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A Shostakovich Casebook (Russian Music Studies)

PDF A Shostakovich Casebook (Russian Music Studies) First paperback edition 2005

Book author
  1. Malcolm Hamrick Brown
Shostakovich Casebook

"The book . . . includes . . . valuable essays and interviews, which move beyond the scholarly controversy to sketch a nuanced picture of Shostakovich's life under a totalitarian regime. . . . The 'Casebook' contributors compellingly warn of replacing one mask with another, one black-and-white myth with its simple inversion." ―New York Times

". . . an important and readable collection. . . . It presents a devastating critique of Volkov's claims and scholarly practices in Testimony." ―New York Review of Books

A Shostakovich Casebook brings together 25 essays, interviews, newspaper articles, and reviews―many newly available since the collapse of the Soviet Union―to create a volume of essential reading and cutting-edge scholarship in Russian music studies. The contributors include Malcolm H. Brown, Laurel Fay, Irina Antonovna Shostakovich, and Richard Taruskin.


I acknowledge first of all the contributors whose scholarship made this volume possible. The reprinted works included here have been reviewed and corrected by their authors, and I very much appreciate the time this entailed.

My sincere gratitude to Levon Hakobian, Ludmila Kovnatskaya, and Sergei Lebedev for helping make contact with a number of the Russian contributors, as well as for providing critical service as authoritative informants about a variety of issues that arose in the process of putting the volume together.

Caryl Emerson read through the entire collection with an expert, discerning eye and shared comments and advice. Her professional generosity has much improved the finished book. She also called my attention to Pushkin’s wonderfully ascerbic characterization of memoirs and confessions, which serves as a most appropriate epigraph for the volume.

I am much indebted to my darling and talented daughter, Jeannette, for the original drawing of Shostakovich that appears as the frontispiece of the Casebook, and to her husband, my gifted son-in-law, Paul Smedberg, who made an original computer painting from the drawing, which appears on the dust jacket.

In addition to writing the centerpiece article of the Casebook, “Volkov’s Testimony Reconsidered” (chapter 2), Laurel Fay kindly provided translations for a number of the Russian-language articles and essays (identified in the notes to individual pieces) and, certainly as important, encouraged and supported the editor throughout the conception and realization of the project. Without her, it simply could not have happened.

My most cordial thanks to everyone!

Malcolm Hamrick Brown Bloomington, January 2003

Notes on Transliteration and on Translation

Although the Library of Congress (LC) system of transliteration has generally been followed here (without the superscript arcs above the letters for those Cyrillic characters rendered by more than a single Latin character in the strict LC system), exceptions have been made in the case of Russian personal names, as well as the occasional other Russian proper name or title. These exceptions have been transliterated in a more “pronunciation friendly” style. The guiding principle was to find a spelling that would suggest to English speakers a pronunciation that would be recognizable to a Russian speaker. These “pronunciation friendly” transliterations have been applied consistently throughout the text, as well as in the reference notes, regardless of how they may have been transliterated in other contexts— including direct quotations and bibliographic references. But to facilitate searching in standardized databases, such as WorldCat, the primary entry in the index for these “pronunciation friendly” transliterations has been supplemented by the LC transliteration within square brackets. For example, the entry in the index for the name “Kremlyov, Yuli Anatolievich” is followed by “[Kremlëv, Iulii Anatol’evich]” and the title “Rayok” is followed by “[Raëk]”.
With regard to the translation of Russian texts, the preferences of individual authors have been followed. This has occasionally resulted in somewhat different translations of the very same Russian text found in different articles in the Casebook.


It matters that Testimony is not exactly what Solomon Volkov has claimed it to be. Just as it matters that Anton Schindler’s Biographie von Ludwig van Beethoven was written by an author shown to have forged entries in Beethoven’s conversation books and even to have destroyed some of them. Scholars now know to treat with caution any anecdote about Beethoven related by Schindler as the sole eyewitness.

It matters even more, in the case of Testimony, because a book that speaks in the voice of a major twentieth-century composer casts a long shadow into the future. It matters, because knowing the difference between what is authentic and what is dubious not only informs the character of interpretations made today but also the relationship of present and future interpretations. And interpretation is the essence of the matter.

