Points in response to issues arising from DSCH 10

Ian MacDonald

While I sympathise with Michael Kerpan's weary wish (DSCH 10, p. 42) that all the wrangling over Shostakovich would stop - in particular the bitter tone of it, which the record will show originated from the anti-revisionist side, but which has now regrettably become general (mea culpa) - the fact is that this debate, together with the anger it sparks in the participants, is based on genuine issues rooted in a terrible reality. Shostakovich's music deals with matters certain to provoke strong feelings, and those who profess casual amusement in these matters show only that they do not begin to grasp what is ultimately involved. To fully engage with Shostakovich's music is not your typical armchair pursuit; this is not comfortable art. Russians who knew the composer have repeatedly stressed the inextricable link between his work and the horrors of Stalinism. Knowing little about the latter, many Western critics have sought to detach the music from its context; hence the wrangling (of which the controversy over Testimony is merely one aspect). Michael Kerpan is correct to the extent that this wrangling is exhausting and often unseemly, but his hope that it is soon scheduled to end is, I'm afraid, forlorn. If nothing else, the variety of outlook displayed in the reviews of Shostakovich Reconsidered will tell him that. But there is, in addition, the question of accumulating knowledge. Nothing even approaching a definitive study of Shostakovich's life and work has appeared yet, nor seems likely to emerge for at least another five or ten years. (When such a thing arrives, it will probably come from Russia in multiple volumes.) Meanwhile, our knowledge will continue to accumulate, and wrangling over it will accordingly persist. As for "ad hominem" criticism, a certain amount of this is built into the debate inasmuch as views are attached to assumptions, and assumptions attach to individual persons. I would be most happy to lower the temperature, but names will always have to be named and this must inevitably evoke subjective responses from those involved.

I'd like here to float a concept: pseudo-centrism. In "The Turning Point" (DSCH 9), I predicted that anti-revisionists would "quietly and gradually abandon their former posture and move closer to the revisionist position, declaring as they do so that they are assuming a notional 'middle ground' - a supposed point of balance between 'extremes' from which they may re-establish themselves as 'temperate' arbiters of the real truth about Shostakovich: that he was a puzzling, inconsistent, essentially incalculable figure about whose life and work it is, conveniently, impossible to say anything definite at all". DSCH 10 provides much wearisome evidence of this. It also shows that this "notional 'middle ground'" serves mainly as a retreat for those who lack sufficient knowledge of the Soviet context to risk making categorical statements.

Louis Blois, for example, hopefully suggests that we must acknowledge "a position of uncertainty" and learn to live with "the annoying ambiguities". This is becoming a favourite premise among those pundits whose slim acquaintance with the Soviet context fails to prevent them pontificating not only on the supposed inscrutability of Shostakovich's motives but also on the alleged opacity of the Soviet scene (in which, they would wish us to accept, contradiction was a fundamental condition of life and no one could ever be certain what they, or anyone else, really believed). This vaguely Kafkaesque vision holds obvious appeal to those wishing, for whatever reason, to avoid firm conclusions. The trouble is that the more we learn about Soviet life, the less inscrutable it becomes. There are, as books like Sarah Davies' Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia demonstrate, coherent patterns under the apparently cryptic surface: patterns of resistance and dissent. Nor, as Vladimir Ashkenazy has pointed out, is Shostakovich much of a mystery. The congruity of the views of the composer offered by those who knew him is truly impressive (see "Witnesses for the Defence", DSCH 10). Yet, even if his colleagues had not left us so consistent a picture of his character and motivations, we would still have the Soviet context, general and particular, to guide us. The more we learn about this context - and our knowledge is developing fast - the easier Shostakovich becomes to understand. Indeed, it is mainly ignorance of this context which leads pundits like Taruskin, Blois, and Fanning to suggest that Soviet reality was irredeemably enigmatic and that consequently we cannot be sure of anything about Shostakovich. On the contrary: Soviet reality is getting clearer, and so are our lines of deduction and conclusion about Shostakovich. In addition to Testimony, the "small 't' testimony" of those who personally knew the composer, and the continually clarifying Soviet context, there is the music itself. To many, it does not need decoding; its message of dissent and protest is manifest in its moods and forms. Others claim not to detect this. Yet, when it can, Shostakovich's music speaks without equivocation, as Richard Taruskin has been obliged to concede in the cases of the Eighth Quartet and the Fifth Symphony (III), and as commentators such as Shostakovich's colleague Lev Lebedinsky and the musicologist Rein Laul have contended in respect of several other ostensibly inexplicit works. Similar decoding of details by which music apparently "silent" of meaning can be made to "speak" will continue, whether legitimately or not. One example of such legitimate decoding is Raymond Clarke's suggestion (in DSCH 10) regarding the Fafner motif in Wagner's Siegfried, as alluded to in Shostakovich's Fourth and Thirteenth symphonies. It is worth adding that RC's observation about the chronological closeness of work on these symphonies in 1961-2, with his suggestion of compositional cross-fertilisation, is supported by a similar chain of associations in that period between Shostakovich's and Vainberg's work, centred on the latter's Fifth Symphony, which stands between Shostakovich's revived Fourth and his work on the Thirteenth (see Shostakovich Reconsidered, p. 697, fn. 156). Furthermore, RC's thesis supports my suggestion of a programmatic parallel (RC: "the secret fear of a knock at the door", cf. Eighth Quartet, IV) between "Fears" in the Thirteenth Symphony and the passage at figs. 46-7 in the first movement of the Fourth Symphony (which, as I note in The New Shostakovich [pp. 112-3], suggests a midnight visitation by the Soviet secret police.) While we're on the subject, may I point out, vis-à-vis Derek Hulme's "Shostakovich and the Scottish Connection" (DSCH 10), that "O, Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast" is quoted in the first movement (fig. 13) of the Thirteenth Symphony (cf. Ho and Feofanov, op. cit, p. 603).

Louis Blois

It is to be hoped that Louis Blois is paying attention here, since he has spoken more than once, off-handedly, of the "absurdly detailed meanings" writers like myself have advanced in respect of Shostakovich's ostensibly abstract music. I cannot be sure, however, that he will pay such attention, since his equally off-hand reference to my piece "The Turning Point" (DSCH 9) as a "tirade" shows him unwilling to recognise that it is a reasoned dissection of facets of anti-revisionism which require rebuttal or acknowledgement. How can Blois complain about my supposed failure to address what he calls "the blatant flaws of Testimony" when he so cavalierly fails to address the multiplicity of points raised against anti-revisionism in "The Turning Point"? Speaking of which, it seems fair to ask why Blois fails to address any of the similar multiplicity of points raised in defence of Testimony by Allan B. Ho and Dmitry Feofanov in Shostakovich Reconsidered? - For instance, what has Blois to say about the evidence, officially conceded by Irina Shostakovich (and ignored by M. H. Brown), that Volkov's work with Shostakovich on Testimony was known by at least four people to be proceeding at the very time Volkov claims it did? And what of the mass of ancillary evidence presented by Ho and Feofanov in favour of Volkov and against Fay and Taruskin? One is obliged to suppose that Blois wrote his attack before reading Shostakovich Reconsidered, supposing he has read it yet - much as he attacked "The Turning Point" without addressing its arguments. That Blois had not read the pro-Testimony case in Shostakovich Reconsidered before weighing in would also account for his ingenuous confidence in proposing his own theory of the genesis of From Jewish Folk Poetry:

"According to Laurel Fay, the Op. 79 songs, with their basis in folksong, were originally intended as a gesture of compliance with the [1948 Composers' Union] decree, yet had the misfortune of having been completed in Fall, 1948, when Stalin was launching a fierce new anti-Semitic campaign. Not everyone agrees with this position. Those opposing this view feel that the choice of Jewish material was a conscious gesture of protest from the point of conception. The truth seems to lie somewhere in between."
On what authority does Blois inform us that "the truth seems to lie somewhere in between"? If he has not read Shostakovich Reconsidered and did not read the issue of East European Jewish Affairs in which my rebuttal of Fay's claims about From Jewish Folk Poetry first appeared, then he has presumably not read the accompanying case for concluding that Shostakovich knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote FJFP, intending it as a piece protesting in Aesopian style against official persecution of Soviet Jews (which had been in full swing since 1942 and which finally provoked him into artistic action against it when it extended to the murder of Solomon Mikhoels in January 1948). Blois concedes, as though in full possession of the facts, that "not everyone agrees with" Fay's aberrant thesis. Yet, if he hadn't read my case against Fay when he wrote his review (DSCH 10, p. 79), how can he know who these mysterious dissidents are and what they say? Does he realise that they include Fay's friend Elizabeth Wilson, Mikhoels' daughter Natalya Vovsi-Mikhoels, Fay's cited authority Joachim Braun (who, like Madame Vovsi-Mikhoels, has directly repudiated Fay's claims) and, latterly, Eric Roseberry (who confidently interprets FJFP as a "fierce protest" on behalf of Soviet Jews, devised, like Shostakovich's other "Jewish" works, using "a form of Aesopic [sic] language, in which the composer identifies with a persecuted race" [notes, Chandos CHAN9600])? Is he aware that Richard Taruskin (Defining Russia Musically, p.473) and Manashir Yakubov (LSO series booklet, p. 11) hold the same view of FJFP as Vovsi-Mikhoels, Braun, et al? If Blois doesn't know any of this, how can he pass judgement on what these various commentators - revisionists and anti-revisionists alike - think (or, as he dismissively puts it, "feel") about this issue? And how can he purport to tell the world that "the truth lies somewhere in between" and expect to be taken seriously?


Louis Blois's offhand claim to have the key to From Jewish Folk Poetry is a prime example of pseudo-centrism. In putting forward his own tenuous hypothesis, Blois attempts to stake his place in the "notional 'middle ground'" - a supposed point of balance between "extremes" from which he may establish himself as "temperate" arbiter of the real truth about Shostakovich. Given the facts and arguments I have advanced in this matter, Blois's conclusion - that "even by the most conservative interpretation, one must acknowledge that the composer must have had some idea of the controversial nature of an explicitly Jewish theme, particularly in the midst of Zhdanovshchina, and even before it" - amounts to a deliberate evasion designed to present himself as a "balanced" moderate, instead of what he is: a sympathiser with anti-revisionism who, rather than concede that revisionism has the answer in this case, has opted to dream up a non-existent "central" position into which to retreat, and from which to muddy the waters of the debate. In truth, there is no justification whatever for adopting such a pseudo-central position on Shostakovich's motives in From Jewish Folk Poetry. Consequently I request Blois to tell us why he does so, making appropriate reference to my full case against Fay's thesis, which I cordially invite him to rebut (as in "contend reasonably against" rather than "loftily insult").

The concept of pseudo-centrism implies, somewhere in the debate on Shostakovich, a genuine centre: a point of reasonable balance as near as possible congruent with the truth. Before Testimony - and, later, The New Shostakovich, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, and Shostakovich Reconsidered - that central point was taken to be identical with what has since become the diehard persuasion of anti-revisionism (what, in "Witnesses for the Defence", I call the Naive Approach). The Shostakovich debate is now witnessing a struggle to define the real centre of the debate. It is my contention that revisionism resides at that centre. While anti-revisionists disagree, they have failed to establish a defensible stance in juxtaposition with revisionism; hence their characteristic slogans: "the truth seems to lie somewhere in between", "we must distrust all extremes", and so forth. (Those temperamentally disposed to "distrust" extremes are urged to put that distrust to the test by reading - at the very least - The Gulag Archipelago before venturing any more judgements on who is closest to the truth in this debate.) Theories are judged by their success in explaining phenomena. The more phenomena and the more ostensible contradictions a theory explains, the stronger it is. I submit that revisionism explains more phenomena and more ostensible contradictions in the life and work of Shostakovich than any rival contention (supposing that coherent rival contentions do exist, which is debatable).

Barbara Amiel

The incoherence of revisionism's rival contentions is illustrated repeatedly in the hostile reviews of Shostakovich Reconsidered reproduced in DSCH 10. For example, vis-à-vis Shostakovich's contested motives in composing From Jewish Folk Poetry, Barbara Amiel claims:

"There is nothing mutually exclusive about the same person at the same time being (1) an inner dissident, (2) wanting to satisfy the Politburo, (3) knowing Jews were persecuted by the Communists, and (4) writing a piece of music about Jews to please the Communists. And further, (5), having had the 'rotten luck' to pick the wrong group, turning that accidental act into a deliberate act of heroism in his own mind."
Nothing mutually exclusive about being a dissident and wanting to satisfy the Politburo? A fair, if limited, definition of Soviet dissidence would be wishing to blow the Politburo to kingdom come. Only a non-dissident would wish to "satisfy" it. In any case, how could writing a piece sympathetic to Soviet Jews in 1948 "please" the political body which had organised their persecution since 1942? Only if Shostakovich hadn't known that Soviet Jews were persecuted could he have made such a blunder. Yet, as Amiel allows in the third of her allegedly compatible options, Shostakovich did know that Jews were persecuted by the Communists. All the evidence we have suggests Shostakovich was incensed by Soviet official anti-semitism. Why then would he try to please the Communists who were persecuting Jews? Why not simply avoid the issue by picking another group instead of annoying the anti-semitic Politburo he was allegedly trying to satisfy? The evidence - Amiel is as loose with this as she is with logic - conclusively shows that "Fay Laurel"[sic]'s proposition that Shostakovich merely "had the rotten luck to pick the wrong group" is flatly untenable. As Amiel herself concedes in her option (3), he knew exactly what he was doing. No luck, rotten or otherwise, came into it. What need, then, to "turn" it into anything else at all, let alone "an act of heroism in his own mind"? (And where is the evidence that he, a modest man, ever did so?) The overwhelming conclusion is that Shostakovich's composition of From Jewish Folk Poetry, far from "accidental", was knowing and purposive, and hence, in its context of Soviet anti-Semitism (and pace Amiel), dissident.

