Book Reviews 33
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Shostakovich in Dialogue: Form, Imagery and Ideas in Quartets 1 – 7
Includes 32 b&w illustrations and 99 musical examples
Published: February 2010
Shostakovich studies are expanding in a host of directions: employing newly available archival resources, applying existing approaches to previously overlooked repertoire, and re-examining familiar works in new ways. Of course, no study takes any of these to the exclusion of all others and Kuhn’s book on the string quartets judiciously combines them.
It was, perhaps, the Fitzwilliams’ pioneering recordings (1977–79) that encouraged the surprisingly large body of English-language academic work on the quartets. These range from relatively ‘pure’ musicology, through to more ‘culturally infused’ readings. Kuhn draws on many of them, adding Russian sources. Among the most useful are Bobrovsky (1961), Dolzhansky (1965), Yakubov (1991), Reichardt (2008), and McCrelees (2009). Beyond the Fourth Quartet, she also finds Fanning’s book on the Eighth useful. These are supplemented by some less academic writings, notably, performers’ eye views from Druzhinin, Tsyganov (particularly useful) and the Fitzwilliams’ Rowland and George. Also immensely valuable are reports from the Composers’ Union audition of the Second Quartet and early Soviet reviews and studies. There are a few omissions from the bibliography, notably Dyer (1977) and Bouscant (2004), probably as they would add little to Kuhn’s approach, while Fay (1979) covers only the late works.
The cycle totals six or so hours, and Kuhn’s book – just about 300 pages – covers the first seven quartets (around three hours). She excludes the two 1931 transcriptions and the quartet movements from The Girlfriends (1935), but this is not simple expedience: there is a clear conceptual basis. Despite shared instrumentation, and however enjoyable and interesting they may be both for themselves and within Shostakovich’s work, they don’t fit into the ‘canon’ as Kuhn defines it. For her, the first seven quartets share a ‘master narrative’, struggling with conformity and failure (though they are, of course, successful as works of art!) Kuhn makes these ‘failures’ almost physical, talking about the music being ‘damaged’ or even ‘injured’ and moving towards ‘recovery’. One might crack a bleak joke that, with only fifteen of the intended cycle of 24 quartets completed, this six-hour ‘torso’ is in itself a kind of ‘failure’.
These failures come about as the quartets or individual movements embark on conventional structural or tonal journeys but (often surprisingly quickly) are undermined by doubt and uncertainty or waylaid in different directions. Attempts are made to get back onto the ‘right path’, to complete a ‘normal’ sonata structure or find their way to the tonic, but even when successful (or qualifiedly so), memories of the painful journey stain the final moments.
The ‘master narrative’ idea is taken from Katerina Clark’s classic study The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual (2000). Also influential is the now almost mandatory Bakhtin, whom she found ‘especially helpful and descriptive’ though after the first three or four pages he retires into the background to provide a conceptual basis rather than being a recurrent referent, until he returns to the brief Epilogue, where there’s some discussion of Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Kuhn largely ignores his earlier thoughts on polyphony and heteroglossia, concepts that other Shostakovichians have successfully used. She also touches on psychology-based criticism, Lacan having overtaken Freud in that field, though that approach is left largely to Reichardt.
As I’ve intimated, others have used these approaches more consistently, but that is not to criticise Kuhn: it isn’t a case of “it fits where it touches”, rather she picks up and discards different tools as appropriate. So, for instance Kuhn relates the finale of the Second Quartet to recovery from wartime trauma, while the Fifth begins the journey towards Shostakovich’s characteristic use of signature motifs and self-quotations. As Louis Blois hinted as long ago as 1992, it is notable that the Fifth Quartet, where this process begins, is associated with Ustvolskaya, through a shared motif, which was long thought to be him quoting her Trio (1949). However, predating that, it was recently found in Shostakovich’s proto-Ninth Symphony fragment (1945). But Kuhn provides a slew of music examples showing pre-echoes of it going back as far as Shostakovich’s First Quartet (1938).
The main thrust of the book is the Socialist Realist ‘master narrative’ and Kuhn applies it to various musical forms, in particular sonata structure, which has, as she points out, several analogues. Whatever analytical approach is taken, deviations from the ‘norm’ are as telling as adherence. In this context it is also appropriate to consider Socialist Realism’s ‘right path’ and how Shostakovich adhered and deviated from it. Kuhn tracks some of the ways in which the same features in different quartets were differently received at different times.
