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Since Radarlady was kind to mention in teacherken's Mozart diary yesterday that 2006 is also the anniversary of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975, hereafter referred to as DSCH), this leads nicely into this culture diary for the day, a more "political" one regarding classical music than both teacherken's and mine.  We're 8 months early, as DSCH's birthday is September 25.

This day, January 28, marks the 70th anniversary of a Pravda editorial that had devastating artistic consequences for Shostakovich and resounded throughout the arts world of the USSR.  The article concerned his new opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which DSCH had written in his late 20's, and was first performed in 1934.  Based on a story by Nikolai Leskov, it told of a woman out in the Russian sticks, Katerina Ismailova, who, bored with her provincial existence, rebels against her surroundings by taking a lover and murdering her abusive husband and equally slimy father-in-law.  Eventually, she gets caught and sentenced to exile.  Beyond the obvious shock value of the plot, the music of a young, not-quite-thirty, DSCH sometimes does go all out in its underpinning of the story.  When you hear the trombone glissandi at the end of Act I, you know what's going on on-stage.  Furthermore, the opera satirizes the 19th century Russian police, and by extension their system of authority.  True, the opera did soften Katerina quite a bit, and also dared to explain, if not forgive, Katerina's actions as an extreme revolt against her oppressive and barely tolerable existence.  DSCH had hoped that this work would be the first part of a "Soviet Ring of the Nibelungs" that would be the first operatic multi-part series about women.

Lady Macbeth had been premiered to great popular and critical acclaim in 1934.  In Leningrad and Moscow, the opera had received around 200 performances, pretty good for a new opera.  It was playing outside of the USSR to acclaim as well.  Then, one night in late January 1936, Stalin attended a performance of this opera in Moscow.  By all accounts, he was not amused, and walked out before it was over.  A very short time after that, that Pravda editorial appeared, under the title, in various translations, "Chaos Instead of Music" (or "Muddle..." or "Confusion...").  One translation of the editorial into English is here.  One sentence captures the threat behind the words, their version of "watch what you say":  "It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly."

It did.  Within a very short time, the opera was yanked from all Soviet stages.  Artistic friends and colleagues around him "disappeared", among them the great theatre director Meyerhold.  DSCH himself put the opera away from public view for about 25 years.   He never wrote another original opera, so his proposed tetralogy came to nothing.  About 10 years after the death of Stalin, DSCH revised / watered down Lady Macbeth into a milder version, titled Katerina Ismailova.  This version was recorded and even made into a film, which I saw several years ago.  

This story holds the painfully obvious moral about how vicious oppression of artistic expression and freedom can be, so obvious that it seems to barely need repeating.  However, as Kossacks know, we have our own highly puritanical cultural commissars, maybe not in the realm of "high culture" like opera, but more in popular culture like TV and movies.  You know the targets, like Sponge Bob Squarepants, the lesbian couple briefly shown on PBS' Arthur, etc., etc..  In the US, opera and the "high cultural" performing arts do not command the mass influence where a situation like this one back in the old USSR could happen, or where the homegrown right-wingnut noise machine can exert its vicious pull in such a highly visible way.  That would be applied more to art like wide-relase movies, such as Brokeback Mountain, maybe Syriana if it had quite the same level of publicity.

This isn't to say that opera hasn't had its share of recent controversies.  The British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage's recent opera The Silver Tassie, set during World War I and depicting the waste of that conflict in the story of one soldier who was paralyzed at the front, was originally scheduled for a US production in Dallas in 2003.  But after 9/11, that fell through.  Jake Heggie's opera Dead Man Walking, about Sister Helen Prejean and her work with death row inmates, does attract attention over issues of capital punishment (link to a PBS documentary about it here, although if memory serves, some PBS stations wimped out and didn't carry the telecast from San Francisco Opera).  Probably the single most politically controversial opera of recent times, is John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer, because of its treatment of the Achille Lauro hijacking in 1985 and handling of the various characters, both the hijackers and the victims.  An attempt to perform choral excerpts at the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the fall of 2001 was cancelled, in the context of the fact that a member of the chorus scheduled for that performance lost her husband in one of the 9/11 planes that were hijacked into the World Trade Center.