Amiel's inability to connect two thoughts in logical sequence is confirmed by her reference to "sarcastic allusions to Stalin" in Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto. "These allusions," says Rostropovich, "are camouflaged so craftily that even I did not notice them to begin with. I doubt if I would have detected [them] if Dmitry hadn't pointed it out to me." Amiel remarks: "If Slava couldn't hear the tune, I'd say it wasn't there!" Does she mean that (1) Shostakovich said it was there but was mistaken, (2) Shostakovich said it was there but was lying, (3) Rostropovich said Shostakovich said it was there but was lying, (4) she can't hear it, (5) she can't see it (on pp. 478-9 of the very book, edited by Elizabeth Wilson, in which Rostropovich claims this)? "I don't believe Shostakovich was a closet dissident," Amiel opines. But if Shostakovich wasn't a dissident, why did he write savagely dissident works like Rayok (1948/57) and the Thirteenth Symphony (1963)? Why do half of the witnesses in Wilson's book speak of him as a dissident? Why do none of the others call him a conformist? Has Amiel read Wilson's book with her mind engaged? Has she read Allan Ho and Dmitry Feofanov's book at all?

Canadian curiosities

Barbara Amiel's review - an oddity in itself, since she is better known as a general political pundit and (as her reference to "Fay Laurel" shows) she has no background in the Shostakovich debate - appeared out of the blue in the Canadian magazine Maclean's in June 1998. Apparently she had read Norman Lebrecht's column (DSCH 10, p. 50) in The Daily Telegraph - one of hundreds of publications owned by her husband, the Canadian newspaper magnate Conrad Black - and decided to appoint herself a national Shostakovich expert for a week. I sent the substance of the above rebuttal to Maclean's, but received no acknowledgement. Presumably Amiel read it.

By intriguing coincidence, a second attack on Shostakovich Reconsidered (Tamara Bernstein's "Memoirs in the Wrong Key") appeared five months later in a leading Canadian publication, Conrad Black's National Post, this time including a personal swipe at me. Suddenly, for some reason, the Shostakovich debate was big news in Canada. Bernstein's review - which twice opts for the adjective "rabid" in accusing Ho and Feofanov of using "overwrought and paranoid imagination" to produce "a scurrilous volume" - was the result, among other things, of a curtailed encounter with Shostakovich Reconsidered under the pressure of a deadline. Conceivably, Ms. Bernstein might have been more calmly magisterial had she had enough time for a redraft. Let us give her the benefit of the doubt. In any case, speculation of a more enlightening sort, as those who read her review with a cool head will have noticed, arises from phrases used by her which seem curiously redolent of another voice: "the authors can only argue their case by appropriating the tried and true techniques of Stalinism to silence those who dare to see things differently"; "the perilous (and for most westerners, probably unimaginable) dance of dissent and collaboration citizens of a totalitarian state must perform"; "a sophomoric attack on three of the most eloquent and informed scholars in the West: Fay, [...] Richard Taruskin, and Malcolm Brown..." The echoes are uncanny. Is it possible that we hear, murmuring in the background of Tamara Bernstein's torrid exposition, the "ventriloquial" voice of none other than Professor Taruskin himself? Such a suspicion would conceivably constitute rabid and scurrilous imagination were it not for its dénouement. Hoping to correct certain misconceptions in Ms Bernstein's review, my colleague Dmitry Feofanov emailed her to this effect - only to receive, with uncanny promptness, a derisive reply from Richard Taruskin. Presumably uncertain of being able to answer Feofanov's points, Ms Bernstein had hastily forwarded these to her sponsor, who, instead of remembering to maintain his cover by feeding the answers back through her, replied directly to Feofanov. Had Taruskin, then, used Tamara Bernstein as his mouthpiece, dictating her review, as it were, from behind her name? Her allusion to my "long-standing vendetta" against Taruskin suggests this, since it conforms less to anti-climactic reality than to Taruskin's more dramatic elaboration of it. This calls for a brief, skippable, digression so that earnest readers have the means of judging:

In September 1990, I wrote to The Times Literary Supplement in response to Simon Karlinsky's review of The New Shostakovich, in which he commended Taruskin's reading of Lady Macbeth as an apologia for genocide. I proposed several obvious arguments against this reading, which I perhaps incautiously referred to as a "cross-eyed hypothesis". Neither Karlinsky nor Taruskin replied. Silence ensued till 1995, whereupon Taruskin appeared in David Fanning's Shostakovich Studies, abusing me in a most resourceful way and, more to the point, advancing an account of the reception of the composer's Fifth Symphony which misrepresented Soviet history and falsified the record so as to lead his readers to conclude that Shostakovich was not a dissident. I rebutted Taruskin's essay in my review of Shostakovich Studies; he again made no reply. I subsequently discovered that he had attacked me further in The Atlantic Review, a piece later worked into a chapter in his book Defining Russia Musically. Since this contained additional misrepresentations and apparent logical inconsistencies, I rebutted these in my article "The Turning Point" - to which, yet again, Taruskin made no reply. I have since added a sub-set of criticisms of Taruskin in my piece "Moral Anti-Communism". My criticisms of Taruskin have consisted of closely-argued factual counters, to which he has never replied. If this meagre non-exchange of views constitutes a "vendetta", I confess that it has not, at least to me, been a very exciting one. Ms Bernstein's review, however, forces the conclusion that it has been extremely exciting (as in "absolutely infuriating") to Richard Taruskin.

Tamara Bernstein

But who, some readers may be asking, is Tamara Bernstein, and how does she come to be running errands for Taruskin? Ms Bernstein is a producer of classical profiles for CBC radio. In late 1994, CBC broadcast her three-part documentary, In Search of Shostakovich, for which she commenced her research in 1993, starting out from an inclination towards the revisionist view of Shostakovich which led her to approach me for an interview. Since I make a rule of not submitting my Shostakovich work to outside editorial control and was, in any case, then immersed in writing another book, I politely declined her request, instead posting her English versions of various Russian articles attesting to Shostakovich's disposition as a secret dissident. These included Lev Lebedinsky's long letter to Novy Mir, Daniil Zhitomirsky's two-part article in Daugava, and Lev Mazel''s piece in Sovetskaya Muzyka. I had no idea then of Ms Bernstein's assumptions and hoped that reading these pieces might assist her. In the event, I heard no more from her. I must conclude that she soon afterwards called off her "search" for Shostakovich, having approached Richard Taruskin who, I deduce, followed his well-known anti-Stalinist principles by "dissuading" her from having anything more to do with me, sending her off instead to his colleague Laurel Fay. It would seem that Ms Bernstein has been faithfully at their bidding ever since.

Presumably around the time, early in 1994, that her documentary was approaching its initial outline, Ms Bernstein learned that Elizabeth Wilson was about to publish Shostakovich: A Life Remembered later that year. It would appear that Ms Bernstein failed to secure a preview of the testimony on display in Wilson's book or she might have drawn back from the full-tilt anti-revisionist thesis she was planning. The fact, however, that she remains so fervently wedded to the Fay-Taruskin-Brown position suggests either that she is unable to comprehend Wilson's testimonials or that she is so docilely in thrall to her tutors that she cannot admit any documentary material in conflict with their opinions. (That Ms Bernstein twice refers, as if in awe, to F/T/B's "daring" in advancing their quaint theories, suggests that she accepts the notion that these academic heavyweights, along with their British cousins, are besieged victims of an overwhelming terror campaign waged by some hefty oppositional majority; whereas, until Shostakovich Reconsidered came out last year, the only voice raised consistently against anti-revisionism in the English-speaking world was my own.) As for Taruskin, the probability is high that he saw proofs of Wilson's book before being interviewed for Ms Bernstein's documentary, for he is as uncharacteristically cautious in his comments to her as he is in his article "Who Was Shostakovich?" in The Atlantic Monthly, written shortly thereafter (and, by then, certainly having read Shostakovich: A Life Remembered). There is no reiteration of his "genocide" theory of Lady Macbeth in the documentary; indeed, Taruskin is silent for what seems like hours at a time. At this point, a summary of In Search of Shostakovich is in order.

The CBC Shostakovich documentary

Tamara Bernstein narrates her own script in a charmingly innocent-sounding voice. Her interviewees are: Richard Taruskin, Laurel Fay, Elizabeth Wilson, Rostislav Dubinsky, Oleg Prokofiev, Harlow Robinson, and Caryl Emerson, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton (a specialist in both the 19th century and the literary criticism of Mikhail Bakhtin). Professor Emerson does a lot of the talking.

Ms Bernstein begins by stating that Testimony cannot be considered "authentic" and that it will consequently not be quoted. On the other hand, Shostakovich's similarly controversial "interview" with the New York Times in 1931 - with its toeing of the contemporary RAPM line that all music is ideological, etc - is quoted with neither caution nor qualification. (The Cultural Revolution goes all but unmentioned.) The presiding theme of the three programmes is that Shostakovich was, politically, an "idealist" and a "civic" artist sympathetic to the aims of Communism - until 1948, whereupon the penny finally dropped and he started to get "bitter". Taruskin kicks off the series by stating that "we" in the West cannot imagine the sort of conditions Shostakovich worked under; thus we shouldn't presume to do so. The fact that any comment on Shostakovich which goes beyond his scores entails imagining the sort of conditions he worked under - and that this is what Taruskin, like everyone else, does, when required - may or may not have occurred to him. The remark, like most of his pronouncements on Shostakovich, is meant, in effect, to stifle active thought along lines divergent from his. Later in the series, Taruskin makes his "there were no dissidents in Stalin's USSR" speech (almost a verbatim copy of the claims in his essay in Shostakovich Studies) and rehearses his fall-back position that "even if Testimony should turn out to be authentic, we shall never know if it's truthful".

In the first programme, the usual cornflake-packet view of Soviet life in the 1920s is trotted out: fervently idealistic artists work for the People for a stale roll and a cup of tea, creating colourful media-diversity in a mood of mad gaiety, subverting every socio-cultural convention, outraging the rotten bourgeoisie, etc. Of the Red Terror, Lenin's proto-Gulag, the ongoing Bolshevik campaign against the intelligentsia, the stigmatisation of class enemies, the destruction of the church, the rise of Stalin, and the horrors of the First Five-Year Plan, we are told nothing. The first crunch comes with Lady Macbeth. Instead of Taruskin's "genocide" version of the opera, we get Caryl Emerson's theory - which is that Katerina embodies the Russian archetype of a flawed soul redeemed through the consequences of committing a great crime. Her intricate thesis assumes that archetypal issues of the "Russian soul" had currency in the militantly atheistic USSR of the 1930s. They did not. Emerson goes on to expand her "soul" thesis into an apolitical rationale for the banning of the opera in 1936: that Russians, with their "deep ambivalence about being accepted by the West", are prone to distance themselves from anything which becomes popular outside Russia, an ailment to which Lady Macbeth fell victim. That is: the opera was banned because "it was too well-received in the West". A recurring motif of these programmes is a studied downplaying of the role of Stalin, decisions usually being said to be taken by "the Soviet government"; Emerson's serpentine hypothesis may be bound up with this. Whatever the truth, it is difficult to determine whether she means that Stalin recoiled from the Western success of Lady Macbeth because he feared for the loss of the Russian soul or that he attacked the opera because he simply didn't like the fact that the West enjoyed it. (The latter is at least provisionally plausible - but, in that case, why the digression about soulful ambivalence? What the average Russian felt was irrelevant in 1936.) All we can be sure of is that Professor Emerson's conjecture is resolutely apolitical - another recurring motif of Ms Bernstein's series. There is, for example, no acknowledgement that the attack on Shostakovich at the start of 1936 was immediately linked to a general attack on Soviet music and followed by a succession of similar attacks on other areas of Soviet culture throughout the year. (Nor, disappointingly, is there any elaborate Emersonian speculation to the effect that The Limpid Stream was savaged by Pravda for being too popular in the West.)

Caryl Emerson's remarks throughout the series, while intelligent, are idiosyncratic and historically under-informed. One wonders why a specialist in the 19th century is asked to comment on conditions in Soviet society which bear no relation to those obtaining under Tsarism. At one point, she pooh-poohs Solomon Volkov's claim that Shostakovich's friends considered him to be a yurodivy because, she claims, if Shostakovich is to be called that, anyone with normal human contradictions could equally well be called the same. One has only to be familiar with the extraordinary variety of ways in which Shostakovich presented himself to different people, not to mention his pseudo-idiotic performances when reading official speeches, to realise that his behaviour far exceeds anything we might reasonably assimilate as "normal human contradictions". In another (amazing) passage, Emerson suggests that Soviet artists persecuted during the Terror welcomed martyrdom as ennobling, rejoicing in their victimhood. Quite simply, this commentator is working out of her jurisdiction and prone to howlers as a result. Like Laurel Fay, Emerson is basically insensitive to Shostakovich's irony and sarcasm - a handicap accentuated by her innocence of the Soviet context. One hesitates to roll out the phrase "ivory tower", since that is such an egregious cliché where certain academics are concerned; yet it applies in her case.

Taruskin reappears to discuss the Fifth Symphony: a very mild version of his essay in Fanning's book. He confines his comments entirely to the third movement, the implication, again ubiquitous in the series, being that "pure" music is insusceptible to "extra-musical" interpretation (i.e., movements I, II, and IV are "pure" music). He hears echoes of Orthodox funeral chant and of the finale of Das Lied von der Erde in III, and proposes that these echoes were designed to "trigger" grief. This takes him close to conceding that Shostakovich was making a dissident statement, since grief was then (1937: the height of the Terror) entirely appropriate but officially forbidden. Though his deductions are as uncertain as those in his essay, Taruskin is quite clear that Shostakovich was "bearing witness" to the events which caused this grief. The implication is that by, in effect, musically saying "Grieve, Russia" without, in effect, musically adding "How vile, how stupid, and how unjust is the cause of this grief", Shostakovich fell short of dissidence, merely doing the duty of a "civic" idealistic. This is why, for Taruskin, such interpretation must be confined to the symphony's slow movement - for to concede comparable meanings in I, II, and IV might be to find, not just passive witness-bearing, but tragic bitterness and actively critical satire. While Taruskin never admits this, he comes close to it when he calls the allusions to Orthodox chant "generic" rather than specific textual quotations: "The composer maintains deniability through it all because there's nothing verifiable in what he's doing." (If maintaining deniability in the symphony's slow movement might fit the hypothesis of the civic idealist, the theory is stretched to breaking-point by the code found by Gerard McBurney in the work's finale.) The documentary contains a fair amount of associated talk about the Terror, some valid, some not. For example, one contributor, referring to Meyerhold's arrest and torture, states that, such was the fear abroad in 1936-9, that many "committed suicide or emigrated". (No one was allowed to emigrate that late into Stalin's reign, Soviet borders having been sealed in 1930.)

