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I'm not that deep into Shostakovich, so I'm curious about this statement by Robert Craft in the 1970s. Back when I was in school, this was the prevailing viewpoint. Was Craft correct, or was he blowing smoke from some sort of Cold War prejudice?

“Was Shostakovich a great composer? Not by any criteria of innovation in the language and style of music or by extraordinary powers of invention . . . The music that Shostakovich wrote does not exhibit a wide range of emotions. It depends on simple contrasts of the lyrical and the dramatic, the elegaic and the grotesque, the solemn and the 'impudent' . . . The ideas are worked to death, the forms, with their cliches of crescendo and climax, tend to sprawl, and the substance is thin, maddeningly so.”
 

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It's neither correct nor incorrect, but rather just an opinion. You might agree or disagree with Craft's opinion.

For myself, I partially agree, but I think Craft is missing some dramatic elements that Shostakovich was truly great at it, not to mention what Shostakovich achieved within restrictions, given how he was forced by his government, on threat of imprisonment or death, to restrict his imagination in terms of 20th-c innovations and novelties.
 

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I am somewhat inclined to agree with Craft, but one must remember Shostakovich's main critic, namely:Stalin (a certified psychopath and mass murderer). I'm sure if Robert Craft had had to answer to Stalin he wouldn't have shot his mouth off with quite the same abandon—or he'd be dead. He would have turned into quite a different writer and conductor. I do think Stalin greatly affected the kind of composer Shostakovich became, but I would be reluctant to write him off quite like Craft.
 

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Without knowing what works by Shostakovich Craft knew or the depth to which he knew them it's impossible for me to be sure he was just, as I suspect, emitting smoke from an alternative orifice. But it is certain that Craft was taking the group-think academic line of his time. All music history books of that era downplayed the significance of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Myaskovsky, Weinberg, Rachmaninoff, et alia. Those opinions aren't wearing well.
 

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When answering we must remember we only have the works written to judge him on, not what might have been. Of course his most radical work, Lady Macbeth, upset the mass-murderer Stalin with its immorality. Always interesting that a psychopath could murder millions without thought yet think a bed on stage was immoral! This nearly cost the composer his life so he intended to write to please after that. Of course, Craft tends to be typical of those who, being without an abundance of talent himself, tries to belittle those of vastly greater talent.
 

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Shostakovich may have held back certain compositions until it was more conducive for them to see the light of day but even when Stalin was alive and the cultural commissars were on his back the composer was still clever enough to mask his true thoughts behind song texts and musical ciphers. At least it proved that in this regard he was way ahead of the arbiters of taste who were responsible for picking ideological holes in his work. Even if Robert Craft was right Shostakovich should still be given special credit for having the kind of streetwise smarts that were beyond the arguably more gifted Prokofiev.
 

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I think it is at least interesting to have such comments because Shostakovich has been all but sainted in the last 25 years. I don't remember any negative press on him when I started listening to classical in the late 1980s but for a relative his music clearly was rather niche. I guess he was not modern enough for the more progressive half of musicians/audiences and denigrated as a Soviet state composer by the conservatives.
I don't remember exactly, maybe I had the 8th symphony on Naxos before but the first disc I remember buying was Haitink with 5 and 9 after I had seen the 9th at a concert (local provincial, not Haitink) in the early 1990s. Except for some not too well distributed russian recordings, Haitink was about the only easily buyable recording of the symphonies.
 

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No, he was wrong.

"Was Shostakovich a great composer? Not by any criteria of innovation in the language and style of music or by extraordinary powers of invention
1. Shostakovich was a great composer.

2. To measure greatness by innovation is stupid. It is the easiest thing to create new nonsense.

The music that Shostakovich wrote does not exhibit a wide range of emotions.
Not sure. Often he composed some dissonant emotional wastelands, that aren't that different to other works. Many parts of his symphonies are emotionally similar. But they are nonetheless interessting. Overall I think rhythm is a bigger part of the attraction of Shostakovich. But he also wrote great lyrical passages.

I don't know a composer before Shostakovich who wrote like Shostakovich, so I think it is fair to call it innovative.

But I think Shostakovich was at his best when he wrote conservative in the romantic sense. I'm not sure whether 19th century composers can keep up.
 

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Just another low-class musician opening his big mouth and dumping on a fellow musician. It strikes me that professional athletes exhibit much more respect for one another than musicians.
Apart from most boxers...
 
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Even if Craft was technically correct with all his points, not that I think they all are, he misses the main point. Shostakovich is great because his music makes a strong impact on many listeners.
 

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Craft was the worst thing that happened to Stravinsky's music. It's no surprise that he has other terrible opinions and ideas.
I kept reading this thread thinking someone must eventually say what you did. Thanks! You're right. Craft was undeniably a fine musician - but not a great composer. So, as happens too often in music, he rode to fame and glory on the coattails of a giant and steered the master into doing some stupid things. Craft was so beholden to modernism, serialism and other musical dead ends that Shostakovich, who was really pretty traditional, was a natural enemy and target. Craft was utterly wrong - Shostakovich was a great composer. Was he as great as Beethoven, Brahms, or Prokofieff? Maybe not. He sure wrote his share of duds and a good amount of dreck - mostly to stay alive and make people happy. But the composer of Lady Macbeth, Symphonies 1, 5, 8, 9, 10, 14, many of the string quartets, the 24 preludes and fugues for piano...those are pretty convincing proof of his stature.
 

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True, mbhaub, 'bout Robt. Craft, in many ways. Well, at the TIME, there was a neo-classical period that even Stravinsky embraced, so I wouldn't condemn him, too strongly. BTW, there's a truly EXCELLENT recording, by Craft, with the great Chicago Symphony of the time (late '60s?) in an orchestration (by Schoenberg!) of Brahms' Piano Quartet, Op. 25. Maybe we shouldn't "write him off"/Craft, too soon - eh? ... Also, thanks for mentioning your favorites of the Shostakovich Symphonies ... and yes, 8, 9, 10 and others are truly FINE. I might suggest two of his earlier works - hardly, ever played or recorded, anymore - the 2nd and the 3rd ... and the 4th "ain't bad", either. Thanks!
 

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I don't really like to analyze what makes a composer great or what makes Shostakovich Shostakovich. I'm more interested in just listening to different perspectives on it, so I would classify the OP perspective as 'interesting.'

Not surprised by any classical fan disliking Shostakovich. Classical fans dislike Bach and Beethoven. Classical fans include all kinds of less known composers in their top. It's all subjective and not right or wrong.
 

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I don't really like to analyze what makes a composer great or what makes Shostakovich Shostakovich. I'm more interested in just listening to different perspectives on it, so I would classify the OP perspective as 'interesting.'

Not surprised by any classical fan disliking Shostakovich. Classical fans dislike Bach and Beethoven. Classical fans include all kinds of less known composers in their top. It's all subjective and not right or wrong.
Pardon? Don't see them queuing up?
 
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