Book Reviews 43
The German Shostakovich Society (DeSCHoG) was founded in 1989, during the tumultuous years of perestroika that ultimately led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Musicians and devotees from the DDR (East Germany), however, had held a particular interest in the life and work of Shostakovich well before the Society’s founding. In this context, evening “house meetings” were organised to discuss the composer’s activities and to perform his music. “No one suspected that the Stasi (Ministry for State Security) was present on those evenings,” recounts former President of the Society Hilmar Schmalenberg (member of the Schmalenberg Quartet). Surprising, perhaps, was Leningrad-based Shostakovich biographer Sofia M. Khentova’s support as a key member of the Society. She was indeed an important and tireless source of inspiration, her name being linked to the Society for many years.
The Society is now based in Berlin, and its committee comprises the following people: Krzysztof Meyer (President), Annette Salmon (Vice-President), Gottfried Eberle (Symposium Director), Gisela Hackstein (Secretary), Karlheinz Schiedel (Committee member), and Hilmar Schmalenberg (Honorary President). The Society’s stated purpose is to preserve and promote Shostakovich’s life and works, not only through concerts and symposia (or a combination of both), but also by educating young people (and musicians). For this purpose, the organisation promotes national and international exchanges (for instance, there have been musical interactions between pupils, teachers, and composers from Russia and Ukraine).
One of the Society’s affirmed priorities is to address the “distorted image” of Shostakovich, “through the prism of Stalinism,” and to look critically at the work of the composer from a Western point of view. Researchers and members of the Society claim to hold a more objective and less-negative view of Volkov’s Testimony than Russian and many Western countries. Writer Detlef Gojowy (who died in 2008) analyses this in his article Schostakowitsch Briefe an Sollertinski (Schostakowitsch-Studien, Bd.11), in which he compares Testimony with Shostakovich’s letters to Ivan Sollertinsky. This article can be found in the collection of books dedicated to Shostakovich and published by Berlin-based VEK (Verlag Ernst Kuhn), and including compilations from the Society’s symposia dating from 2005 onwards. Below are brief reviews, picking out some of the books’ highlights.
Analysen und Studien
The first book includes papers by musicologists from Germany, Austria, Russia, and Poland, from international symposia held in 2005 and 2007, including celebrations of the Shostakovich centenary. The establishment of the first Gohrisch Festival in 2010 also features.
The first part of the book relates studies looking at some of Shostakovich’s
lesser known works, including songs and film music. Likewise in her Introduction, the Society’s vice-president Annette Salmon describes Shostakovich’s lifelong interest in these genres.
Among the seven articles dealing with Shostakovich’s songs, Vladimir Gurevich discusses certain unusual piano features found in a number of these settings, including those based on Pushkin’s verse. Gurevich explains different types of piano accompaniment: monodic, polyphonic, chord, and homophonic. Furthermore, the writer describes why Shostakovich’s piano accompaniments lend themselves perfectly to orchestration.
Salmon remarks that Shostakovich earned his first wage working on the films New Babylon and Alone, and that doing so helped him develop his own characteristic style. While many of the films throw light on the different facets of life in the Soviet Union (e.g., Alone), others (e.g., The Fall of Berlin) are pure propaganda. Salmon concludes that a voyage through the composer’s film music repertoire, from New Babylon to King Lear, provides a fascinating journey. Olga Dombrovskaya discusses the films produced by FEKS (The Factory of the Eccentric Actor), and in particular the director Grigori Kozintsev. Over the course of many years, Kozintsev wrote several admiring letters to Shostakovich saying that he was able to express the director’s ideas musically like no other composer. One of these is quoted in the essay.
The second part of the book, Studies and Analysis, includes Gerard Ssebudde’s interesting essay on the First Piano Concerto. This is divided into six parts: 1) “Introduction,” 2) “The Origin of the Concerto,” 3) “Analysis of the Concerto: the Four Movements,” 4) “Its Characteristics, Style and Place in Russian History,” 5) “The ‘Truth’: How the Piano Concerto was Received in Russia,” and 6) “Concluding Remarks.” The history of the concerto’s reception is particularly interesting, as the whole chapter brings fresh insight to a work that, according to Ssebudde, marks a significant turning point in Shostakovich’s compositions.
