By Gabriel Moreno González
In 1945 a young French soldier was walking around the bunch of ruins that used to shape the capital of Germany. That Berlin, dirty and grey, dramatically grey, was slowly passing by under his sad gaze. “How have we come to this dire situation?”- the soldier asked himself as he smelled the last traces of gunpowder, the unforgettable incense of those days. The city that once had held the crown of the European thinking was now reduced to holey walls trying to pointlessly stand up in the middle of devastation. The crestfallen soldier went on with his walk along those nameless streets as his tears dropped, streaming down his cheeks to the ashes and the cold clay. And yet, in the most sinister silence, the air started to whisper a very familiar tune that easily passed through the columns of smoke and the smell of powder. For no reason the Soviet troops had installed huge speakers on the Brandenburg Gate and from there sprang the most beautiful melody that any man can ever listen. It was Beethoven.
That particular Ninth Symphony led the soldier to find the meaning of his life. Because there it was, at the abyss of human History, there it was the purest Beauty. It was Music proclaiming Wagner’s aphorism « If we had Life we would not need Art. Art begins just where Life ends. » As if it were a prophecy, when there was no justification anymore for existence after Auschwitz, then Art bloomed again, just where Life was ending.
Beethoven’s story also revolves around all of that. When his existence was vanishing, when he had already lost his characteristic vigor and no one remained by his side, he composed that eternal melody. Old and sick, absolutely plunged into loneliness, he could finally make Beauty prevail over his tormented life. Because by means of that last symphony he came to terms with himself and, what is more important, with the rest of men. The immortal musician clearly belongs to that solid line of philosophers and artists, so deeply outlined by Steiner, who faced, in one way or another, the most unfathomable mysteries of mankind, those who have tried to raise humanity to the most ineffable abstractions in the universe. But, to reach such a mastery in the different forms of Art, these geniuses grew apart from the dominant schools of thought of their time, away from the absurd conventionalisms in their disciplines. In his late days Beethoven will say that his work is just a lonely dialogue with God, like a bridge connecting man with the great unknown which is our origin. All his work emerges from that never-ending dialogue that is enrichened -never impoverished- by the demons who always accompanied him. The source of his unique prodigies is precisely the powerful constant drama he was forced to live with.
The lack of harmony, the absence of a stable line guiding his life -in contrast to the trending positivism of the epoch- is something he has in common with the Russian master Fiodor Dostoievski, whose most enigmatic statement encloses the future of mankind and defines, better than any other, Beethoven’s essence: « Beauty will save the world. » Through this simple but unapproachable sentence Dostoievski opens the door to the great mystery of our species.
But, why Beauty? What is Beauty?
Let’s go back over the memory of History. Let’s remember the tragic scenes that were narrated by Michael Jones during the Siege of Leningrad, because only there we will have the chance to find the answer for these magnificent questions.
Among many other obsessions, Hitler could never hide his desire to destroy the city of Saint Petersburg. He was simply unable to understand how the Russian people, that inferior race, had built a city which was the envy of the rest of European cities due to its culture and incredible beauty. “How was it possible? How could those Slavs, filthy rats, have crafted such a marvel?”
Consequently, in the middle of World War II and taking advantage of the Soviet invasion, Hitler plotted the following plan: he would lay siege to the city until the population starve to death. Then, he would wipe its trace off the map, stone by stone, brick by brick. And the siege began. There were constant bombings and insulation during months in what is probably one of the most loathsome and miserable examples in human History. Not even a single slice of bread could get into a city inhabited by millions of people. The traditionally prideful Petersburgers were forced to see how famine was slowly killing them. They tried horses, dogs, rats and even rubber wheels as a desperate attempt to escape from that massacre, but death was unstoppable.
And then, suffocated by horror, the city of Dostoievski taught the world an extremely valuable lesson. After eight months dealing with hunger and misery, when its very existence was swinging at the cliff of oblivion, Saint Petersburg, Leningrad, rose from the ashes inspired by Art and Music. The city had understood the meaning of his most eminent writer and revealed it to the world.
Even though the bombs kept on falling, one day some theaters opened. They looked splendorous awaiting for hundreds of cadaveric gentlemen and ladies to come. People dressed again their most elegant finery and, as a crowd of pallid ghosts at the gates of inanition, they went out through the devastated streets. The picture was grotesque; what sort of madness was that?
They had come to see Art. Just for one day, they would forget about hunger and death to devote all their senses to music. The orchestra played Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, which had been composed during the siege to honor Saint Petersburg and the Russian resistance. As narrated by Jones, it was something macabre. The reflection of the golden curtain lighted the emaciated faces and the suits did not fit in the new silhouettes. The musicians, who have been placed behind all this artificial glamour, were not even able to properly hold their instruments…
And there, in the middle of that monstrosity, like many years later in the ruined Berlin, music broke the air. At first no one believed that beautiful melody. No one expected to find redemption in a city that had fought against death and desperation for months. But, once again, the tune went on and the tones flew up and down seizing every millimeter of the theater. Before they could realize, the eyes of the attendants clouded over on being touched by that celestial epiphany. And, thanks to the radio, the whole world could feel music overcoming the bombs, the miracle of such a beauty among such a merciless cruelty. After some minutes, Kart Eliasberg -the director- was no longer able to keep the baton in motion, but the orchestra did not give up until the symphony was over and the audience broke into applause. Eliasberg barely survived the concert.
In the end, after so much blindness to impose a vision, after the very meaning of humanity was sullied on the altars of war, it turned out that man had preserved Prometheus’ legacy. Art and Music… Beauty, after all, reigned over destruction. Beauty saved the world.