The earliest incentive for producing the present Shostakovich Casebook came from a colleague who teaches the standard “survey of twentieth-century music” for music majors. He took me aside one day in the hallway: “You know something? My students write term papers on Shostakovich far more than on any other twentieth-century composer. And they believe every word of Testimony and Shostakovich Reconsidered. Why don’t you put together a selection of writings that would give them a different perspective, especially including something from the Soviet or Russian point of view?”

It was not a bad idea. Shostakovich Reconsidered had already argued vehemently the case for Volkov’s defense and for the absolute authenticity of Testimony. What was needed now was a casebook that would bring together in a single, concise source, in book form, selections from what was “already out there” but not always easily accessible—documents, articles, reviews, interviews, lectures.

The “Soviet or Russian point of view” indeed had not been made readily available because of language. What little had been translated had generally appeared in specialized journals. (In fairness to the authors of Shostakovich Reconsidered, their book provides examples of the “Soviet or Russian point of view” but only when it supports their arguments for the authenticity of Testimony. A range of contrary perspectives is not represented.)

With regard to Western specialists who raised basic questions about Volkov and Testimony, their primary venue had also been scholarly journals, literary magazines, and newspapers, which added an inconvenient step to the research process for students writing term papers. Even experienced scholars had occasionally been stymied by problems of access to a particular specialized journal. More problematical still, for researchers, were scholarly papers that were presented as public lectures.

Although these were all perfectly good reasons to put together a selection of materials that might give my colleague’s students “a different perspective” on Shostakovich, I had not moved ahead with the project.

The decisive impetus came only when I learned from Laurel Fay that she had made an important new discovery and was writing what would become the focal point of the present volume—her article, “Volkov’s Testimony Reconsidered. “
Fay’s much talked about but little read 1980 review, “Shostakovich versus Volkov: Whose Testimony?” would serve as the indispensable prologue to her new article. This early review, basic to an understanding of the reception history of Testimony, appeared in a specialized journal rarely seen by musicians and musicologists,3 and had never been reprinted. Volkov’s apologists claim that it set the belligerent tone for what would become the “Shostakovich Wars” in the late 1990s. Anyone interested in checking the accuracy of this claim can now verify Fay’s approach for what it has been all along, both in her 1980 review and in her new “Volkov’sTestimony Reconsidered”—restrained, factual, and skeptical in the best scholarly sense of the word (an approach also exemplified in her indispensable book, Shostakovich: A Life). The reasons, then, are entirely obvious why Fay’s two fundamental critical studies of Testimony—the one from 1980, the other from 2002—should occupy part 1 of the present Shostakovich casebook.

Part 2 provides the context for understanding not only Fay’s critical evaluation of Testimony but also the background of the Testimony debate. All the documentary materials it includes represent “something from the Soviet or Russian point of view”:

A “Side-by-Side Comparison of Texts from Testimony with Their Original Sources” reproduces the content of each of the eight pages of the Testimony typescript signed by Shostakovich (he signed but a single page from each of the book’s eight chapters!) alongside the text as found in the original Soviet publications from which the Testimony typescript was copied.

“A Pitiful Fake” provides a complete translation of the 1979 letter from six of Shostakovich’s students and close friends to the editor of the Soviet literary newspaper, Literaturnaia gazeta, denouncing Testimony as “lie ... piled upon lie.” An editorial accompanying the letter and published in the same issue of the newspaper mocks Volkov as a loathsome “bedbug,” who feasts on the hallowed legacy of Shostakovich. The same issue of the newspaper offers an “Official Dossier” that recounts attempts by the Shostakovich family in late 1978—almost a year before the publication of Testimony—to find out from the publisher, Harper & Row in New York, the precise nature of Volkov’s manuscript and to assert their legal rights as heirs to the composer’s copyright.

Alla Bogdanova’s “Notes from the Soviet Archives on Volkov’s Testimony” based on primary sources, supplements the historical account in the “Official Dossier” and reviews the initiatives taken by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to blunt criticism, should the purported “memoirs,” when published, portray Shostakovichas a victim of the Soviet regime.