In her offerings, Laurel Fay presents her view of Shostakovich as a naive idealist who got burned by Stalinism, claiming that he was as gullible about the reality of Soviet Communism as its Western sympathisers were in the 1920s and 1930s, but that the latter caught on "quicker" than he did! "Shostakovich did not have that luxury", she adds, obscurely - presumably meaning that, being up close to the Soviet system, he did not have the Western luxury of a perspective wherefrom to discern that Stalin was a paranoid tyrant and his regime little better than a gang fiefdom. Students of views of Stalinism, inside and outside the USSR, will recognise that Fay is unacquainted with the historical actuality. In fact, the Soviet intelligenty knew better than even the most perceptive Westerners what their country was. (Orwell's struggles to find a publisher for Animal Farm are an index of Western attitudes to Stalinism in the 1940s, while Nadezhda Mandel'stam's memoirs, together with the data on Soviet dissent in Sarah Davies's book, may here suffice to substantiate the corollary.) Fay represents Shostakovich as a noble "civic" servant - a patriot who, she assumes, must therefore have been a sympathiser with his country's political leadership. Maxim Shostakovich has specifically rebutted this assumption. Such wanton misconceptions (wanton because she makes a practice of taking no notice of what those close to Shostakovich say about him) lead Fay to fatally anodyne verdicts on the composer's work. For example, she hears the Ninth Symphony as a "light-hearted" jeu d'esprit, by definition devoid of any satirical intent. If such a judgement is merely aesthetically insensitive, her views elsewhere suggest deliberate evasion of the question of whether Shostakovich had an anti-Soviet agenda. For example, she accepts that the Eleventh Symphony harbours a "double" meaning but, rather than invoke the Hungarian Uprising, she offers parallels with Cambodia and Somalia. (Since I have placed my "political position" on public record, it seems fair to enquire what Laurel Fay's politics are. If she is strongly left-leaning, the public should know.)

Elsewhere in the documentary, Shostakovich's dryer remarks in his letters to Isaak Glikman are read without irony, as if they were meant seriously. Oleg Prokofiev protests that he can't believe that the Seventh Symphony included any intention to satirise Stalinism. (To her credit, Tamara Bernstein acknowledges Flora Litvinova's contrary contentions about the meaning of the symphony.) Elizabeth Wilson is by far the best commentator, although she, too, is often surprisingly politically naive. (She believes Stalin is overrated, that he had no personal interest in Shostakovich, and that the latter's troubles were caused largely by rivals in the Composers' Union.) The Fourth Symphony is bypassed virtually without comment, although again Ms Bernstein does well by pointing out that it was the authorities, not Shostakovich, who ordained its withdrawal. In sum, CBC's In Search of Shostakovich proposes a sheltered, evasive, and ultimately obsolete Western academic anti-revisionist view of Shostakovich. Had Ms Bernstein troubled to take her tape-recorder any further east than London, she might have discovered a view of Shostakovich different from the one urged on her by Richard Taruskin and Laurel Fay. In Germany, for example, she would have discovered that revisionism is in the majority, while in Russia the truth would have been difficult to avoid, since there is a gathering agreement there that, contrary to Ms Bernstein's indignant presupposition, Shostakovich was indeed a secret dissident, as Mark Aranovsky's leading article in a recent all-Shostakovich issue of Muzykal'naya Akademiya (No. 4, 1997) asserts [tr. Feofanov/MacDonald]:

There is no secret why totalitarian regimes are satisfied with conservatism in the taste and artistic expectations of society: any advance in the social sphere carries the possibility of the development of free thought, and the arts have always been a strong catalyst of such processes, as the authorities understand well. A list of those who, while sometimes quite gifted, voluntarily trimmed their sails, could be very long - let us recall Roslavets, Mosolov, G. Popov, Polovinkin. On the other hand, to keep one's right to real artistic freedom required basic courage. Shostakovich's whole life took place under the "high voltage" line, in constant risk. He struggled unceasingly for this right to a real, rather than a false, art. The tactics of this struggle changed, but the strategy always remained the same. The unbending will of an artist was manifest in this struggle, an artist who survived everything that fate threw at him, and emerged victorious from this struggle. Shostakovich's victory is even more amazing and extraordinary because, after all, it was his art (as we understand more clearly now) that, over the course of many years, remained practically the only artistic event which, socially and substantively, actively resisted the totalitarian regime. Without exaggerating, we can say that dissidence was the unifying, integral feature of the entire artistic output of this great musician [emphasis added]. And to understand this, we also must understand that the history of "dissidence" among the Soviet intelligentsia finds its roots decades ago, and in fact began long before the time when this term itself appeared.

Mark Aranovsky is a senior musicologist whose critical writings on Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Salmanov, and other subjects have been published in Russia since 1960. If Tamara Bernstein had a deeper background in this subject, she would have been aware of the extent to which opinions contrary to those of Fay, Taruskin, and Brown thrive outside the Anglo-American orbit. Ms Bernstein's unwittingly insular denial of the conceivability of Shostakovich's secret dissidence ultimately derives from her ignorance of Soviet history. Were she wiser, she would not rebuke eminent Soviet specialists like Anthony Briggs for allegedly offering "simplistic" opinions, let alone for (as Briggs and Robert Conquest have done) warmly welcoming Shostakovich Reconsidered, a serious book which she scarcely had time to read before attacking.

"Perhaps Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son"?

The greatest indignation expressed by the anti-revisionist camp during 1998 arose over the revisionist use - or, as anti-revisionists would insist, the misappropriation out of context - of Professor Taruskin's description of Shostakovich as "perhaps Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son". This phrase was raised by Ho and Feofanov in October 1997 in reply to a challenge by Malcolm Brown (see "The Turning Point", DSCH 9, p. 54). Confronted with it, Brown responded: "Nowhere in the writings of [Fay, Taruskin, or myself] can be found the assertion that 'Shostakovich was Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son'." When Ho and Feofanov supplied cites for this phrase, Brown retired, making an obscure reference to its context, as though Ho and Feofanov had not taken proper account of this (ibid, p. 62, fn. 42). Clearly Brown's initial emphatic denial that such a phrase had ever appeared in any text by himself, Fay, or Taruskin stemmed from his wish not to be associated with it. This wish presumably arose in turn from the fact that, despite having called Shostakovich "a sometime collaborator" (DSCH 10, p. 28, fn. 23), he himself would never have risked such a candid assertion. Brown has made no further reference to the phrase. There the matter rested until, upon reading the proof of Shostakovich Reconsidered sent to him by its editor Martin Anderson, Vladimir Ashkenazy offered to write a foreword to the book. In the penultimate paragraph of this foreword, he wrote:

It is hard to believe that one [so-called "expert" on Shostakovich] writes that Shostakovich was ever "perhaps the Soviet Union's most loyal musical son" - and that in 1994! Is it still possible that this musicologist still cannot shed the skin of an agent of influence of the USSR (and there were thousands of them in the West) or that he simply does not possess enough intelligence for this matter? Neither conclusion is attractive or, indeed, palatable.

A year after the Brown tiff, David Fanning's review of Shostakovich Reconsidered appeared in BBC Music Magazine (courtesy of Ho and Feofanov, who had allowed Fanning, at his request, to read the book in proof in order to assist him with any necessary adjustments to his Shostakovich entry in the forthcoming revision of the New Grove). Initially, it seems, rather impressed by Ho and Feofanov's defence of Testimony, Fanning had adjusted his opinion by the time he came to review the book as a whole. One of a number of sore points for him was the use made in its pages of Taruskin's controversial phrase, the occurrences of which he totted up:

On at least seven occasions, including once as a section heading, Taruskin is quoted as referring to Shostakovich as "[perhaps] Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son" (the "perhaps" comes and goes). He did write those words, in a belligerent piece of journalism for the New Republic, but only with reference to Shostakovich's perceived political stance before the notorious Pravda "Muddle instead of Music" article of January 1936, not, as Shostakovich Reconsidered consistently implies, to the remaining 40 or so years of the composer's career. Sadly, Vladimir Ashkenazy is among those taken in.

In her own review, Tamara Bernstein dependably sings along with this theme:

[The phrase] is quoted derisively throughout the book - always out of context (Taruskin was talking about a specific period in the 1930s). And on page 542 MacDonald simply deletes the "perhaps" from the quotation. Clearly, these are not people from whom one would rush to purchase a used car.

Did, one wonders, Ms Bernstein bother to trace the phrase to its original context so as to ascertain whether Shostakovich Reconsidered quoted it "in" or "out" of this? This seems unlikely in that, like Fanning, she is apparently unaware that the phrase appears in two separate pieces by Taruskin separated by five years and differentiated by the interpolation, on the second occasion, of the qualifying words "till then". In Taruskin's "The Opera and the Dictator" (New Republic, 20th March 1989), there is no such qualification; yet in his "A Martyred Opera Reflects Its Abominable Time" (New York Times, 6th November 1994), the words "till then" are interpolated before the phrase "perhaps Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son" - logically indicating some change in Shostakovich's situation thereafter. But if "until then" was needed the second time Taruskin used the phrase, logic also dictates that it was (1) likewise needed or (2) never intended in his original article. Either the phrase, as used in the original article, is incompetently written, or it means exactly what it says. Here, the question of context arises. In both articles, Taruskin employs the phrase as part of his hypothesis that Shostakovich wrote Lady Macbeth to kowtow to Stalin by musically supporting the dictator's "collectivization" campaign of 1930-1: "The opera remains a profoundly inhumane work of art. Its chilling treatment of the victims amounts to a justification of genocide." Throughout both articles, Shostakovich is referred to in insulting terms, allegedly altering texts to facilitate his obsequious intentions and stupidly failing to realise that Stalin was not merely indifferent to his servility but, in the event, actively hostile to it. Choosing obsolete data, Taruskin ascribes Stalin's hostility to his supposed prudishness. Had he troubled to read anything up to date on Stalin, he'd know that today's consensus is that the dictator held no moral principles of any sort. Far from Stalin allowing Shostakovich's foes to pounce as a result of his allegedly scandalised reaction to Lady Macbeth, the dictator himself was the architect of the cultural crackdowns of 1936, for which he had merely been awaiting a pretext. Meanwhile, perorating on the Pravda attack, Taruskin arrives at his fateful phrase:

Thus was Dmitri Shostakovich, perhaps Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son, and certainly her most talented one, made a sacrificial lamb, precisely for his pre-eminence among Soviet artists of his generation. The real purpose of the Pravda editorial was to demonstrate how directly the arts were to be subject to Party controls in the wake of [the] action of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, taken on April 23, 1932, in accordance with which all existing Soviet arts associations were dissolved and replaced with "unions" of writers, artists, composers, etc, that were directly answerable to the Party bureacracy...

(Taruskin here misconstrues Stalin's established motives, which had less to do with bureaucratic reform of the arts than with stifling all divergent thought, of whatever kind, during his 1936-8 purge of the Communist Party following the Kirov murder.)

...Shostakovich, through his opera, was one of the first victims of this dispensation; and if, as things turned out, he was spared the ultimate Stalinist fate, he had to live for many years under the constant threat of "a bad end". That this unhappy man nevertheless continued to function as an artist and a citizen has lent his career a heroic luster. It is inevitably in that heroic light, a light made garish by Volkov, [Tony] Palmer, and others, that we now view Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

This is the context of the disputed phrase. But where is the mitigating allowance that, whereas Shostakovich was "perhaps Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son" till 28th January 1936, he thereupon changed into something else? And where is the indication of what this new identity might have been? There is no such indication anywhere in the article and the reason for this is simple: Taruskin ventures no such possibility. All he says is that the composer's passive feat of survival thereafter "lent his career a heroic luster", which, as is clear from his remarks about Testimony and Tony Palmer's film of the book elsewhere in the article, Taruskin regards as wholly bogus: an illusion of heroism projected onto Shostakovich by his successors. As in his views on Shostakovich voiced in other articles, Taruskin speaks of the composer as a supine line-toer whose memoirs, to the extent that a word of them is authentic, represent the retrospective self-exculpation of a talented conformist: "A great deal of evidence suggests that in his later years Shostakovich became desperately obsessed with his historical image, and with the theme of self-justification. For he did have a history of collaboration to live down." So concerned is Taruskin to emphasise the sorry continuity of Shostakovich's unheroic servility throughout his life that most of the article is taken up with debunking "what the book [Testimony] and the film [Testimony] portray as the turning point in Shostakovich's career: his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District". It is manifest that Taruskin's denial of a turning point in the case of Lady Macbeth indicates that he accepts no change on the part of the composer then or thereafter, whether in moral status or (in Fanning's vague formula) "perceived political stance".

In short, the claims of Brown, Fanning, and Ms Bernstein - that Taruskin, in his 1989 article, meant to suggest that Shostakovich was Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son until circa 1936 - are absolutely without foundation. Taruskin's defenders have protested over a crime of "quotation out of context" for which there is no evidence. One must suppose that they have not read his piece or read it with insufficient attention to its argument. What, though, could have caused Taruskin to interpolate the words "until then" in his 1994 article (every bit as scathing about Lady Macbeth and Shostakovich's motives in composing it)? Presumably it was his encounter with Elizabeth Wilson's book Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, which is dense with affidavits refuting any notion of Shostakovich's "loyalty" and confirming the composer's secretly dissident heroism; i.e., Taruskin belatedly realised that it would be prudent to modify his original statement. As I have suggested, this would also explain why he decided not to recycle his "genocide" theory of Lady Macbeth in Tamara Bernstein's documentary, where it was replaced by Caryl Emerson's eccentric "Russian soul-crisis" hypothesis. Quite possibly, Ms Bernstein did not know about Taruskin's "genocide" theory until she found herself protesting that the infamous phrase associated with it was "quoted out of context".

