We were invited by good friends this evening to a soirée musicale, organised by English composer Nigel Clarke and performed by the ‘Quatuor Ambiorix’, four gifted young musicians (two Poles, a Romanian and a Belgian) studying at the Conservatoire Royale. Pieces by Schubert, Mozart, Pachelbel and Beethoven were all on the programme but the ‘meat in the sandwich’, as Clarke put it, was undoubtedly Dmitri Shostakovitch’s String Quartet N° 3. In his introduction Clarke explained to us how the once-denounced and rehabilitated Shostakovitch had written the piece just as he was about to be persecuted again. The piece was played once, in 1946, and then withdrawn. Unusually, and perhaps as a way of making the music more accessible to his critics, Shostakovitch provided titles for the piece’s five movements and, though they cannot do the extraordinary music full justice, nevertheless speak for themselves: 1. Calm Unawareness of the Future Cataclysm; 2. Rumblings of Unrest and Anticipation; 3) The Forces of War Unleashed; 4) Homage to the Dead; 5) The Eternal Question. Why? And For What?. Our hosts had left the curtains open and as the music progressed we could see children playing in a park in front of the house and then the park emptying as night fell. It was a sobering backdrop for the fundamental question the persecuted and long-suffering composer put to us; why do we keep doing this to ourselves?