In of itself, being morally offended at Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, or another work of art, is not the worst aspect of this historical incident.  It is OK to dislike a work of art, to be offended at it, even to hate it.  That shows that you're thinking about the work of art and reacting to it, in other words, taking it seriously, as opposed to just treating it as fluffy mindless "entertainment".  What is not acceptable is to translate this dislike into preventing others from seeing the work for themselves to be able to make their own judgments.  Moreover, it is unacceptable to harass and threaten artists with physical harm, or even loss of life, because of the artwork.  It is, perhaps, a backhanded tribute to the power of art and such artists that it can elicit such strong reactions, which means that the art is taken really seriously as something that can affect how people think.  Cold comfort if you're the one being threatened, of course.

The cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, a great friend and champion of DSCH and his music, conducted the first commercial recording of the original version soon after his expulsion from the Soviet Union, in the late 1970's, for the EMI Classics label.  The other commercial recording that I am aware of is the one conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, on Deutsche Grammophon.  I think some DVDs are out as well.  If you have about 2.5 hours of free time to take a break from saving the world, and your local library has a copy of either version, borrow it and give it a listen.  

If you're planning to be in Amsterdam in June or early July, The Netherlands Opera is doing a production, with no less than the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and conductor Mariss Jansons in the pit (part of the calendar does overlap with Yearly Kos, I know).  There was just a production by Austin Lyric Opera (!!), reviewed here and here.  There is going to be a production of Katerina Ismailova at the Zurich Opera House this summer, but I'm not sure if it's the original or the revised version, given the title (one hopes it's the original).  The Canadian Opera Company will do their production in early 2007.

For some pieces on DSCH in general, Gerald McBurney has some nice articles here and here, and Alex Ross has this 2004 entry from his blog The Rest Is Noise.

Originally posted to chingchongchinaman on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 11:20 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for reading. (4.00)
    If anyone sees this, feel free to make this a Shostakovich thread (or things classical musical).  I'm on for only a short time longer today, so I'll try to respond to any comments tomorrow.
    •  The story of Shostakovich in the USSR ... (3.66)
      ... calls to mind what a friend once said about life here: "Although it isn't explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, the principle of separation of art and state should be a cornerstone of American society."
      •  topic for another thread (none)
        This actually does raise another whole issue about art and politics, and, for example, funding.  Europe has always been much more generous about funding music and opera, for example, than the USA, Canada, and the UK have ever been, to my understanding.  I honestly don't know, however, if this funding has greatly imposed in terms of control of artistic content.  Back in Mozart's time, of course, Lorenzo da Ponte had to water down the more revolutionary parts of Le nozze di Figaro so that it would get past the censor.  

        For the most part, my thought is that most Americans think of "Art" as some guy in purchasing (you know what I mean).  Sometimes it seems that the Americans who take art most seriously are the ones who want to ban it, like our homegrown right-wing nuts.  

        Maybe you can confirm this for me:  I thought that once on the Charlie Rose show, Tom Stoppard quoted some great Soviet-era poet as saying:  "Isn't it wonderful?  We live in the only country in the world that shoots poets!"  Of course, what he implied is that he lived in a society where art and poetry were taken very, very seriously and ordinary citizens (not to mention dictatorially minded bureaucrats - sound like people we know now?) paid attention to them.  

        •  Yes, the intellectual production (none)
          of the US in the 20th c lacks the seriousness of what has come out of the Iron Curtain countries.  

          In the US, art is considered a commodity, to be merely "appreciated".  On the other side of the wall it's understood as being at its best a life-and-death matter.

          "... Just so long as I'm the dictator." - GWB, 12/18/00

          by Bob Love on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 01:49:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  as much a slavophile I am (none)
            I can't go as far as that, since a wealth of European minds found refuge here in the 20th century.

            And your equation would dis homegrowns like Faulkner, James Baldwin, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keefe, Martha Graham, and countless others.

            "You'd like that's all political and morose."

            by Miss Devore on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 02:45:14 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  In the US (none)
              there are no equivalents to Ana Akhmatova, Alexander Solzhenytsin, Josef Brodsky, Ceslaw Miloscz, Federico Garcia Lorca, Franz Kafka, Cesar Vallejo, Albert Camus, Kristoff Koslowski ...

              nobody with that moral heft.  There is a depth of human understanding that can only be gained, it would seem, by great personal and communal suffering.