Émigré scholar Henry (Genrikh) Orlov was commissioned by Harper & Row in the latter half of 1979 to make a critical evaluation of the Testimony typescript, presumably for in-house use. Orlov had worked closely with Shostakovich, knew his idiosyncracies well, and was widely recognized as an authority on the composer’s music, having published among other things the first book-length study devoted to the symphonies, Simfonii Shostakovicha [The symphonies of Shostakovich] (Leningrad: Muzgiz, 1961). The endorsement of Testimony by a prominent émigré Soviet specialist would certainly have bolstered the book’s claim to authenticity.

Orlov recounts the circumstances surrounding his commission from Harper & Row in a conversation with Ludmila Kovnatskaya, “An Episode in the Life of a Book: An Interview with Henry Orlov,” and a copy of Orlov’s original report to Harper & Row is included.

Irina Shostakovich, the composer’s widow, has continually questioned the authenticity of Testimony, beginning with her oft-quoted statement in 1979, “Volkov saw Dmitrich three or maybe four times.... I don’t see how he could have gathered enough material from Dmitrich for such a thick book.”5 Readers today may need a reminder that during the very period when Volkov says he was interviewing Shostakovich (1971–74), Irina scarcely left the composer’s side. Increasingly infirm at the time, Shostakovich looked to his wife for help in the most ordinary routines of daily living. Irina’s “Answer to Those Who Still Abuse Shostakovich,” written in commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of her husband’s death, once again repudiates Volkov’s version of events surrounding the genesis of Testimony.

Boris Tishchenko, one of Shostakovich’s closest friends, as well as his student, likely drafted that 1979 letter-to-the-editor mentioned above, signed by the six close friends and students of Shostakovich. More than any of the signatories, Tishchenko had special reason to protest against Testimony. He was deeply implicated in the book’s creation. Volkov had taken advantage of Tishchenko’s ready access to the composer to arrange through him to speak in private with Shostakovich—a good turn Tishchenko has regretted since his earliest reading of Testimony. A concise but telling selection of Tishchenko’s public comments on the subject can be sampled in “On Solomon Volkov and Testimony” (see also his interview with Irina Nikolskaya in chapter 13).

That oft-cited 1979 letter of protest from Shostakovich’s students and friends has been dismissed out of hand, both by Cold War critics and Volkov’s allies, as doubtlessly having been coerced by Soviet authorities. But the letter is passionately defended “as absolutely sincere” by Elena Basner, daughter of Veniamin Basner, a close friend of the composer and a signatory to the letter. Elena Basner’s “The Regime and Vulgarity” recounts the events surrounding the writing of that 1979 letter and deplores the naïveté of radically revisionist views of Shostakovich inspired by Testimony.

In “Shostakovich’s World Is Our World,” Mstislav Rostropovich, dedicatee of Shostakovich’s two cello concertos, reflects on his thirty-year friendship with the composer, telling his interlocutor, Manashir Yakubov, curator of the Shostakovich Family Archive, that he doubts the authenticity of the voice in Testimony when it speaks disdainfully about the creative imagination of Prokofiev.

Irina Nikolskaya’s “Shostakovich Remembered” reports her conversations with seven of the composer’s Soviet colleagues, each of whom enjoyed friendly relations, professional or personal, with Shostakovich over a period of years. All the interviewees voice an opinion about Testimony.

Part 3 of the casebook continues “something from the Soviet or Russian point of view” but, instead of the more documentary materials found in part 2, a sampling of scholarly work is presented here:

Henry Orlov’s article, “A Link in the Chain: Reflections on Shostakovich and His Times,” written the year after the composer’s death, offers a cultural perspective informed by scholarly expertise and long personal experience within Shostakovich’s immediate milieu. In style, Orlov pays homage to the Russian tradition of criticism as literary essay in the manner of belles lettres. Especially noteworthy, for readers of the Shostakovich casebook, is that in this 1976 article, written well in advance of Testimony, Orlov laments that Shostakovich neither left an autobiographical account of his life nor had in his circle an amanuensis- confidant, such as “Eckermann was to Goethe, or Robert Craft to Stravinsky, or Yastrebtsev to Rimsky-Korsakov.”

