Time’s Echo

The question that resurfaces in a time of horror may be what remains when memory is wiped out, when the unspeakable is left unspoken, in someone’s hope, perhaps, that it’ll be forgotten? Where does history live? Jeremy Eichler’s answer is that music becomes the code of our darkest secrets.

Jeremy Eichler.

Babi Yar is the ravine in Kyiv where Nazi invaders killed and dumped the bodies of more than 33,000 Jews in the last couple days of September 1941. It became an officially unmentionable disgrace to the Germans who executed the atrocity and to the Ukrainians and Russians who didn’t stop it. Almost 20 years later, and ever since then, Babi Yar got its standing as the biggest mass murder in the Nazi war on the Soviet Union, but only because Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote a famous poem about it called “Babi Yar,” and Dmitri Shostakovich, in turn, defied Stalin to compose a Babi Yar memorial at the head of his thirteenth symphony.

There in one grim anecdote is how history lives inside music, music as a last refuge of history that we confront no other way. Jeremy Eichler’s irresistible new book from the ruins of the twentieth century is called Time’s Echo: The Second World War, the Holocaust, and the Music of Remembrance. It’s very particularly about four giants in twentieth-century music: Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Benjamin Britten.

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Jeremy Eichler
Chief classical music critic for The Boston Globe.

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