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SHOSTAKOVICH AND STALIN: The Extraordinary Relationship Between the Great Composer and the Brutal Dictator

Solomon Volkov, Author
Solomon Volkov, Author . Knopf $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-41082-6
Reviewed on: 02/02/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-00206-7
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-316-86141-0
Open Ebook - 215 pages - 978-0-307-42772-4
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Shostakovich's tortured relationship to the Soviet authorities was a main subject of Testimony , a book published after the composer's death by Volkov, who claimed that it contained Shostakovich's own remembrances. Controversy about the authenticity of Testimony swirled for years, until the publication in 1999 of Laurel E. Fay's Shostakovich: A Life , accepted by many scholars as decisively countering Testimony's claims to accuracy. The appearance of a new study by Volkov on Shostakovich (1906–1973), then, is sure to raise critical hackles. Volkov argues that Shostakovich survived the denunciation of his 1934 opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk , and more minor controversies thereafter, in part by relying on a Russian tradition of playing the "holy fool" when under political pressure. When Stalin asked that Shostakovich henceforth submit operas and ballets for approval, the composer solved the problem by refraining from writing these musical forms. Volkov finds that luck played a role as well in Shostakovich surviving while so many other artists were killed or banned, but the "holy fool" argument as a whole only partially convinces: at times, Shostakovich's reticence regarding the regime seemed to turn into compliance, as when he signed a letter late in his life that denounced human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, an act Volkov says Shostakovich regretted. The book assumes a lot of knowledge of Soviet history for a general readership; nonspecialists interested in the composer and his work will still be better served by Fay. (Mar.)

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