Schostakowitsch, Prokofjew und andere Komponisten
The first part of the book comprises articles from 2011 and 2013 that relate Shostakovich’s music to that of other composers (e.g., J.S. Bach, Mahler, Prokofiev, Britten, and Lutoslawski), and the relation between their compositions.
The second part of the book consists of two reviews: 1) Letters to Sollertinsky, including the aforementioned analysis of Volkov in the context of these letters, 2) About the Opera Orango.
The final part of the book focuses on the beginnings and the history of the Society.
Two articles are of particular interest: Krzysztov Meyer’s on Mahler, and Levon Hakobian’s on Shostakovich and Prokofiev: an essay in comparative characterology (article in English). Both excel in the clarity of their subject and offer fascinating reviews of their results.
Meyer uses score fragments to illustrate Shostakovich’s affinity with Mahler and to show various similarities, including “Form,” “Sound material,” “Style,” and “Aesthetic.” He demonstrates, for instance, connections between Mahler’s Seventh Symphony and Shostakovich’s Fourth.
In a short article on Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Levon Hakobian takes a different approach: “In order to realise their respective statures and roles in history of twentieth-century Russian music, it might be instructive to compare them in a relatively systematic way following Stravinsky’s line.” He then compares the two composers personally and musically, contrasting their use of, style, rhythm, modes, and so on. And while Hakobian illustrates differences between the two composers, he considers other ways in which Prokofiev and Shostakovich were (musically) alike.
The collection is refreshing in part because its focus on the history of the DDR and other Eastern bloc countries offers new insights into the context in which Shostakovich worked. There is still a regrettable lack of cross-pollination between German and English musicologists, and, though one or two of these articles contain information previously published in English, it is to be hoped that more of the Society’s books will be translated.
Henny van der Groep
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Memoirs, Fedor Druzhinin
Pages from the life and works of Fedor Druzhinin
300 pages paperback
Publisher: Museum Graeco Latinum
Available via the dsch Journal web site
at reduced rate (€25 + P&P)
This book—the artist’s memoirs—comprises much more than mere lists of dates, events, and names. It portrays the musician’s life in a frank, revealing, and at times intimate manner; this is an impassioned and lucid testimony of Fyodor Serafimovich Druzhinin’s life and career. Wholly typical of the post-War era, Druzhinin’s life juxtaposed pain with joy; strife with success, but most of all, this period provided opportunities to work and be acquainted with legendary figures as Shostakovich, Yudina, Schnittke, Weinberg, Akhmatova, and Stravinsky, in addition to the fellow members of the renowned Beethoven Quartet.
The Beethoven Quartet’s violist from 1964 (when he replaced his teacher, the legendary Vadim Vasilievich Borisovsky), Druzhinin worked intensively with Shostakovich for over ten years, culminating in seminal works such as the Thirteenth Quartet and the Viola Sonata, which was dedicated to him.
The Memoirs, written by Druzhinin as he battled with what was to prove a terminal illness, appear here in what is a superlative English edition, with an excellent translation by Emily Finer and with lavish print quality, including many wonderful photographs (there are a few linguistic oddities and minor typos, but these are few, and of no lasting significance). As one expects from the genre, anecdotes proliferate, presenting a picture of dayto-day hardship counterbalanced by the uniquely Russian traits of essential humour and acute passion. These anecdotes are recounted in a direct, frank yet unsentimental fashion—a universe away from the disingenuous, eulogy-ridden writings of the Soviet era.
Druzhinin was born in Moscow on 6 April 1934 and died there in 2007 on 1 July. In the Memoirs he relates life as a youngster living in war-torn Moscow, under threat of a Nazi invasion during the darkest days of the war:
Mama and I drank tea. Grandmother had gone to visit some friends or relations. There was shooting. At eight we heard the air raid siren. Mama put on her gas mask and we went down to the shelter. We got in and sat on the step (there was nowhere else to sit). Then we thought that there would be an all clear but instead a tremendous firing began. Shells were exploding right over our heads and shrapnel was hitting the ground. We sat in the shelter for three hours before it fell silent. Then with a terrifying whistle, the first heavy calibre bomb exploded. The door flew open and a woman, blinded by the bomb, flew in and rushed to the tap. It turned out that the firebomb had fallen into some sand and it exploded when she went nearer to it.
