Classical Music Forum banner
101 - 120 of 139 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
10,200 Posts
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."
Judging from what's there, I think Craft couldn't see the forest for the trees. Shostakovich's music reflected the contradictions of his time. He held up a mirror to the darkest moments of the 20th century. He was extremely versatile, composing everything from film scores to jazz arrangements and a musical to works in all genres of serious music. Much like Ives, in his serious works he extensively quotes popular songs, folk tunes, including mottos and music by other composers as well as his own. Despite his early experimental phase, he was overall a refiner of developments in music, and he believed that music should speak directly to the listener.

His death was seen by many as the end of an era. I think that there's something to that, especially looking at how in the second half of the 20th century, a wide gap opened up between what some experts thought people should hear and what they actually wanted to hear. This applied not only to Shostakovich, but to many other composers who where deemed irrelevant. History might have proven many such experts wrong, or largely so, especially for putting such a high premium on innovation. Theirs was a blinkered version of modernism, which in reality was diverse and included eclectic figures like Shostakovich.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,890 Posts
Oh dear..........Looks like there are more self-appointed prosecutors here than in Shostakovich's USSR. I am not doing this again. Wait for the goodies.
You're the prosecutor. You made an accusation about the basis of Craft's opinion on the music of Shostakovich. We're the jury waiting for some sort of evidence. The problem is, prosecutors usually do their research before making accusations. You didn't. Instead you got the venue changed on the premise that it's a hot political topic. It isn't. It's just biography.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Madiel and Heck148

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,507 Posts
You're the prosecutor. You made an accusation about the basis of Craft's opinion on the music of Shostakovich. We're the jury waiting for some sort of evidence. The problem is, prosecutors usually do their research before making accusations. You didn't. Instead you got the venue changed on the premise that it's a hot political topic. It isn't. It's just biography.
Edward, do not take too much upon yourself. "You" are certainly not a jury, not by a long chalk. The very idea is hilarious. And it was not an accusation, juist a fair and dispassionate description of objective facts. Got to you, did not it?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,298 Posts
Now the question is: is it possible to separate music - or any other aspect of our social life - from politics?
Not only is it possible, it is inevitable. The politics and ideology of an era eventually fade away, while its art remains. Perhaps in the case of the Soviet Union, not enough time has yet passed. Still, I commend to all the oft-quoted passage below:

Theories of abstract philosophy, systems of profound theology, have prevailed during one age: In a successive period, these have been universally exploded: Their absurdity has been detected: Other theories and systems have supplied their place, which again gave place to their successors: And nothing has been experienced more liable to the revolutions of chance and fashion than these pretended decisions of science. The case is not the same with the beauties of eloquence and poetry. Just expressions of passion and nature are sure, after a little time, to gain public applause, which they maintain for ever. ARISTOTLE, and PLATO, and EPICURUS, and DESCARTES, may successively yield to each other: But TERENCE and VIRGIL maintain an universal, undisputed empire over the minds of men. The abstract philosophy of CICERO has lost its credit: The vehemence of his oratory is still the object of our admiration.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
635 Posts
Missed amidst the strange argument that Robert Craft was some cold warrior doing the bidding of the OSS/CIA is the fact that even if true it only makes his comments more inane and reprehensible because it means he was dishonestly (and perhaps even lying) about a living composer's legacy and style in pursuit of a secret agenda. I have no idea how that would make a person think more highly of Craft rather than if he'd just been giving his honest, albeit goofy and bordering on envious, opinion as a critic.

In any case I'll stand by him having a negative influence on Stravinsky. I don't even dislike all atonal music but I can imagine a universe where Stravinsky had a final act on par with his historical peers such as Beethoven and Debussy - experimental, but still containing tuneful masterpieces. While I don't think late Stravinsky is a total loss I am among those who think it's well below his early and middle period. If you like late Stravinsky, then bully for you - you should get a portrait of Robert Craft to hang in the john. The ad hominem and unpleasantness only makes certain posters seem desperate and insecure in the seemingly forever debate over serialism and atonalism.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,443 Posts
At the risk of sounding like a broken record: in the 1950s-70s Shostakovich's music was in the West in no way "threatening" to the status of Stravinsky (or Prokofiev).* It was in a niche in Western Europe and probably overall in the US, despite more American conductors championing the better known symphonies.
Unless there are very good reasons to suspect otherwise one should employ a principle of charity and take such comments as Craft's at face value and as honest personal evaluations of the music in question. Sure, some people tend to polemically exaggerate (e.g. Celibidache on Mahler or Leibowitz on Sibelius) but Craft's comment seems too "dry" for a polemic.

