The Cellist of Sarajevo


Steven Galloway

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The Cellist of Sarajevo: The Cellist Summary & Analysis

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 the Dresden Music Library. The cellist likes how something can be rebuilt from ashes, hoping that the same thing can happen to his beloved Sarajevo, the city where he lives. The cellist sits in his window and plays anything he can to reawaken his hope, saving the Adagio for the days when other music doesn’t help.
Galloway ties the Bosnian conflict to WWII through Albinoni’s Adagio. He shows how history seems to be repeating itself in the destruction of Sarajevo, though many in Europe thought that the pain of WWII would help all nations learn to avoid violence. Galloway also relates the cellist’s music to both emotional healing – giving the cellist hope in awful circumstances – and physical healing by reminding the cellist that other cities have rebuilt after such destruction.
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The cellist thinks about his life just five years ago at his sister’s wedding. His family was happy and he believed the world was a good place. He tries to capture that feeling as he plays at his window, watching people line up for bread in the market outside his building. Though he can no longer play at the Sarajevo Opera Hall, as that building has been destroyed by mortars, the cellist still wants to play for himself.
The siege of Sarajevo harms both the city itself and the mindset of those within it who fall into despair and hopelessness at the destruction around them. The cellist’s music is a way to keep those harmful reactions away and ensure that some of the old values of civilized Sarajevo stay alive.
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Sarajevo is surrounded by hills, which now house snipers who are gradually destroying the city with mortars, grenades, and bullets. On this afternoon, the market outside the cellist’s building is hit by a mortar, killing many of the people who had been in line. The cellist stands by his window in shock 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 mortar blast.
Civilians simply trying to buy bread become another casualty of the siege. The men on the hill, as Galloway calls those who are attacking the city, seem merciless in their targeting of ordinary people. Through the cellist’s shock and pain, Galloway shows the response of an average person to the mindless violence of war.
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