One of the recurring themes of the book is that of the evolution of the viola, in terms of technical and artistic considerations; aside Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, works spotlighting the instrument were rare, and as a consequence the innovation of style, colour, and voice were constrained to only a handful of exceptions (e.g., Hindemith, Honegger). Of his teacher and mentor, Druzhinin wrote:
Vadim Borisovsky was an enthusiastic performer whose playing was both vivid and expressive. This, and the beautiful sound produced by his instrument, helped the viola to find supporters among musicians and composers in addition to among the public.
From his first years as a teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, Vadim Vasilevich Borisovsky insisted that the viola be considered an autonomous solo instrument. He promoted this view among his students and followers by his own example. Furthermore, Vadim Vasilevich worked constantly to expand, enrich and renew the comparatively impoverished viola repertoire. Vadim Vasilevich’s daring experiments brought young violists into contact with Western European works in addition to the Russian classics; he felt that both of these were essential for the training of a contemporary musician.
Needless to say that Shostakovich chose to deploy, and even to extend, Borisovsky’s innovations in technique, notably in his quartet writing, regarding Druzhinin as an artistic confidante. The composer thus sought to extend the instrument’s boundaries even further, to great effect in his quartets and of course in the Viola Sonata.
The book includes numerous anecdotes and incidents associated with Druzhinin’s career and family life. One extraordinary passage concerns the time he played Bach’s Chaconne for Anna Akhmatova. He was 24 years old:
In the summer of 1956, Anna Andreevna Akhmatova was staying, not for the first time, in the summer home (at Starki) of my father-in-law, the poet Sergey Vasilevich Shervinsky.
At the table one day, Anna Andreevna asked me what I was currently working on. I said that I was studying the famous Bach[‘s] Chaconne for solo violin.
It turned out that Anna Andreevna had neither heard nor knew anything about the music. While I felt that it was still too early for me to perform the Chaconne, I was unable to disappoint the request of this regal guest to play it.
Furthermore, she delivered her request in such a measured and humble tone that, conquering my fear of such a great responsibility as to introduce Anna Akhmatova to Bach’s Chaconne, I agreed, requesting at least a day or two so as to get my courage together.
Fascinatingly, Akhmatova makes reference to the Chaconne (though not Druzhinin) in her great late Poem Without a Hero.
Equally surprising was Druzhinin’s chance encounter with Igor Stravinsky during the latter’s much-documented visit to the USSR in 1962. He describes how he “found” Stravinsky alone in the empty stalls during rehearsals for The Rite of Spring in the Moscow Conservatory Great Hall. The sheer affability of the composer, their frank exchanges, and what Druzhinin describes as the “waves of strength” that emanated from Stravinsky during particularly challenging passages in the Rite; and indeed the hip flask full of Scotch Whisky he willingly shared—for medicinal purposes, naturally, as it “widens the blood vessels.”
Aside his work with the Beethoven Quartet, Druzhinin’s relationship with Shostakovich lies at the heart of the book, with numerous recollections, including first encounters, rehearsals and run-throughs, first performances, and the very personal impressions made on the young musician. Druzhinin’s “baptism of fire” as a new member of the Beethovens is typical of the tone of the memoirs:
When my teacher, Vadim Vasilevich Borisovsky, was so ill with heart disease he could no onger play, Dmitry Mikhailovich Tsyganov invited me to a readthrough of Shostakovich’s new quartets. As I recall, it was a Monday and I was at the Conservatory when I received the invitation. Dmitry Mikhailovich handed me the viola parts for Quartets No. 9 and 10, saying that Dmitry Dmitrievich was waiting anxiously; he wanted to hear what he had written as soon as possible. The quartet was meeting that very night at seven at Sergey Petrovich Shirinsky’s home “to do a rough play-through of the score.”