              "... Just so long as I'm the dictator." - GWB, 12/18/00

              by Bob Love on Sun Jan 29, 2006 at 07:55:41 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  at the risk of sounding like a flip flopper (none)
            To Bob Love and Miss Devore, my gut feeling is that you're both right.  On the one hand, artists like Baldwin, Copland, O'Neill, O'Keeffe, Pollock, Martha Graham, etc. produced powerful art that is worthy to stand with any literature, music, painting, etc. from any nation.  The counterblast would be that more "popular" media like movies, radio in the early days, and later TV, of course, permeated the cultural consciousness more than literature, music, painting, sculpture, etc..  
            •  As I wrote Ms DeVore, (none)
              in the US there are no equivalents to Ana Akhmatova, Alexander Solzhenytsin, Josef Brodsky, Ceslaw Miloscz, Federico Garcia Lorca, Franz Kafka, Cesar Vallejo, Albert Camus, Kristoff Koslowski ...

              nobody with that moral heft.  There is a depth of human understanding that can only be gained, it would seem, by great personal and communal suffering.

              Yes, American art can stand up to any ... but it was produced under very differenct cirucmstances, and addresses different concerns.  

              "... Just so long as I'm the dictator." - GWB, 12/18/00

              by Bob Love on Sun Jan 29, 2006 at 08:00:46 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  20 years ago today the space shuttle blew up (none)
    I think that was the beginning of the end of the United States Space Program.

    Look at the 20 years of progress up to the Challenger and the 20 years of progress afterwards.

    Where is our John F Kennedy inspiring us to shoot for the moon and beyond?

  •  I sing the music of the great (4.00)
    eastern european composers, Rachmaninoff, TChaikovsky, Arkangelsky, Bortnianksy (my favorite), Vedel, Grechaninov and Chesnokov.  

    These were, like western european composers,

    For those who lived during the Soviet revolution, and even for those that came before, the revolution had the effect of killing or hiding much of their music.

    We know so many great choral composers from western europe, but how many people have ever heard any of the composers above with the exception of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky?  

    One composer, Chesnokov has an interesting story.

       Contemporary musicians all point to the interesting musical language used. by the composer who left behind more than 500 pieces of choir music. "This man was really larger than life, says Valentine Maslovsky, the choirmaster at Moscow`s Intercession of the Holy Virgin Monastery. He was the last precentor at the Christ the Savior Cathedral that was blown up during the times of Stalin, when they destroyed so many churches... When the Cathedral went down, Pavel Chesnokov was so appalled that he stopped writing music altogether. He even gave a vow of silence... As a composer, he died with the Cathedral. An excellent musician, he had such a profound feeling of every word, every poem and he translated all these things into music".
        "You can often hear Pavel Chesnokov's music played in our churches, says Marina Nasonova, who leads a choir at the Saints Kosma and Damian Church in Moscow and has a degree in arts.. This man stands out from the rest because he boasted a very solid musical education which combined perfectly with his marvelous technique as a composer. Coming from a family of hereditary precentors, he spent almost all his life in the church, sung there and was really good at the applied church traditions. He had a very acute sense of the divine service and the moral impact of his music really boggles the mind...

    more here

    •  these were, like great western composers (3.50)
      men who wrote for the church where they found their greatest inspirattion.  

      (I left a sentence unfinished in my post)

    •  I've heard of two on your list (none)
      Namely, Bortniansky and Grechaninov, from CDs at the University radio station where I volunteered in the past. Have you seen some of the "Baltic Voices" CDs on harmonia mundi where composers like Part, Gorecki, Tuur, Saariaho, and others are represented?  True, they're not Soviet-era composers, but the ones from the former Soviet bloc countries are kind of successors here, in a way.

      The story of Pavel Chesnokov on your list reminds me of Karl Amadeus Hartmann in Germany, when he banned all performances of his work in Germany during WWII, although he didn't actually leave Germany (it's amazing that he survived). I didn't know about Chesnokov; thanks for posting about him.

  •   Rostropovich (4.00)
    This year is also the 50th anniversary of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Uprising.