Levon Hakobian, in contrast to Orlov, offers a distinctly post-Soviet “Perspective on Soviet Musical Culture during the Lifetime of Shostakovich”—one that should provide an important corrective to the simplistic view of musical life in the USSR as having been essentially polarized, with conformists on one side and dissidents (closeted or otherwise) on the other, the former incapable of creating artistically viable music, and the latter, although capable, having to struggle continuously against the harsh restraints of Socialist Realism to produce art works of any lasting value.

Hakobian’s review, “The Latest ‘New Shostakovich’” turns a penetrating post-Soviet eye on Allan Ho and Dmitri Feofanov’s Shostakovich Reconsidered, suggesting that the book essentially misses the point about the role Shostakovich played in Soviet musical life.

Ludmila Kovnatskaya’s “Dialogues about Shostakovich” turns to primary sources to shed new light on the reception history of Shostakovich’s music in Soviet times. Two sets of letters provide the evidence, and two pairs of correspondents wrote them. One pair admired Shostakovich and his music; the other disdained both the composer and his music. Kovnatskaya’s study discloses the sometimes curious and certainly contradictory consequences of how the changing reception history of Shostakovich’s music played out in the professional lives of these pairs of correspondents.

A miscellany of articles, reviews, and lectures by Anglophone writers on Shostakovich comprise part 4 of the casebook. These reflect no unified theme but were selected to provide a sampling of writings by Western writers and musicologists who have remained skeptical about the relevance of Testimony to scholarly work on Shostakovich, and who therefore have been grouped together as exemplifying the “failures of modern musicology.”6 This selection of writings in a single location should allow interested readers to assess the validity of claims that these authors are professionally incompetent and practice “tabloid musicology.”

In a 1993 essay-review, the editor of the present volume discusses Ian MacDonald’s The New Shostakovich (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990). Given the vehemence with which MacDonald nowadays defends Volkov and damns Laurel Fay, his 1990 judgment is worth remembering: “the detective work of Laurel Fay ... has established beyond doubt that the [Volkov] book is a dishonest presentation” (p. 245).

Elizabeth Wilson’s Shostakovich: A Life Remembered (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994) is endorsed as a model of authentic memoirs in a brief review from 1996, also by the editor of the present volume. This collection of reminiscences by the composer’s friends and colleagues—all firsthand witnesses to Shostakovich’s life—stands in distinct contrast to Volkov’s book.

David Fanning offers his invited response to papers read by Allan Ho and Dmitri Feofanov at the 1998 meeting of the American Musicological Society in Boston. These papers reflected the style and substance of their then recently published book, Shostakovich Reconsidered, which questioned the scholarship and professional ethics of Laurel Fay, Richard Taruskin, and the editor of the present volume. As reproduced in the Casebook, Fanning’s response is preceded by a brief note from the volume editor and an “Author’s Introduction to the Reader.”

Gerard McBurney’s insightful “Whose Shostakovich?” examines particular compositional characteristics of the composer’s music, the origin of these characteristics in the historical milieu of Shostakovich’s youth, and how the composer adapted them in his personal style. McBurney then suggests why the “listening experience” of such music offers so many opportunities for idiosyncratic interpretation.

Paul Mitchinson’s “The Shostakovich Variations” offers the most comprehensive, thoroughly researched, and balanced account to date of what became known in the late 1990s as the “Shostakovich Wars.”

The volume editor’s “Shostakovich: A Brief Encounter and a Present Perspective” introduces a personal slant to the reception history of Shostakovich’s music over a forty-year span and ends on a note of caution about simplistic interpretations of the meaning of the composer’s music.

Simon Morrison’s essay-review of Laurel Fay’s Shostakovich: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) not only rights the arrant bias evident in earlier reviews by Volkov’s apologists but also makes a substantial original contribution to the critical literature on Shostakovich.

No one has argued more effectively and with more authority than Richard Taruskin against the whole-scale reinterpretation of Shostakovich’s life and music on the basis of its supposed metaphorical or allegorical truth. In his extensive essay, “When Serious Music Mattered,” Taruskin establishes the relevant historical and critical context before he reviews, with practiced expertise, three very recent books on Shostakovich.
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