I crumpled up my class work and rushed home, hoping to spend at least an hour and a half at my instrument before the rehearsal and to glance through the part. I got to Sergey Petrovich’s at a quarter to seven, a little afraid of being too early.
To my horror, when I entered the room, I saw not only all the members of the quartet sitting in their places, but to their left, where an empty music stand was waiting for me, was Dmitry Dmitrievich, lolling on a sofa. The innocuous ‘read through’ I had been promised transformed into a three hour-long x-ray of my abilities. Was it not enough that I was sitting in my teacher’s former place in the Beethoven Quartet? Or that I really did have to sightread the music, and Quartet No. 9 is not exactly a walk in the park, especially the finale. Was all this not enough without having Dmitry Dmitrievich right next to me? I felt he was there because I was too terrified to look at him.
When we had played the final chord of Quartet No. 9, Dmitry Dmitrievich said contentedly “masterfully played” and the question of my participation in the premieres of these works was decided.
Shostakovich’s reaction to hearing his music performed in the more intimate surroundings of his home are well documented by, for example, Glikman, and in the Memoirs, Druzhinin relates the intensity of many such occasions with a moving tenderness.
Not all of Druzhinin’s artistic relationships ran smoothly, or at least initially. His early encounters with Alfred Schnittke were, at best, frosty, following the violist’s frank assessment of what he termed “gimmicks” in certain of the composer’s works, such as the Three Scenes, which includes “old coffee grinders.” Nevertheless the two men came to see eye to eye, and the Beethoven Quartet became important exponents of Schnittke’s chamber repertoire.
Yudina referred to Druzhinin as ‘“My dear Viola” (“Moy dorogoy alt”), and this sentiment of affection towards Druzhinin as a person, and through his artistry, runs consistently throughout these memoirs, bringing the second half of the past century into sharp focus, blessedly so.
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Although this book was published in 2013, its prominence has risen sharply in more recent times, culminating with 2015, and the 40th anniversary of Shostakovich’s passing. Brian Moynahan is an award-winning foreign correspondent and European editor with the British Sunday Times newspaper. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Russian history, with books such as The Russian Century, Comrades, The Claws of the Bear, Rasputin, and Forgotten Soldiers.
Moynahan’s impressive curriculum vitae as a published specialist in twentieth-century Russian history offers up a book accessible to all. The work is at once an insight into military strategy, wartime migratory demographics, and the grim art of survival in the century’s most blood-soaked stage. Hitler’s Nazi war-machine was a growing menace on the outside, while Stalin’s murderous operatives where at their diabolic work on the inside. As the author points out through a seemingly endless interwoven thread of violence and perversion, Stalin’s own war on the “enemy within”—or as Moynahan calls it, “the deranged accusations … the discovery of elaborate, rambling ‘plots’”—continued apace. Indeed, each and every ordinary Leningrader lived in fear of the NKVD as much as they did of the SS.
Aside these elements of this unspeakably brutal period of history, Moynahan demonstrates an immense and touching empathy with, and respect for, the various artistic groupings that were determined to overcome the hardships brought by the siege; from theatre to cinema, from dance to the symphony hall.
Throughout his book, Moynahan’s attention to detail is mind-shattering. There are times when the seemingly endless flow of statistics combined with the microscopic level of focus
on the day-to-day plight of both the military and civilian Russian is almost too much to take: but this was wartime reality in Russia.
The siege of Leningrad resulted in the loss of over a million civilian lives, with “alimentary dystrophy” (a term promoted by doctors working in Leningrad during the blockade, neatly avoiding the more emotive word “starvation”) being the principal cause of death from illness, adding to the human toll as a result of months of Nazi air raids on the city. Cannibalism was rife, be it flesh cut from the bodies of the deceased, or from “fresher” victims, ranging from fellow inmates in NKVD prisons, to the murdered children of mothers; such was the mental and physical impact on the population during the almost 900 days of the siege.
One recalls the quote in Testimony: “I have nothing against calling the Seventh the Leningrad Symphony, but it’s not about Leningrad under siege; it’s about the Leningrad that Stalin destroyed and that Hitler merely finished off.”
