Commentary Magazine

Shostakovich in Four Parts

When Dmitri Shostakovich died in Moscow seven years ago, he was mourned in his homeland as a great Soviet composer. Behind all the obligatory declarations of faith in the present and future of socialist art lay the unspoken acknowledgment that with Shostakovich’s death there had passed away the last great Russian musician worthy of standing with such immortals as Mussorgsky, Tchaikowsky, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev.

The reaction to Shostakovich abroad, both in death and earlier in life, has hardly been so wholehearted. Indeed, it could be said that over a period of nearly sixty years the musical reputation of this prolific writer has functioned as an accurate barometer of wider Western opinion concerning the Soviet Union as an economic, social, political, and military power.

In the 1920’s, for example, the bold, brash, and biting works of Shostakovich the student were Seen as manifestations of the élan vital of the triumphant Bolshevik revolution and its scornful rejection of convention. The energetic First Symphony (1924-25), written before the composer was twenty, and The Nose (1927-28), an opera based on a short story by Gogol, satirizing the old Russia of Czar Nicholas I, strengthened the perception of Shostakovich as a new broom sweeping music clean. While bourgeois society in the West was the target of Shostakovich’s witty attacks in a ballet, The Age of Gold (1927-30), pre-revolutionary Russian society again provided the butt for the composer’s attacks in Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1930-32), a four-act operatic setting—strongly influenced by Alban Berg’s Wozzeck (1914-21)—of Leskov’s tale of rural lust and murder. Successful on their appearance in the USSR, these works quickly became caviar for the enlightened in the West, and Shostakovich’s status as one of the leading modernist composers of the day seemed secure.

But what the revolution had given, it could take away, and not just at home but also abroad. The same iconoclastic vitality which had won admirers for Shostakovich all over the musical world won him the enmity of the leading Soviet music critic—the polymath Josef Stalin. Under direct orders from Stalin (and perhaps incorporating his own words of wisdom as well), an article appeared in Pravda in 1936 titled “Muddle Instead of Music”; the target was Lady Macbeth, which Stalin had just seen and hated. The result was predictable. The opera was withdrawn, as was Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony (1935-36). All of the composer’s work now lay under a cloud, and in the gathering fury of the Great Purge, his life itself, and the lives of his family too, must have seemed in peril.

For a time Shostakovich lapsed into a relative musical silence. His answer to the fury, when it came, turned out to be yet another symphony, this time his Fifth, inscribed “A Soviet Artist’s Practical, Creative Reply to Just Criticism.” Gone was the bitterness of tone, expressed in harsh dissonance and mocking instrumental timbre, which had marked the early Shostakovich. In its place, in consonance with the new aesthetic policy of socialist realism, was an expansive symphony with a happy ending; here was a work portraying the life cycle of Soviet man and, so we are told, appealing to him en masse. At home Shostakovich became the crowned composer laureate, in demand for works and performances as well as for pronouncements on all manner of musical subjects. Film music by the carload came from his facile pen, as did a Sixth Symphony (1939). The film music is now forgotten, and the symphony, true to the demands of Soviet power, is blessed with a last movement described by the American critic David Hall as “straight ‘public square’ Shostakovich, trivial but enjoyable for all that, winding up with a marching tune that might well accompany a Komsomol parade down Red Square.”

However edifying this spectacle of an artist writing music to political order in return for his continued physical safety may have seemed to Stalinists outside Russia, the effect of Shostakovich’s musical demarche was an immediate loss of respect among many musical intellectuals. Not only did his capitulation lose Shostakovich all claim to a place in the modernist world of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Bartók; those of more traditional tastes, who had been repelled by the stridency of his offenses against “good taste,” refused to go along with what they saw as yet another example of the composer’s bending to extramusical criteria. Thus, in the 1940 Supplementary Volume of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the great champion of Russian music, M.D. Calvocoressi, moved from a castigation of Shostakovich’s now-reviled older music to a laconic rejection of the new: for Calvocoressi, in his earlier works Shostakovich was

misled by his eagerness to conform to Soviet requirements [and] overshot the mark. . . . [The] Union of Soviet composers took up the matter and blamed the composer for his “formalistic and insincere” methods. He accepted the verdict. . . . He then composed a fifth symphony [which] was described in the Russian press as profoundly significant and free from the errors for which the composer had been censured. In Paris it was found disappointing and commonplace.


