Book Reviews 27
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Hommage à D. Chostakovitch
By Fyodor Seraphimovich Druzhinin (in French, translated from Russian)
Museum Graeco-latinum (MGL)
ISBN : 5-87245-123-7
NB the book is only available by mail order; inquiries to:
L’Association Internationale Dimitri Chostakovitch
The book, much more than a list of dates, events and names, constitutes a veritable impassioned and lucid testimony of this late string player’s life and work, with such Russian artists as Shostakovich, Yudina, Schnittke, Weinberg, Akhmatova and Stravinsky.
Dedicatee of Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata, the Beethoven Quartet’s (second-formation) violist worked intensively with the composer for 10 years, culminating in seminal works such as the Thirteenth Quartet and the Sonata.
The Memoirs, written by Druzhinin during the many months in which he was battling with what was to prove a terminal illness, appear here for the first time outside Russia. Anecdotes abound, presenting a picture of day to day hardship counterbalanced by the uniquely Russian traits of fundamental humour and acute passion, imbibed with the music and poetry of Russian Art.
These anecdotes are recounted in a direct, frank yet unsentimental fashion, a universe away from the disingenuous, eulogy-ridden writings of the Soviet era. Two examples should suffice to reinforce this:
We must go to Yelabuga:
We were preparing the Eleventh Quartet, dedicated to Vasily Shirinsky [the first Beethoven Quartet’s violinist]. Dmitri Dmitrievich had invited us into his study to play the work for him for one last time after which we left to dine together. At this epoch (this was in 1966) Dmitri Dmitrievich was still able to take a drink during a meal, and we drank to the memory of Vasily Petrovich. The conversation then turned to music and musicians.
Suddenly – “I’d like to say although each person might write the best music he can, why does he have to subject others to it?” the composer exclaimed, and added, in an agitated fashion, “It’s said that one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, or that one shouldn’t say anything at all, but I say that they should be dragged back up to have one spit into their faces!” He then hammered the table with his index finger, as if to cut short the conversation on the subject. Seeing that the whole experience pained him immensely we tried to change the topic of conversation, and turned instead on the subject of Marina Tsvetayeva, who had committed suicide at Yelabuga to which Dmitri Dmitrievich said – “We must go to Yelabuga!”
“But what’s wrong Fedya ?”
I remained standing; I didn’t dare believe my eyes, despite the certainty of what I’d seen. I was overjoyed as I focused once more on the title page of the score:
“To Fyodor Seraphimovich Druzhinin, Dmitri Shostakovich.”
Later I wrote to him that mere words alone were wholly inadequate to express my joy and gratitude and that Shostakovich’s sentiments would stay with me for the rest of my life. Also that the sonata worked marvellously well, including the fourths that had worried him and that the appearance of Beethoven in the final movement produced a devastating impression, because the Moonlight quotation wasn’t there as a mere citation, but rather as an evocation of an immense twilight… My letter was also a reflection of my own fear and disquiet; whilst one part of me sang in exultation, another sensed the coming of something quite terrible, irremediable and I knew that I had to express my love and my gratitude to this man…
The next evening, Irina Antonovna called me to tell me that she had read my letter to Dmitri Dmitrievich, who had been overjoyed. After so many years, I was so happy to have had the time to write this letter of thanks – this was during the night of the 6th to 7th August. On 9th August Dmitri Dmitrievich passed away.
I cannot recommend highly enough this wonderful set of sincere reminiscences emanating not from one of the international ‘stars’ of twentieth-century Russian music-making, but from an artist whose humanity and whose dedication to the service of that humanity through his art, was total. It is to be hoped that an English-language version might follow soon.
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The New Collected Works editions of Shostakovich’s film scores are appearing with gratifying regularity, and it is not always simply a question of minor revisions of old publications: New Babylon (volume 122) and Alone (volume 123) were so thoroughly revised as to be essentially new scores. Now, volume 126 aptly couples two animated films by Mikhail Tsekhanovsky, both of which were in need of a makeover.