    In an echo they also invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 to stop the reforms of the  Prague Spring.  The evening after the tanks rolled into Prague, Rostropovich gave a performance at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in the Albert Hall, London. I was standing in the front row near him and he openly wept as he played  Dvorak's Cello Concerto  which includes the references to many Czech folk songs and Dvorak's own song "Leave me alone".

    •  Wow you were actually there? (4.00)
      Slava has the unique distinction that Picasso was openly boastful of being photographed next to him!

      I will see him for the first time in March, conducting DSCH 5.

      <div style="display:inline;color:#CCC">The dark at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming age.</div>

      by peeder on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 12:25:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  seeing Rostropovich live (4.00)
        I've been lucky enough to see Slava live twice, both times in Chicago. The first time, he was soloist in DSCH's Cello Concerto, which of course was written for him. He conducted DSCH's Symphony No. 13 ("Babi Yar") in the second half, and he walked into the orchestra to give the tuba player a solo bow.

        The second time, he conducted Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, and of course he was a great friend of Britten and premiered BB's Cello Suites that BB wrote for him.

        I'm sure you'll find the DSCH 5 performance an experience to behold. It'll be great to hear down the line what you thought of it. Later on in the year, I'm hoping to fill some DSCH symphony gaps with some live concerts, but I'll have to travel far to do it.

    •  witness to history (none)
      I've read about that performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto with Slava that night right around the crushing of the Prague Spring. Didn't someone yell from the audience "Play it for the Czechs!" or something like that? That must have been an amazing occasion; thanks for sharing the memories. The audience must have been really wired.

      Thanks also for the reminder about the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. Supposedly, one of the subtexts of DSCH 11 is that suppression, in addition to the 1905 uprising nominally covered in the 11th Symphony, of course.

      •  Proms (4.00)
        The Proms are true "promenade" concerts in that in two areas the audience stand (or walk about) These are the very highest gallery and the centre of the oval-shaped hall, the "Arena". That year I had an arena season ticket for all the concerts. Although most nights they sell tickets to these areas on the door, season ticket holders get in first.

        As you probably know, the performers are booked many months if not years in advance and the music is selected and the program published months in advance. There was no way that the choice could have been fixed. As you say the atmosphere was electric and many in the audience were weeping as well during the Dvorak.

        Unfortunately I did not hear what was shouted. Apart from the acoustics not carrying to where I was, we were busy playing "spot the plain clothes policeman" at the time to relieve the tension. The police expected there might be some trouble and had them scattered throughout the audience. Unfortunately the officers had not been briefed that the arena audience is predominantly young and fairly scruffy as many sleep in line overnight for a big event (or all week for the Last Night). That's so you can get a good position for the concert. In between the pieces it was really easy to identify the burly guys in suits desperately pretending to read the notes in the evening's programme booklet.

        •  thanks for the Proms note (none)
          I've only been to London once, as part of a package deal, right around the time of the summer Olympics, so I think the Proms would have been in full swing, but of course there was no time to catch anything. I read the program last year, and entertained delusional fantasies of flying over for a vacation to see London and catch a few concerts, but even without the horror of the London bombings, it was no more than a fantasy. Do you have any inside news on the presence of DSCH's music in the 2006 Proms? One would think that Mozart and DSCH would get pride of place.

          That's great (and now, safely funny) to read about the "plain clothes" agents among the Proms crowd back then. That shows just how smart the East bloc spy masters were on that one, I guess.

          You're definitely right about classical programs being set up years in advance, so it was amazing coincidence that Dvorak's concerto would mesh with the 1968 invasion. Just to give you a much lighter example of cosmic luck, this past October in Chicago, the Chicago SO programmed Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, but with absolutely no idea at the time they'd planned it, many months in advance, that the Chicago White Sox would win the World Series (the US baseball championship) in 2005. The conductor for that concert made a little speech before the music acknowledging the White Sox's tradition of setting off fireworks at their games after home runs, and even included a line from the White Sox team song, "Go, Go Sox".

          •  BBC (none)
            The details of the 2006 concerts (now known as the BBC Proms as they sponsor them) are due to be published in April on the BBC mini-site. If you go there during the season, you can download most concerts up to a week after they take place.

            The BBC have already broadcast a continuous progamme of every piece of music Mozart wrote. I am no too sure if there will be copyright problems over doing something similar later in the year for DSCH.

