The Cellist of Sarajevo


Steven Galloway

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Albinoni’s Adagio Symbol Analysis

Albinoni’s Adagio Symbol Icon

After a mortar attack kills 22 people, the Cellist decides to play a piece of music called Albinoni’s Adagio in the open square for 22 days to commemorate the victims. The piece is based on a fragment written in the eighteenth century by Tomaso Albinoni later housed at the library in Dresden destroyed during air raids in WWII. Thus, Albinoni’s Adagio is inherently marked by violence. However, the music’s reconstruction from a burned fragment of a manuscript in 1945 represents the possibility of rebuilding something beautiful from the ashes of Sarajevo. The melody is sad, but it evokes the passion that the novel’s characters have for their city. Though Galloway’s characters have become numb to some of their emotions after the long, tense months of siege, Albinoni’s Adagio is able to reawaken their hope. If the fear, anger, and hatred of the war are sicknesses, the music is an antidote that offers to heal both the city of Sarajevo and the Sarajevans themselves by reminding all who hear it that they are capable of more than struggling to survive and kill.

Albinoni’s Adagio Quotes in The Cellist of Sarajevo

The The Cellist of Sarajevo quotes below all refer to the symbol of Albinoni’s Adagio. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead Books edition of The Cellist of Sarajevo published in 2009.
The Cellist Quotes

The resulting composition, known as Albinoni's Adagio bears little resemblance to most of Albinoni's work and is considered fraudulent by most scholars. But even those who doubt its authenticity have difficulty denying the Adagio's beauty.
Nearly half a century later, it's this contradiction that appeals to the cellist. That something could be almost erased from existence in the landscape of a ruined city, and then rebuilt until it is new and worthwhile, gives him hope.

Related Symbols: The Cellist, Albinoni’s Adagio
Page Number: xv
Explanation and Analysis:
Two: Arrow (Part 3) Quotes

She wonders whether he can hear the music. He's not much farther from the cellist than she is, so he must. Does it sound the same to him? What does he hear? What does he think about this man who sits in the street and plays?

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa)
Related Symbols: The Cellist, Albinoni’s Adagio
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Three: Kenan Quotes

The building behind the cellist repairs itself. The scars of bullets and shrapnel are covered by plaster and paint, and windows reassemble, clarify, and sparkle as the sun reflects off glass. The cobblestones of the road set themselves straight. Around him people stand up taller, their faces put on weight and color. Clothes gain lost thread, brighten, smooth out their wrinkles.
Kenan watches as his city heals itself around him. The cellist continues to play…

Related Characters: Kenan
Related Symbols: The Cellist, Albinoni’s Adagio
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:
Four: Arrow Quotes

The men on the hills didn't have to be murderers. The men in the city didn't have to lower themselves to fight their attackers. She didn't have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness.

Related Characters: Arrow (Alisa)
Related Symbols: Albinoni’s Adagio
Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:
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Albinoni’s Adagio Symbol Timeline in The Cellist of Sarajevo

The timeline below shows where the symbol Albinoni’s Adagio appears in The Cellist of Sarajevo. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Cellist
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
Reality, Image, and Memory Theme Icon
The cellist thinks about the origins of a piece called Albinoni’s Adagio, reconstructed in 1945 when an Italian musicologist found a charred manuscript after the bombing of... (full context)
War, Civilians, and Humanity Theme Icon
...for a full day, then carries his cello down to the street and plays Albinoni’s Adagio. He plans to do this for 22 days, once for each person killed in the... (full context)
Two: Arrow (Part 3)
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...cellist, but the music continues uninterrupted. The cellist plays until he is finished with the Adagio, not even seeming to notice that a gun went off a few feet above him.... (full context)
Four: Arrow
Hatred and the Other Theme Icon
Art, Culture, and Civilization Theme Icon
...began to cry as the cellist played, everyone stuck motionless as they listened to the Adagio’s sorrowful melody. Arrow realizes that this whole war could have been stopped if no one... (full context)