As it happened, however, Shostakovich’s positive orientation to Soviet reality was to prove in tune both with domestic political and artistic pressures and in a wider sense with the altered state of world affairs brought about by the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. What Stalin had lost in world opinion by his pact with Hitler and his overrunning of small neighboring states was more than recouped when a Russian defeat at the hands of the Nazis seemed imminent.

Into the new climate of patriotism at home and sympathy for the Soviet partner abroad stepped Shostakovich with another new symphony, this time the Seventh, subtitled “Leningrad.” Written in part from inside that city while it was under siege, the composition presented a panorama from peace to war, from attack to defense, and from defeat to final victory in C major. A huge success at home, the work—shipped on microfilm by military plane, passing through Iran, North Africa, and South America on its way—was played in the United States for the first time by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony on a radio broadcast. Here it was attacked by such highbrow critics as Virgil Thomson and B.H. Haggin, who found the work thin and pretentious. But for a middlebrow critic like Winthrop Sargeant, writing in the New Yorker, it was “the closest thing to a great work of art that has appeared in music during the past generation.” The symphony received more than sixty performances in the 1942-43 season, by the greatest conductors of the day.

As the military crisis on the Eastern front passed, so too did the widespread enthusiasm for Shostakovich. The Eighth Symphony (1943), though in the eyes of serious critics a better work, was a success neither domestically nor internationally. At home the work seemed a departure from the optimism incumbent on Soviet artists; in the United States, as strains between the wartime allies began ominously to gather, it remained little known. The jaunty, almost neoclassical Ninth Symphony (1945), received at home as a stinging rebuke by those who had wanted a victory ode along the lines of the Beethoven Ninth, fared hardly better abroad.



Having shown once that he could be turned around by a political drubbing, Shostakovich faced Stalin and his henchman Andrei Zhdanov again in 1948. Yet despite the violence of the crackdown on such putatively formalist composers as Prokofiev and Khachaturian, in addition to himself, Shostakovich this time had little left to give. It seemed the arbiters of Russian culture liked his songful style no better than they had liked his ventures into patriotic pastiche, such as his Poems of the Motherland (1947), a set of arrangements of other—and lesser—composers’ tunes.

It might be said that he did indeed have something to give—his voice as a propagandist for Soviet foreign policy in the cold war. A year after being denounced in 1948, he was sent to New York to the notorious Waldorf Peace Conference, organized as it was by well-known Soviet sympathizers. There, bitingly critical of Western countries and their foreign policies, he attacked Stravinsky, delivered a warning to Prokofiev, and admitted to all the “crimes” he had so recently been charged with at home. Though he received a standing ovation in Madison Square Garden from the massed fellow-travelers, he found himself now deeply unpopular in the United States. Upon his return home he responded—or was ordered to respond—by delivering further insults to the Americans.

For Shostakovich, the next few years were a time of dissimulation. Publicly he behaved as a loyal Soviet cultural worker; privately he was humiliated and fearful. He was now, it seems, unable to write the blockbuster symphonies which were the mainstay of his position in the official Stalinist musical hierarchy. Instead he maintained and increased his output of essentially trivial film music; to this he added such easily forgotten works as The Song of the Forests (1949)—a tribute to Stalin’s forestation campaigns—and the very drab and cool Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues (1950-51) for piano.

Since his 1936 beating over Lady Macbeth, Shostakovich had become practiced at writing two kinds of music, one large in scale and overbearing in emotion to please his masters, and the other intimate in aim and economical in means to express his personal feelings. To the public Shostakovich, we owe his Soviet symphonies and his film music; to the private man, we owe the chamber music he had been writing since the First String Quartet (1938). So massive were the pressures now operating on Shostakovitch in the late 1940’s that to these two categories he now added a third: music written “for the drawer,” i.e., not to be performed under prevailing conditions. Three works so composed—the First Violin Concerto (1947-48), the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry (1948), and the Fourth String Quartet (1949)—now are widely and rightly considered among the most valuable of Shostakovich’s entire output.



Stalin’s death in March 1953 initiated a thaw in Soviet policy at home as well as in foreign affairs. For Shostakovich, this relaxation meant a chance to write a public music which lay closer to his heart. He worked on his Tenth Symphony during the summer of 1953; it was first performed in December of the fame year. The symphony, which for the first three movements is tragic in mood, seems concerned with the suffering under Stalin—until the last movement, where the optimism so dear to Soviet ideologists once again takes over. At home the symphony became a beacon for liberals, and in the United States its warm reception, at a time of Western hopes for accommodation with Russia’s new rulers, made possible a resuscitation of Shostakovich’s tarnished reputation.

