Page Two

"Don't Need a Weatherman to Tell Which Way the Wind Blows

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Dmitri’s Questionable Composition
February 22, 2007

“As Solomon Volkov has suggested, Shostakovitch's music makes one think, not of oneself, but of other people -- and many resent this.” Rayok

This morning’s concert featuring Dmitri Shostakovitch was filled with dark optimism.  Without knowing a whole lot about his political struggles - one must be respectful of a man who wrote his truth.  Or as another has put it, in spite of severe repression, wrote in music, the history of the Soviet Union, both its darkest and brightest moments.  The man is to be admired not only for the honesty of his composition, but for personal integrity.  While being publicly committed to the Stalinist regime, it seems that Shostakovitch was morally antagonized by the role.  He had deep moral objections to a regime that sought unity by elimination of all who chose to remain un-unified.  Or as the wee beasties wish it: “un-purified.”  

What any artist is driven to do is to look at his brethren and unabashedly use their lives and actions as the basis for expression.  Novels of high merit reflect the lives of those immediately around the novelist during the period of writing.  Painters’ works visually depict their inner and outer feelings and manifest actions at the time of painting.  So too are the works of composers influenced by their deeply held personal beliefs, their moral understandings, their inner reactions to outward exigencies.   That the recent “debate” about Shostakovitch and his political beliefs should question the apparent duality of his compositional intention and his outward appearance - seems somewhat naïve.   The most “purified” expressions are those whose absolute meanings arrive from the unblinking observations of the divine.  They are like a perfectly unbiased reporter, carefully recording the words and actions of those on scene, for others - critics, pundits and “just us” to interpret when we read them.

It should not be a leap of faith to believe that any state supported composer of the Stalinist regime would gratefully accept their position in public - and spend sleepless nights in private.  Artists whose entire being is attuned to observe the truths that unfold around them, are never at ease in the political milieu.  They are constantly at odds with the struggle to obtain license to compose or paint or perform, from gatekeepers whose agenda is most often - containment.  It is revealing to read the works of writers struggling under repressive, propaganda driven regimes since they must write circumspectly or be clapped in jails where ideas no longer threaten the powers that want to be.  

That Shostakovitch and many other artists working within the communist regimes of the Soviet Union had serious ideological and emotional misgivings should surprise no one.  There are today few in Russia who will openly sing the praises of Stalin (of course it is not fashionable to do so.)  One need only listen to Shostakovitch Fifth Symphony to feel what he was feeling for the people around him.  It is all rather clear to this interpreter.  There are dark, oppressive passages in his work.  Artists on a deep, sub-conscious level create the most disturbing images or passages they can summon - to describe the withering anguish found in their external worlds (Dostoevsky comes to mind.)  The most repressive regimes cause the most fetid, distasteful imagery.  The artist’s work resonates precisely at the frequency of their surroundings.  The more brutal, repressive, inhumane the environment - the more the work reverberates in sympathy.  If it does not - it cannot honestly lay claim to the title of art.

Consequently, art is not “Whatever you can get away with.”  It is not the lark of stealing a comic book from the local newsstand, or freezing oneself in a block of ice on Times Square.  It tends to be the disturbing reflection of the world we live in, felt and observed by an individual.  One knowingly connected to the web of life but not bound to describe it sentimentally.  Shostakovitch “revision” in the eyes of the west is most likely a matter of rehabilitating his image for greater consumption.  There is fortune to be found in artful discovery.  And for some artists, complicity in newfound followings is simply an extension of their work in the living realm.  What better stroke of the pen or brush than to raise the debate to a multitude of controversy - and then, whilst standing at the edge of the gathering crowd,  record the melee?