Thursday, April 08, 2010

Shosty's son speaks.

Some regular readers may know that Dmitri Shostakovich is one of my favorite composers. (For more about Shostakovich and me, click here, here and here.) Thanks to Laura Brown, I had the opportunity yesterday to read an illuminating interview with the composer's son Maxim Shostakovich published in Tuesday's edition of the Times of London. Any Shostakovich fans who happen to read this blog would do well to read the interview, which provides an intimate and often surprising view of one of the greatest musical minds of the 20th century.

More than simply the son of a famous father, Maxim Shostakovich is a distinguished figure in his own right. Indeed, the contrasting life choices of Shostakovich père and Shostakovich fils may be said to complement one another in striking ways. The son of a profilic composer who never took to conducting, Maxim made his career as a conductor and "never composed a note." Unfairly derided by some as a lackey of the Soviet regime, the elder Shostakovich remained in his native Russia despite a complex and difficult relationship with its rulers; mindful of his father's inner struggles and increasingly wary of Soviet oppression, Maxim would eventually opt for exile and settle in the United States.

In his comments to the Times' Richard Morrison, the younger Shostakovich has some notable and perhaps surprising things to say about the meaning of his father's music. Addressing the enduring controversy surrounding the disputed Shostakovich memoir Testimony, which author Solomon Volkov claimed to have based on extensive interviews with the composer, Maxim Shostakovich criticizes the now-widespread view that many of his father's compositions were meant to offer coded commentary on the repression of the Soviet regime. In truth, Maxim suggests, his father's concerns were much more universal:
"Take the Leningrad Symphony," [Maxim Shostakovich] says, "Though it was written during that terrible siege, I don't think it is about Hitler or Stalin. It looks at the bigger philosophical picture. Like most of my father's 15 symphonies, it is about the endless battle between good and evil."

Similarly, Maxim believes that the Eighth Symphony, portrayed by Volkov as a vicious portrait of Stalin and a lamentation for all the people he killed, had a much more personal meaning. "When my mother died, I remember my father playing a recording of the Eighth Symphony over and over," Maxim says. "People think his music is all about politics. It isn't. It's more about human life in all its shadows, all its problems. War and peace, love and hate. He looked as a human being at the world around him."

And found only bleakness? "I wouldn't say that," Maxim says. "He certainly became sadder as he got older and saw what the world, and his country, had become. But I think his music shows that, ultimately, happiness comes. You know, although he didn't go to church, he believed in God."
To read the rest, click here. For my part, I was heartened by Maxim Shostakovich's rejection of overly reductionistic political readings of his father's music. Though I've been prone to endorse such readings at times, I also readily affirm that Shostakovich's music embraces all of human life. I never would have pegged the famously gloomy Shosty as an optimist, but I suppose that it's possible. I also never pegged him as a theist, so Maxim's statement that his father believed in God came as a real surprise to me. It remains to be seen whether this revelation will impact my approach to Shostakovich's music, but it at least offers food for further thought and reflection. Perhaps the other Shostakovich fans out there will agree. AMDG.


At 4/09/2010 7:31 AM, Blogger dpr1982 said...

Great post Joe; very enlightening about one of the leading figures in the artistic world of the 20th century. I took advantage of the links to your posts over the last few years on the subject of Shostakovitch--quite useful for someone like myself only recently beginning to gain a fuller appreciation of some of the major composers.


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