Addressing the American Musicological Society's annual meeting in Boston on 31st October 1998, David Fanning, having by then learned of the second use of the phrase in the New York Times article of 1994, nevertheless persisted with his assertion that this made no difference, since the original context acquitted Taruskin of defamation:

I have already begged to differ from Professor Taruskin's views on Shostakovich's opera as expressed in this particular article [New Republic, 1989] and I don't approve his choice of words at this point, not least because the phrase in question echoes Pravda's official obituary notice. But from the context in which it appears, it's clear to me that this is no bald statement about Shostakovich's entire career, so to suggest that by adding the words "till then" Professor Taruskin was doing anything more than clarifying his point seems to me bizarre, and I'm alarmed to see a phrase held up for ridicule when it's been removed from context and had its meaning radically altered thereby.

Perhaps Fanning would care to justify, rather than merely assert, this casual claim with reference to the article(s) in question? Or has his "alarm" at the possibility that fellow Shostakovich "experts" may be held up to ridicule prompted him to read into Taruskin's piece something which is, in fact, not there (and not there for the simple reason that it would have confounded the whole thrust of Taruskin's argument)? I look forward to his exegesis. Fanning further observes (and Ms Bernstein, ever the faithful echo, chimes in after him) that, in Shostakovich Reconsidered, the word "perhaps" comes and goes among the book's seven references to the Fateful Phrase. This is true, and usually for reasons of grammatical elegance - but in any case what difference does it make? In the real world, if you say someone is perhaps not to be trusted, you mean he is not to be trusted, period. Taruskin's "perhaps" is merely an academic convention with which Fanning is "perhaps" familiar (see DSCH 9, p. 62, fn. 44). Let us now return to Vladimir Ashkenazy. Fanning claims that Ashkenazy was fooled by the authors of Shostakovich Reconsidered into misinterpreting what Taruskin meant by his Fateful Phrase. But read Ashkenazy's statement again. Like Ho, Feofanov, and myself, Ashkenazy is objecting to the notion that Shostakovich was ever the Soviet Union's most loyal musical son. As with Taruskin's article of 1989, Fanning has failed to read the text with adequate attention. Yet the death-blow to Taruskin's besieged defence-team is delivered by Taruskin himself. At the same AMS meeting, Taruskin likewise pleaded a violation of context vis-à-vis the Fateful Phrase, only this time based on a wholly new rationale: that the phrase was "ironic". The crime of context-violation was not, after all, a question of times and dates, but instead a matter of mistaken tone. Taruskin's Fateful Phrase is, it seems, some sort of joke. (And was Taruskin also being "ironic" when, having called Shostakovich "Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son", he went on to describe the composer as "certainly her most talented one"?) If Taruskin's claim is to be taken seriously, his "irony" has been lost on every participant in this tiresome affair. Brown, Fanning, and Ms Bernstein all imagined themselves to be defending something substantial. Having dutifully run errands for Taruskin to set up an entirely different alibi, they have been left high and dry. But who is gullible enough to accept Taruskin's feeble shrug of self-exoneration? And who would buy a used car from any of these people?

Other "crimes" and misdemeanours

David Fanning's inattention to detail in literary texts, illustrated by his vagaries in the case of the Fateful Phrase, clangs like a metallic leitmotif throughout his review of Shostakovich Reconsidered. For example, he claims that, in my essay "Naive Anti-Revisionism", I accuse Taruskin of "setting up an 'Aunt Sally' in seeking to distinguish between dissent and dissidence". On the contrary, I wrote as follows:

By choosing an expression ("dissidence") applicable only after 1956, Taruskin erects a meaningless Aunt Sally. No one who claims to detect signs of anti-Stalinism in Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony has ever referred to the composer as a "dissident" in post-1956 terms. My own preference is for the phrase "secret dissident", following (for example) Mstislav Rostropovich, who conceives Shostakovich's symphonies as "a secret history of Russia", and Nadezhda Mandel'stam, who documented what she called Russia's "secret intelligentsia" - those who privately dissented with the regime from the early days of the Revolution and continued to do so until the public idiom of dissidence emerged under the milder conditions of the 1960s.

In a related footnote, I further contradict Fanning's vague suggestion (referring to Taruskin's essay in his book Shostakovich Studies) that, in his claims for the non-existence of dissidence under Stalin, Taruskin "urges us, in effect, to distinguish between dissidence and non-conformism". This differentiation - which seems to have been coined as a conceptual division by Fanning himself, since there is no such standard demarcation in the literature on Soviet life and culture - appears in his review as "distinguish between dissent and dissidence". (Such semantic distinctions do not figure in Sarah Davies' book on dissent under Stalin during the 1930s, where "dissent" subsumes "non-conformism" and includes what I call "secret dissidence".)

Shostakovich was never a publicly-declared dissenter - a dissident - of the kind that only became possible after Khrushchev's repudiation of Stalin in 1956; had he been a declared dissident (the term was tautological in practical Soviet usage), we would not be arguing here. Taruskin's position - for the unequivocal clarity of which we must thank his characteristic bluntness - is that dissidents (public dissenters) did not exist in Stalin's Russia. In this claim, with the arguable exception of wild cards like Mandel'shtam and Meyerhold, he is correct. Where he is calamitously incorrect is in deducing from this premise that there were no private dissenters (secret dissidents) in Stalin's Russia either - instead, only "the forlorn and malcontented" who, being "silent", must (in Taruskin's hasty deduction) have been unable to formulate privately dissenting (secretly dissident) thoughts, feelings, and expressions. If we did not already know this assertion to be unequivocally false from intelligenty memoirs and histories of the period, Sarah Davies's researches (Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia: Terror, Propaganda, and Dissent: 1934-41) confirm it beyond dispute. Hence, Fanning's accusation that I have charged Taruskin with "setting up an 'Aunt Sally' in seeking to distinguish between dissent and dissidence" is (a) literally incorrect, (b) conceptually incoherent, and (c) unjustifiable in terms of what Taruskin himself actually wrote (which is itself indefensible for the reasons I have given). Agitatedly seeking to score a point wherever he can, Fanning continues thus: "[MacDonald] admonishes Taruskin that 'to claim, on the basis of probability, to be privy to the minds of millions of people is a large claim indeed'. Quite." One gathers that this, in Fanning's mind, is some sort of trump. Perhaps it would be if my statement did not stand at the centre of an eight-page demonstration that, in the case of Stalin's Russia, we have a wealth of both direct and indirect evidence as to what was in the minds of its millions of citizens vis-à-vis the subject of dissent. That Fanning ignores this in his eagerness to register a cheap jibe is all the more invidious when a footnote to the book which destroys his point (Davies, op. cit.) exists at the bottom of the very page on which my quoted statement appears. Fanning represents himself as a "balanced" occupant of "the middle of the road", but it is not difficult to make opinions voiced from either side of one's own views appear self-cancelling if one simply ignores the evidence they marshal. Fanning's "moderation" is merely facile pseudo-centrism.

The aforegoing matching pair of "misinterpretations" made by Fanning are, in his review, bookended around the suggestion that I am conducting a McCarthyite (as distinct, one presumes, from a Stalinist) inquisition into an allegedly obscure sect: the believers in "pure music". As usual, Fanning opts for the wrong end of the stick. However, since the same manoeuvre is chosen by the anonymous reviewer in The Economist and also by Stephen Johnson in The Times Literary Supplement, I must widen my frame of reference accordingly. Vladimir Ashkenazy has reproved The Economist's anonymous reviewer (what a noble calling!) via its letters page: "Your reviewer writes that 'Shostakovich rarely explained his pieces with a "programme", certainly not in rehearsal, where his interpretive hints were almost always strictly musical'. Did your reviewer really expect Shostakovich publicly to communicate the deep contempt he felt for the Soviet system - and go straight to the concentration camp as a result?" Additionally significant in this case is the anonymous reviewer's conditioned assumption that any compositional "programme" (whether explicit or hidden, concrete or abstract, pictorial or allusive, or any shade between any of these) is, by definition, unmusical. On the contrary, the idea that music and meaning are separate entities is a philosophical chimaera. Since space is limited (and since I have already argued this in Ho and Feofanov's book), I will not reiterate the propositions here. (Those with Internet access can find further suggestions along these lines in my interview at the DSCH Web-site.) Suffice to say here that it is in a philosophical spirit that I pursue the question of "pure music" in respect of Shostakovich: I seek to clear the ground so that we may think more accurately, and so more profitably, not only about the way "meaning" relates to "score" in his music, but about the whole subject of meaning in art at a time when meaning itself is beleaguered in our culture. This - the separation of musical fact from human value, of expressive technique from creative intention - is the "meta-subject" of the Shostakovich debate, and it is depressing that writers like Fanning and Stephen Johnson fail to understand it.

Stephen Johnson

In his review of Shostakovich Reconsidered, Johnson claims I display "contempt" for "the idea that the meaning of music resides merely in the notes" and implies that I view this idea as "a crime against humanity". True, I believe that the meaning of music is merely suggested by the notes, and that there is a flaw in the concept of artistic universality which prevents critics from conceding the crucial importance of historical context in comprehending Shostakovich's music. As for "contempt", I do express this towards scholars who are demonstrably economical with the actualité, while "crimes against humanity" likewise figure in my contributions to Ho and Feofanov's book in connection with the activities of Josef Stalin. Neither, though, are in any way related to my remarks on universality. Johnson has muddled them up. Johnson is similarly muddled in his claim that Vladimir Ashkenazy and I are at odds in our views on Shostakovich in this respect. The observation which Johnson quotes from Ashkenazy - that "in the end it really doesn't matter what society and what injustices we are talking about, music like [Shostakovich's] communicates a message so powerful, so important and so direct that people everywhere understand it" - occurs, not in Ashkenazy's foreword to the book in question, but in one of my contributions to it, where I quote it approvingly before qualifying it by suggesting that artistic universality nevertheless grows out of local specificity and that we must hold both, inextricably related, truths in mind at the same time. I do not, as Stephen Johnson confusedly reports, regard "the belief in universality" as "a crime", still less imply that Ashkenazy is guilty of such a curious felony. In fact, Ashkenazy writes in his foreword as follows: "Some 'experts' on Shostakovich show an unacceptable lack of knowledge of Soviet reality, and I need hardly emphasise at this stage that, without profound (and, I repeat, profound) knowledge of what Shostakovich had to live through, it is virtually impossible to be a serious and credible analyst of his output". Far from contradicting each other, Ashkenazy and I share almost identical views on Shostakovich, a fact of which I am assured by personal communications from him.

In his remarks during two BBC discussions about Shostakovich Reconsidered (12th June, 16th August 1998), Stephen Johnson reiterated his baseless claim that Vladimir Ashkenazy's statement, quoted in the previous paragraph, conflicts with my views. Quoting VA's statement, Johnson remarked that "Ashkenazy makes a sane point", adding: "Wrong, says Ian MacDonald, who says you must refer it to a particular date or event. There is [says MacDonald] only one way to hear this music and it is the way I insist on and if you hear it in any other way you are guilty of fantasy or wish-fulfillment." Johnson subsequently developed this (false) claim in respect of my contentions about "pure music" (part of my wider argument about "extra-musicality", which he did not address). "MacDonald," declared Johnson, "believes there's no such thing as 'pure music'. So does anyone who's sane, don't they?" [My italics indicate derisive emphases.] How Johnson reconciles this gibe with his equally scornful attack on me for questioning "the idea that the meaning of music resides merely in the notes" is difficult to grasp. Perhaps he disbelieves in pure music during daylight hours, but believes in it at night? However, on this occasion, it is not his intellectual disarray to which I wish to draw attention, but his insinuation that the words he inserts in my mouth reveal me to be a sandwich short of the full picnic. Such comical desperation in attempting to discredit an opponent is both pitiful and revealing. Does it, perhaps, reflect Johnson's impatient Taruskinesque inclination to suppress, rather than address, a rival's opinions? Or does it stem from his inability to comprehend the arguments, uncomplicated as they are? The latter is suggested by Johnson's hapless mangling of Yuli Turovsky's opinions in his introduction to the BBC broadcast of 16th August 1998 (although conceivably that particular mess arose because Johnson's jocularly superficial engagement with the subject led him to imagine a non-existent difference of views between Shostakovich and Turovsky which he hoped might get his programme off with a suitable bang). Since Johnson is an eloquent writer on other musical topics, his uncharacteristic confusions and spurious extrapolations in writing about Shostakovich must proceed mainly from unfamiliarity with context. Proof of this was supplied ten years ago by his review of The New Shostakovich, in which he dismissed as exaggeration my report that Boris Pasternak had been unable to sleep for a year after seeing the effects of Stalin's collectivisation in the Ukraine. In fact, the claim was not mine but Pasternak's - one of the most cited statements by a Soviet intellectual under Stalinism. Not to know this betrays a thin to non-existent comprehension of the background. My letter pointing this out was duly published by The Independent, to Stephen Johnson's considerable irritation, as I later heard from a colleague working as a sub-editor on the paper's letters page. To judge by his serial attacks on my contributions to Shostakovich Reconsidered, Johnson remains irate.

