Tag Archives: Seeking Shostakovich

Seeking Shostakovich: “And Now For Something Completely Different”

Shostakovich Playing Cards With His Children, 1940's

Shostakovich Playing Cards With His Children, 1940’s

Yes, musicians will enjoy playing it, but the critics will tear it to shreds.
—Dmitri Shostakovich [Wilson 204]

When introducing Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony at a Young People’s Concert in 1966, Leonard Bernstein reminded the audience that “number nine is a magic number with composers . . .” Continue reading

Seeking Shostakovich: The Eighth Symphony

Shostakovich 1942 or 1943 (Library of Congress)

Shostakovich 1942 or 1943 (Library of Congress)

Reflections on the Symphonies of Shostakovich

In seeking Shostakovich, I’ve discovered one thing above all: his genius is too often obscured, if not lost altogether, in the babble of commentary that surrounds his work. While an accurate understanding of the historical context is both useful and inspiring, the most important place to look is the one place to which we are often pointed last: his music. Continue reading

Seeking Shostakovich (“What We Need Is An Optimistic Shostakovich”)

Shostakovich at a Soccer Game, 1940s

Shostakovich at a Soccer Game, 1940s

When the chairman of the Committee for the Arts viewed Ilya Slonim’s bust of Shostakovich, he wasn’t pleased: “What we need is an optimistic Shostakovich.” [Wilson 198] Shostakovich had a wicked sense of humor, and his parody of Soviet speak was spot-on. [Wilson 197] It’s easy to imagine him mimicking the chairman’s phrase, which he loved to do. [Wilson 198] Continue reading

Seeking Shostakovich (“An Artist-Barbarian”)

Mravinsky and Shostakovich, 1937

Mravinsky and Shostakovich, 1937

In 1936, Joseph Stalin’s Terror was well underway. “By the spring of 1937, the composer’s brother-in-law, Vsevolod Frederiks, had been arrested, his sister Mariya exiled to Central Asia, and his mother-in-law, Sofya Varzar, sent to a labor camp.” [Fay 1414] Elena Konstantinovskaya, a translator with whom Shostakovich had had an affair, was arrested in 1935, though released the following year. [Wilson 553] His friend, composer Nikolai Zhilyayev, was not so lucky. He was arrested in 1937 and executed in 1938. [Fay 5522] Continue reading

Seeking Shostakovich (“All Life For Me Is Music”)

Dmitri Shostakovich, 1933

Dmitri Shostakovich, 1933

In 1925, Shostakovich wrote to a friend, “For me there is no joy in life other than music. All life for me is music.” [Fay 398] I think of him then, a young man who, in his First Symphony, had had a phenomenal success. Yet if he’s to make his life as a composer, he can’t rest on one success and, anyway, he doesn’t want to. He continues on, searching for the next inspiration, and the next. Continue reading