A life remembered selectively


This book is a most useful tool, wonderfully indexed. Nonetheless it ought, as Wilson herself points out in her introduction, be used with care. Wilson displays a troubling lack of objectivity, and little skepticism toward her sources.

The book is written by a Rostropovich student who learned his prejudices along with his bowing & fingering. The "collection" is of people who would talk to Wilson during the tumultuous period in the U.S.S.R. 1988-90. Selected parts of selected interviews are strung together to form the story Wilson believes in. As anti-Sovietism seems to be the principal theme of every section, it is hard to imagine how the Shostakovich here portrayed ever had time to think about music. Considering that Wilson is a musician, it is rather sad that her book has so little to offer on that subject.

Wilson's choice of sources at times suggests a curious attitude toward research. For example, she says of her use of material from Flora Litvinova:

"I was guided in my selection of what to omit by two rules: not to repeat material I already had from another contributor, and to leave out material that did not relate directly to DDS or his family."

This is another way of saying the only claims of Litvinova that Wilson used are those that are not confirmed by any other source!

It is also interesting that those who supplied the most outlandish claims about Shostakovich to Wilson are the ones (Lebedinsky, Denisov, etc.) who broke with him more than a decade before his death. In the case of Lev Lebedinsky, we have a former arch-Bolshevik (and RAPP bigwig) who after 1988 tried to reinvent himself as a secret dissident (he and the entire personnel of the KGB, apparently!) dragging a posthumous DS along with him. This weasel was a hanger-on for a time in the DS milieu until ejected by Irina in 1962.

The fine print portions of the book represent Wilson's own voice. On the positive side, Wilson gets most of her facts straight, though her generalizations are slanted, and one can trust that the persons interviewed did say these things at the time.

Unfortunately most books in English about Shostakovich are either official Soviet ones or Western rabidly anti-sov ones. Just published is:

Music of the Soviet Age, 1917-1987", by Levon Hakopian. -Melos, 1998. (Stockholm)

Another most important book currently before the public is the recent:

Shostakovich Studies edited by David Fanning pub.-Cambridge University Press.

Contributors include Richard Taruskin, Laurel Fay, Patrick McCreless, David Fanning, Ellon Carpenter, and Eric Roseberry. This book best represents the current state of scholarly work on Shostakovich.

Another very sane, balanced book, which includes much about his music and not just politics, is

Shostakovich - The Man and His Music edited by Christopher Norris pub.- Marion Boyars Inc.

Various chapters are written by respected composers, musicologists, and musicians (incl. Christopher Rowland & Alan George of the Fitzwilliam Quartet) without political axes to grind.

Finally there is the recent, magisterial

Defining Russia Musically : Historical and Hermeneutical Essays by Richard Taruskin published by Princeton Univ Pr, 1997.

Despite ghastly subtitle it is a very important work.

And for those who read Russian:

L. Mazel. Notes on Shostakovich’s musical language (in Russian: L. Mazel’. Zametki o muzikal’nom yazike Shostakovicha // Dmitriy Shostakovich. — Moskva, Sovetskiy kompozitor, 1967.

G. Orlov. Shostakovich’s symphonies (G. Orlov. Simfonii Shostakovicha. — Leningrad, Gos. muzikal’noe izdatel’stvo, 1961).

M. Sabinina. Shostakovich as symphonist (M. Sabinina. Shostakovich-simfonist. Dramaturgiya. Estetika. Stil’.Moskva, Muzika, 1976).

M. Aranovsky. Shostakovich’s 15th symphony and some questions of musical semantics (M. Aranovskiy. Pyatnadtzataya simfoniya D. Shostakovicha i nekotorie voprosi muzikal’noy semantiki // Voprosi teorii i estetiki muziki, 15. — Leningrad, Muzika, 1977).

Hommage to Shostakovich (Shostakovichu posvyashchaetsya. Moskva, Kompozitor, 1997).

D. D. Shostakovich. Sbornik statey k 90-letiyu so dnya rozhdenia.Sankt-Peterburg, Kompozitor, 1996.

Finally, in December, 1997 a special Shostakovich issue of the magazine Muzikalnaya Akademia ("Musical Academy") appeared, containing a lot of very interesting items, such as young Shostakovich’s letters to the musicologist Jaworski, his correspondence with the composer L. Atovmian and the violinist V. Shirinsky, numerous articles by Russian and foreign authors.