New Shostakovich

Ian MacDonald, Author Northeastern University Press $32.5 (339p) ISBN 978-1-55553-089-1
This is a really fresh approach to the life and works of the great Russian composer--the first extended one since Solomon Volkov's highly controversial Testimony 10 years ago, which showed Shostakovich (1906-1975), apparently in his own words, to have been an unhappy rebel against Stalinism. MacDonald, an English musicologist and composer, goes even further. Taking the Volkov quotes as his base, and armed with an extensively researched examination of the ups and downs of Soviet cultural life during the 50 years of the composer's maturity, he constructs a version of Shostakovich as a combination of agonized introvert, profound cynic and ``holy fool''; and, more importantly, portrays his music as a vast and skillful evocation of a creative artist profoundly at odds with his society. Such extremely subjective interpretations of the symphonies and chamber works are certainly unusual--and MacDonald's scornful comments on some Western critics suggest he has a hefty axe to grind--but there is no doubt that his extended essays on such controversial works as, say, the fourth, eighth and twelfth symphonies and the fifth and eighth quartets, break new ground. This is a book full of revelations for those interested in Shostakovich, or, indeed, in Soviet cultural history. Photos not seen by PW . (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/1990
Release date: 11/01/1990
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