chapter
Dmitri Shostakovich
Pages 34

Shostakovich was one of the first major Russian composers tospend his entire career working under the Soviet regime. Thatsystem intruded upon all facets of life in Russia, intellectual and artistic endeavors among them, and rarely have any composer’s works been so colored by political dogma in the perception of his audience as were Shostakovich’s compositions. He was highly prolific in many genres, but his fifteen symphonies have established his reputation as arguably the most important symphonist in the 20th century. The political ramifications of these works, however defined, do not alone ensure their durability, but political considerations cannot be ignored, because the ebb and flow of this composer’s success approximated a mirror of the rise and fall of totalitarianism in Russia under the Soviets. It is difficult to explore the music of Shostakovich without being drawn into an inquiry into the political manipulation of culture in Soviet Russia, a condition that raises a number of unresolved questions. Discussions of his music and musical life in Soviet Russia have appeared in a wide range of printed sources, not the least of them the prefatory material in the volumes of his Collected Works. The situation has been confounded by the publication of the composer’s memoirs in an edited version that generated heated debate in the musical community outside Russia. This frequently self-contradictory text suggests that Shostakovich was not the pawn of a government bureaucracy, despite the evidence from his own behavior. The debate over the accuracy of the memoirs centers around the authenticity of Shostakovich’s

comments versus the role of one or more editors in preparing the published text. Until more information becomes available, it is difficult to know what represented the composer’s own thinking.