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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...
But he was at least witty. Supposedly Mendelssohn said that Berlioz's main problem was that he was going to a lot of trouble to become raving mad but never succeded.
 

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I just feel Craft is wrong on this, and not right in any respect.
Maybe so, but Craft isn't the only one to slam Shostakovich. In general, for most musicians we're better off listening to their music than reading their prose, especially their polemical prose. Even when the latter is interesting and insightful, it usually needs to be put in context. Neutrality and balance are far too much to ask for.
 

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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.
Same here...Shostakovich's works don't really need the political/patriotic context ..the music speaks well for itself.
 

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Same here...Shostakovich's works don't really need the political/patriotic context ..the music speaks well for itself.
Which is why it has a major place in the standard repertoire worldwide, 50-95 years after the fact. Regardless of what he might have done differently but for Stalin and his cultural henchmen.
 

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Ultimately, music is a medium in itself, its not a history book. However, I think that knowledge of the history behind the music can enhance the listener's experience. It can depend on the listener's interests, for example I've always been interested in history.

A big part of Shostakovich's uniqueness is that he bears witness to history. If there's one composer of the 20th century where its virtually impossible to avoid the circumstances in which the music was created, its him. I wouldn't go so far as say its undesirable to avoid the context, but I think that his music has added value exactly because it reaches out to the world beyond the concert hall. It addresses issues and explores areas that aren't easy to explore, even today with the events which inspired them being way in the past.

If listeners wish to venture deeply into his music, they can. When I first listened to Symphony #13 'Babi Yar' I didn't pick up the subtleties, because I wasn't aware of the history. I did some research on what actually happened at Babi Yar - the Shoah Foundation has done a lot in capturing eyewitness accounts by survivors on video - and then I realised why its such a significant work. With its fusion of music and poetry, its a memorial in music that demonstrates how Shostakovich was a master of narrative.

Ironically, while being accused of it by Zhdanov in 1948, Shostakovich went against the grain of formalism which was in vogue in the West. I doubt that his approach to music would have been much different had he moved to the West. It might have been worse, for example if Prokofiev had stayed in the USA, he would have been restricted to the life of a touring virtuoso like Rachmaninov. His own music would have taken a back seat, and American audiences didn't react well to even comparatively accessible works like Piano Concerto #3.

That's another side to this discussion, that we needn't buy into the Cold War dichotomy - from the Western viewpoint, at least - that East=stagnation, West=progress. Everyone focuses on Stalin, but Khrushchev did a lot to liberalise the arts. The Zhdanov Decree was rescinded in 1958, which opened up the path to cultural exchange - Russian musicians could work in the West, and Western musicians could do the same in Russia. Poland, one of the Soviet satellites, became a centre of new music in Europe with the Warsaw Autumn Festival. There are many sides to Shostakovich's story.
 

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Also, consider Shostakovich's wild opera The Nose. It's gigantic, hilarious, and blisteringly satirical. It's also extraordinarily audacious and imaginative! I mean, there's a two-minute percussion-only intermezzo in Act I!
I've been listening to "The Nose" - what a great, wild score!! really flashy, imaginative....I never got a chance to play this work...I wish I did, what a hoot!! I guess it doesn't get programmed all that much...
 

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I've been listening to "The Nose" - what a great, wild score!! really flashy, imaginative....I never got a chance to play this work...I wish I did, what a hoot!! I guess it doesn't get programmed all that much...
Well, it has an enormous cast, and is highly demanding of the orchestra as well as the staging, etc.

But I love it. Also, it's hilarious!
 

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Ultimately, music is a medium in itself, its not a history book. However, I think that knowledge of the history behind the music can enhance the listener's experience. It can depend on the listener's interests, for example I've always been interested in history.
A big part of Shostakovich's uniqueness is that he bears witness to history. If there's one composer of the 20th century where its virtually impossible to avoid the circumstances in which the music was created, its him.
Yes, this is true...Shostakovich lived the experience of Russia through much of the 20th century...It's much too trite, simplistic, to say that his music described, or depicted literally the times and events thru which he lived - but his music certainly reflects that national and personal experience - what a turbulent, violent, disruptive history for Russia in the 20th century....what other nations suffered such upheaval and violence?? China, maybe, Poland...??
The Czarist regime, the First World War, the Revolution, the brutal Civil War, the Stalin purges, the terrible ordeal of the Nazi invasion of WWII, the Cold War, the pressure to conform to party lines....
 