The book begins with the events preceding the Leningrad siege: the pact between Hitler and Stalin was in place, and life—with all its underlying doubts and fears—proceeded “as normal.”
In a recent radio interview, Moynahan spoke about the lead-up to the siege, the conditions in which people of the city were forced to live, and the role that Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony finally played in helping to maintain, even raise morale, during so many desperate weeks and months of suffering.
Shostakovich could have been taken at any stage: he became withdrawn and if not frightened, he was certainly justifiably nervous. And then suddenly one day, one moment at 3.50am on the morning of June 22, 1941 everything changed, and the Nazis invaded. Leningrad was closer and more vulnerable than most great Russian cities: it was immediately in danger. The Germans made huge gains in the early months of the war and were soon besieging Leningrad. And this was when Shostakovich began to write this great symphony.
It was the greatest disaster that had ever befallen any great city and that includes Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all the contenders. You have in the winter of 1941 to 1942 when Shostakovich was writing this symphony (although he’d been evacuated), something of the order of 1.2 million people dead, and the vast majority of them either froze to death or starved to death. People promptly ate every cat, rat and dog in the city; they were eating any sort of old leather, handbags and so on. They were on the absolute edge – of a catastrophe … Music was extremely important and it was soon realised that music fed the soul such in a way that was extremely good for shattered morale. So a real effort was put into music in this dying city, although this faded as fewer and fewer musicians were left alive to play, literally. And then the idea, after Shostakovich finally finished his Seventh Symphony in February 1942: the idea was born that this great symphony had to be played in Leningrad, because he devoted it to the people of Leningrad.
The main orchestra, the Leningrad Philharmonic, had been evacuated before the siege began as the Germans were advancing: all that was left was the Radiokom orchestra [the understudy to the Philharmonic since 1931]. To begin with there weren’t nearly enough musicians left to play: only twenty or so, having lost something like seventy players over the winter. So in order to achieve their goal they withdrew soldiers from military bands, from the front line. And so conductor Karl Eliasberg managed literally to force them through rehearsals of the Leningrad Symphony, although they were never fit enough to play the work as a whole—until the actual premiere.
There was a significance in terms of the date of that first performance in that Hitler had claimed that Leningrad would fall in August 1942 and had indeed spoken of a victory dinner he would have at the Astoria Hotel, the very same place where Eliasberg and lead members of the orchestra were barely been kept alive. Hence the fact that there was still this resistance, still this this pride that Leningrad was a city had not been broken, at the very time that Hitler said he would finally sweep through: this is utterly moving.
In terms of an equivalent work and performance there’s nothing—nothing, If you think of the 1812 by Tchaikovsky—this was written 70 years after the event. The Leningrad was written as the event was taking place and was played as this event, the greatest loss of life in one city ever recorded, it was played as the event was taking place. So extraordinary: I can’t think of another piece of music such as this.
Moynahan’s layout for this book is strictly chronological, beginning with an insight into what Stalin’s Terror imposed on the population, and in particular Leningrad—the city Stalin loathed. Following the outbreak of the war, and most notably Hitler’s subsequent scrapping of Germany’s pact with Stalin, Moynahan interlinks the threads of Russia’s military chaos with the continuing arrest, torture and elimination of “suspects” by the NKVD, and the everyday plight of the Leningrad population, including detailed descriptions of concerts, theatre performances, radio broadcasts, and other cultural necessities whose importance never ceased to exist, even during—or especially during—Leningrad’s darkest days.
The account of the first performance of the Leningrad Symphony in the besieged city, and the days leading up to this performance, are depicted in the finest detail and constitute some of the book’s most moving passages:
“Selivanov, to be killed two years later by a direct hit from a heavy shell, was a Leningrader by adoption. He had graduated from the Artillery Institute in the city, with a particular brilliance in mathematics. His plan to suppress German artillery was meticulous. The Russian barrage was to commence at 5.30 p.m., half an hour before the start of the symphony.