Pure music, impure criticism

Johnson's caricature of the "pure music" issue is echoed in David Fanning's review of Shostakovich Reconsidered, in which he complains that "anyone (like me) who views the ideological question as just one of many intersecting areas which make up the untranslatable and unconfinable 'meaning' of Shostakovich's music, is declared a believer in Pure Music... If anyone can tell me where this arcane sect resides, I'll gladly keep my distance from it." It is regrettable that Fanning persists in describing revisionist interpretation as "ideological". Possibly he genuinely doesn't apprehend what is being proposed; perhaps he does, yet refuses to admit it. On the subject of "pure music", to judge by Fanning and Johnson, one might be forgiven for thinking that no one had ever used the term before, or that if they had, they meant nothing serious by it. It seems I must assist them. The term refers to what is thought of as a higher form of discourse: an abstract realm in which composers and musicologists may escape the maddening tribulations of the mundane world in contemplation of music's more spiritual propensities. As for the whereabouts of "the arcane sect of believers in Pure Music", I must again hasten to Professor Fanning's aid by referring him to the reviews he has contributed to Gramophone since 1987. Here he is, for instance, in Gramophone for July 1997, reviewing Shostakovich's recordings of the Opus 87 Preludes and Fugues: "The C major Prelude immediately takes us into the pure, sane world that betokens the composer's escape from mundaneness into the higher reality of music, probably the purest he had ever composed (the opening of the First String Quartet, also in C major, has something of the same feeling)." And here again in February 1998, this time referring to the C minor Prelude and Fugue: "It is the first movement of the Eleventh Symphony that beckons. This world of pure contrapuntal thought was one I feel Shostakovich stepped into with as much relief, gratitude and awe as other composers found in religious composition..."

While it is curious that Fanning fails to remember expressing such opinions, it is less surprising that, in discussing Shostakovich's most formally constrained work, he should deduce that it is "pure" (i.e., pure of "extra-musical" content), for the fugue is often held to be the epitome of "pure music". I do not propose to argue this point here; rather, I wish to draw attention to the way in which, owing to music's lack of internal frontiers, the "purity" some claim to detect in music's seemingly more mathematical moods has a tendency to drift out into the wider realm of musical endeavour, settling softeningly, like a kind of exalted mist, over any music that is instrumental and doesn't come with a text or title inconveniently attached to it. Notice, for example, how the "purity" Fanning senses in Opus 87 drifts out from the cycle itself to settle softeningly over the opening of the First String Quartet and, further, to extend a beckoning finger at the Eleventh Symphony. It is almost as if the concept of "purity" has a will of its own - a will, perhaps, to turn organic expression into "musical architecture", observing sensibility into "inner landscape", thought into abstraction. The softening mist of purity can even settle on music we otherwise know to be expressive, observational, and brimming with thoughts about life and the world; but, insidiously, it does so without our noticing it because, once accepting the premise of "pure" music, we don't notice it infiltrating our assumptions and drawing us into incongruously elevated assessments of what we hear. It is this sort of thing, I would submit, that caused the author of the notes to Eduard Serov's 1979 recording of Shostakovich's dark and devious Fifteenth Symphony to call it "a work of great serenity, with a charm that has something of the innocence of Schubert".

One consequence of accepting the category of "pure music" is that it tends to detach music thus described from its context in worldly experience. In this sense, the idea of "pure music" is the predicate for the concept of "extra-musicality"; yet, while a score has a boundary - the paper on which it is written - music (partly score and partly meaning) does not. And since music has no boundary, nothing can be said to be "outside" it; hence the concept of "extra-musicality" falls by logic. As for "pure music", all that presently needs to be agreed is that some music is "purer" than other music in the sense of being ostensibly closer to abstract structural relationships than to, say, quasi-pictorial representation. What Fanning identifies in Shostakovich's Opus 87 is what he has been educated to identify as "pure music"; yet this is only relative "purity", a tendency towards the pure end of the spectrum. (It would be odd if he did not admit this since, in his remarks on Shostakovich Reconsidered, he appears to concede that "pure music" is an empty ideal.) The crucial consequence of this line of argument is that no part of a musical score can definitely be said to be purely structural, for such an ostensibly structural facet may actually signify something beyond itself. In other words, any motif, harmony, rhythm, or element of instrumentation is potentially significant, i.e., transcends the limits of score and enters the open realm of meaning.

Symphonic misconceptions

This theoretical argument becomes practical with Fanning's view of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, about which he has written a book. In Gramophone for July 1992, he calls the Tenth "Shostakovich's most symphonically conceived symphony". This formula usually carries the implication that music so described is structurally "pure" in the sense of being, in some sense, concerned solely with its own elements; and, of course, such a definition is ahistorical in that the symphonic genre came into being through the allegorical works of Dittersdorf, the Sturm und drang literary roots of Haydn's middle period, and the less-than-pure "tone-poetry" of Beethoven himself. Fanning has a slightly different conceptual agenda: "By 'symphonically conceived', I mean relying on large-scale musical argument rather than on imagery derived from what the Germans call 'applied music', angewandte Musik (for stage, film, circus, etc.); and, by extension, not dependent on overt reference to contemporary events." By this definition, Mahler's symphonies, often regarded as the least "symphonically conceived" in the Western canon, would be assimilable to that category since they contain no episodes of "applied music" and no overt references to contemporary events. Fanning's quasi-"pure" idea of the "symphonically conceived" symphony is clearly questionable, but let us leave theory and see how it applies to Shostakovich.

Fanning contends that "what tends to distinguish one interpretation of the Tenth Symphony from another is not so much the moment-by-moment characterization as the pacing of the dramatic structure". The phrase "dramatic structure" implies the presence of a drama to which that structure pertains. Fanning, though, says nothing more about this dramatic aspect of the Tenth Symphony, instead using his frame of reference as a criterion for judging performances of the work on structural grounds, thus letting the concepts of "pure music" and "extra-musicality" in by the back door. For example, Claus Peter Flor (RCA Victor, June 1992) is reproached for a "structural miscalculation" in the Tenth Symphony's third movement. While Fanning does not explain what he means here, it cannot be a judgement based on strict fidelity to the score (whatever that means), since he chides Christoph von Dohnanyi (Decca, September 1992) for - in exactly the same place in the third movement - a "literal adherence to tempo markings towards the main climax [which] does not entirely convince". On the other hand, when Stanislaw Skrowacewski (IMP, October 1991) tries an accelerando - again in the third movement - he is rebuked for "awkward adjustments" in which "the timpanist lags behind". Though Fanning speaks as if referring to an objective scheme which these conductors have missed, his verdicts seem to contradict each other. One suspects that, despite his invocation of dramatic structure, he is really only expressing the way he feels the music should "go". This suspicion is increased by a remark attached to his criticism of Dohnanyi's literalism: "[In CvD's performance] the third movement seems to me slightly too present - its core needs a more exploratory seeking out." Whatever we or Dohnanyi are to make of this, there is one thing at least of which we can be sure. The third movement of the symphony, whether intrinsically or in performance, is somehow problematic to Fanning. Could it be that it is not, after all, "symphonically conceived" in the way he imagines; that, in fact, it refers to "contemporary events" - even if not "overtly"?


Of course, we now know that the third movement of Shostakovich's Tenth refers with some specificity to matters involved with the composer's life at that time. Its "purely" structural elements turn out to be anything but "pure", instead pertaining to the dimension of meaning which, ensouling the body of the score, turns dots on paper into music. There is indeed a "dramatic" structure to this movement of which Fanning had no inkling when he penned his reviews. Yet no one else had suspected this secret until Nelly Kravets revealed it at the University of Michigan in January 1994. Are we all, then, equally confounded by its discovery? It depends on what we had previously said about the movement. Such specific information may not only be assimilable into existing interpretations of the third movement of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony but may actually enhance them. What, though, did Fanning make of all this? Since he did no more reviews of Shostakovich's Tenth in Gramophone, and made no mention of Kravets' revelations in Shostakovich Studies (1995), this was effectively an unanswered question till Stephen Johnson asked him about it at the BBC on 16th August 1998. Fanning acknowledged the data on Elmira Nazirova unearthed by Kravets, the code in the third movement's horn call, and so forth. All this, he conceded, was true - but (in effect) so what? This is what he said next:

Does that [the E-L-M-I-R-A code revealed by Kravets] mean that is what the music "means"? If so, what did it mean before? Nothing? Of course, it meant something and now it means something... expanded. But, apart from that musical pun, it means what it always meant. Which is something strange, something which makes the music... explore itself. As I put it when I wrote a book on this, it's like a body in search of a soul. That hasn't changed. It's just that now we know a little more about what was on the composer's mind.

Even allowing for the fact that Fanning was here speaking off the cuff, the degree of evasive incoherence displayed in this response is worthy of Richard Taruskin himself. Fanning had criticised conductors for maltreating a "dramatic structure" which turned out to be other than what he could have envisaged. Would he, in so many words, acknowledge this? He would not. What, then, of alternative readings? On the same BBC broadcast, Elizabeth Wilson, clearly puzzled by Kravets' findings, doubted that the "Elmira" horn call is a conventional love theme, being instead, she thought, a mere mechanical reflection of the composer's "obsessiveness" (i.e., back to Christopher Norris and "the stoical limits of repetitive auto-suggestion"). I said nothing in The New Shostakovich about the E-L-M-I-R-A encryption, because, like everyone else in 1989, I knew nothing about it. My view then was that the third movement of the Tenth Symphony was programmatic, presenting Shostakovich's personal experience as a painful travesty wherein his real self is contrasted against the false, official self required of him by the nightmareish situation in which he was enmeshed. I suggested that the "Mahlerian horn call" is an admonitory voice from beyond the immediate horror, sounding forth to dispel evil or quell hysteria. How can this be reconciled with the information found by Nelly Kravets? Rather easily.

Far from a simple romantic love theme, the role played by the horn call, is symbolic: it stands for Love and, as such, serves as a reminder of something that transcends and potentially redeems the ghastliness which the Symphony's third movement, with mounting revulsion, portrays. The horn call puts this in perspective, showing that the backbiting nastiness and hysteria which the movement is "about" isn't the final reality; that love is deeper than any of this. For this to be true, Elmira Nazirova would have to have been less of a real lover to Shostakovich than an intrinsically symbolic distant ideal - which, according to Elizabeth Wilson (Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, p. 263) is exactly what she was for him. Presumably Elmira was joyful, vivacious, luminous - a "muse" archetype who reawoke the desperate ideal love which the young Shostakovich projected onto his heroine Katerina Ismailova at her moment of maximum vulnerability to betrayal in the finale of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (the "Seryozha!" motif quoted in the Eighth Quartet: IV). The symbolism is identical: love versus perfidy, love against constraint. Referring to Lady Macbeth, the Shostakovich of Testimony speaks sombrely: "It's about how love could have been if the world weren't full of vile things... the laws and properties and financial worries, and the police state." Mahler's art concerns the same perpetual grinding dissonance between spiritual idealism and mundane reality with its hurtful disappointments, unqualified horrors, and fits of bleak, sometimes even hysterical, despair. Which is where Stanislaw Skrowacewski's accelerando in the closing crescendo of the Tenth Symphony's third movement - rejected by Fanning, whose "dramatic" conception presumably does not match Skrowacewski's - is so true to the spirit of the music.

I would suggest that David Fanning's inability to cope with Nelly Kravets' discovery of the symbolism of the horn call in the third movement of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony is a consequence of his reflexive propensity for detaching music from context, analysing it as "argument" (as if it were a cerebral conversation in process at high table), and then, in effect, evolving randomly subjective "dramatic structures" to suit it. At any rate, his idea that, in the Tenth Symphony (III), the music "explores itself", strongly suggests that he conceives it self-sufficiently, in quasi-"pure" terms. This, in turn, suggests that Fanning's unstated conception of the music's "dramatic structure" is unrelated to the historical context and, consequently, "purely" personal.

Immense vagueness

In their Gramophone reviews, Fanning and Johnson often criticise performers for failing to penetrate "the inner world" (or "emotional hinterland") of a given piece. Whatever else this signifies, it encompasses a common misconception: that, insofar as a score means anything beyond its notes, this meaning will express its composer's emotions in self-communion or his sensory impressions in relation to the external world. Rarely is there any allowance that the composer might express what he may thoughtfully (let alone critically) observe in the external world. Prejudice against "descriptive", "concrete", or "programmatic" music effectively stops this perception developing; yet, arguably, that is precisely the sort of composer Shostakovich was. While Fanning has never suggested that Shostakovich's scores are meaningless abstract structures, his innate prejudice against the idea that music may be actively, even critically, engaged with the world - rather than merely subjectively reflective of its composer's "inner landscape" - renders him fatally susceptible to the creeping allure of "pure" abstraction. Presented with pieces like the Tenth Symphony or Opus 87, which are ostensibly "pure" in their degree of structural discipline, he assumes a corresponding thinness, or absence, of engagement with external reality. Yet, as Rob Ainsley has pointed out, the Preludes and Fugues, Opus 87, are no more abstract, inexpressive, or apolitical than anything else Shostakovich composed; they simply employ more rigorous forms within which to convey their content of observation, tragic reflection, and satire - as does the composer's Tenth Symphony.

So far as we presently know, the E-L-M-I-R-A code in the third movement of the Tenth Symphony is relatively unusual in presenting itself so clearly. We may not discover many more such categorical codes in Shostakovich's music. This, though, does not mean that we lack the wherewithal for deducing the character of certain passages in his work; indeed there are already identifiable lines of thought on this subject which we can confidently dismiss as objectively incongruous. For example, writing in Gramophone (November 1987) about the opening slow movement of Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony, Stephen Johnson quotes the religious philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev: "There is something in the Russian soul that corresponds to the immensity, the vagueness, the infinitude of the Russian land." In fact, Berdyaev had more in common with the outlook of his own contemporaries, such as the novelist Fedor Sologub, than with Shostakovich. In Testimony, Shostakovich, following the debunking fashion of his generation, mocks Sologub's pretensions, and jokes about the "mysterious Slavic soul". The Shostakovich of the Glivenko letters is equally dry. In short, a Russian composer less likely to be caught in deep contemplation of any sort of immense vague "infinitude" - of the Russian land or the Russian soul - would be hard to nominate. Johnson has mixed up his Russian generations. On the contrary: the evidence, musical and historical, indicates that Sixth Symphony's opening movement is instead a funeral oration for the dead intelligenty of 1935-39.

