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        In general, the present picture of music in the Soviet Union is a
rather dismal one.  Besides Prokofiex, other men of great talent have made
their artistic impact since the revolution; but they have been few, and
even those few have tended to undergo a rather bewildering metamorphosis in
their music.  It is a commonplace to observe that around 1925 one of the
most prodigiously gifted young men was Dmitri Shostakovich.  As everyone
who has heard it will bear witness, his First Symphony, which was written
at that time, is as lucid, imaginative, and joyously autobiographical as a
first symphony ought to be.  It is an extra ordinary work -- one in which
this teen-ager sampled without inhibition the cultural reservoir of Western
music, dipped cautiously into the expressionistic extravagance of Gustav
Mahler, borrowed a bit of the motoric rhythms of the neoclassicists,
sampled the double-enendre pivot chords of the early Schoenberg, and
whipped all of this into a confection that chronicles the adolescence of a
young man of such prodigious gifts that he might reasonably have been
expected to become the great one of the coming generation.
        That he did not become so may bne counted as one of the genuine
tragedies of twentieth-century music.  Shostakovich today is occupied with
Symphony No. Fourteen or so.  He turns out works which no longer speak with
the intensity of Mahler because there is no longer anything that he wishes
to be intense about.  The rhythmic propulsion of the early works has turned
into the incessant pulsing of an organism, fatigued and overworked an
trapped by a treadmill of historical delusion which shows no sign of
relinquishing its incessant demands of productivity.  The skillful
ambiguities of Schoenbergian double meaning have become frigid and tawdry,
stylized cilches embarrassing in their frequency.  All that remains is the
occasional moment of some strange ecstatic adagio (Shostakovich, like all
real symphonists, always had a sense of adagio) to indicate what might have
been.  Superficially, at any rate, Shostakovich would seem to be a victim
of the stultifying conformity that the regime has demanded.
        And yet one wonders about this in the case of Shostakovich.  To all
intents and purposes, the first blow to his pride, the first genuine
interference with his creative aims, took place in 1936, when he was
denounced for the opera _Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk_, and we have perhaps
permitted ourselves to overdramatize the results of that particular
denunciation of Shostakovich's future course.  I would not, I think, have
said that a month or so ago, because I was not yet familiar with the work.
But within the last few weeks I have (with some difficulty) managed to
acquire a photostat copy of the original, unexpurgated score of _Lady
Macbeth_, and I have to confess that in my judgment those who condemned the
work were precisely right: it is a piece of unadulterated trivia.  We may
still assume that they condemned it for the wrong reasons -- that they read
into its story of adultery and murder an anti-Party activity.  We may even
assume that to a man of Shostakovich's inordinately sensitive temperament,
such criticsm may have had a long-range effect of inhibition and
confinement.  But the fact remains that whatever went wrong with
Shostakovich as a creative artist had already begun by the time he wrote
this work.
        I should say that Shostakovich suffers less from the nagging
persecutions of Party-imposed direction (afer all, a man of his ingenuity
could surely surmount some of that simply by taking refuge in the spiritual
ivory tower of his work) than from an overdose of the Russian guilt complex
-- that he struggles unsuccessfully against a conscience which encourages
the idea that duty has named a certain goal for his talents and that,
whatever the cost, he must adapt himslef in the manner required to attain
it.  Dmitri Shostakovich may yet write another great work, but I doubt it.
I suspect that the twitching, weak-eyed teen-ager put down in the First
Symphony in one grand burst of synoptic power all his love of and
fascination with Western culture.  When that first fresh, uncomplicated
exposure of youth had ended, he became paralyzed by the unshakable conceit
of duty and responsibility.  He became a prisoner of a society in which
this kind of love and admiration was condemned.

-- end quote--

        I checked it out: it seems that he has only played the Three
Fantastic Danses (with Albert Pratz, violin) in 1951 (released by Hallmark)
and performed the Piano Quintet, op 57 with the Symphonia Quartet on Jan
14, 1962 for television...
        I would probably guess that the reason that he didn't play much
Shostakovich is probably for the same reason he didn't play Stravinski:
that is, since the composer was alive, he felt somehow restrained, unable
to make the interpretation that he wanted to because he would have probably
received a lot of flac for doing so.  After all, his interpretations of the
Beethoven often went over badly, but at least _Beethoven_ couldn't tell him
that he was wrong whereas these living composers most certainly would have
been offended by odd interpretations of their pieces.  This is just a
hypothesis though...

Captain Nemo

Haverford College
370 Lancaster Ave.
Haverford, PA 19041

Phone:  (610) 896-1680


        I go out into the hall to knock in a nail.  On my way there, I
decide I would rather go out.  I obey the impulse, get into a train, come
to a railway station, go on travelling and finally end up - in America!
That is modulation!
                                         Anton Webern, from "Towards New Music"

"The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of
adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of
a state of wonder serenity."
                                        Glenn Gould