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Music for Silenced Voices

Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Music for Silenced Voices
    Book Description:

    Most previous books about Dmitri Shostakovich have focused on either his symphonies and operas, or his relationship to the regime under which he lived, or both, since these large-scale works were the ones that attracted the interest and sometimes the condemnation of the Soviet authorities.Music for Silenced Voiceslooks at Shostakovich through the back door, as it were, of his fifteen quartets, the works which his widow characterized as a "diary, the story of his soul." The silences and the voices were of many kinds, including the political silencing of adventurous writers, artists, and musicians during the Stalin era; the lost voices of Shostakovich's operas (a form he abandoned just before turning to string quartets); and the death-silenced voices of his close friends, to whom he dedicated many of these chamber works.

    Wendy Lesser has constructed a fascinating narrative in which the fifteen quartets, considered one at a time in chronological order, lead the reader through the personal, political, and professional events that shaped Shostakovich's singular, emblematic twentieth-century life. Weaving together interviews with the composer's friends, family, and colleagues, as well as conversations with present-day musicians who have played the quartets, Lesser sheds new light on the man and the musician. One of the very few books about Shostakovich that is aimed at a general rather than an academic audience,Music for Silenced Voicesis a pleasure to read; at the same time, it is rigorously faithful to the known facts in this notoriously complicated life. It will fill readers with the desire to hear the quartets, which are among the most compelling and emotionally powerful monuments of the past century's music.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17178-5
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Dramatis Personae: A Selective List
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  4. 1 Elegy
    (pp. 1-32)

    It is hard to say whether he was extraordinarily fortunate or profoundly unlucky. Even he would probably have been unable to decide, for in regard to his own situation and his own character, he was often dubious and always divided. He was a self-acknowledged coward who sometimes demonstrated great courage. A born survivor, he was obsessed with death. He had an excellent sense of humor and an equally strong streak of melancholy. Though reserved in outward demeanor and inclined to long silences, he was subject to bouts of intense passion. Mentally and physically he tended to be either lightning fast...

  5. 2 Serenade
    (pp. 33-82)

    Having children of your own causes you to recall the child you once were. Shostakovich was no different from other parents in this respect, and Maxim’s birth would have been especially likely to remind him of his own childhood, for with the addition of this infant son, the composer’s family took on exactly the contours of the September 1906 household in which Dmitri Boleslavovich, Sofia Vasilyevna, and their first daughter, Maria, greeted the arrival of the newborn Dmitri (or “Mitya,” as he was called for short). But even without this perceived parallel—which could well have remained unconscious—Shostakovich’s thoughts...

  6. 3 Intermezzo
    (pp. 83-140)

    In considering the vile public interrogation to which Shostakovich was subjected by Andrei Zhdanov and the Central Committee of the Communist Party in early 1948, I cannot help feeling that there is an unfortunate analogy between the work of an artist’s biographer and that of his political persecutor.

    That is, there is something slightly Zhdanov-like in my desire to root around in Shostakovich’s mind, seeking out the private meanings behind the compositions and performances. Yet the impulse to unmask his music is hardly unusual. On the contrary, there seems to be something in the work that repeatedly elicits such attempts,...

  7. 4 Nocturne
    (pp. 141-188)

    And now something began to shift in Shostakovich’s life—some need, or some opportunity, that was connected to his reliance on the string quartet. In the first fifteen years after the war, he had turned to quartets only intermittently, producing one every three or four years, as if they were merely a private indulgence, a sideshow, a diversion from the main events of his musical life. But now, in 1960, he suddenly finished two quartets in one year: first the Seventh, which he completed in March, and then the remarkable Eighth, which he wrote at white-hot speed during the early...

  8. 5 Funeral March
    (pp. 189-276)

    By the fall of 1964, the outward forms of Shostakovich’s daily life had taken on pretty much their final shape. He and Irina were comfortably—indeed, by Soviet standards, luxuriously—settled in the Nezhdanova Street flat. The apartment had been remodeled after Maxim and his family moved out, and it now included four rooms plus bath and kitchen, the latter presided over by Maria Kozhunova, Fenya’s niece, who also did all the daily housecleaning. At the front of the flat, just inside the door that led in from the lift, was a formal, rather bare reception room in which Shostakovich...

  9. 6 Epilogue
    (pp. 277-318)

    What brought me to the quartets to begin with, I think, was that I could feel a voice speaking to me through them. Quite a few people seem to feel this way, and I think it may be this very quality that has deluded so many Shostakovich critics (myself, at times, included) into believing that they can give a unique and correct interpretation of his works. But of course music doesn’t work that way, particularly complicated, ambiguous music like Shostakovich’s string quartets. Still, there does seem to be an impulse toward communication of some kind in these works, and the...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 319-338)
  11. Recommended Listening
    (pp. 339-340)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 341-342)
  13. Index
    (pp. 343-350)