Book Reviews 16
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Readers of the DSCH Journal might feel that they already know this book pretty well, largely thanks to translations offered for several years now in the ‘Fifty Years Ago’ feature. Of course eagle-eyed readers will have noted that these passages in English actually came via the French edition, published as Lettres à Un Ami in 1994 [confirmed – Ed]. Second-hand translations are never ideal, and in the case of such personalised items as the correspondence between friends, and in the context of life in the former USSR, the likelihood of misinterpretations, misrepresentations even, are especially high.
The original Russian edition of ‘Letters’ – published simultaneously in Moscow and St Petersburg by ‘DSCH Publishing’ and ‘Kompozitor’ respectively in 1993, also carried the equivalent to the title Letters to a Friend (Pisma k drugu). Now, in 2001, we have (at last!) a bona fide English-language translation of this essential tome. The project’s extended gestation period was not without its logistical difficulties. (See the accompanying article by the book’s translator Anthony Phillips.)
Given that the overwhelming majority of readers will already be aware of just what, in an overall sense, the letters Shostakovich sent to Glikman are all about, I don’t intend to sermonize as to their merits, or include stirring extracts or tantalise as to the desirability of having this work on your book-shelves. I would however quibble with the act of rechristening here – for me the book’s raison d’être is clearly that of The Letters themselves, rather than a precise, biographical plotting of a relationship, however warm and intrinsic theirs was. But this is ultimately a small detail of no lasting importance…
Suffice it to say that in the same way in which Elizabeth Wilson’s Shostakovich: A Life Remembered brings sharply into focus aspects of Shostakovich’s life hitherto unknown to us deprived western readers, so here do Glikman’s narrative and Shostakovich’s written thoughts to him. The reader is invited to indulge in frequent bouts of “reading between the lines”, of course (the eye of the censor obliged) but the overall tone of the letters remains tangibly intimate, touching.
The organisation of the book is of considerable importance to readers and researchers alike. The disappointing French edition has neither an overall index nor chapter headings, aside the four-digit display aloft each page. Faber / Phillips approach the issue of presentation quite differently.
Distinct, thematically-relevant chapter headings separate the letters into six sections:
War and Separation, 1941-1945*
Zhdanovshchina and After, 1946-1953
Public Face, Private Feelings, 1960-1966
Failing Health, 1967-1969i
Intimations of Mortality, 1970-1975
*[It is worth remembering (and as we are effectively reminded on a number of occasions) that all of Shostakovich’s letters from the enormously significant period of the 1930s were sadly lost during the war years and in the siege of Leningrad (the friends’ correspondence began in 1931). Thus the earliest letter dates from November 1941, during Shostakovich’s evacuation to Kuybishev and Glikman’s to Tashkent, along with other musicians from the Leningrad Conservatoire.]
Both the page and index layouts utilise these chapter headings. In an agreeable touch, sketches or photographs preface each of the sections, along with a half-page introduction (written by Phillips) which is described as a “brief sketch of the chronological background”. Other photographs and plates – some exclusive to the book – are on the whole of very good quality and of unquestionable interest.
Inscription to Glikman on the front cover of the score to Six Romances.
More controversial (ie less good) is the decision to place the vast majority of notes (annotations by Glikman as well as others added by the translator) at the very end of the book. In both the Russian and French editions, these occur immediately after each letter. Phillips explains this decision thus:
Isaak Glikman’s annotations to the Letters, indispensable for an understanding of the context, are unusually copious. Occasionally I have felt it necessary to add notes on matters that would not normally be familiar to readers who had not lived in Soviet Russia, or on which later research has shed more light. The result is a quantity of footnotes that would seriously disrupt the flow of correspondence if they were to be accommodated on the pages to which they refer, so the reader’s indulgence is asked for the decision to place all the notes at the end of the book.
The strikingly defensive tone of this explanation betrays, perhaps, a production team who feared a strong negative feedback; and which has indeed not been absent from the book’s press reviews. Because what is even more disrupting to the letters’ “flow” is the constant necessity to flick backwards and forwards for what occasionally turns out to be one or two lines of little import.