Stephen Johnson's ahistoricism, along with his personal inclination towards quasi-"pure" abstraction and the subjective reflection associated with this, blinds him to the engagement with the external world which marks Shostakovich's music more than that of almost any other composer. That this line of thought yields little but inapt pretension is borne out by remarks in David Fanning's Gramophone reviews of the 1980s. For example: his suggestion that Shostakovich's Sixth is "notoriously difficult to pace and characterize - it is his Symphony quasi una fantasia, perhaps"; or his allusion (March 1987) to "the emotional wasteland" of the Fifth's Largo with its "refusal to despair in the face of the void", as though Shostakovich was some sort of freedom-exploring existentialist faced with Sartreian "nausea". Such ahistoricism inevitably prevented Fanning from noticing, in his reviews, anything special about the year of the Fifth Symphony's composition (1937); indeed, I am unaware that he acknowledged that this Symphony was born of the Terror until 11th January 1999, when he cautiously ventured as much during a BBC Radio 3 programme. Even now he prefers to keep this vague, as if the work would instantly wither before our ears were we ever to be too frank about its origins. In the past, such reticence will have confused some of his readers - as, for example, in Gramophone for June 1988 where he perceptively reports the "uncouth jackbooted progress" of the Fifth Symphony's scherzo but, by declining to venture into specificity, leaves the general listener with the impression that this must be Shostakovich's evocation of Nazism. Similarly, in March 1989, he refers to "the terrifying essence" of the Ninth Symphony. While again perceptive, this insight would strike most Gramophone readers as bemusingly counterintuitive in that discerning this aspect of Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony usually depends on a provisional grasp of its context within Soviet post-war politics.

Tone, reactive and proactive

In a nutshell, Fanning hears Shostakovich's reactive tone: the horror (overt and implied), the grief, the bitterness, even the outer resonances of the irony; but misses Shostakovich's proactive tone: the satire, the mimicry, the macroscopic construction which often adds up to an accusatory pointing finger. (In this, he is at least ahead of Laurel Fay, who fails to detect any undertow to the Ninth Symphony, let alone the acerbity of its satirical attack on Soviet ceremonial hypocrisy.) Fanning can sense the resonances of irony, but will not take the final step and concede the attacking satire. Why? Three reasons: (1) he prefers his own private interpretations of the work; (2) he tends to hear it as, if not absolutely "pure", then biased in a world-excluding way which debars anything as directly engaged as satire; (3) he lacks an adequate grasp of the socio-historical context which might elucidate the causes and aims of that satire. The first two reasons are mutually causal: each promotes the other. At worst, such subjectivism creates arbitrary criteria, as in Fanning's judgements on versions of the third movement of the Tenth Symphony and in his assessments of recordings of the Fifth Symphony (Gramophone, 1987-8), where his perspectives and verdicts change from review to review. At its most trivial, such subjectivism produces schoolboyish lapses, such as his description of the fugue in the opening movement of the Fourth Symphony as "an attack of killer bees" (BBC Radio 3, 16th August 1998). While more eloquent, Johnson is less punctilious than Fanning, often simply proclaiming "I like this, I dislike that" without revealing what concepts dictate his private dispositions.

Unlike Stephen Johnson, Fanning has an intellectual relationship with the issue of context, which he regards sceptically. While not ignoring the "small 't' testimony" of those in Shostakovich's milieu (as Laurel Fay does), Fanning nonetheless distrusts such material on the grounds that, since it emanates from a culture which cleaves to standards of truth different from those obtaining in the West, its reliability (indeed, its honesty) is, at best, provisional and, at worst, intrinsically doubtful. To this, he adds that the exigencies of life under Soviet Communism prevent us taking at face-value any statement made under that dispensation, whether official or personal. It is true that lying has a special place in Russian cultural life which it does not in ours; it is false to deduce from this that Russians have no concept of telling the truth. Truth is a precious commodity in a society where free public speech has, until the last few years, been proscribed on pain of imprisonment or death. Because of this, truth in Russia has often been retainable only in memory; hence the almost sacred act, so far as Russian culture is concerned, of decanting such unspeakable truth from the mind of the memoriser into the pages of that quintessentially Russian idiom, the memoir. The greatest example of this in our century is The Gulag Archipelago, wherein one man salvages the remembered truths of hundreds of his fellow Russians who have been prevented, usually by death, from voicing these truths in public. Some (those, invariably, who have not read this book) may protest a false conflation of truth and memory. The answer is: read first, ask questions later. Read the personal testimonies of Soviet history before speaking of "ideology" or "principles". Climb this mountain of testimony before assuming pseudo-centrist positions which have no basis in the experience of those who were most like Shostakovich: the anathematised; those of independent mind; those unable to say "Yea" with the obedient crowd. Read, too, the testimonies of other writers from the former Soviet bloc and compare the tone and content of their stories with those of Solzhenitsyn's hundreds of convicts, and with the fifty or so former friends and colleagues of Shostakovich who have spoken, in various ways, of his sentiments on this subject. Read the histories of the period. If, having read all this, you still consider that truth can never be known for certain, say why, based not on chary self-referential prejudice, but on knowledge of context.

The "blind eye" strategy

I have commented elsewhere on David Fanning's errors of political interpretation in respect of The Golden Age, The Bolt, the atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution, Maxim Gorky's beliefs, and so on. It is clear from his persistent strain of uncertainty about the background that, if he has investigated it at all, he has done so only very superficially; yet this slim knowledge of context calls into question his scepticism about the reliability of the "small 't' testimony" on Shostakovich. Lacking familiarity with the background, how can he evaluate post-Soviet memoirs and commentaries about Shostakovich? How, in any case, does he explain their impressive congruity? Is this a case of unreliable witnesses intent, in comic parallel, on self-exculpation by attaching themselves to a false notion of the composer's moral anti-communism? Unlike Christopher Norris, Fanning knows enough not to invoke CIA plots. On the other hand, his scepticism, in relation to the sheer volume of testimony to the effect that Shostakovich was no communist, is staunch to an obstinate degree and suggests that he is turning a blind eye to the evidence in order to maintain pseudo-centrality.

Addressing the AMS meeting in Boston on this subject, Fanning spoke as follows:

Disentangling Shostakovich's "genuine" thoughts from his verbal evasions and cover-ups will always be, surely, a conjectural matter. Did he or did he not try to write music for the People; did he or did he not exonerate the Party from the victimisation he had to endure? The problem lies not with finding the right answers but with the simple-mindedness of the questions, their black-and-white, either/or mentality. And if you prefer to keep an open mind or answer in shades of grey, you risk being accused of "intellectual helplessness" by commentators who take an "if you're not for us, you're against us" line... Even Rayok, his most obviously satirical work, doesn't actually tell me that he wasn't a Communist. What it does do is to confirm his contempt for the dogmatic administration of Soviet artistic policy in the post-war era. And that's not quite the same thing, is it?... If I believe that [Shostakovich] was revolted by many manifestations of Stalinism and post-Stalinism, certainly from the mid-1930s and maybe from some time before that, do I have to equate that with anti-Communism? What evidence is there against the possibility that Shostakovich remained wedded to at least some of the communist ideals, to the point where he could regard many of the things that happened in its name as "distortions" rather than expressions of it?

To answer the last of Fanning's questions first: we have Flora Litvinova's journal entry for 27th October 1956 (the year in which Khrushchev denounced Stalin). Litvinova: "And you, too, Dmitri Dmitriyevich, are for the ideas of communism." Shostakovich: "No, communism is impossible." Lest this be dismissed as a report of a moment's disenchantment (or even as an unequivocal lie), we have the mutually confirmative statements of three separate witnesses to Shostakovich's reaction to being forced to enroll in the Communist Party at the age of 53 in 1960. Isaak Glikman records Shostakovich's "actual words" to him about this on 29th June 1960: "[P.N.] Pospelov [a Central Committee representative of the RSFSR deputed to enroll the composer] tried to persuade me by every means to join the Party, where one breathes so easily and freely under Nikita Sergeyevich's leadership. Pospelov greatly admired Khrushchev, his youthful vigour, his grandiose plans, and said it was essential that I should enroll in the ranks of a Party headed not by Stalin, but by Khrushchev... I clutched at any straw, saying that I had never managed to master Marxism, that they should wait until I did. Then I pleaded my religion..." According to Glikman, these words were uttered by Shostakovich an hour after calming down from a state of such agitation that his teeth chattered when he drank a glass of water. ("He was quite hysterical.") Maxim Shostakovich independently confirms Glikman's report: "My father cried twice in his life: when his mother died and when he came home to say 'They've made me join the Party'.... This was sobbing, not just tears, but sobbing... He was forced to join the Party. There was simply no other way for him at that time." Lev Lebedinsky likewise attests that Shostakovich wept over this humiliation: "He associated joining the Party with a moral death." Indeed, Lebedinsky claims that the Eighth Quartet, written during this period, was intended as a musical suicide note, so appalled was Shostakovich at the prospect of joining the Party that he intended to kill himself rather than do so. Lebedinsky: "As a true democrat, he deeply detested the communist system, which continuously threatened his very life... He hated and despised the Communist Party." Galina Vishnevskaya, who unequivocally describes Shostakovich as an anti-communist throughout the time she knew him, indicates the dissident motives behind his song-cycle Satires (written shortly before the Eighth Quartet) and portrays the composer as employing the standard intelligenty allusion to "them'" ("them" being the Soviet communist apparat). Satires was the work Isaak Glikman believed he was about to discuss with Shostakovich when invited to visit him on 29th June 1960, only to find the composer "hysterical" over the Party issue.

Leaving aside testimony - from authorities like Vishnevskaya, Lebedinsky, Daniil Zhitomirsky, Mstislav Rostropovich, Rostislav Dubinsky, Maxim Shostakovich, Vladimir Ashkenzy, and Mark Aranovsky - that Shostakovich was anti-communist for the majority, if not the entirety, of his adult life, the evidence in the preceding paragraph flatly refutes David Fanning's belief in "the possibility that Shostakovich remained wedded to at least some of the communist ideals, to the point where he could regard many of the things that happened in its name as 'distortions' rather than expressions of it". Readers with a knowledge of Soviet political rhetoric will have recognised, in Shostakovich's conversation with Glikman on 29th June 1960, examples of the composer's ironic mimicry of this style (eg., "the Party, where one breathes so easily and freely under Nikita Sergeyevich's leadership"). Shostakovich's letters to Glikman contain examples of this satirical mockery that date back to 1943. Indeed, Flora Litvinova's journal records Shostakovich telling her, at an undated meeting in December 1942, that "[my] Seventh Symphony, and for that matter the Fifth as well, were not just about Fascism, but about our system, or any form of totalitarian regime". When Shostakovich refers to "our system", those who wish to avoid concluding that he was anti-communist must interpret this as "our Stalinist system". Yet, while it eschewed mass purges, the USSR under Khrushchev was no less totalitarian than it had been under Stalin; and, in any case, we have triple-tiered testimony that Shostakovich made no distinction between the Stalinist system and the post-Stalinist system, being so convinced of this malignant continuity that his enforced enrollment into the Party in 1960 drove him to the verge of a breakdown.

Fanning's premise assumes that Shostakovich "remained" wedded to communist ideals of some description, yet only the most dutifully devoted students of Marxism among the Soviet intelligenty, such as Galina Serebryakova, managed to maintain such an allegiance throughout Stalin's reign (let alone beyond it), while the idea that Shostakovich ever had any such allegiance to begin with is supported by no positive evidence whatever. Fanning speaks vaguely of communist "ideals". The historical fact is that, by the 1950s, most thinking Communist Party members in the USSR lacked faith in Marxist-Leninist ideals to such an extent that they joked sardonically to each other about them. Intellectuals publicly affiliated with the Communist Party (Gorky till 1936, Fadeyev and Sholokhov later) were privately contemptuous of it. If Fanning had a grounding in context - in this case, a familiarity with the writings of Czeslaw Milosz, Milovan Djilas, and Miklós Haraszti, and with the utter cynicism of everyday life in the Stalinist and post-Stalinist apparat (Boris Kagarlitsky: "constant lying and toadying") - he would know that to retain a serious faith in communism after Stalin required either a basic lack of information, a wide-eyed naivety, a dogged stupidity, or a lifelong studious devotion to the "principles" of Marxism-Leninism. Shostakovich's plea to Pospelov that he had "never managed to master Marxism" is at one not only with his own views as expressed in his letters to Tatyana Glivenko, but also with testimony to his youthful beliefs deposed by his sister Zoya, his aunt Nadezhda Galli-Shohat and such acquaintances as Boris Lossky, Valerian Bogdanov-Berezovsky, Mikhail Druskin, and Nikolai Malko. The evidence at present indicates that Shostakovich was, in varying degrees, a non-Party apolitical moralist from his youth to his later years (when just such a description of him is supplied by observers like Boris Tishchenko, Edison Denisov, Nikolai Karetnikov, and Grigori Kozintsev).

Naive anti-revisionism: addendum

Fanning asks: "If I believe that [Shostakovich] was revolted by many manifestations of Stalinism and post-Stalinism, certainly from the mid-1930s and maybe from some time before that, do I have to equate that with anti-Communism?" On the basis of the evidence, the answer must clearly be "Yes". Certainly to propose otherwise puts the onus of proof on the proposer; yet such is Fanning's contextual inadequacy that it is possible that he does not understand this. Such a suspicion is confirmed by the "simple-minded" questions he ascribes to revisionist critics: "Did he [Shostakovich] or did he not try to write music for the People; did he or did he not exonerate the Party from the victimisation he had to endure?" Where, we are entitled to ask, are these painfully ingenuous questions posed in revisionist criticism? Certainly not in the writings of myself or of Allan Ho and Dmitry Feofanov. Neither of Fanning's pseudo-questions is answerable without defining the terms in which they are put; hence neither pseudo-question can be given a "black-and-white, either/or" response.