After an introductory chapter, the next seven analyse in turn each quartet. Prefacing these is some historicalbiographical context, and an overview of the reception it received at the time. The contexts range from Shostakovich and Chamber Music through Jewish Music, the Zhdanovshchina, and the Thaw. These useful sections include thoughts on the reasons for and impact of swapping the outer movements of the First Quartet (readers might like to experiment with re-programming the CD), and the many often overlooked Jewish elements in the Second Quartet – this chapter is one of the most revelatory. In addition, she interrogates the ‘programme’ of the Third Quartet (alternately proposed and denied by Berlinsky) and his denial of Dubinsky’s story of the double premiere – ‘pro-’ and ‘anti-Soviet’ – of the Fourth.
Kuhn’s ‘narrative of failure’ over the first seven quartets is convincing but, strikingly, it is less a feature of the later quartets. The Seventh is the fulcrum, after which there are some successful resolutions. The ‘failed’ opening fugue of the Eighth becomes successful in the finale, and the Ninth marshals itself into an impressive sonata-rondo finale. While the Tenth, in this regard, is a step back, the Eleventh closes with a series of fragments which go some way to successfully shoring against ruin and the Twelfth has a paradoxically determined ambiguity, ‘having to construct something upon which to rejoice’. The Thirteenth’s horror and the Fifteenth’s incomplete memories (a recurrent idea in Shostakovich’s later work) embrace the Fourteenth’s almost warm nostalgia. It’s worth asking what happened between the seventh and eighth quartets (both written in 1960) to change Shostakovich’s approach but, for whatever reason, Kuhn doesn’t go there.
One other point that Kuhn passes over is the sometimes unsatisfactory publishing history of the quartets. While we hope the new DSCH edition will come as close as possible to definitive, some previous editions have displayed striking differences, in particular with regard to tempo – one might speculate that this has influenced their performance and recording histories. For the record, Kuhn’s examples all come from Schirmer.
The failure to follow a traditional structure is hardly a new concept: few composers of any merit religiously follow every element of an academically dictated form. But Kuhn pushes the idea further, arguing that, in as far as music is about anything, Shostakovich’s quartets are about failure. Its resolution is key to Fanning’s view of the Eighth Quartet and the First Symphony, while Erik Heine has used it to study some of the films’ protagonists. However, the way that Kuhn has extended it over a series of works to create a ‘master narrative’ is a fascinating development and has potential for bringing together other blocks of works, either within or across genres.
In 2001 Derek Hulme wrote:
“This must be the compiler’s final rewriting of the whole catalogue…”
“The Vermont typesetters made a praiseworthy job of the layout of the Third Edition manuscript. However, many curious deviations (fully detailed in DSCH Journal, No. 20, January 2004, 33-34) occurred in the process of the scanning of the thousand plus photocopied typewritten `scissor-and-paste’ manuscript pages. Most of these typos were spotted at the proofreading stage, though some were noticed too late for correction.
In June 2004 the compiler decided to correct these errors and update the catalogue in a concise, cheaper paperback edition. With the large amount of recent research published in scholarly books and DSCH Journal, and the increase in recordings for the centenary of the composer’s birth, this proved to be impractical.
The catalogue was thoroughly revised on computer. This will be the final edition in its present form. The compiler will definitely not be around for The Second Hundred Years’ volume! As mentioned in the previous three versions of 1982, 1991, and 2002, the work was always intended as provisional: not as a BWV – (for J.S. Bach), Кöchel – (for Mozart), Deutsch – (for Schubert), or Kirkpatrick – (for D. Scarlatti) type catalogue.
This rewarding pursuit is never ending with monthly releases of new and reissued compact discs and digital versatile discs. Also, previously unknown and suspected compositions by Shostakovich continue to materialize from the DSCH offices in Moscow. It is the compiler’s ardent wish that in the next decade or so a professional musicologist will compile a definitive annotated catalogue of all known works in strict chronological order, eliminating the necessity of the temporary Sans opus listings.
As the world of the genius Shostakovich continues to expand during the 21st century it will, no doubt, require a separate volume to include the records, videos, DVDs, and films.”
Those familiar with the Third Edition will have no difficulties finding their way around this new ‘final’ edition: those whose acquaintance with Derek Hulme’s work ended with the Second Edition (1991) will be astounded by the wealth of information – not confined to lists of recordings – offered by this new edition.
So beyond the amendments and ‘simple’ additions that the compiler mentions, how has the new edition moved on from its 2001 counterpart?
The ‘Foreword’ remains the same, written in 1990 by Irina Antonovna Shostakovich whilst the ‘Acknowledgements’ pages have been reduced and ordered. The 7-page ‘Introduction’ of the Third Edition (in places rather difficult to navigate) has been superseded by the addition of several extra Appendices – a good idea, and far more user-friendly.
New to this Edition is an introductory piece ‘The First Hundred Years’ by DSCH Journal contributor Rob Ainsley in which the author leads into a chronological chart of Shostakovich’s main works against historical events as per the structure:
Age (a mite superfluous!)