            •  Whoops (none)
              Apart from picking up a scottish accent in that last sentence, I forgot to mention that the police at the 1968 concert were British in case you thought they might be Soviet.
            •  misunderstanding (none)
              Hmm, my bad that I didn't realize the plainclothesmen were Brits rather than Eastern bloc (although that's marginally preferable). I do have a subscription to BBC Music Magazine, the US version, of course, and I'm sure there'll be a feature about the Proms this summer, of course. (Hopefully no disasters will strike that are in the back of all our minds.)

              I forgot to mention that the new principal guest conductor of the BBC SO is the same gent as the St. Louis conductor, Robertson, which I'm sure you already know. In his first season as the St. Louis music director, Mozart has a prominent place, but curiously, DSCH is totally absent from any subscription concerts, his own and other conductors'. He's a smart enough man not to be aware of DSCH's anniversary, so it should be interesting to read his second season in St. Louis, to see if DSCH will be present in the programs. In addition, I know that Robertson was conducting in London last Friday the all-Mozart concert. Assuming he arrives safely back in St. Louis this week (with flying these days, one never knows), Mozart's Requiem is scheduled for this coming weekend.

  •  Fortunately, the commisars aren't listened to (4.00)
    much, yet, anyway...all they do is grant content some free publicity. Of course, the Janet Jackson breast thing did instigate a puritanical purge of "smut" from the public airwaves, which also affected Howard Stern as I remember. But we've always had that in this Jesse Helms.

    I just bought DSCH Sym 11 yesterday in fact, and I'm going to see Slava conduct the 5th in a couple months. I have most of the repertory on disc back to the baroques although I'm still adding DSCH...for some reason I'm collecting him slower, having to digest each piece. I started with his take on the Well-Tempered Clavier (24 preludes & fugues...I got the Keith Jarrett recording from a friend) and I love that.

    I don't have a copy of Lady Macbeth and I'm frankly working through instrumental, chamber, orchestral and lieder before I put it all together in Opera. I share with DSCH an admiration for Mahler and so I'm certainly not adverse to voice, but Opera is a different animal was the cinema of the 18th & 19th centuries.

    <div style="display:inline;color:#CCC">The dark at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming age.</div>

    by peeder on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 12:23:36 PM PST

    •  cultural "commissars" here (4.00)
      You have a point; most people either have a laugh or shrug off incidents like the Janet Jackson malfunction a while back, even people who would not necessarily be sympathetic to our side, which is a lot less destructive than the Dobsons, Falwells, and Coulters of the world.

      Interesting that you mention DSCH 11. I've heard that one live twice; it honestly struck me as kind of thin in melodic content, if very atmospheric. The depiction of the massacre of the protestors is pretty heavy-duty, though. Kind of like really up-scale film music, in a way. But maybe your mileage may vary from mine.

      I have a set of the quartets myself that I need to listen through at some point (the Decca Fitzwilliam series).

      •  I just got the Eders cheap (none)
        I heard the Eders have better sound than the Fitzwilliams...might not be that big a deal though. I've heard the Eders through twice (via Itunes...I can reorder them into succession), and I am impressed (I have the Emersons' 8th and the 4 8 and 12 from Quatour Debussy which I bought because I designed the typeface used on the cover!).

        I still haven't unwrapped the 11th but I look forward to hearing "up-scale film music" from DSCH. You know, I often think it's the other way around: how important it must have been to have Bruno Walter doing all that conducting in LA in the 50's and early 60's, of all that Mahler et al...the film scoring guys must have learned a lot from that influence, as would the players, and that's why films sound as they do rather than the other way around.

        But I'm not a musicologist...

        <div style="display:inline;color:#CCC">The dark at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming age.</div>

        by peeder on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 03:11:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Quartets galore (none)
          I've heard scattered issues of the Eder DSCH series on Naxos, and they sounded pretty good. The Sorrel Quartet (the all-girl band from the UK) have recorded the quartets for Chandos, and the St. Petersburg String Quartet have made a set for Hyperion. I haven't heard the Emerson's DG set; I remember that this one was taken from live performances.

          From seeing DSCH 11 live, especially from the balcony, seeing the percussion really going at it tremendously enhances the impact. Speaking of "upscale film music", this would also apply to DSCH 12 ("The Year 1917"), which is definitely agit-prop poster art. But again, if you put it on a film soundtrack, it would work well, IMHO. If anyone can make that kind of music seem dignified, it would be Bernard Haitink, and he recorded it with the Concertgebouw as part of his cycle in the '80s, I think.