The second of Fanning's invented questions ironically illustrates the naivety of his assumptions. He seems to believe that the inconsistency of Shostakovich's reactions to the victimisation he had to endure (in public: thanking the Party for "teaching" him and for watching over Russia's intelligenty so solicitously; in private: "shrieking" his hatred of the Party for forcing him to traduce himself) amounts to an imponderable, and thus insoluble, contradiction. "Disentangling Shostakovich's 'genuine' thoughts from his verbal evasions and cover-ups," writes Fanning, "will always be, surely, a conjectural matter." This, though, is to exclude the possibility of non-conjectural evidence ever appearing, a premise which both violates logic and turns a blind eye to testimony and evidence already before us. As to the idea that it is impossible to distinguish, in terms of reliability, between Shostakovich's public and private statements, the more dependable choice is indicated by context and common sense. Furthermore, contrary to Fanning, there is already ample testimony to the effect that "private" is strongly to be preferred over "public" in Shostakovich's case. Mstislav Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya, Yuri Lyubimov, Sergei Slonimsky, and Edison Denisov all confirm Solomon Volkov's report that Shostakovich made a practice of signing official documents without reading them. Daniil Zhitomirsky has spoken of ghost-writing an article "by" Shostakovich, indicating that this was a standard practice with respect to the majority of writings ascribed to the composer. Marina Sabinina has testified to Shostakovich's loathing of having to mouth the official speeches he was compelled to read; Zhitomirsky has confirmed that such readings were often openly caricatural. Shostakovich's own son Maxim has sat in front of Fanning himself and spoken viciously of Khentova's misrepresentation of his father's outlook: "I hate, I khhate her book, and I told her so because she makes him look like a genuine son of the Communist Party [expletive deleted]." One is obliged to ask: how much [expletive deleted] testimony does David Fanning require?

In effect, Fanning tells us what he requires: he wants a signed - and presumably witnessed - affidavit from Shostakovich stating that he was never a communist:

Even Rayok, his most obviously satirical work, doesn't actually tell me that he wasn't a Communist. What it does do is to confirm his contempt for the dogmatic administration of Soviet artistic policy in the post-war era. And that's not quite the same thing, is it?

Here, we reach the issue of personal judgement. One can, as Fanning does, politely detach Shostakovich's scatological raging against the Soviet apparat in Rayok from the possibility that, called upon to reflect on Marxist-Leninist "ideals", the composer might have abruptly swallowed his anger, put his hands prayerfully together and forgiven his persecutors - the people who jailed and killed his friends and family - in the saintly cause of communist revolution. Or one can suggest that only an idiot could hold in "contempt" the "dogmatic administration of Soviet artistic policy" (whether after the war or, as Mikhail Chulaki's account of the apparat reception of the Fifth Symphony suggests, before the war as well) without grasping that those ordering him around were able to do so solely because the Soviet communist system had elevated them over the bullet-shattered heads of people who would otherwise have held those positions by virtue of their gifts of intellect and moral discernment. The overwhelming (almost the exclusive) trend of testimony and evidence to the effect that Shostakovich was a moral anti-communist is a matter of record; anyone asserting otherwise is obliged by such preponderance to propose reasons for rejecting this testimony and evidence, item by item. Under any other circumstance - in the biographical study of any other artist - these issues would be considered resolved. Fanning's claim that present testimony and evidence about Shostakovich obliges us "to keep an open mind or answer in shades of grey" on these issues amounts to a perpetual postponing of conclusions blatantly at odds with the balance of probability.

Having said this, it would be illogical to assert that testimony and evidence to the contrary (indicating that Shostakovich was pro-communist, or was somehow unable to decide what political beliefs, if any, he adhered to) can never appear in the future. No doubt there are yet unpublished reminiscences of Shostakovich which view him from perspectives other than those cited herein. Some of those who knew him - lacking the privileged view of events to which he had access through his contacts in the cultural and other spheres of Soviet life - will have been less aware than him, and others among his circle, of the unsavoury nature of "Soviet reality" behind the official façade. Some associated with him were, moreover, reporting on him to the NKVD or KGB, this being a standard arrangement in the case of prominent cultural figures in the USSR. We may yet be required to weigh memoirs or interviews with representatives of one or other of these classes of witnesses. We may also be asked to judge materials, produced under conditions of censorship, which seem to show that Shostakovich was pro-communist. All of these categories of testimony and evidence must be provisionally admitted and each individual example assessed on its merits.

The case of Hans Jung

A rare example of material contradicting the predominant trend of testimony and evidence in Shostakovich studies was provided by David Fanning in his address to the AMS meeting in Boston on 31st October 1998. This takes the form of a record of a "private conversation" which occurred on 22nd March 1975 between Shostakovich and "an East German admirer of his music" during a visit to Moscow. The following passage retails the composer's attributed views on unjust criticism of his music, with particular reference to the censure he suffered during the Zhdanov affair in 1948:

I said then what I have always thought and what I still think today: I am a Soviet artist and was brought up in a socialist country. I always wanted and still want today to find the way to the heart of the People... At that time I spoke up several times, spoke up several times. I said unequivocally that it was painful for me to hear, to hear the Central Committee's judgements on my music. But I also said that I knew the Party was right, the Party wanted the best for me and that I had to seek out and find definite ways that would lead, would lead me to a socialist, realist, popular mode of creation - do you understand? I also said then that this would not be easy for me, would not be easy for me. But I promised the Party to find, to find the new path. And I did it! I have always tried honestly, tried honestly to write good music, music for my people, for man and woman, for man and woman... Not Socialism and certainly not my Party, the great Party of Lenin, is guilty! No, no! Those were distortions of the Party line and distortions of the politics of Socialism.

Fanning describes this as "one of Shostakovich's last reported conversations, off the record and so far as he was aware not for publication... a one-to-one, 90-to-95-minute meeting in Shostakovich's apartment with Hans Jung, an official in the Society for German-Soviet Friendship, a mass organisation in the German Democratic Republic with about eight million members... [a] meeting instigated by Shostakovich to thank Jung for a gift and to find out about the reactions to his music in East Germany". He concedes that this is an English translation of a German version of a conversation in Russian "remembered, transcribed, and edited for publication". Fanning concedes, too, that "if Shostakovich's true thoughts at the time were of the dissident kind, he would hardly have been likely to share them with an East German visiting him in a semi-official capacity", but adds: "Couldn't [Shostakovich] have made his points just as effectively without going out of his way to endorse the Communist Party, and without saying in the conversation, quite unprompted, 'I am a communist today'?"

Summing up before moving on to other related matters, Fanning makes his point:

Ultimately this remains an unwitnessed, untaped conversation, and it's up to us what we make of it. But I think it illustrates the kind of difficulty with reading oral history, particularly when it emanates from a climate of fear and disinformation as in the former Soviet Union, where there's no reason to think that written documents or tapes are necessarily any more reliable than hearsay. If you don't like the content of a particular document you can usually find ways of discrediting it. On the other hand, you can just as easily persuade yourself that views you concur with come from trustworthy sources. What's well nigh impossible is producing hard evidence with which to challenge someone with opposite convictions to your own.
The bedrock of Fanning's argument is his reference to the "climate of fear and disinformation in the former Soviet Union, where there's no reason to think that written documents or tapes are necessarily any more reliable than hearsay". To the layman, this may appear to be a persuasive argument: everyone in the USSR was so afraid and confused that nothing they ever said, whether in documents or on tape, is "necessarily" more reliable than hearsay. However, to anyone acquainted with the study of Soviet history - or, indeed, with the study of any area of history whatever - Fanning's contention will occasion amazement. Climates of fear and disinformation have existed at various times throughout history, raising "difficulties" of the kind to which Fanning refers. Yet historical research thrives on such difficulties, proceeding by a process of comparison and evaluation as between conflicting points of view and varying qualities of evidence (the basis of all historical assertion being probability). It appears that Fanning is aware neither of the level of detail in which the workings of the former USSR have been known to Western historians for the last forty years nor of the standard methods of comparison and evaluation employed to sort, assess, and classify this mass of official and unofficial documents and statistics. Precisely the same methodology applies in the case of Shostakovich (see below: Closing remarks).

Hans Jung's report appeared in the anthology Shostakovich in Germany, edited by Hilmar Schmalenberg and published by Ernest Kuhn in Berlin in 1998. Chairman of the German DSCH Society (and, according to DSCH's German correspondent Dr Michael Koball, "a strong revisionist"), Hilmar Schmalenberg came to know Jung during their days as musical residents of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). Replying to a letter from Allan Ho about Jung's report, Schmalenberg wrote as follows of his motive in anthologising it: "My primary aim with the publication was to record views on Shostakovich in the GDR. (Jung's position is not identical with that of the editor.)" Jung was a full-time official in the Society for German-Russian Friendship (Gesellschaft für Deutsch-Sowjetische Freundschaft, or GDSF); as such (Ernest Kuhn confirms) Jung belonged to the apparat. The GDSF, as Fanning concedes, was a mass organisation. In fact, it was the mass organisation of the GDR, its eight million members comprising almost the entire working adult populace. Dr Koball: "Every factory, etc., had a branch of this society and the members had to meet in their free time, learning facts about the USSR and being, of course, forced to pay their membership rates. During your first job interview, you would be asked [by a representative of the GDSF]: 'You are a friend of the USSR, aren't you? So come and join us!' (A question that nobody could answer with 'No'.)" Membership of the GDSF was effectively compulsory and indispensable to career advancement in East Germany. As such, it was financed through the Communist Party of the GDR, which controlled the way issues in the sphere of cultural exchange between GDR and USSR were "elucidated" in the society's publications and lectures. To depict Shostakovich as anything other than "a hero of Socialist labour" in the GDSF would have been as unthinkable as doing so in any other public forum or media-outlet in East Germany.

According to Schmalenberg, Shostakovich knew perfectly well what the GDSF was and that Hans Jung was a salaried official in that organisation, i.e., an apparatchik. ("It is possible that he might have met Jung in the 1960s in Berlin, when he was a guest in the central house of the GDSF, where he was photographed.") Are there any grounds for suspecting that Hans Jung was then attached to the security organs of the GDR (Stasi)? Schmalenberg: "I never had such suspicions myself, but this proves nothing." In March 1975, Shostakovich underwent medical tests and was, for some while, hospitalised. Does Schmalenberg believe that Hans Jung's conversation with Shostakovich took place in the way he reports and used the words and expressions he has supplied? "Jung wrote, as he told me, this report in the GDR. The meeting with Shostakovich did in all likelihood take place - I personally do not doubt this. As far as the truthfulness of his report is concerned, I consider it to be at least his own, i.e. HJ's, truth. At the very least, his text reflects a view about Shostakovich prevalent in the GDR." Schmalenberg further confirms that the conversation was conducted off the record, but believes it was instigated by Jung, not Shostakovich.

Knowing what we know of Shostakovich's deep distrust of apparatchiki and of his fear of being "reported" for unorthodox remarks by those he spoke to, it is extremely unlikely that he would have varied his public posture (as an endorser of Soviet Communist Party policy) whilst engaged in a private exchange with an apparatchik about such sensitive issues as his attitude to Party censure. No matter how friendly Hans Jung was, or seemed to be, he was a representative of a communist propaganda organisation whose visit to Shostakovich would certainly have been on the record so far as the Soviet and East German authorities were concerned, and who therefore was certain to write up (or be required to write up) his report once back in the GDR; which is what transpired. Though hitherto unaware of Shostakovich's statement to Jung (or of Jung personally), Solomon Volkov regards it merely as a characteristic example of Shostakovich's automatic statements in response to such enquiries from communist officialdom. Shostakovich, he says, would have had no doubt that the Society for German-Soviet Friendship was overseen by the Stasi, since everything in the GDR was. Hilmar Schmalenberg concurs: "Shostakovich's answers followed the 'rules' of the time. To tell a stranger that he was not [a communist] would make no sense whatever, because in those days he would have had to expect the question 'What then?'. With an answer like this he would have thrown Jung into a black hole, and his admirer would have been disappointed. What would Jung have said on his return to the GDR? It would have been tantamount to announcing [the substance] of Volkov's 'memoirs' [sic]. Shostakovich had his private confidants, but in public the line had to be toed. Whether, though, Shostakovich would have given the same answers in the era of Gorbachev can be doubted with some likelihood."

Hilmar Schmalenberg dismisses the erstwhile communist image of Shostakovich ostensibly adhered to by Hans Jung. Yet the statements attributed to Shostakovich by Jung raise the question of whether the composer intended an Aesopian sub-text of which Jung may have been aware. The lacunae [...] in Shostakovich's statement, as transcribed in translation by Jung upon returning to the GDR, indicate brief pauses in the composer's address. Supposing Jung recalled the conversation accurately (and this may be supposing far too much), it is legitimate to point out certain arguably significant ambiguities in Shostakovich's statement, such the following passage: "I have always tried honestly, tried honestly to write good music, music for my people, for man and woman, for man and woman... Not Socialism and certainly not my Party, the great Party of Lenin, is guilty! No, no! Those were distortions of the Party line and distortions of the politics of Socialism." As elsewhere in Fanning's excerpt, Shostakovich invokes the prefabricated standard phraseology of public discourse within the Soviet bloc: "the great Party of Lenin", "distortions of the Party line and distortions of the politics of Socialism". We should recall Flora Litvinova's remark that Shostakovich "excelled at parodying the bureaucratic lingo" (a claim borne out by his letters to Glikman). We should also recall his use of significant repetition; as, for example, in this case, where his expressed wish to write popular music changes, on repetition, from the Soviet formula "music for the People" to the more general "music for my people, for man and woman" - then proceeding, via a brief pause, to: "Not Socialism and certainly not my Party, the great Party of Lenin, is guilty!" The grammatical structure of this second sentence would be less intriguing if it did not finish with an apparent non sequitur about "guilt". There is no preparation for this concept in the entire passage, which appears out of the blue. Are we to understand, then, that the sentences are linked? I.e., does Shostakovich here drop into Aesopian mode, indicating that he writes for ordinary men and women, not for Socialism and certainly not for the Party; and, furthermore, that "the great Party of Lenin is guilty"? Such, indeed, were the ways in which Aesopian speech was conducted under Soviet rule. Since Hans Jung was (so we are told) writing down Shostakovich's words from memory, the limit of speculation in this case has probably already been reached; yet the speculation itself is perfectly legitimate and the text certainly lends itself to this.

