Shostakovich: The Man and His Music

Shostakovich: The Man and His Music

Shostakovich: The Man and His Music

Shostakovich: The Man and His Music

Excerpt

For the artist to become 'a legend in his lifetime' is at best an ambiguous blessing, and at worst a painful test of creative endurance. Shostakovich was thrust into public prominence from the outset of his career, achieving the kind of representative status, as Soviet citizen-composer, which made his every work and utterance a topic of intense debate. Of modern composers, perhaps only Schoenberg created such a constant stir of partisan claims and counter-claims, and that (needless to say) for quite different reasons. Schoenberg indeed singled out Shostakovich – along with Sibelius – as one of the few modern symphonists who spoke with an authentic and original voice. Shostakovich was never able to fully reciprocate the compliment, although his attitude to Schoenberg – and to Western music generally — became more tolerant and receptive in later years.

In a sense these two composers represent the opposite sides of a single, uniquely modern predicament. Schoenberg the musical iconoclast, bearer of a new and (to many ears) intolerable message, looked forward all the same to a time when his music would be known and loved by the average concertgoing listener. His messianic zeal involved, paradoxically, both a sense of extreme isolation and a craving for wider acclaim.

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