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Yes, this is true...Shostakovich lived the experience of Russia through much of the 20th century...It's much too trite, simplistic, to say that his music described, or depicted literally the times and events thru which he lived - but his music certainly reflects that national and personal experience - what a turbulent, violent, disruptive history for Russia in the 20th century....
The Czarist regime, the First World War, the Revolution, the brutal Civil War, the Stalin purges, the terrible ordeal of the Nazi invasion of WWII, the Cold War, the pressure to conform to party lines....
Shostakovich was a complex character, and his music reflects this. I think its hard to stereotype him. It could be that he brings to an end the era that started with the Enlightenment, carries on the legacies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler in particular, and maybe even prefigures the postmodern (working in so many genres, mixing high and low art, with self-quotations and quotations). Most of all, I think he had a connection with history as it was unfolding.

To go back to Babi Yar, I didn't realise that the eightieth anniversary of the massacre has just passed. When Shostakovich composed this symphony, memories of the war where still raw. There was no memorial there at the time, so in effect the symphony was the first monument to Babi Yar.

I think that in composing music like this, Shostakovich wasn't only seeking to be topical, but also wanting to reveal truth as he saw it. That truth wasn't always palatable, and its easy to see why. I certainly don't have a comprehensive acquaintance with his music. I rarely listen to it, because it can be a very bitter pill to swallow (and so it should be). This might explain why Khatchaturian paid tribute to Shostakovich as the conscience of Soviet music.

Incidentally, I think that Bernstein may well be the nearest equivalent to Shostakovich. Its not too difficult to figure out why if we compare their music. After reading Barry Seldes' book on him, I realised how he was just as much impacted by the politics of his own country (especially from 1950's to '70's, McCarthyism to Nixon). Added to that, the complication presented by him being bisexual. There are parallels between their experiences of the era, not the least because although they sought a pragmatic relationship to politics of the day, they couldn't help being caught up in the slipstream of what was going on.
 

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Well, it has an enormous cast, and is highly demanding of the orchestra as well as the staging, etc.

But I love it. Also, it's hilarious!
Act 3 has a very nice, high bassoon solo that recurs several times....it would be a fun book to play for sure....pretty wild stuff, esp when the police et al are chasing after the Nose to capture it!! what a riot!!
 

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Same here...Shostakovich's works don't really need the political/patriotic context ..the music speaks well for itself.
The thing about a political context is that eventually it fades. The work must stand on its own devoid of context if there is any lasting merit and universality. Shostakovich's work has proven to be of much studier stuff than Stalinism.
 

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The thing about a political context is that eventually it fades. The work must stand on its own devoid of context if there is any lasting merit and universality. Shostakovich's work has proven to be of much studier stuff than Stalinism.
Yes, at least with respect to the particular political circumstances he lived and worked under. The broader cultural context remains. That dry, sardonic wit, that stoic march through a lifetime of gray and icy Russian winters, staring at the bottom of an empty vodka glass, yet with an almost grim pride of their endless ability to resist and finally defeat those who would take this difficult existence away from them. You can see those things in the Russian character, and hear it in his music. It runs deeper than Stalin or communism, and doubtless will survive Putin and all of us, too.
 

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The thing about a political context is that eventually it fades. The work must stand on its own devoid of context if there is any lasting merit and universality. Shostakovich's work has proven to be of much studier stuff than Stalinism.
I don't think anything can be devoid of context, unless we know absolutely nothing about it. One of the great things about music is that it relates to not only history, but the other arts. Its fertile ground to build on our experience and knowledge.

Civilisation isn't just about separate objects in a museum, its about the relationship between them, which involves an accumulation of collective memory. Composers have always been part of responding to and contributing to that.

I also think that there is a real danger of letting important moments in history fade. Sometimes, I think that we need another Shostakovich, but I acknowledge that the world has changed.
 

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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. ..."
Rubbish. I have found compositions of Shostakovich to be profoundly moving, transformative. Some favorites: Symphony 5, Piano Quintet, Piano Concerto 2, Preludes & Fugues. Any one of those in my estimation would establish him as a great artist.
 

