Shostakovich and Communism

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Shostakovich and Communism

 

 

There must be some misunderstanding when Alexander Melnikov is quoted for having said ‘I absolutely hate when people feel the need to mention that he was a Communist’ (Aug,16,p.24). He became a member of the Communist Party, but that is not the same as being a Communist. I happened to meet (and shook hands with!) him in Copenhagen when he won the Sonning Music Prize in 1970, when the Danish Communist Party staged a small celebration for him to award a young reader of the Communist newspaper ‘Land og Folk’ for an essay on him (7th Symphony, of course). In the speech, some Communist bigwig said that he was the Soviet Union’s, not great composer (‘komponist’), but a Communist (‘kommunist’). That caused a few smiles and merry laughter among the audience, but when the Freudian slip was explained how only one consonant had caused the mispronunciation, Shostakovich was not amused. He smiled with what was a wry grimace, which was rather painful to look at. So please don’t make that mistake to think that he was.

 

Finn Agger

Finn Agger

Shostakovich was clearly

Shostakovich was clearly enthusiastic about communism to begin with. He was clearly part of the art experimentation and encouragement that heralded his first two symphonies. He was clearly not a Stalinist and very afraid of Stalin. Communism was no different to 'fascism' 'capitalism' 'socialism' 'nazism' for most people. You worked with it to the best of your ability. Shostakovich may not have been a communist, but he was a useful tool to communist sympathisers in the west and to the communist regime. But then Wagner and Beethoven were used as symbols of aryan supemacy by the nazis. That artists should keep their political opinions down to personal choice and away from their art (sportsmen as well) is easily illustrated by the pop world and the NFL (take a knee) reaction to the democratically elected Trump. Artists, Sportsmen and Film Stars are just as naive and as uneducated as the rest of the population. They just have very inflated egos.

Poor, naive and uneducated...

Poor naive and uneducated Shostakovich. Maybe, one day, some well-educated people might comprehend that the artist's views (political or not) are an integral part of his/her artistic output.

Parla

Dog ma

Political views expressed within the music are fine. Political views expressed as political dogma are not.

 

 

To fully appreciate Shostakovich, consider the context in which he lived and worked. He remained a "loyal communist" and was used as a political tool, despite falling foul of the Soviet musical establishment fairly early in his composing career.  In particular, the fourth symphony was labelled “formalism” and castigated in Pravda in an editorial entitled “Chaos Instead of Music, reflecting Stalin’s dislike of anything seemingly intellectual or complex, meaning a lack of easy tunes. The symphony was not performed until 1961.

To survive as a composer, Shostakovich hid his changing political views and true musical inclinations under a cloak of pretended remorse, never more so than with his 5th symphony that actually contained a great deal of subtle defiance.

The other truly significant impacts on Shostakovich’s life and his work were unquestionably the time of his birth (the time of Bloody Sunday massacre in St Petersburg), his upbringing in a Liberal family and the various attacks by the Soviets on creative expression.  In particular, consider the effect of the siege of Leningrad. To fully appreciate the latter just read Brian Moynahan’s “Leningrad – Siege and Symphony” (Quercus 2013). The suffering of the populace is mind-boggling and the book explores the relationship between this and the creation of the 7th symphony in particular.

AlanL

Great music in difficult political context.

Shostakovich remains an enigma for many particularly if they want to comprehend his great musical achievements along with a not so proper political position in his life serving, in one or the other way, a ruthless regime.

For most of those having dealt with his life (and his work to some extent) the issue is quite complex with various options of what might be the "truth".

For few others like those closer to the composer, like his son Maxim, the whole issue of the relatiosnship of his father and the regime was nothing more than an insignificant matter vis a vis to his muiscal Opus.

Rostropovich, whose relationship with the composer was one of the strongest and more profound, claimed that Shostakovich's personality was complex enough to indulge in. For example, he could not hesitate to lie with a view not to displeasing others, but he was absolutely true to his music.

So, it would be correct to say that one has to pay attention to the composer's gigantic effort to remain true to himself and his creative pursuit within the context of the considerable psychological cost caused by being part of a regime that used him for political goals. However, his musical output went far beyond his ruthless political and social environment in a way that great composers have managed to demonstrate all the time by inspiring and impacting audiences all over the world.

Parla

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