Crowds began flooding towards Arts Square in the early afternoon. Soldiers came on foot from the front at Pulkovo. A group of women from the Sverdlovsky plant walked to the hall straight after work. A party propaganda worker—Nina Mikhailovna Zarubinskaya, whom they nicknamed ‘Dolores Ibarruri’ after the fiery communist orator in the Spanish Civil War—urged them to smarten themselves up before they set off. ‘She said that some adjustments to our clothes wouldn’t be amiss’. Eliza Petropavlovskaya recollected. ‘We looked at each other. Indeed, we were a pathetic procession.’ Hair brushed, blouses and skirts smoothed, they set off. It was a long way. Some lagged behind. A theatrical student, Ylyusha Olshvanger, kept up their spirits. She made sudden little jumps as she walked to make them laugh. She explained her theory of long-distance walking, cutting it up into stages. ‘Are you walking far, walkers?’ ‘Yes. You bet.’ ‘First goal: walk to the crossroads. Close enough? Off you go then … Next is the lane … then—the grey building. You reached it!’
They arrived at the familiar entrance of the Philharmonia, jostled by people begging a spare ticket. The sky was a brilliant blue, the white columns were shining, and ‘only this hall could have this peculiar philharmonic audience – people with dignity and restrained enthusiasm,’ Eliza Petropavlovskaya thought. ‘Indeed, you are special in this concert hall. It was a miracle, this 335th day of the siege. What is a miracle? A miracle is just the most sublime truth.’
Karl Eliasberg mounted the rostrum, wearing a tailcoat that hung from his emaciated frame. He had preserved his conducting clothes carefully: his wardrobe was otherwise so bare that an appeal was made to the Lensoviet to supply him with a suit and a wool jumper… Everyone stood up and applauded when Karl Ilyich came on,’ [musician] Matus said. ‘He had us stand up, and all this went on for a long time. And the symphony itself takes fifty minutes without a break. There’s no time to catch your breath.’ She wondered if they would get through it, and when the bombers would come.
At 6 p.m., Eliasberg introduced the work in a speech that went out over the radio: ‘Comrades, this is a great event in the cultural life of our city. It is the first time you will hear, in a few moments, the Seventh Symphony of our compatriot Dmitri Shostakovich. His symphony calls for strength in combat and belief in victory. The performance of the Seventh in the besieged city itself is the result of the unconquerable patriotic spirit of Leningraders. Their strength, their belief in victory, their willingness to fight to the last drop of blood and to achieve victory over their enemies. Listen, Comrades.’
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The editor of this compilation of essays was born in Kiev and emigrated to the USA in 1990, shortly before the end of the Soviet era. He subsequently gained a degree at the University of Arizona in Tucson and qualified as Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance at that establishment.
The book is divided into two distinct sections, the first dealing with Shostakovich’s close empathy for and the employment of Jewish elements in his music (the introduction for which sees Tentser in attempts to tackle the thorny subject of the notion of Shostakovich as a dissident, and the controversy regarding his complex attitude to the Soviet regime.) The second part of the book refers to the composer Daniel Asia (born in the USA in 1953) and his “philosophical and religious identification with Judaism.”
Tentser’s overall stated objective is to explore the scope of influence emanating from traditional Jewish culture on contemporary western music, both past and future, but most notably in Shostakovich’s opus.
The introduction, “A Legacy of Honor and Risk in Jewish Music” by Janet Sturman, includes a short comparative study of the two composers, focusing her précis on a historical overview of nationalist movements in Russia through the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, and pointing to the paradox that Russia’s propensity for brute anti-Semitism ran parallel to its providing a platform for Jewish nationalist movements, leading to significant rises of Zionism. Some of her historical revelations may be new to readers, for example:
For centuries, the majority of Jews in Russia were forced to live apart from the rest of the population. The only place in the country where Jews were allowed to settle permanently was the Pale of Settlement in the western region of Russia, established by Tsarina Catherine II in 1791…By 1885 more than 4 million Jews lived in this region. The Pale operated as a ghetto until 1917, when the tsarist government was removed from power. It was not a safe haven for Jews, as they remained subject to extra taxes, restrictions on employment opportunities, and government sanctioned pogroms, which [had] increased in the 1880s and led to massive Jewish migration to America.