    •  24 Preludes & Fugues (4.00)
      The 24 Preludes & Fugues was written, I believe, for the pianist Tatiana Nikolaeva.  Her recording of it was published in a 2-CD set by Melodiya in 1987.  I love Keith Jarrett and have his recording too, but Nikolaeva is far better & less idiosyncratic.

      Shostakovich himself recorded at least some of the pieces - I used to own an LP of him playing selections, including the big D Minor.  

      By a long shot, Shostakovich will outlast us all.

      "... Just so long as I'm the dictator." - GWB, 12/18/00

      by Bob Love on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 01:34:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Preludes & Fugues (none)
        I've heard that Nikolaeva set, the old Melodiya one, a good while back, and I think that I also heard her Hyperion recording later. I haven't heard Jarrett, but I'll have to track it down at some point. DSCH's own recording was reissued on CD a few years back (this is the link from Amazon (sorry)).
  •  Stalin and Shostkovich (4.00)
    How could it be that Shostakovich survived Stalin's wrath?  For many other artists and writers, a denunciation as strong as "Muddle Instead of Music" - likely dictated by Stalin himself - would have been a one-way ticket to oblivion in Siberia.  

    How was it that Shostakovich survived?  Despite Stalin's disgust with the opera - and I believe that he truly did not like it - and despite Stalin's jealousy of anyone's success but his own - I suspect that there was a grunding admiration for Shostakovich and for the recognition his music received in a world that acknowledged very little that was Russian at the time.

    One must remember that there was Stalin, the murderous dictator, and Stalin, the priest.  Had Shostakovich been in the political sphere, he would have been long dead.  But despite the obscene contraints of Socialist Realism, Stalin saw Shostakovich's genius.

    Just a gut feeling - no memoirs or letters to prove it - from a historican of the Soviet era and a musician.

    •  Testimony (none)
      If you can get your hands on it I recommend Tony Palmer's film "Testimony", starring Ben Kingsley as Shostakovich.

      It's based on Shosty's Volkov-penned quasi-autobiography, but is more of a two hour Shosty music video.

      •  As you may know ... (none)
        the Volkov-penned "quasi-autobiography" is deeply suspect and can't be accepted as factual; there's a ton of writing on it, and I'm no expert in it, but I hear that Volkov has been largely discredited.

        "... Just so long as I'm the dictator." - GWB, 12/18/00

        by Bob Love on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 01:37:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Jury still out (none)
          As far as I can gather the concensus now seems to be that the Volkov text really is based on genuine interviews with <b<Shosty</b>. But as to how much of the narrative is Volkov, and how much Shosty, Odin only knows.

          One must also keep in mind that the book was released at a time when Shosty was widely seen as a communist toady, and any version of events which muddied that picture, was met with a certain amount of antagonism.

        •  Volkov / "Testimony" (none)
          I'm with Bob Love on this one, that the book is a phony. Laurel Fay did a pretty good forensics examination on the manuscript, which Alex Ross talks about in the link to the article I put at the end of the diary. Another Alex Ross blog entry that talks about the issue is here. He also has this great entry dated Jan. 19 this year on his blog:

          The ongoing discussion of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces reminds me irresistibly of the controversy over Solomon Volkov's book Testimony, which purported to be the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich. In the case of Volkov, serious questions were raised from the start about the authenticity of the manuscript; in 2004, Laurel Fay presented what I regard as unambiguous evidence that Volkov indulged in deliberate fakery. Not only was he disingenuous in his claims to readers, but, it seems clear, he put one over on Shostakovich himself. Yet a lot of people responded to Fay's charges with some version of the defense that James Frey presented on the Larry King show -- that the book still contained an 'essential truth' or 'emotional truth' about the life of a Soviet artist. In other words, you're allowed to fudge the facts in order to dramatize a significant message. For me, though, falsifications on this scale indicate that there is something significantly wrong with the message itself -- that it tells a deeper lie about life in a totalitarian state, or, for that matter, life in the grip of addiction. The truth is elsewhere. Maybe not far away, but elsewhere. As several essayists have observed in recent days, the Frey case exemplifies a diseased attitude toward truth in American society, which is visible all across the cultural spectrum and goes straight to the top. Bush's argument for a war in Iraq discarded literal truth in favor of essential truth. There's another name for essential truth: myth. Totalitarianism depends upon it."

