Monday, June 30, 2008

GUSTAV ERNESAKS

There is an old joke about USSR Chairman Leonid Brezhnev who was obsessed with having statues made of himself. Apparently a monument was planned in Soviet Estonia commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of A. H. Tammsaare, a widely respected Estonian man of letters during the last half of the 1800s. For that purpose a contest was arranged. The third prize was awarded to a design representing Tammsaare reading Brezhnev’s works. Second prize went to a design representing Brezhnev reading Tammsaare’s works. First prize was awarded to a design that showed Brezhnev thinking about Tammsaare. : )

I don’t know of many statues that show people thinking about something (except “The Thinker” of course, but we don’t know what he is thinking of.) In the case of the statue of Gustav Ernesaks, however, we are fairly sure what thoughts are going through his bronze head.

If you have been reading this blog, you would know about the “Singing Revolution” and how the Estonian people showed the USSR that there is strength in song. It was Gustav Ernesaks, more than any single individual, who kept alive the tradition of song and singing during the darkest days of the occupation. He was the one who convinced the authorities to keep the song festivals going, and he wrote songs that the people could sing, and he organized and conducted the RAM, the National Men’s Choir that brought these songs to all parts of Estonia.

When he died in 1991, the people of Estonia decided to erect a statue of him, and placed it at the back of the “lauluväljak”, or the “singing field”, where all the large song festivals are held. The statue is of him sitting, looking down at the field and the singing shell.

It is very imaginative of the artist to depict Ernesaks as if he is listening, instead of having him be majestically conducting or performing. And it looks to me that he is not only listening, but that he is also thinking. His thoughts seem far away from the song he is hearing. Perhaps he is contemplating his career and his contribution to the nation he helped to save from extinction.

Sometime in the early 1980s he had a chance to travel to the USA and he spent a few days with my dad, who was a boyhood chum. He told my dad that he had had a great career, but that it had been under the wrong flag. Now the singing festivals (the next one is next summer!) are once again under the right flag, and much of the credit for this goes to Gustav Ernesaks.

-- Aarne

7 comments:

rollingestonian5 said...

I was there when that statue was erected, singing Ernesaks songs in full voice wtih RAM on a chilly Spring morning. That's something I will always remember, like I will always remember his face and gentile demeanor, and the time he played our piano in Virginia.

Bilbo

Linda Hachtel said...

My name is Linda Hachtel (nee Ernesaks) and my father was Oswald Ernesaks, Gustav's brother. I went to Estonia when I was about 11 to the Song Festival and saw my uncle conduct, an amazing site. He also visited my family in NY a couple of times and the last time I saw him perfom was at Carnegie Hall. Just happened across this blog and didn't know there had been a statue erected in his honor. He was a very nice man and amazingly talented; my father was very proud of him. As my father was in the NY Estonian Male Chorus for many years, I'm sure they're singing and conducting together in Heaven.

heyitspaige said...

In 5th grade, I found out that Gustav Ernesaks was my great uncle. Its pretty cool that someone in my family did something great :)

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BoatDoc said...

We were thrilled to see the "listening" statue of the great musician at the Tallinn Music Festival grounds.

I would imagine he died knowing he has accomplished many great things. In all of World History, who else led such a small nation to National Independence from such an oppressive occupying nation by non-violent means?

Ernesaks should be remembered in history as prominently as Gandhi.

BoatDoc said...
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