted only by Mravinsky. You asked, without noticing my presence, what kind of mind it was; what kind of immersion, or sublimation and liberation it could be that made them such touching musicians.

Tartini’s violin sonata in G minor, Devil’s Trill, you continued, was allegedly traded with the devil in his dream, though what he hastily tried to capture and write down as he awoke was merely a pitiful fragment extremely inferior to devil’s play. You nodded, it was said that Tartini had been ready to hand over his soul to the devil— as long as he could listen to devil’s melody once more, he would be willing to "break his violin and abandon music for ever and ever."

I listened to you silently. You were not looking at me. It was the far away green mountains that your gaze anchored. In that peaceful summer afternoon you told me your desire for and imagination of the northland. You said there must be some kind of gentleness, as well as violence capable of depriving of one’s soul. From the music perspective, you said, Mravinsky was a tyrant; yet had he not been a tyrant conductor, Leningrad Philharmonic, then under his command, would never have attained that omnipotence.

"St. Petersburg Philharmonic…" finally you turned to me, "is no longer the Leningrad Philharmonic when Mravinsky was there alive."

You put your silver trumpet into the case, stood up and upright, looking into the distance. Before leaving you said, Tartini was Italian. It might be true that Devil’s Trill was a mere remnant of the devil’s performance; but, it was only David Oistrakh, who came from the Ukrainian northland— Jewish though he was— who could be a seemly match.

Therefore I entered the tiny concert with the sub-par violist. I wasn’t listening to Igor Oistrakh and instead lost right away what he was playing. I applauded as all the people applauded, simply because he was the son of David Oistrakh, because you had mentioned this name to me so spellbindingly.

I should have recalled Mozart in Salzburg. However, it was Mravinsky who had hardly left St. Petersburg that I recalled— and the Devil’s Trill, performed by David Oistrakh, who was described by Arturo Toscanini as "descending to the world." Thereafter I have listened to Devil’s Trill countless and countless times, each time deeply awed or even horrified. I completely understood why you admired them so. Therefore, even a long time later— after we had stopped secretly meeting each other, writing to each other, or simply crossing each other’s mind— I still remember the northland with affection. Several years later, one of my college pals called me a "nationalist-music enthusiast." As a matter of fact, it was nothing but my year-by-year fascination in you, a young man who yearned for his dream of music

You never made your way to pursue music and instead reluctantly stepped in the information department of a university. Where are you now? And what are you doing? All this has been too far out of the reach of my imagination. I have never had the chance to experience Salzburg Musikfest with you, nor had I ever been able to sit with you in St. Petersburg Philharmonic Hall for a performance event. Nevertheless, no matter how much time it has passed since, I shall always remember I wrote to you that night in a letter, "Today, I committed a grave crime of illegal immigration…" And you replied me a postcard, "Hateful… that I can’t go to Salzburg now."

(Photo by B.V.)

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