          Going back to DSCH: AGR does raise implicitly a good point about the whole affair. Only the most blind would deny the evil viciousness of the Soviet regime and their harassment of artists and millions others of their own citizens (not to mention Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968). That Testimony made DSCH out to be a closet dissident, and thus "politically correct" to the die-hard anti-Communists, was a gift from heaven for them.

    •  How did Shostakovich survive? (4.00)
      Well, one could ask whether he really did--much of his music, especially the late works, sound like the product of a beaten man.  Some of it is also great music, too, if hard to listen to.

      He survived in part by accident--Stalin wasn't interested enough in composers to execute them (there are rare exceptions), as opposed to authors, who frequently were beaten to death in the camps.  Of course, Shostakovich couldn't really know this until Stalin was dead and no longer to create new enemies.

      He also survived because he made painful compromises, both stylistically and politically.  It's a great irony that he managed to avoid joining the Party during Stalin's rule, but finally had to do so during the Khrushchevschina.

      •  compromises (none)
        I think DSCH was a true-blue Soviet and Russian patriot, especially in the earlier days of the '20s and early '30s when artistic experimentation and modernism flourished relatively freely. Plus, by nature one would tend to be loyal to one's nation, even if one sees its flaws (hmmmm....).

        Then, of course, Stalin cracked down on everything, and as you said, later in his life, even Khruschev during the "Thaw" made his impositions on people like DSCH. One example was that the commissars demanded alterations to Yevtushenko's "Babi Yar" which DSCH had set in the 13th Symphony, to say that others besides Jews had died in the struggle against Nazism, even though Yevtushenko's explicit purpose was to condemn Soviet anti-Semitism. Also, after the 1948 denunciation, he had been working on the Violin Concerto No. 1 and the 10th Symphony, but those didn't see daylight until after Stalin was gone.

    •  Stalin liked Shostakovitch´s next work... (none)
      His popular 5th Symphony, which he (Shostakovitch) subtitled "a Soviet composer's reply to just criticism".  As another poster noted, he had to make severe artistic compromises to keep going.  A mark of his genius was that some of these "compromised" pieces are some of the world's greatest masterpieces.
      •  I recommend to you DSCH 4 (none)
        If you can find it at the library, I'd suggest to you DSCH's Symphony No. 4. It's a big bear of a symphony, about 65 minutes long, but he really tosses in everything except the kitchen sink. It may be one of his more "radical" and unconventional scores, certainly compared with the 5th, which is more "clean" and "classical" in construction by comparison (but no less marvelous as music for it). The SLSO did DSCH 4 live a few years ago with Alan Gilbert, and especially after the long finale after it dies to nothing, the audience rose as one at the end.
    •  book to recommend to you (none)
      I recently got hold of Laurel Fay's compilation Shostakovich and His World, which has an interesting essay on your question.  Unfortunately, I don't have it in front of me, so I may have to correct some of what I'm writing about it later.  Right around the time of the Lady Macbeth affair, Stalin and his gang, in their general consolidation of power over artists, were evidently discussing film music, which included music by Shostakovich (e.g. a hit song from the film The Counterplan called "The morning greets us with a chill").  Stalin liked to have "good, simple, clear" music that would move the masses, and not "leftist" complicated bilge that was only good for hoity-toity intellectuals.  Although Stalin liked this song, he saw another film with music by DSCH that wasn't quite to his liking, and this was just before he say Lady Macbeth.

      One provocative interpretation of the events is that they chose DSCH as the target of attack because he was so famous, but also that they did recognize his talent and wanted to "manage" him and direct his talent to their ends.  I remember a phrase that goes something like "Shostakovich can write music that will serve us, so long as he is managed".  So he should write more "popular" movie scores and stop wasting time on "useless" operas (their opinions, not mine).

      The book is not a biography of DSCH, but has various essays on different aspects of his work.  I've read a few essays, and I recommend the book to you.  