As if to prove that despite his musical transgressions and personal doubts he remained a Soviet composer, Shostakovich’s next symphonies, the Eleventh (1957) and the Twelfth (1961), returned to the grand revolutionary programs: the former was written to the subtitle “The Year 1905,” and the latter was simply dubbed “1917.” Predictably, this blatantly political music was vastly more successful at home than it was abroad.

But however comfortable the accommodation between Shostakovich and the Soviet state now seemed, the composer was holding a surprise in store for those in power. His Thirteenth Symphony (1962), written to texts by the then semi-dissident poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko, occasioned official rejection not for its music, but for the poet’s verses, the now famous “Babi Yar.” This impassioned protest by a non-Jewish Russian poet against a Nazi massacre of Jewish victims, uncommemorated by Soviet authorities, seemed doubly offensive when set by a non-Jewish Russian composer. Because Yevtushenko had singled out Jews as objects of Nazi murder, changes were demanded before the work could be performed a second time; the most significant of these changes required an emphasis on the sufferings of all Soviet citizens at Nazi hands, thereby obscuring Yevtushenko’s protest against continuing Soviet anti-Semitism.

Shostakovich had never possessed a strong constitution, and ill-health now began to take an increasing toll of his strength. In the years before his death in 1975 he managed to write two more symphonies. The Fourteenth Symphony (1969), like the Thirteenth, was a setting of poetry, this time by Lorca, Apollinaire, Rilke, and a Russian contemporary of Pushkin named Küchelbecker. Calling for a much smaller orchestra than all his other symphonies, this work emphasized gloom and death. The Fifteenth Symphony (1971), by contrast, used a normal large orchestra, and contained quotations ranging from the William Tell Overture to Tristan and Isolde, and, surprisingly for a Soviet composer, Götterdämmerung. Speaking for official opinion, Tass found the work optimistic; the quotations from Wagner alone would seem to argue against such an interpretation.

Fittingly, Shostakovich’s last works returned to the smaller forms in which he had so often taken refuge during his life: two more quartets, bringing the total to fifteen; three sets of songs, including one to texts by Michelangelo; finally, a lengthy sonata for viola and piano, absolute music culminating in an adagio in memory of Beethoven.



Through their music, composers have the opportunity to speak from beyond the grave in a way given to few mortals. In Shostakovich’s case, however, a posthumous salvo at his own government came in the form of a set of published monologues covering his entire life.1 The response to these recollections, smuggled as they were out of the USSR, was both volcanic and predictable. For the Soviet government, the whole project was a fabrication and a provocation, designed to heat up the arms race.2 In the West the evidence the book provided of the overwhelming tragedy of Shostakovich’s public life and his bitter consciousness of his own suffering guaranteed a sympathetic hearing even from those not hitherto distinguished by their dedication to anti-Communism. Indeed, the contemptuous rejection of the entire Soviet system contained in the Shostakovich account seemed all the more damning in light of the composer’s unblemished record of publicized activity on official missions.

To be sure, it was immediately noticed that the provenance of Testimony was something less than unimpeachable. As editor, Solomon Volkov—an émigré new to the West—had written up his memory of conversations with the composer, to whom he had undoubtedly been close. Each chapter of the result bore, in the manuscript, the handwritten inscription “Read. D. Shostakovich.” Experts have testified that the signature was that of Shostakovich; the real question arose over whether the same could be said of all the words ascribed to him. Further doubt about the material arose when it became known, through an article in the Russian Review, a publication of the Hoover Institution, that some of the supposedly contraband material Volkov used had been legally printed in Russian musical literature. And serious factual discrepancies were found in Volkov’s work as well.

Beyond the question of historiographical authenticity, important as it is, lie questions concerning the political and personal tone of the Volkov effort. Politically, it seems surprising to find Shostakovich’s spleen vented not only on Stalin and his lackeys, but also on such heroes of the Russian opposition (each in his own way) as Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Surprising, too, is the contempt shown not just for Shostakovich’s tormentor in 1948 and thereafter, the composer-bureaucrat Tikhon Khrennikov, but also for Shostakovich’s colleagues and fellow political sufferers Sergei Prokofiev and Aram Khachaturian. So much loathing unavoidably makes Shostakovich seem as much a misanthrope as an opponent of injustice. Yet this perception would not seem to square with that of people in the West who were able to observe him at close range.