Main Compositions (comprising opus
number and composition title)
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As Hulme points out, both Ian MacDonald and John Riley included versions of a Shostakovich chronology in their respective tomes – ultimately none of the three is entirely satisfactory. In Hulme the usefulness is clearly the plotting of Year v. Opus – a significant aid to searching. Also worth noting is a 2-page ‘posthumous chronology’ including major publishing and composing milestones and world events, from 1975 to 2008. A chronology was previously tucked away in Appendix IV (Third Edition) in very small (almost apologetic!) print.
In terms of the opus by opus listings, some changes have been made, and of course many additions have occurred. As an example, I’ve chosen the Eighth Symphony.
Gone, apparently, is the listing ‘Subtitle’ (in this case: “Christened the ‘Stalingrad Symphony’ after its American première”) found in the Third Edition immediately following the work’s title/opus. In fact this aspect of each work’s identity is now to be found in the listing ‘Notes’ after the section ‘Recordings’. The Third Edition also had its own ‘Notes’ section, but now we find a far more in-depth list of references and sub-references, including generous links to DSCH Journal and Newsletter articles from the past 23 years and many more interesting references to programme notes, essays and broadcast media.
Also changed – the addition of DSCH Publishers’ New Collected Works edition (Vol. 8) and around a page of new recordings. Elsewhere, if the ‘Appendix’ section contents are useful, their accessibility is limited through the absence of a title in the pages’ header.
The use of smaller print for the gigantic Bibliography and ‘Index of Names’ sections actually enhances their legibility – my only gripe here is the division of the ‘Composition Index’ into genre-related sub-sections (as opposed to a full, alphabetically-sorted index). Whilst the ‘simple’ examples of a Symphony or a Quartet work well enough, in terms of accessing the relevant page references, searching for less ‘conformist’ works can be frustrating. As an example, searching for ‘Rayok’: stage work, or a vocal setting? The work’s full title – Antiformalist Rayok was finally located under ‘Choral Works’ (it is also to be found as sub-index (ii) within Opp. X!)
Quibbles aside, to those readers who have any interest in knowing (a great deal) more about the overall Shostakovich opus, the composers’ works’ origins, dedicatees, premieres and of course – recordings, this Catalogue is an essential tool and a constant source of discovery. I would strongly recommend the ‘upgrade’ from the Third Edition (in addition to the enhancements mentioned here, a significant number of omissions and errors have been addressed in the Fourth Edition), but if you own previous editions – or none at all – the time really has come to invest!
Foreword to the Second Edition
The First Hundred Years (Chronological
Charts of Main Works and
Historical Events), Introduction by
Catalogue of Works, Juvenilia to
Arrangements, and Music
Film, Radio, Television and
Four Special USSR Recordings
The Composer on Records
Samplers and Box Sets
Abandoned Projects and
based on DSCH by Other
Hands and Tributes
The Russian Alphabet and
Russian Titles of
About the Author
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It has been said that passionate engagement sharpens the intellect, and it is the contention of the Revolutionary Portraits series that it also inspires great heights of creativity. Rather than separating artistic achievement from the times in which it is created the series seeks to show how the genius of such people as John Coltrane, William Shakespeare and now Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich resulted from a passionate and often difficult relationship to social change.
The distinctive style of the early masterpieces of Shostakovich contributed to the avant-garde movement that flourished across Russian society as a result of the revolution. In detailing Shostakovich’s life and work Behrman offers a framework which celebrates the Russian Revolution, while identifying Stalinism as its gravedigger. He claims that the debates that have raged over Shostakovich’s “true” political beliefs have been obscured by a lack of understanding of this critical break between the USSR of the 1920s and what came after.
Especially important about the book is its political analysis of musical form. This can be difficult to comprehend, since although one can ask a composer for a personal opinion or look for political statements in the words that sometimes accompany the music, how can one say that the style or structure of a piece makes a political statement? But whether searching for harmony and order, offering an outburst of feeling, or defying preceding conventions, music has an implicit relationship to wider social structures.
Shostakovich’s avant-gardism was thus part of a much wider rejection of established forms both social and artistic, but added to this Behrman argues that Shostakovich’s greatness also lies in his ability to cross the high art/popular art divide. He rejected elitism in a concern for the crossfertilisation of high art and mass culture, a concern forged in the egalitarian ideals of the revolution itself.
Thus Shostakovich’s identification with the revolution meant that his work strongly evoked the shifting fortunes of the USSR from the early years of hope and experimentation to the Stalinist counter-revolution, the thaw following Stalin’s death and the stagnation of the early 1960s. It is Behrman’s achievement that his book places Shostakovich’s biography within such a wide-ranging analysis of music, 20th century history and cultural debates, and marries the excitement of great music with that of radical action.