Shostakovich: A Life

Shostakovich: A Life

Shostakovich: A Life

Shostakovich: A Life

Synopsis

For this authoritative post-cold-war biography of Shostakovich's illustrious but turbulent career under Soviet rule, Laurel E. Fay has gone back to primary documents: Shostakovich's many letters, concert programs and reviews, newspaper articles, and diaries of his contemporaries. An indefatigable worker, he wrote his arresting music despite deprivations during the Nazi invasion and constant surveillance under Stalin's regime. Shostakovich's life is a fascinating example of the paradoxes of living as an artist under totalitarian rule. In August 1942, his Seventh Symphony, written as a protest against fascism, was performed in Nazi-besieged Leningrad by the city's surviving musicians, and was triumphantly broadcast to the German troops, who had been bombarded beforehand to silence them. Alone among his artistic peers, he survived successive Stalinist cultural purges and won the Stalin Prize five times, yet in 1948 he was dismissed from his conservatory teaching positions, and many of his works were banned from performance. He prudently censored himself, in one case putting aside a work based on Jewish folk poems. Under later regimes he balanced a career as a model Soviet, holding government positions and acting as an international ambassador with his unflagging artistic ambitions. In the years since his death in 1975, many have embraced a view of Shostakovich as a lifelong dissident who encoded anti-Communist messages in his music. This lucid and fascinating biography demonstrates that the reality was much more complex. Laurel Fay's book includes a detailed list of works, a glossary of names, and an extensive bibliography, making it an indispensable resource for future studies of Shostakovich.

Excerpt

The years since his death in 1975 have witnessed a surge of interest in the music and the person of Dmitriy Shostakovich. A broad legacy of inspired, arresting, often anguished musical scores--symphonic, dramatic, and chamber--has attracted legions of new listeners and piqued curiosity about the man who created it. To an extent unique among his artistic peers, Shostakovich managed to survive successive Stalinist cultural purges to rise again to unparalleled heights of national and international acclaim matched by genuine professional esteem and popularity. To many of his contemporaries his music extended a vital cultural lifeline, a latent "chronicle" in sounds of the harsh emotional realities of their times. To successive Soviet regimes, it supplied proof of the superior virtues of the socialist world-view, chronicling in sounds "the great struggle of the Soviet people to build communism." Shostakovich spent most of his life in the public eye. He was larger than life, a cultural icon, a legend. His career offered a paradigm for the evils or--depending upon one's perception--the benefits of totalitarian control over the arts.

What do we know of his life? Shostakovich made a point of speaking through his music, not about it. He was an intensely private person who guarded his personal life and feelings jealously. What all but a very few close friends and family members were permitted to experience of the man was the stiff façade of a civic-minded public servant and consummate music . . .

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