Still, despite all the doubts the Volkov book has raised, the verdict on it for the time being must be that it presents a fair picture, in broad outline, of how Shostakovich felt at the end of his life. His quoted words on the first page of these recollections—“Looking back, I see nothing but ruins, only mountains of corpses. And I do not wish to build new Potemkin villages on these ruins”—ring true, both about Russia and about Shostakovich.

The fact that his words may not all have originated in quite the way presented, or that some details do not quite tally, suggests a resemblance with other well-known examples of the Russian musical memoir. After all, similar questions have been raised about the Recollections of Sergei Rachmaninoff (as told to Oskar von Riesemann) and the several volumes of Stravinsky’s Robert Craft-inspired memoirs. In the area of politics, such questions have also been raised concerning the Edward Crankshaw-Strobe Talbott Khrushchev Remembers. In the case of Shostakovich no less than that of Khrushchev, we are probably lucky, given the political context, to have found out so much.



Whatever the undoubted interest of the posthumous controversy over Shostakovich, it cannot but have the effect of placing his music second to the political storms which have swirled around him as a Soviet composer. While the excitement has surely guaranteed that his name would be well-known, it has also rendered more difficult a judicious consideration of his artistic achievement.

Any such consideration must begin with the fact that there is not, as the Soviet party line would have it, one musical Shostakovich, writing music for the appreciation of the broad masses of Soviet society. Nor, for that matter, are there two Shostakoviches, as the more enlightened Soviet critics would hold—a public orator speaking to great occasions and a private bard speaking to musicians and cognoscenti. There were rather, it now seems, four separate creative personalities operating at various times and to various degrees during the career of Dmitri Shostakovich. Each of these personalities produced a body of musical composition which suffered a distinct fate at home and another, equally distinct, fate abroad.

The earliest of the personalities was that of the youthful scourge. The iconoclasm was at first tentative and even sometimes parodistically lyrical, as in the vastly successful First Symphony. Soon, however, the sarcasm went beyond the bounds of spoofing, and the element of parody began to feed on itself. The Age of Gold ballet, meant as a ridiculing of bourgeois culture abroad, now seems like hurdy-gurdy music, brittle and nastily shallow. The Nose, with its mean and thin-sounding orchestration and its talky vocal lines unsupported by either orchestra or melody, conjures up—as Shostakovich no doubt meant it to do—a good-for-nothing, pointless society. Lady Macbeth suggests not only a rotten social order, but the less appetizing idea that all human beings are animal creatures, driven entirely by instincts of sex and brutality.

This aspect of Shostakovich’s creative work was destructive, and intended as such. In the Soviet Union of the 1920’s such destructiveness could be seen as directed against a pre-revolutionary social structure, and thus a continuation of political upheaval by other, i.e., artistic means. And hostility to the past also fit into the modernist disillusion so rampant in the West in post-World War I artistic circles.

At home, however, Shostakovich was to discover the precious political truth that in every revolutionary calendar there is a Thermidor, a time when the revolution, in ending, turns on its own protagonists. Though it was Stalin’s evil genius to replace the terror of Lenin with a greater terror, any regime holding power in Russia would have attempted to promulgate policies of construction, order, and personal discipline. In such a climate, the artistic attitude exemplified by Lady Macbeth could hardly have been supported. And in a society based upon state monopoly of power, what cannot be supported must be violently rejected. Such a rejection had in fact begun with the reaction of some critics to The Nose upon its appearance in 1930; the mess over Lady Macbeth six years later only capped a developing cultural policy.3



Unfortunately for Shostakovich, in our century youthful iconoclasm has not proved sufficient to make an entire career. In the case of Stravinsky, the iconoclasm of The Rite of Spring and The Story of a Soldier was replaced, in The Wedding, by a return to a sympathetic consideration of his Russian origin and, in Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Psalms, to veneration of the past and of religion. For Shostakovich, the replacement of deconstruction by construction meant the writing of Soviet symphonies, the first of these being the Fifth. The times—as pictured by Stalin—demanded sincerity, melody, largeness of gesture, and optimism; all these Shostakovich seemed to supply in abundance. But there was one flaw. The reality of life in the USSR was not one of joy and creation, but one of fear and murder. No musician could sing authentically of the happiness of the present and the future, and no one, including Shostakovich, did.

