|A Century of Shostakovich
||[Sep. 26th, 2006|12:20 am]
The Russian Lesbian Club
|||||"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" - Johnny Cash||]|
from the BBC World News
The world is marking the centenary of the birth of Dmitri Shostakovich, the Russian composer described by many critics as the greatest of the 20th Century.
Dmitri Shostakovich died in 1975
Born in St Petersburg, Shostakovich lived all his adult life under Soviet communism, and argument over his precise relationship to political authority - whether he was an enthusiastic communist or a subtle dissident - has sometimes overshadowed his musical achievement.
In the mid-1930s, Shostakovich scored a great success with his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.
Then one day in early 1936 it was viciously attacked in the newspaper Pravda in an review entitled "Muddle not Music" attributed to Stalin himself.
People who want to interpret his true meanings are only speculating at best
At a time when artists who displeased authority were liable to simply disappear, Shostakovich was in great danger.
But he survived, possibly because of his popular work for Soviet films and propaganda.
By the time of his death in 1975 he was seen as a solid Soviet artist but a few years later his reputation was turned on its head by the publication of a highly controversial account of his life called Testimony.
This claimed Shostakovich secretly hated Stalin and the Soviet system, and that his works held hidden dissident meanings.
Critics in the West seized on this new image of an anti-communist Shostakovich but others pointed out how hard it is to interpret private motives under a climate of fear.
Certainly Shostakovich was lucky to work in a wordless abstract medium, where interpretation is strongly subjective.
It does appear at least some of his original audience did find oppositional power in his work but, as a member of the party and the Supreme Soviet, Shostakovich also allowed his name to be put on denunciations of dissidents.
Certainly no composer has undergone so radical a re-evaluation.
But what cannot be argued is that his 15 symphonies and smaller-scale chamber music make him a musical giant of his time, whatever the political meanings we find in them.