    •  survival (none)
      I put a post below that addresses part of your question. In addition, there is another essay in Shostakovich and His World that also addresses the question of survival and groveling to those in charge. This essay reproduces letters that DSCH wrote to Stalin, expressing thanks for a new apartment and things like that. It's almost like the corporate world where you have to suck up to those in charge. However, of course, DSCH was in a society where one stroke of the dictator's pen can end your life. That kind of sucking up is something that we all have to do to some degree, like it or not, myself included.

      From listening to Lady Macbeth, it definitely has moments where those of a puritanical streak would be mortally offended, and Stalin probably had such a puritanical streak in him.

  •  wonderful super-recommended diary (none)
    I'm now dragging out a recording of Galina Vishnevskaya singing Rimsky-Korsakov's  "The Heavy Clouds Disperse", accompanied by Rostropovich on piano.

    "You'd like that's all political and morose."

    by Miss Devore on Sat Jan 28, 2006 at 01:21:19 PM PST

  •  Shostakovich's revenge (4.00)
    Symphony No. 5.

    I've performed it, seen it performed, listened to recordings numerous times.

    When the orchestra gets to the last page and the violins hit that high A over and over and over and the brass is blowing those triumphal chords, I know that no matter how cruel the authority, there is always room for strength and hope.

    After Lady MacBeth drew the ire of Stalin and Pravda, Shostakovich literally kept a packed suitcase by his bedside. Just in case. Symphony 5 was meant as parody, but the authority saw it as a great Russian work that proved they bent Shostakovich to their will.

    From his memoirs, which were smuggled out of Russia after his death:

    What exultation could there be? I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat... It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying ``Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing,'' and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, ``Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.'' What kind of apotheosis is that? You have to be a complete oaf not to hear that.
    •  Debate (none)
      I realize, of course, that some folks won't cotton much to my quoting from the supposedly spurious "memoirs" of Shostakovich.

      Here's some interesting background on that.

    •  DSCH 5 (none)
      While I would be one of those who would not cotton the citation of Volkov, since as noted in the post above, the forensics have discredited the authenticity of Testimony, you raise good points about the interpretation that can be done with DSCH 5.  I've heard it 3 times live, once in Paris and twice here in the 'Lou.  The first time I heard it here, the conductor, Yakov Kreizberg, took the Testimony approach that you mentioned.  What he did was to slow down the final pages to about half the speed, if not slower, than one normally hears it.  For the strings technically to try to sustain that line at such a slow pace was very physically demanding.  I wasn't sure what Kreizberg was up to, but then, in that last bar where the timpani boom out the four notes alone, the timpanist really pounded, slowly, enough to almost lift me out of my seat, and suddenly I understood that he was doing the "forced rejoicing" interpretation.  You could call it a deliberately "heavy-handed" interpretation, and that time, it worked.  I recall him saying in an interview that the tempo that he took, the really slow one, is actually how it's notated in the score.  It's as if he's saying to the authorities, again if you want to take the Testimony line:  "You want D major?  Here it is, dudes!"

      Other conductors like Bernstein have done the finale in a more triumphant mode, as you noted.  I think Mariss Jansons (again) has said of DSCH's symphony endings like in the 5th that it is perhaps a momentary glimpse of victory, or words to that effect.  Or at the very least, a sign to keep struggling for the light and against darkness, however difficult.  If I were a conductor and were programming DSCH 5, I would probably try to slow down the final pages to some degree, but then ask the strings to play without vibrato, to get a harsher sound (just to indulge in some fantasy).

  •  Thank You (none)
    What a fabulous thread to have on dKos.  Some might say that it is off subject, but in my humble opinion is it dead on.  The prostitution of truth and art for power and expediency. The hope that was expressed in the early Soviet period - in social structure, in the sciences, in architecture, in the arts - was shattered by the Ukrainian famine, the show trials, and the creative straight-jacket of socialist realism - finally to culminate in the devastation of invasion and war. No term is more pooh-poohed in the lit crit and post modernist circles than "truth", but the consequences of the lies which receive credence today might be so great as to rival those of Stalinist Russia.
    •  You're welcome (none)
      You're very kind with the compliment. On the surface, the topic may have seemed "off subject", but I think everyone here went below the surface to see the issues that you summarize very nicely. Not sure if my next one, if there is a next one, will seem as appropriate ;) .

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