That Shostakovich came fairly close to making a success of the required aesthetic. Iie is a tribute to his own immense talent and facility, and also to his appropriation of something of Gustav Mahler’s technique of mocking romanticism while reveling in it. But ultimately, as with all lies in art, Shostakovich’s attempt failed. Not only do the slow movements of the Fifth and Sixth symphonies now seem forced, bloated, and windy, but the jaunty ending movements seem almost pathetically incapable of finishing with conviction what began at such length in lyricism. Much of the same must be said of the Seventh and Eighth, or wartime, symphonies; the inability of Shostakovich even to attempt a triumphal Ninth Symphony is telling proof that he himself knew the hollowness of the efforts he had been making for almost a decade.

Nevertheless, to the end of his life Shostakovich continued to essay the grand rhetorical statement. When he could use his weighty manner to express his thoughts outside of the official aesthetic, the results were indeed more convincing. The Tenth Symphony, written in the wake of Stalin’s death and amid hopes for a thaw, is in large part a success—thanks, one suspects, to the new freedom he felt; the terrifying scherzo (which according to Shostakovich’s account in Testimony was meant as a picture of Stalin) seems particularly true. The Babi Yar Symphony, too, though not especially memorable as a piece of musical creation in itself, lacks the pretentiousness which came so easily to Shostakovich in treating great subjects.

Another aspect of Shostakovich’s music can be passed over quickly. His film music now seems totally undistinguished, the product of an easy pen and no inspiration at all. The same goes for his openly party-oriented music, such as the Song of the Forests and the 1970 Loyalty, eight ballads for unaccompanied male chorus. The text of the latter work is a particularly maudlin example of “positive” Soviet music; the first ballad, for example, goes:

I shall walk on toward Lenin in spite of life’s limitation, just as in that immemorial year people walked all across Russia. I shall seek his advice, I shall keep nothing from him, and in the enlightened quietude I shall find an answer. I shall understand; I shall achieve; I shall become invincible.

The music to this evocation of Lenin as Jesus is old Russian polyphony, reminiscent equally of church and court. But Shostakovich, by all testimony, was an atheist, and he suffered for the last forty years of his life from a tyranny of which Lenin was the father. Is it then surprising that the music seems both unrooted in time and empty of personality? As so often happens in such art, what begins in enforced patriotism ends in forgery.



If these three modes of Shostakovich’s works—the brittle, the grandiloquent, and the trivial and false—were all that comprised the composer’s claim to greatness, he would retain little of permanent interest for music lovers. But there is a fourth Shostakovich, smaller in scope, vastly more refined in taste and execution, and both direct and honest in feeling. This Shostakovich is not simply someone who wrote for a small audience rather than for the great Soviet public (composed equally of the masses and the bureaucrats); it is a Shostakovich who, at his best, did not care whether his music was performed in the foreseeable future at all.

So it is hardly surprising that the greatest music of Shostakovich is precisely that music he composed for himself at the darkest period of Stalin’s rule, the period of renewed terror during the postwar years. Most important of this music is the First Violin Concerto, written in 1947-48 but not performed until 1955. In the work’s four movements the composer managed to use (in a way he did in no other of his large-scale works) an integrated musical fabric to express a consistent and authentic mood. Gone here is the omnipresent urge to juxtapose bathetic melody and circus tunes; nowhere is vulgar material invoked to convey high emotion. No program seems necessary to explain the work, for the attention which it compels is drawn by the worth of the music in itself. Altogether this is the best concerto for violin since those of Berg and Bartók.4

Not quite such high praise can be given to all the eleven songs of the cycle, From Jewish Folk Poetry. Unperformable when it was written in 1948, it too was first heard in 1955. Eight songs, sung variously by a soprano, an alto, and a tenor, depict in moving terms the whole range of Jewish suffering in pre-1917 Russia, running the gamut from the death of a child to the terrible winters endured in poverty. So powerful was the sway of Stalinist power that even music composed in secret had to take it into account: thus Shostakovich ended this cycle with three songs based, as a summary of one of them puts it, on the need to “Forget the bygone grief and rejoice in the present.” The first two of the three invoke the blessings of collective farms. The last describes the good fortune of Jews under the new dispensation. The summary runs:

An elderly couple go to the theater. And later that evening they speak of how fortunate they are. She was only a shoemaker’s wife but their sons would be doctors! What a bright star shines over their heads!

