Top Ear

An Unusual Tribute: A Memorial to June Fourth

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Leonard Ip writes

It might appear as a strange thing to think of, but once it is pointed out, the connection between Hong Kong people 23 years ago and Frederic Chopin 181 years ago hardly need any explanation. Upon hearing news from Poland that an uprising against the Czar was crushed, Chopin left his cry of despair in history forever. We know it as his ‘Revolutionary etude’. Upon hearing news from Beijing, people in Hong Kong left their mark on the history: over a million went into the streets.

It’s a cry of the deepest sadness and anger.

Music is universal, we say. Music communicates over the difference of language, race, nationality, culture, age, sexuality…… Music is where pure human emotions meet and resonate. But we know music is such because human emotions themselves too are universal: love, hatred, joy, sorrow…… We have experiences to share. So it’s not a matter of being political or not – it doesn’t matter if a massacre happened in China, Germany, Rwanda or any other nations. We weep and grieve for terrible, immoral things that happened not necessarily because we are victimized but because we are compassionate. That is what music helps us to be.

But this is not the end. It is nothing but patriotism that drove Chopin to ask, “Or are you, God, yourself a Russian?” and it is nothing but because of his conscience and his love of the people of his country that Shostakovich chose to stay in the Soviet Union, that Furtwangler chose to stay in the Third Reich. “I left my native country in order to avoid having to abandon my people.” was what Rafael Kubeliks said in reply to those who questioned his decision to defect. Pablo Casals wrote his letter from exile in 1970, still worrying about his suffering nation under Franco’s regime; the suffering of his people, his compatriots mattered more than political propaganda. One step further from universal compassion, we are confronted with our own nationality, our responsibility, our conscience.

This leaves us no option but to mourn for what happened in Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989. We will not stop mourning and weeping – and hoping – until justice is restored, just as Casals would not return to Spain until Franco was overthrown.

Top Ear is a blog on music. It was not intended to be a place for political opinions – nor will it ever be. But it is our belief that music is more than entertainment – music is Art, and Art asks for integrity. We do our best to stay away from politics – hopefully leaving it for the more courageous and righteous – but there is no way around matters of integrity, and no polemic will ever move such belief.

Yes – Top Ear is a blog on music. Isn’t it music that does it every year, every year to keep us mindful of history?


For reference (from ‘Parallels and Paradoxes’, page 62)

Daniel Barenboim: […] In other words, if you have a crescendo in Beethoven that goes to the end, and then there is a subito piano that creates the illusion of a precipice, you have to do that. You have to go to the precipice, to the end, and then not fall, and not make a crescendo only halfaway.
Edward Said: What is the coward’s way?
Daniel Barenboim: Well, to make a crescendo only to a certain point, so that you don’t get to the precipice, but you get a few meters behind it, and then you just drop to the piano. In other words, when Beethoven writes a crescendo and then subito piano, it means that the last note before the subito piano has to be the loudest note of that crescendo. And it takes a lot of courage to do that because it is physically difficult, sound control difficult, everything difficult, in order then to create the subito piano. It’s much easier to take the crescendo only to a certain point and then let it drop so that you can comfortably lead into the piano. But then,the whole effect of the precipice is gone. And this is what I’m talking about: courage in the act of music-making, not in what you play and where you play it. And this kind of courage, I think, is required in solving all the real profound humanitarian problems.

Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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