For the avid consumer of the Glikman-Phillips footnotes this may amount to a persistent irritation; however in relative terms it is a minuscule inconvenience compared to the excellent translation effected by Phillips. His fluency in the Russian language and vernacular combined with experience in the professional musical sphere (as former General Manager of London’s South Bank concert halls) produce a fluid, lucid, “natural” English prose lacking the irritating mannerisms with which certain equivalent works are replete.
In addition to Glikman’s long and moving introduction (in my humble view one of the most revelatory in the composer’s biographical repertoire) there are two appendixed “bonuses” to be found in this edition (but which were cut from the French):
Appendix 1 – Satirical songs by Glikman:
– Kaganovich’s Travel Song
– Refrain from the Song of the Iron and Steel Commissar Nikolay Ivanovich Yezhov
– Panegyric in honour of the glorious pea-farmers and bean-planters who after being received at the Kremlin achieved unprecedented harvest
– Historic Pronouncement by J. V. Stalin on Gorky’s Story Death and the Maiden
Appendix 2 – On the article ‘Muddle Instead of Music’, and other matters.
In the absence of contemporaneous correspondence, we have here a very detailed account of the events surrounding the infamous Pravda attack on Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, in 1936. Glikman’s attention to the slightest detail provides us with a new and poignant insight into the trauma that befell Shostakovich at this time and the manner in which he emerged to work and to live in its wake.
In conclusion, no one interested in the life and music of Dmitri Shostakovich should dream of being without this book and, its minor failings notwithstanding, we should be grateful to the Faber & Faber team and Anthony Phillips for an exceptional work.
Isaak Glikman started work in 1990 on the archive he had lovingly preserved of the hundreds of letters Dmitri Shostakovich wrote to him from the early 1940s until shortly before the composer’s death in 1975. Glikman contributed copious annotations, a preface covering the two men’s relationship in the pre-war years – during which there had been many more letters which, alas, disappeared during Glikman’s war-time evacuation from besieged Leningrad – and a commentary on significant circumstances and background events to which many of the letters make reference.
The result of this labour of love was published in Russia in 1993. Some time the following year, Shostakovich’s widow Irina Antonovna gave me a copy of the Russian edition and asked if I would be interested in making an English language version for an English or American publisher. I had met her a few times, once in the 1960s with DDS at the Rostropoviches’ dacha outside Moscow, for an evening the details of which vodka has unfortunately obliterated from my memory bank, and again during the 1986 Bolshoy Ballet season at Covent Garden which introduced to London audiences Yury Grigorovich’s version of The Golden Age. I said I certainly would be more than interested, read the book straight through, and immediately set about translating a selection of sample passages. I stitched these into a proposal, which I sent off to Oxford University Press. OUP responded with interest, and after obtaining favourable readers’ reports succeeded in getting the project approved by the Delegates. All thus seemed to be set fair, and I began to sharpen my pencil in earnest. Many readers of this Journal will be familiar with the original Russian edition: it is quite long and much of the commentary, which amounts to more than half the text, is set in very small type.
However the question of the author’s rights had not been settled, and OUP then engaged in protracted discussions with the Shostakovich Estate, the owners of the copyright. I have no direct knowledge of the burden of these discussions, but it did gradually become clear to me that they were complex enough not to be resolved overnight. From time to time either I would ask Irina Antonovna, or she would ask me, what was happening, and then at some point, I don’t exactly remember when, Oxford judged that the negotiations had run into the sand and formally withdrew its interest. So the embryonic translation went up to the top shelf, where it gathered dust for a few years.
Time passed; first a French edition and later a German edition appeared in print. I read the French version and noted that the translator had elected to make substantial cuts in Glikman’s notes and commentary, leaving the bones of DDS’s lapidary prose to stand out in sharper relief than it had done in the original. It is not hard to appreciate the reasoning behind this: Glikman is inclined to be prolix, moreover his glosses on Shostakovich’s ironic, sometimes downright sarcastic observations on aspects of Soviet life and mores can seem like annoying statements of the obvious to those of us who think we understand the writer and his times all too well. Having given this matter a good deal of thought I came to the conclusion (as a general principle, since as explained at the time there seemed no prospect of actually having to produce a version for a publisher) that much the greater part of Glikman’s material ought to be left intact. In part this was deference to his authorial rights, but more importantly I thought that what might appear crashingly obvious to people with some inside knowledge of Shostakovich’s sufferings at the hands of Soviet apparatchiki, might equally be taken at face value by readers – a generation hence, for example – more distanced from such insights. Events move at a dizzying pace, memories can be short, the propaganda and hypocritical rhetoric of the Soviet era, once instinctive as mother’s milk, already begins to look even to Russians as alien and aberrant as in truth it always was. So – nagging doubts – just possibly Shostakovich did subscribe to some of these now discredited attitudes? Good then to have such doubts firmly dispelled by at least one insider with better claims than most to know what his friend really thought.