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After contemplating Craft's remarks, I have to admit he is correct.

So what?

In spite of Shostakovich's allege shortcomings he is still one of my favorite composers.

I have read here on TC grouchy members who find fault with Beethoven's Ninth.
 
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Shostakovich is a strange case. When I first got into classical music and had a particular fascination with 20th century European history I loved big symphonies like the 5th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 13th...it was notably more "modern" sounding than, say Beethoven symphonies, but still accessible.

Now, many years on, with the exception of the 5th and 13th, which I still find powerful, I find pieces like the "war" symphonies or something like the 11th a bit too bombastic and obviously "programmatic" and I kind of feel that without the historical context they really aren't musically that rewarding. On the other hand, I love some of the string quartets and many of the preludes and fugues.
Definitely Shostakovich's output is very mixed in quality, there are masterpieces and total dross. And it's extremely hard to separate the music from the historical context. But when he's good his music is extremely evocative and emotionally moving, and I'd certainly far rather listen to his strong quartets than say, Bartok's, even while accepting that Bartok is probably the more "important" composer musically.
 

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Shostakovich is a strange case. When I first got into classical music and had a particular fascination with 20th century European history I loved big symphonies like the 5th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 13th...it was notably more "modern" sounding than, say Beethoven symphonies, but still accessible.

Now, many years on, with the exception of the 5th and 13th, which I still find powerful, I find pieces like the "war" symphonies or something like the 11th a bit too bombastic and obviously "programmatic" and I kind of feel that without the historical context they really aren't musically that rewarding. On the other hand, I love some of the string quartets and many of the preludes and fugues.
Definitely Shostakovich's output is very mixed in quality, there are masterpieces and total dross. And it's extremely hard to separate the music from the historical context. But when he's good his music is extremely evocative and emotionally moving, and I'd certainly far rather listen to his strong quartets than say, Bartok's, even while accepting that Bartok is probably the more "important" composer musically.
Never have been impressed with f.i. (War) Symphony no. 7, but I recognize much of this.
I also prefer Shostakovich's music in the smaller ensembles & piano works.
Symphonies like nos. 2, 3, 11 and 12... nah. Not for me.

Funny (?) thing is, the only symphony that gained more and more of my appreciation during the years is no. 6. It's not a work that's mentioned a lot, afaik.

Another funny (?) thing: I've heard and read that many Mahler lovers like Shostakovich too (and vice versa).
I prefer good ole Gustav though, with quite a big margin.

Gustav is round, and Dmitry is square.
(In the literal meaning.)
At least, that's how I experience the difference.
Apparently, I prefer round.

(I.c. the political circumstances and its influence on Shostakovich's life and art: it's hugely interesting, but in the end I just take his music as it comes... as music.)
 

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I strongly disagree on RC's statement...

"Was Shostakovich a great composer? Yes he was by any perspective

..Not by any criteria of innovation in the language and style of music or by extraordinary powers of invention > I do not remember any other composer who was so interconnected with contemporary events and so capable of translating into music the events of his own time with so powerful results; revolution, war, Stalin and personal labor, fears and love....and he did it with an unprecedented irony and sarcasm...

.. The music that Shostakovich wrote does not exhibit a wide range of emotions > I think it's ONLY about emotions...about his frustration against the power, the absurdity of the war, the troublesome existence of human kind during his time. How we can possibly say Shostakovich's music is not about emotions...? RC does not really perceive such humanity in his music? How can you really have doubts if you LISTEN to the Adagio of his last composition, that long lasting C major that can only be a transcription of his own death's premonition...

..It depends on simple contrasts of the lyrical and the dramatic, the elegiac and the grotesque, the solemn and the 'impudent' > isn't that enough to exhibit a wide range of emotions...?

. . . The ideas are worked to death, the forms, with their clichés of crescendo and climax, tend to sprawl, and the substance is thin, maddeningly so." > this clearly explains that "substance" was Craft's issue, not Shostakovich's...

Never as today has Shostakovich's music been more relevant and today as never it shows all its value and its emotional charge.
All of the above is clearly my personal and humble opinion :)
 
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