The star in question is, of course, not the Star of David but the Star of Stalin. The music for these celebrations is, not surprisingly, glib, catchy, and childishly gay. Had the cycle ended after the eighth song, it would have come close to the greatness of Schubert’s Die Winterreise; as written, it is a standing rebuke to the influence of politics on art.

No stricture of this kind applies to the Fourth String Quartet, written in 1949 and played first in 1953, eight months after Stalin’s death. Shostakovich’s chamber music had always been attractive, reflecting a formal economy and discipline absent from his larger works. But the Fourth Quartet shows a new sophistication of musical conception, contemporary and spare. The lyricism is unforced and affecting, and the rapid movements are both necessary and serious.

It is plain, indeed, that Shostakovich’s consistently best music lies in the fifteen string quartets he wrote over a period of almost forty years. Even the least of them are solid and interesting, and the best are highly eloquent. The last four quartets, beginning with the Twelfth in 1968, use such modernist devices as tone-rows and unconventional instrumental effects; the result seems never to attack the idea of traditional music but rather to reinforce a prevailingly tragic mood.

Proof of the quality of Shostakovich’s quartets lies in their present repertory status, at least in the West. This status does not reflect a mass popularity; nor is it the case that famous instrumental ensembles have been intent on bringing them to public notice. Indeed Shostakovich’s music has been selected by young groups (among them several English quartets) searching for music with which to establish their own claims to artistic distinction. Recent complete performances of the quartets in New York by the Fitzwilliam Quartet have been successful and publicized; record catalogues will undoubtedly soon begin to reflect this musical fact of life.



Given Shostakovich’s success in the smaller genre of chamber music, it would be tempting to blame his failure in larger forms entirely on Stalin & Co. But to do this without making the proper distinctions would be to overlook the fact that much of the best music of the last fifty years throughout the entire European musical world has been written in just those smaller forms in which Shostakovich excelled. One thinks immediately of the last two quartets of Bartók, the last quartet of Schoenberg, the chamber music of Prokofiev. Here in the United States, there is a special distinction to the quartets of Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, and William Schuman; the First Quartet (1940) of Harold Shapero remains an extraordinary work.5

While the Soviet Union is a special case because of the enormous discrepancy there between the phony grandeur of public life and the alienation of the individual, it does seem that nowhere in recent years has there been the kind of easy correspondence between society and individuals which might make authentic large-scale work possible. The special crime of the Soviet dictators has not been simply the demand that works be written which glorify the state; it has rather been the ruthless elimination of every other open artistic tendency that has dared to arise. It cannot be repeated too often that while the state has a right to wish to support only “constructive” art, this does not mean that it has a right to bar art of any other kind.

What is at issue in Soviet Russia (one does not speak here of the terror and the slaughter) is not the aesthetic taste of the rulers and bureaucrats. Such taste, it seems at least from the data of our century, is a constant. What is at issue is totalitarianism itself, the horrid idea that the state or party can determine the course of all of life in society. Here, not in the realm of taste and aesthetics, is the reason for the destruction of the flourishing world of Russian art, literature, and music accomplished after the 1917 revolution by the Communists.

The lesson of Shostakovich’s life and music is, therefore, an old but unfamiliar one. Art and life both do best under freedom. Had Shostakovich possessed more of that precious good, he might well not have written so many artificially forced compositions, and he might have written even more of the smaller works for which he had such a great gift. That he wrote so many of these intimate masterpieces is to our musical good fortune; it is also a sign that creation survives even in the shadow of death. Because Shostakovich has once again taught us this needed lesson, his music—and he—will live.


1 Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis, Harper & Row (1979), 289 pp., $15.00.

2 The Soviet musical establishment, in fact, wasted no time in circulating its own version of Shostakovich's life. This attempt, Pages from the Life of Dmitri Shostakovich, by Dmitri and Ludmilla Sollertinsky (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), was patently puerile and sanitized; it passed almost unnoticed in this country.

3 While it has often been thought in the West that the cause of Stalin's anger at Shostakovich was the dissonant musical texture of Lady Macbeth, it seems now that the root of his displeasure lay in the licentiousness of the libretto.

4 It is a pleasure to report, given the record companies' present rapid deletions of important contemporary works, that a great performance of this concerto, by David Oistrakh with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic, is still available on Columbia MG-33328.

5 This work was available until recently on Columbia CMS 6176. It is worth searching for.

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