Zinovy Zinik, in his considered and insightful review of the book in the Times Literary Supplement (23 November 2001), opines that “since such remarks were originally aimed at the Russian reader, well familiar with the employment of irony and subterfuge during the Soviet era, one can only assume that Glikman’s purpose here is not to enlighten us about Shostakovich’s true dissident spirit, but rather to emphasise his own distance from the ideological establishment.” I do take the point, but am not sure that Glikman’s intention was to cover only his own back: I believe he wanted to present his own portrait of his friend and in so doing to associate himself with his opinions and attitudes. Certainly it is true that irony as a tool to disparage oppressive orthodoxy was a lingua franca among the Soviet artistic intelligentsia (where is it not?), hence one may argue that it is redundant to point up specific examples of it. It is also true that Glikman shows himself as a far from dispassionate observer: his opinions and attitudes are so profusely scattered throughout the book as to amount almost as much to a self-portrait as to a portrait of Shostakovich. Yet Shostakovich was and remains an unusually enigmatic figure, given to presenting himself (as Zinovy Zinik himself points out) in different lights to different people, and there is enough material on the record – most of it spurious but nevertheless still there – for him to be regarded by the uncurious as an altogether compliant servant of the state. (By uncurious I suppose I mean these few souls who have not come across Testimony and the overheated controversy it has generated. Since Testimony has never appeared in Russian, Glikman is not likely to have read it himself, although he is sure to have known of its existence and general drift.) So, all in all, I think Glikman’s purpose probably was to throw more light on the man as he saw him, tangentially of course pari passu on himself as an aider and abetter, and that is the main reason I left most of it in.
Back to the chronology of the translation. I heard at intervals that other translators were working on the project, at least one of them in America, and concluded that the Shostakovich Estate had come to agreement with another publisher. Nothing appeared on the market, but I thought no more about it until April 2000, when at a conference on contemporary Russian music and musicology at Goldsmiths College in London I fell into conversation with Martin Anderson of Toccata Press. He told me he thought that although there had been various attempts at publishing an English version, for one reason or another none had come to fruition, and it might be worth my pursuing the notion if I was still interested. Despite advice from the distinguished editor of this Journal that to the best of his knowledge there was an agreement with a translator and a publisher still in place, I did get in touch with Irina Antonovna again, and found that Martin’s instincts had been right, although I don’t know anything about what may have transpired with any negotiations subsequent to those with OUP. There must have been something in the air because a little later, mirabile dictu, I had an approach from Faber, to which I was most happy to respond positively. Faber then entered into negotiations with the Shostakovich Estate, and were finally in a position to give me a green light in October 2000. They would publish the book in the UK, Cornell University Press in the USA. This is perhaps the moment to pay tribute to Martin Anderson’s generosity in fully supporting my interest in the Faber bid from what was, after all, a rival publisher.
I beavered away with a cold towel round my head for most of what remained of 2000, and delivered the manuscript to Faber early the following year. Copy editing, proofing, picture research, indexing and the rest of the production process went on during the spring and summer, and the book was published in October 2001. Apart from Martin Anderson, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of Russian (and many other nationalities’) music studies and sources fanned into new life what I had thought was a practically extinct flame, there are two other people whose material contribution I should like to acknowledge, and here is the place to do so since translators don’t seem to get that useful page where friends, colleagues and supporters can be properly thanked. In any case, one may think that Story of a Friendship already has quite enough supplementary material. These people are Rosamund Bartlett, who read the complete MS and checked it against the original Russian for errors and infelicities, and the St. Petersburg based musicologist and Shostakovichist Lyudmila Kovnatskaya.