Of specific interest and relevance to Shostakovich is the section devoted to “What is Jewish Folk Music?” in which Sturman explains the difficulty in even defining the origins of the genre within Greater Russia and its neighbours (i.e., the future Soviet republics). The ethnomusicologist Moshe Beregovsky (1892–1961) is of particular note, given his friendship with Shostakovich during their time at the Moscow Conservatory in the 1940s, where he gave the composer his collections of klezmer music. This theme is later taken up by Tentser in his analysis of the Jewish influences in Shostakovich’s works.
Connections between the theatre/cinema group FEKS, Shostakovich, and the Yiddish theatrical traditions of the late-nineteenth century are also examined, as is the influence and importance of travel in absorbing and exchanging cultural considerations across epochs and frontiers.
The first chapter proper is Tentser’s “Dmitri Shostakovich and Jewish Music: The Voice of an Oppressed People.” He quotes Solomon Volkov’s assertion of the influence of socio-political elements on artists in general, citing such writers as Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy. Tentser includes details of Shostakovich’s ancestors from a multi-ethnic point of view and provides useful background information on the socio-demographics pertaining to the Jewish culture in Russia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
A criticism here is the occasional stark repetition between contributors, doubtless reflecting some of the difficulties of editing such disparate contributions as contained in this book. The writer evokes Shostakovich’s friendship with Veniamin Fleischmann and relates the Beregovsky connection again. In adding the name of Moisei Weinberg to the composer’s Jewish entourage, Tentser takes the informed reader down a well-worn path; likewise in evoking the Babi Yar symphony and the work’s various Jewish themes. Equally, in respect to Shostakovich’s friendships with the film director Lev Arnshtam, the artist Solomon Gershov, and so on. A long passage describes the rise and fall of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, linking, somewhat over-simplistically, the composer’s plight with that of other renowned Soviet artists such as Bulgakov, Mayakovsky, and Mandelstam.
One feature of Tentser’s chapter is his use of important Soviet/Russian sources, many of which will be unknown to English language readers. Good examples are the citations from the Soviet musicologist Viktor Vinogradov, who discusses various musical peculiarities that are wholly typical of the Jewish tradition and its folk music. In quoting Judith Kuhn and Michael Mishra, Tentser is equally careful to present a panoply of theories, especially regarding the significance of certain modes and musical styles that overtly allude to the Jewish aesthetic.
Tentser completes his chapter with analyses of the Second Piano Trio, the First Violin Concerto, and the Thirteenth Symphony. No groundbreaking material here, but it wraps the argument up logically. If Tentser’s approach spans the majority of Shostakovich’s life and work, the second chapter is dedicated to the notion of “Hermeneutics of Jewish Sound” in his Second String Quartet. The author, Christopher Booth, expresses his surprise (without ever proffering a hypothesis) for the absence of this work in Joachim Braun’s highly detailed study of Jewish elements in the composer’s oeuvre:
In [the] seminal 1985 essay, ‘The Double Meaning of Jewish Elements in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Music,’ [Musical Quarterly 71, no. 1 (1985): 68–80] Braun curiously ignores the String Quartet no. 2, op. 68. Other scholars, such as Judith Kuhn [Shostakovich in Dialogue: Form, Imagery and Ideas in Quartets 1–7, Ashgate, 2010], have mentioned that the quartet does include Jewish musical traits, but the question remains why Braun’s thorough research did not include this work, which was written the same year as the much discussed Piano Trio No. 2, op. 67.
Booth sets out to prove—from a contextual, historical, and musical point of view—that this quartet looks back to the Second Piano Trio. An additional hypothesis is that Shostakovich identified with Jewish victims throughout the ages, and very specifically in the hands of the Nazi regime. The remainder of the chapter is taken up with musical analysis during which Booth argues for, and illustrates typical uses of, tonalities—going back even to the Jewish idiom. It’s also not surprising to see a section dedicated to Klezmer rhythms, Iambic primes, and the Altered Phrygian mode in his argument sections.
