The Cellist, once the principal cello of the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra, plays his cello in the street to commemorate the victims of a mortar attack. Listening to music is a frivolous activity that seems to have no place in the survival mindset of the besieged Sarajevans. Furthermore, the cellist plays in the open street, which exposes himself and his audience to the threat of sniper fire. Yet this music is necessary for the Sarajevans to keep their humanity and continue to look toward a time after the war when music will once again be a normal part of their lives. Choosing to make themselves vulnerable in order to listen to the cellist’s music allows the Sarajevans a sense of control over their lives and community. Instead of letting the men on the hill control their actions, they choose to prioritize the beauty of the music instead. Dragan, Arrow, and Kenan all wonder privately why the cellist plays or what he hopes to accomplish with his music. Dragan eventually decides that the cellist plays because it is the only thing he can do to keep the ideals of civilization and culture alive in besieged Sarajevo. Thus, the cellist comes to represent all that Sarajevo seems to have lost during the war, and the possibility that beauty and joy could return to the city once the war ends.
The Cellist Quotes in The Cellist of Sarajevo
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.
The cellist confuses her. She doesn't know what he hopes to achieve with his playing. He can't believe he will stop the war. He can't believe he will save lives… She can't tell what he believes, and it bothers her that she can't say exactly what it is, or whether she wants to believe it too. She knows it involves motion. Whatever the cellist is doing, he isn't sitting in a street waiting for something to happen. He is, it seems to her, increasing the speed of things. Whatever happens will come sooner because of him.
"Who is he playing for?" she asks again, and suddenly Dragan thinks he knows.
"Maybe he's playing for himself," he says. "Maybe it's all he knows how to do, and he's not doing it to make something happen." And he thinks this is true. What the cellist wants isn't a change, or to set things right again, but to stop things from getting worse. Because, as the optimist in Emina's mother's joke said, it can always get worse. But perhaps the only thing that will stop it from getting worse is people doing the things they know how to do.
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?
Arrow lowers her rifle and looks down at the street. The cellist has finished. He picks up his stool and cello and heads for his door. He pauses just before he enters, and she wonders if he will look in her direction. Even though he can't possibly see her, she wants him to turn toward her, to acknowledge her in some way. The cellist adjusts his grip on his instrument and disappears into the building.
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…