The dilatory Tsekhanovsky never finished The Tale of the Priest, later claiming Shostakovich’s involvement led to it being ‘canned’. Actually it is more likely that the studio simply lost patience with the slow progress, in spite of Shostakovich having written fifty minutes or so of music. Exactly how much was animated is unclear: the wartime bombing of Lenfilm is blamed for there being just a fragment of a couple of minutes, though Tsekhanovksy may not have completed much more. (The fragment appears in various documentaries and on the Chandos DVD-ROM [Chandos 55001; reviewed in DSCH 15]). The rest of the music came to life in Rozhdestvensky’s 1979 recording and a year later Sofia Khentova supplemented the remnants with other pieces to create an opera which was published and recorded. Another incarnation came in 1999 when Vadim Bibergan, a Shostakovich student and a regular film composer, created the ballet Balda, from which the New Collected Works edition is an offshoot. The editing was extensive; the manuscripts are extremely sketchy (sometimes as little as an unaccompanied melody line) and so unsurprisingly Bibergan came to some different conclusions to Khentova, although both are effective in their own ways. Intriguingly, the new edition’s notes promise – but without further detail – a forthcoming study of the differences between the various versions of Tsekhanovsky’s script.
As with the earlier film scores in the series, some attention has been paid to the film itself, but a final check would not have come amiss: an example is the soldier who clearly has a rifle, so the call for a pistol makes for a ridiculously tiny crack rather than the hearty thump that appears in the film. It would also have been good to remedy an oversight on the soundtrack itself where a woman screams but there is no sound. Dropping in a single cry (presumably missing from manuscript sources) would surely have reflected what the makers intended. But of course since the film mostly does not exist, the music can generally go on its own way; and we must enthusiastically welcome a fantastically enjoyable collection of hitherto largely unknown Shostakovich. It is good that Thomas Sanderling has recorded the whole thing hot off the press: for more on the music itself see the review of his CD in this edition. As for future performances; the forces required are tricky, including an accordion for just a few bars, a seven-string guitar (retuning is not an option), a song for balalaika, tenor and bass, and a dustbin full of broken glass (less well-funded organisations could perform any number of effective self-chosen suites.)
The Tale of the Silly Little Mouse has a publishing history which is both simpler and more complex than the Priest’s. Its appearance in volume 41 of the old Collected Works might imply that a quick brush up would be all that would be needed. However, as the manuscript of the full score was lost, Boris Tiles had used the orchestral parts and Shostakovich’s piano score to create a version for concert or even stage use as a kind of counterpart to Peter and the Wolf. For this he added a narrator to explain events, closed up some of the pauses in the music on the soundtrack and even created a couple of bits of underscore to keep things bubbling under the narrator.
What was needed was to publish what Shostakovich actually wrote and this seems to have been the intention here as the notes refer several times to bringing things into line with what happens in the film. The narrator has been removed and, where possible, his explanations have been replaced with sounds played by appropriate instruments. The new edition also includes indications of what is happening on screen, implying that this would make screenings possible with a live performance of the music. Sadly, this is not the case. There are still simply too many discrepancies between the new edition and the film. When just such a project was mounted at the BBC Proms in 2006, the new score had to be re-edited to synchronise it properly with the film; for instance when the flowers, ducklings and piglets say goodnight, this is simply reported rather than being put back into the score. Meanwhile, in concert performances removing the narrator can cause confusion without the accompanying images: what are those three bangs? Apparently, it’s auntie duck knocking on the floor in the upstairs flat to complain about the mewling mouselet. In many ways the old edition was more user-friendly for concert performance, while the Proms version (rather than this New Collected Works edition) makes performances with the film possible.
As with other volumes in the New Collected Works, the book is well produced: 350 pages of score with notes and annotations in Russian and English (16 pages of each). However, the English translation has moments which are either confusing or amusing. The continuing use of ‘phonogram’ instead of ‘soundtrack’ is a minor annoyance, but in clearing up the often confusing history of the film productions, it raised a smile to read that Khentova’s account of the making of The Tale of the Priest ‘does not jive with the facts’ (‘Privodimyi Khentovoi svedeniya chasto ne soglasuyutsya ni s faktami’).