Friday, April 5, 2013

Shostakovich - a poem in code

This morning my writing teacher announced that her printer had gone berserk and printed her file in some strange code language. We were supposed to "translate" it in our own way, by letters, by size of words, or something similar.

I got seven words in and gave up. Rather than translate it, I decided to write a poem in code. The first word caught my attention. It reminded me of Russian, for some reason. Perhaps because I had recently been studying Heart of Darkness - remember the part when the "cipher" in the book Marlow finds turns out to be Russian? Or maybe it reminded me of the Russian titles on the music on my bookcase - Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Shostakovich's Festive Overture...

I chose code-words whose shapes looked like what I wanted to portray, or which I felt had some connection to the English words I was translating them from. Here is the translation:

Though it may seem random, there is some logic in my word choice. For example, uf with a dot on it is of throughout. The upside-down words have negative connotations. Memory and remember start similarly. The sounds of some code and English words are related. I particularly like sf" for silence, as anyone in music would know that sf is an abbreviation for sforzando, a strong accent. Combined with the quotation mark... in a way, I feel it suits Shostakovich's rocky relationship with the Soviet government, and everything he said about it in his music.

A doodle by my dear friend Michelle on a scrap of code-paper:

Poetry and all that aside, I realized that I like Russian music the best, for some reason. Perhaps because the Russians suffered so much through the years, their music is so emotionally charged? If you asked me who my favourite composer was, I couldn't give you a definite answer... but many of the names that come to my mind are those of Russian masters: Stravinsky, Prokofiev, "Tchaik" and "Shosti," as they are sometimes fondly called. I wonder how mortified Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich would have been to hear us nicknaming them like that.

Follow the link for a demonstration of Shostakovich's genius:
Shostakovich Festive Overture

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