At one occasion, he listened to Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D Minor, in one of the auditoriums of the Kremlin and with one of his favourite pianists at the piano.
Stalin was so delighted that, after the performance, he issued the order that the concert be recorded immediately. On the spot.
And so it had to be. Meaning that the orchestra, the conductor and the soloist had to remain in the auditorium all night, recording the concerto, so that the Great Leader could hear it over again, from fresh-printed shellac discs, at breakfast next morning. Everybody knew that refusing this would mean that they would all be rounded up and shot.
We sometimes hear the statement that art ennobles and purifies the heart, character and mind of the human being.
This is true – and it is false at the same time. Art carries within it an enormous intrinsic power of extinguishing wickedness and elevating both heart, mind, moral values, insight, empathy – almost everything that makes us true humans.
But the step from the one to the other does not happen automatically. It always is a step that we take deliberately and wilfully – or we don’t. This is precisely what art has in common with faith: It can open the door of the human heart – but this door has but one handle, sitting on the inside.
Daniel Barenboim, the great conductor and fervent music ambassador, told the story retold here above, in an interview on the Swiss TV. It was part of his answer to the question, whether music – or art in general – would be able to promote peace in the world.
This question had a well-known background: Maestro Barenboim’s fantastic initiative several years ago, to create The East West Divan Orchestra, consisting of young talented Israeli and Palestinian musicians – doing nothing but playing classical music together. Asked whether this orchestra should be seen as something “political”, Maestro Barenboim answered:
“The existence of this orchestra has just one political statement: that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Maestro Barenboim is of course completely right. And indeed we should widen this message saying:
Music, as well as all art, has one single political statement:
There is no military solution to any political conflict, or to any problem at all in heaven and on earth.
And it will also proclaim – in tones, pictures and words – that no violence, no discrimination, no contempt, no hatred, no despotism, no abuse of power, will ever bring forth anything good anywhere on this planet.
Art has the intrinsic power of opening our eyes, our inner eyes, if we let it do so.
Because, in the words of Erasmus of Rotterdam:
“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”