*The situation of the champions of dodekaphonism vs. Stravinsky in the 1920s was different. They really were pissed that what they considered primitive was more successful than their own school they considered in the great historical tradition of Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Brahms. Schoenberg called Stravinsky "the little Modernsky" in a short vocal piece.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
11,108 Posts
Now we have the benefit of distance from the time when the music was still quite new and listeners tended to be drawn to one or other musical ideology, I can listen to Bartok, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and even Schoenberg and hear music from all that is clearly of its time. Just as I can with Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Schubert, Bruckner and even Wagner. The differences in musical ideology and philosophy are interesting but just aspects of the different Romantics' or Modernists situations and personalities.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,298 Posts
Now we have the benefit of distance from the time when the music was still quite new and listeners tended to be drawn to one or other musical ideology, I can listen to Bartok, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and even Schoenberg and hear music from all that is clearly of its time. Just as I can with Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Schubert, Bruckner and even Wagner. The differences in musical ideology and philosophy are interesting but just aspects of the different Romantics' or Modernists situations and personalities.
I'm not sure why this point needs to be made, and repeatedly, in a classical music forum, but, well said.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
5,890 Posts
Edward, do not take too much upon yourself. "You" are certainly not a jury, not by a long chalk. The very idea is hilarious. And it was not an accusation, juist a fair and dispassionate description of objective facts. Got to you, did not it?
What bothers me is people who present BS claims as "objective facts" and then won't admit their mistake when they're called out. Instead of just admitting that you made a claim you can't support you instead got this uncontroversial thread switched to a forum with less traffic on a bogus claim of impending political controversy. Where's the controversy? If you had any evidence for your claims you would have presented it.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,298 Posts
What bothers me is people who present BS claims as "objective facts" and then won't admit their mistake when they're called out. Instead of just admitting that you made a claim you can't support you instead got this uncontroversial thread switched to a forum with less traffic on a bogus claim of impending political controversy. Where's the controversy? If you had any evidence for your claims you would have presented it.
Much as I dislike battles like this here, I have to concede I'm with you, and just as tired of this kind of thing. Like many musicians who take to writing, Craft had strong, passionately believed and expressed opinions. We can respect his musical achievements without agreeing to the letter with everything he wrote, much less accuse him of ulterior political motives. IMO, Knorf summed up Craft rather well in post 35 in this thread. What Craft is really saying about Shostakovich is what Chopin said about Liszt, Wagner about Mendelssohn, Schoenberg about Stravinsky, and Boulez about Schoenberg, all in the form of scathing put-downs: This person does not share my aesthetic values and vision in some significant way.

We could do without the political conspiracy theories.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,779 Posts
It's true. A thread listing and discussing every single famous musician in history who made negative comments about now-famous composers—whether mild or scathing, informed or prejudiced—would be a very long thread.

ETA: example, "was Mendelssohn right about Berlioz?"

Well, it was just, like, his opinion, man...

...and it happens I disagree with it. So what?
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
1,693 Posts
It's true. A thread listing and discussing every single famous musician in history who made negative comments about now-famous composers-whether mild or scathing, informed or prejudiced-would be a very long thread.

ETA: example, "was Mendelssohn right about Berlioz?"

Well, it was just, like, his opinion, man...

...and it happens I disagree with it. So what?
I think I said something similar on page 2.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
463 Posts
It's true. A thread listing and discussing every single famous musician in history who made negative comments about now-famous composers-whether mild or scathing, informed or prejudiced-would be a very long thread.

ETA: example, "was Mendelssohn right about Berlioz?"

Well, it was just, like, his opinion, man...

...and it happens I disagree with it. So what?
Or politicians. Churchill: "Attlee is a very modest little man. And he has plenty to be modest about!"
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
463 Posts
It's true. A thread listing and discussing every single famous musician in history who made negative comments about now-famous composers-whether mild or scathing, informed or prejudiced-would be a very long thread.]

Wasn't it Brahms who walked out of a gathering saying, "If there is anyone here I haven't insulted, I apologise!"
 

·
Registered
Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Debussy
Joined
·
1,693 Posts
Or politicians. Churchill: "Attlee is a very modest little man. And he has plenty to be modest about!"
Yes, a comment to be similarly disregarded, not least because it did not represent Churchill's whole attitide to Attlee, whom he actually regarded as a great patriot. But we digress!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
12,009 Posts
Although I am of course aware of the political forces which affected Shostakovich (all Soviet composers) - when I listen to the music that knowledge is the last thing I am thinking about. Even for the works which have something in the title, "1905", "To October", "Leningrad", etc., I ignore those subtitles and approach the music without any window dressing.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
414 Posts
Forster, Oct. 13th, 11:18 ... is right. The Second and Third Symphonies are definitely, NOT "dreck" ... but continuations of the brilliance that Shostakovich exhibited, in his First Symphony. In the Fourth, his "canvas" started to sprawl, a bit, but still retained the originality of the period, before Stalin cracked-down.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
635 Posts
It's true. A thread listing and discussing every single famous musician in history who made negative comments about now-famous composers-whether mild or scathing, informed or prejudiced-would be a very long thread.

ETA: example, "was Mendelssohn right about Berlioz?"

Well, it was just, like, his opinion, man...

...and it happens I disagree with it. So what?
It's a good starting point for discussion, IMO. Better than most at least. Lots of artists and critics held polemical opinions and it's fun to agree or disagree - that's just, like, the point of internet forums, man. Nabokov held extremely polemical (and often very stupid IMO) opinions on other authors. But he was funny, and kind of right, even while being wrong. I just feel Craft is wrong on this, and not right in any respect.
 
101 - 120 of 139 Posts
Top