Lyudmila went to endless trouble to obtain good prints of Isaak Glikman’s photographs, and also made it possible for me to meet him personally when I was in St. Petersburg earlier in 2001. 90 years old, and still living (with a devoted new wife, Luisa Eduardovna) in the apartment at No. 44 Bolshaya Pushkarskaya Street that the letters show had been so liberally endowed with housewarming presents from Shostakovich, he is still a force of nature.
His health is now fragile, but the humour, spirit and curiosity about the world that so attracted Shostakovich initially are intact. He clearly derived much satisfaction from the notion that his memoir was about to reach a wider public, and regretted that he did not speak enough English to be able to check for himself the accuracy of my version. I said he would just have to put up with it and trust to others to give their verdict in due course. Calling me “Doctor Phillips” in mock deference to my presumed air of authority (which I was certainly far from feeling), Isaak Davidovich asked if I would like to see some of the memorabilia he had preserved. I particularly wanted to see the Estonia radiogram Shostakovich had given him along with dozens of signed recordings of his works, and I was not disappointed. There it stood, a vast brown shiny 1950s structure (it was new in 1966, but Soviet design in domestic appliances was never exactly cutting edge) with knobs and dials, Chaika-like sloping lettering and crinkly golden-brown loudspeaker baffling. In the spring of 1966 it must have been state of the art in a Leningrad apartment, its desirability falling only marginally behind the joy of no longer having to queue up for the lavatory in the previous Glikman communal apartment.
Happy that not only his photographs but his own 1930s satirical songs had been included in the English edition, complete with music notation and metrical translation and thus ready in every way for the Top Twenty circulation they cannot now fail to acquire, he insisted on singing them all through twice, lustily. I could see why Shostakovich had placed such a high value on his long years of friendship with this ebullient and indestructible personality.
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This is the third volume (although appearing fourth) of Schostakowitsch-Studien – an impressive series of printed editions from the German stable of Verlag Ernst Kuhn (Berlin). Through original articles, translations and historical documents the book focuses on a subject particularly close to the hearts and minds of many Shostakovich listeners and scholars. That of the Jewish heritage in his music.
Given the essentially international nature of the subject in question, it isn’t surprising to find contributions not only from the ‘hosts’ Germany, but also from the USA, UK, Russia, Ukraine, Sweden and Israel. And in a significant (yet ultimately debatable) gesture to the international readership, the book contains essays in both English and German (why not have the book published in two languages and be done with it?)
Alongside detailed, evocative articles by Izaly Zemtsovsky (‘Shostakovich and Musical Yiddishness’) and Timothy Jackson (‘A Contribution to the Musical Poetics of Dmitri Shostakovich’) comes a long and important article by Solomon Volkov: ‘Shostakovich’s ‘Jewish Motive’: A Creative Enigma’, very much worthy of a second reading. Following are two excellent pieces on Shostakovich and Moisei Weinberg. The first is by Nelly Kravetz (‘Shostakovich’s From Jewish Folk Poetry and Weinberg’s Jewish Songs opus 17’) and the second (in German this time) is by Per Skans (entitled ‘Mieczyslaw Weinberg – a modest colleague’). Also included are essays by Marina Ritzarev (‘When did Shostakovich stop using Jewish Idiom?’), Gerhard Müller on the 13th Symphony, Sigrid Neef on Jewish elements in Shostakovich’s operas, Günter Wolter on the ‘Secret language of Dissidence: Shostakovich, Mahler and the Jewish element’, plus contributions by several other authors including texts by Shostakovich himself published for the first time in German.
The book is sagely arranged in three thematic sections: the first is based on Shostakovich’s works within the context of Jewish musical tradition; the second section looks at the development of ‘Jewishness’ in certain of the composer’s works and genres. The third section looks at the relationship between Shostakovich, the Jewish musical tradition and the composers Mahler and Weinberg.
An appendix presents for the first time in German a collection of Shostakovich’s prefaces to New Jewish Songs (1970) as well as to Weinberg’s operas The Traveller (1974) and The Madonna and the Soldier (1975).
Lastly a German translation of a stark document from 1948; the USSR government’s ‘Order No. 17’, dealing with the banning of performances of numerous works by Soviet composers – shocks and surprises here…