Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Shostakovich Legacy

The music of Dmitry Shostakovich occupies an unusual place in the history of Russian music, and indeed of classical music in general. Although the composer's roots were in the avant-garde experiments of the 1920s, and he learned a great deal from modernist practitioners like Alban Berg and Paul Hindemith, he also wrote much symphonic music in a romantic idiom that derives from the work of Gustav Mahler. The debates about how far Shostakovich succumbed to the pressures of Soviet cultural officialdom still continue today, and the truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle. A work like the tenth symphony shows the dichotomy at its sharpest. In it, a long, intensely personal and tragic opening movement that is almost a lyric symphony on its own is followed by movements that become more and more impersonally stereotyped and formal: the closing Allegro sounds almost like an advertisement for socialist realism itself.

Like Nikolai Myaskovsky, but for wholly different reasons, Shostakovich now risks becoming a historical figure of interest to musicologists and specialists, but uncongenial - and largely unfamiliar - to the concert-going and music-listening public at large. In the Chicago Tribune, Alex Rodriguez writes about the efforts currently being made by Natalia and Mark Matsov in Tallinn, Estonia, to find a permanent home for the composer's legacy:

For decades, Shostakovich was viewed by Russians and the West alike as a mouthpiece for Soviet propaganda. Even in today's Russia, he is dismissed as irrelevant or conformist. But Matsov and her brother, Mark, ardently believe the archive Shostakovich left in their apartment can help rehabilitate that reputation, making him not just a historical figure to commemorate but a creative voice to revere.

On a recent icy morning in the Estonian capital, Matsov, the daughter of Roman Matsov, Shostakovich's close friend and conductor, leafed through dog-eared folders of writings and scores: a batch of 1946 letters to doctors urging them to treat the elder Matsov, then a budding pianist and violinist recovering from a war injury to his right hand; a 5-inch thick file scoring all instruments for Shostakovich's last symphony; telegrams he sent to Roman Matsov in 1953 hailing the conductor's performances in Leningrad.

For three decades, Natalia Matsov says, Shostakovich's archive has languished here unstudied, a disorganized jumble of boxes and folders layered in dust.

The full scores are on the shelf, but the rest isn't catalogued," says Matsov, 38, a London opera singer who flies to Tallinn every few months to pay bills and check on the apartment. "I don't even know how many recordings there are."

Last year marked the centenary of Shostakovich's birth, a milestone Russia barely noticed. A concert in Moscow conducted by the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in September marked one of the only tributes Shostakovich's motherland paid him.

Post a Comment