Booth argues that “Shostakovich’s motivation and his developing self-imagery probably existed on several levels: loss, dislocation, and ultimately, resilience. The deaths of Fleischmann and Sollertinsky, so close upon the occupation of Leningrad by the Nazis, no doubt contributed to the composer’s deep sense of loss.”
The third chapter in this book, “Shostakovich in America: 1973” by Alexander Dunkel, begins thus:
On a sunny June day in 1973 I received a phone call from the U.S. State Department’s Languages Services Division in my then New York University office inquiring whether I was free from June eleventh to the twentieth in order to accompany a Soviet visitor. I was preparing to move to Arizona in less than a month and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about accepting another ten-day assignment, having recently completed one.
“Could you tell me the visitor’s name?” I asked.
“It’s Shostakovich,” was the reply.
“May I call you back tomorrow?” I responded.
Needless to say the next day I accepted the assignment.
Dunkel was assigned to the role of interpreter for Shostakovich and his wife for the duration of a ten-day visit to the USA, with stopovers in New York City, Chicago, and Washington DC. Dunkel’s responsibility extended to travel and logistical arrangements, as well as liaising with Shostakovich’s entourage.
Any reader who has seen the film/documentary A Journey of Dmitry Shostakovich will be familiar with this visit, and very specifically, the composer’s transatlantic journey in the Soviet Mikhail Lermontov passenger liner. Dunkel plots the different stages of Shostakovich’s itinerary, beginning with his disembarkation and continuing with a number of highlights, musical and otherwise. Dunkel is at pains to correct what he refers to as “misstatements” that appeared following this 1973 visit, some of which constitute administrative detail whilst others are significant in that they tend to dismiss certain key “incidents” which reportedly took place, such as the entire orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera standing to salute the composer’s presence.
Although the announced purpose of the USA trip was the reception of an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Northwestern University in Chicago, Shostakovich was nevertheless able to meet with other sections of American academia as he zigzagged from city to city. Luncheons followed press conferences, interviews, and radio broadcasts, and in spite of Shostakovich’s poor health and limited mobility, Dunkel assesses that the trip was much appreciated by the Shostakoviches. The descriptions of the conferences and interviews contain many impressions and opinions and stand in stark contrast to the 1949 visit that Shostakovich paid to the USA.
Although this chapter allows the reader an insight into the way in which Shostakovich viewed various aspects of music and culture, from both American and Russian points of view, Dunkel clearly could have written much more about the event, specifically regarding the way in which Shostakovich related to individuals who were not part of any official delegation, including Dunkel himself; the subject of Shostakovich’s opinions and discourses on his art also demands more detail and depth. Perhaps Booth can be persuaded to expand upon this fascinating, but short, piece of journalism.
The remaining 30 pages of the book are dedicated to the American composer Daniel Asia, beginning with a chapter written by Asia himself, entitled “Breath in a Ram’s Horn: Judaism and Classical Music.” Notwithstanding this title, the majority of the chapter deals with historical and religious considerations, with only a short mention of any specific composers’ use of Jewish themes. The following chapter is an appreciation of the “Sacred and Profane in the Music of Daniel Asia” by Ayreh Tepper, followed by an overview of Daniel Asia’s symphonies by a close colleague and friend, Jan Swafford, with some allusions to Jewish-themed works within Asia’s repertoire. The final chapter is an interview/conversation with Daniel Asia, again undertaken by Swafford. The conversation is interesting, but of very little relevance to Shostakovich, and, in the main, regarding the influence of Jewish themes on twentieth-century composers.
To sum up, this relatively small book takes up one of the core (and recurring) themes within Shostakovich studies: that of his empathy with the Jewish cause and the use of Jewish themes, traits, and techniques during his compositional career. The chapter on Shostakovich’s visit to the USA 1973 is broadly speaking irrelevant within this context and ought to have been accommodated in a quite different publication, or been allowed many more times the column inches that were allocated here. Likewise the Daniel Asia section, whilst of passing interest, really belongs elsewhere. It’s hard to recommend this book at its full cover price of almost $70, but find it at a reduced price and you will be pleased to have it on your bookshelves.