Whatever one makes of Hans Jung's reported conversation with Shostakovich, the fact remains that it is a report of a type known to be subject to strictly confined terms of expression under the rules then governing "public" or "official" pronouncements in the Soviet bloc. As such, like the spurious articles and statements extracted from Shostakovich for Soviet consumption, Jung's report is undeniably less dependable than statements intimated to his friends in private (e.g., his rejoinder to Litvinova, "No, communism is impossible"). Only by disregarding context and by avoiding any juxtaposition of Jung's report with the "small 't' testimony" about Shostakovich is it possible to pretend that what the composer said - "one-to-one", but effectively in public - to this visiting apparatchik whom he barely knew, can be treated as equal in evidential value to statements of a diametrically contrary kind confided in genuine privacy to those close to him. To take one example, Manashir Yakubov quotes the composer's third wife Irina's report that, when she asked him why he had joined the Party, he replied: "If you love me, never ask me about that. They blackmailed me." What kind of loyal communist has to be blackmailed to join the Communist Party? Hans Jung did not meet the real Shostakovich. Yet he is one of many in this respect.

David Fanning

As a responsible scholar, Hilmar Schmalenberg has published Hans Jung's report to illustrate the customary "elucidation" of Shostakovich's image within the former East Germany. However, Schmalenberg neither concurs with the assumptions about Shostakovich intrinsic to that image, nor believes, contrary to David Fanning, that a one-to-one conversation, however genial, between the composer and an apparatchik could possibly have been regarded by either of them as subject to the normal rules of privacy. Whether or not Jung took notes as they spoke, he was bound to report the conversation in some form (as he did, as soon as he returned to East Germany) and Shostakovich, with his fifty years of dealings with apparatchiki, would have known that. Accordingly, Jung's report must be regarded as yet another "public" statement made by Shostakovich in conformity with what was routinely required of him by the communist authorities and which therefore contradicts statements made by him to trusted friends in rare circumstances of genuine privacy. Fanning's casual attempt to suggest an equivalence of evidential value between such material and the mass of private testimony to the contrary is an extraordinary measure of his anxiety to cling to a pseudo-centrist position on Shostakovich. His method - to argue in generalities, hoping that this will deflect attention from the wealth of particulars which gainsay his assertions - is neither scholarly nor responsible. Fanning objects to being charged (by me) with "intellectual helplessness". Very well. On the strength of his review of Shostakovich Reconsidered and his address to the AMS meeting in Boston in 1998, I will revise the charge to one of "intellectual evasiveness". Nowhere in his review is there an admission that his remarks are in the nature of a riposte to criticisms of him made in the book, i.e., that he quotes selectively from the deposition of Galina Drubachevskaya in order to continue depicting Solomon Volkov in an unflattering light; that he casts illegitimate aspersions on Lev Lebedinsky and Daniil Zhitomirsky so as to make their affidavits seem equal in evidential value to that of Yury Levitin; that he misrepresents the position of Leo Mazel' with regard to the dispute between Lebedinsky and Levitin in order to neutralise the significance of the issues involved; and that he has commended, both explicitly and implicitly (by publishing), an essay on Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony by Richard Taruskin which - whether through unfamiliarity with the documentary materials or for the purpose of facilitating a more rousing polemic - ignores testimony contradicting Taruskin's interpretation of the Soviet reception of the work. Fanning's unwillingness to deal with this last charge presumably stems from the necessity of admitting that he was unaware of the materials ignored by Taruskin, with all that follows from this. (The materials are not obscure, having appeared in Wilson's Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, published in 1994, a year before Shostakovich Studies, which leads off with Taruskin's essay.)

Rather than address my various criticisms, Fanning prefers to dismiss as "an 81-page diatribe" the essay ("Naive Anti-Revisionism") in which they appear, venturing no comment on them whatever. While he has said little, if anything, in the past about From Jewish Folk Poetry, Fanning's similar failure to address my rebuttal of Laurel Fay's contentions about the work (in the same essay) provides further evidence of his habit of intellectual evasion. However, the most extraordinary instance of this tendency occurs in his interview with Rodion Shchedrin in the September 1997 of Gramophone, where he sarcastically recounts his attempts to "deflect" Shchedrin from "extra-musical generalities" and "get him onto the specifics of his music". The "extra-musical generalities" to which Fanning refers include Shchedrin's remarks on the political realities of working under totalitarian conditions and the following observation on the experiential background to art created in this way: "Stalin killed 60 million people. Not one family was untouched. I lost two uncles, and both my father-in-law and mother-in-law were in prison." Fanning dismisses this statement with the dry comment that "[Shchedrin] rehearses Russia's tragedy yet again". From someone whose knowledge of the background is demonstrably as scant as his published references to it, Fanning's dismissal of Shchedrin's testimony constitutes both evasion on a grand scale and precisely the detachment of art from context upon which the concept of "pure music" is based (and which he elsewhere stoutly denies in theory and practice). There is no mystery to Fanning's Janus-faced attitude on this topic. Were he to do Rodion Shchedrin the honour of accepting the terms in which he sees his own music (as Fanning has often done with respect to the comparatively trifling terms in which Western modernists present their work), he would be faced with context at such a pitch of significance that he might never be able to escape into the score-limited "specifics" which are his natural milieu. In order to justify this act of evasion, Fanning adopts the position that the background influence on the music of Soviet composers is well-established and requires no further exegesis. He has told me that "everybody knows" about the Soviet background, implying that time spent on elucidating it is wasted and that Shostakovich criticism should now concentrate on technical analysis of the scores. "Surely," he declared at the Boston AMS meeting, "the battle for integrating cultural context into Shostakovich commentary has long since been won?" If this were the case, one would be entitled to ask: won by whom? Certainly not by Fanning, who has mentioned virtually nothing about such cultural context in anything he has written about Shostakovich during the last twelve years.

If David Fanning is so securely grounded in cultural context, how is it that he cannot properly assess the evidential value of Hans Jung's report? How can he accord equal significance to Jung's report and to the depositions of Maxim Shostakovich, Irina Shostakovich, Isaak Glikman, and Lev Lebedinsky vis-à-vis Shostakovich's attitudes to the Soviet Communist Party? How is it that he misunderstands the comparable attitudes of Maxim Gorky and misconstrues the very different sorts of "success" a work like The Golden Age could be said to have enjoyed under the circumstances of the Cultural Revolution? Why - to take just one example of misjudging motives by misapprehending context - does he suggest that Shostakovich regularly recycled the "Song of the Meeting" (Counterplan) because the composer was "pleased with its success", when the practical fact is that the song give him a permanent passport to positive audience reaction, a transferable guarantee of virtuous populism in the eyes of the apparat, and a means of screwing extra performance cheques from the Union? And how can he seriously endorse an essay like Richard Taruskin's "Public lies and unspeakable truth" without seeing at once that it defies established knowledge of the cultural context of 1937, let alone without spotting that it fundamentally distorts the documentary record? Fanning, who professes himself "alarmed" that revisionists should reprove Taruskin for his improbable descriptions of Shostakovich, might be genuinely startled were he ever to acquire some substantial knowledge of Soviet history, rather than merely allowing his superficial prejudices about it to inform his judgements, such as they are. At the Boston meeting, he mocked his critics for being "dangerously armed with a little socio-political learning", a charge he seems under-qualified to make and which, in truth, would more deservedly be applied to himself.

Closing remarks

The essence of pseudo-centrism is vagueness - vagueness about the background and vagueness of assertion. It is a position which depends on general claims that Soviet reality is insusceptible to rational interrogation and that all testimony and evidence emanating from it are equally suspect. The ultimate motive of pseudo-centrism is to reduce the role of context in Shostakovich criticism by making context itself appear unstable. A phenomenon which has been predictable for the last two or three years, pseudo-centrism will doubtless be the future sanctuary for pundits migrating from the extremity of anti-revisionism; as such, pseudo-centrist commentary will always, whether or not it admits this, implicitly favour anti-revisionist interpretations over revisionist ones. A major root of pseudo-centrism is a (vague) nostalgia for left-wing ideals in respect to the Soviet Union, as embodied in the Western liberal mindset of the 1960s and 1970s. This nostalgia - like the reflexive inclination towards "pure" or quasi-"pure" music - serves as a delusory soft-focus filter between the critic and any "Soviet" work under consideration. In the case of Shostakovich's music, this soft-focus confers a pretentiously generalised form of universality and a corresponding reluctance to address the context (which is indispensable to revealing that some of the composer's output is sharply satirical in ways so far barely understood). The subjectivism which underlies the pseudo-centrist view is simultaneously its origin and its destination: by keeping the meaning of Shostakovich's music vague, pseudo-centrists preserve their private responses to it. Born of an era when we knew far less about Shostakovich and his society than we do now, such private responses stand in direct contrast with the more shared (and hence more genuinely universal) responses proposed by revisionism. Ironically, some anti-revisionists have accused revisionism of claiming Shostakovich for "the conservative cause"; yet if anything can be said to be classically "bourgeois" in the Shostakovich debate it is the pseudo-centrist defence of the private response. To maintain the right to a private response in defiance of what we now know, and can therefore agree on, about Shostakovich's music - for example, that the Eighth Quartet is a form of suicide note - is, in effect, to reject what we might call the communalism of the truly universal response. (To put it simply: Shostakovich's art should unite us, not increase our egoistic isolation.)

On BBC Radio 3 on 16th August 1998, Stephen Johnson disclosed that he first heard Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony at the age of 14 and was so overwhelmed by the impression it made on him that he cannot now forgo that conception for anything even generally appropriate to the symphony's meaning as deduced through context, since that would negate his private response to the music. I, too, first heard the work when I was 14 and was similarly overwhelmed. In my young mind, it summoned frenetic and nightmareish images which had very little connection with each other; for example, the coda of the third movement evoked a vast subterranean cave hung with dripping stalactites. In short, my response to the music, while enthusiastic, was inchoately subjective. By the time it came to considering the Fourth Symphony for The New Shostakovich, I had evolved more maturely sophisticated associations for the music, albeit that these were inconsistent when examined together, being, in effect, a private world evoked by Shostakovich's music. When, however, I examined the Symphony in context, it became obvious to me that my private response was a self-indulgent ahistorical fantasy. Albeit with reluctance, I dropped it and rethought my conception of the work from the ground up, reasoning that to do anything less was self-centred. (I should add that Volkov, to whom Johnson confided his 14-year-old secret, gave him his blessing without enquiring what his "interpretation" was.) Johnson has since demanded to know, with reference to John Eliot Gardiner's claim that Beethoven's Fifth is "saturated with echoes of French Revolutionary songs", if I am in the habit of taking the context of Beethoven's symphonies into account when I listen to them. I'm familiar with Gardiner's intriguing conjecture, which, could it be proved, would be so indispensable to comprehending Beethoven that to ignore it in the interests of preserving one's private interpretations would be dishonest and cowardly. Indeed, such is the ferment of context-recovery in cultural criticism over the last thirty years that one could multiply such examples till the cows come home. We have opened that door; we can only close it now by shutting out the world itself. In any case, are we not crying out for new great music? By rendering Beethoven new to our minds, we acquire his music afresh, as though we have never heard it before.

The commonest intellectual confusion to stem from the subjective vagueness of pseudo-centrism is the idea that Testimony stands alone as a key to Shostakovich's music, and that if this key can be shown to be faultily cast, the lock will not turn and the door to a deeper understanding of the composer's music will not open. In DSCH 10, George Holley, with admirable honesty, concedes that, having read Shostakovich Reconsidered, he now sees Testimony as "a sort of Rosetta Stone for Shostakovich and for Soviet intellectual history". As for Soviet intellectual history - about which we now know a great deal - Testimony can fairly be regarded as one Rosetta Stone among many; yet Holley is correct in his general sentiment, and the metaphor of the Rosetta Stone is instructive up to a point. The Rosetta Stone was a fragment of a text written in parallel in three ancient scripts. The rest of the tablet was missing, but the parallel texts allowed Champollion to read the hitherto indecipherable hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. Testimony, by contrast, is more accurately regarded as one part of a tablet broken in four, of which we have - not wholly distinct, yet sufficiently clear to be largely decipherable - all four pieces. The other three pieces of the "Shostakovich tablet" are: the "small 't' testimony"; the general Soviet background; and his music. Used together (comparing their points of commonality and mutual confirmation), these four aspects of the full picture constitute a formidable means of dispelling the defeatist claims of permanent irredeemable irresolution voiced by the proponents of comfortable vagueness in the pseudo-centre of the Shostakovich debate.

Allan Ho and Dmitry Feofanov have accomplished considerable advances in factually cross-comparing Testimony with all three other fragments of the tablet. In doing so, they have repeatedly discovered that details in Testimony "check out" in ways of which Solomon Volkov could not have been aware; indeed, they are still discovering such independently confirmative details. As for comparing Testimony with the "small 't' testimony", they and I have done an equal amount of work; whereas it has largely fallen to me thus far to relate Testimony to its context in the Soviet background. As for the music - which, in the end, is what we are interested in - cross-comparison between it and the other three aspects of the picture have been productive and can be expected to proceed more quickly as findings like Raymond Clarke's are brought forward. Clarke's find, in fact, suggests a fifth fragment to the "Shostakovich tablet": Western music itself, which, like the composer's allusions to Russian and Soviet literature (here subsumed for convenience under "the general Soviet background"), seems to have been employed by him as a source of ready code-material for use in significant "collage" passages. In other words, Testimony is merely part of a pattern which must be judged overall, rather than by isolating its separate manifestations in order to relegate their potential significance, as David Fanning clearly wishes to do.

Louis Blois is vexed that Testimony is not scholastically irreproachable. We should count ourselves lucky that we have it; indeed, Solomon Volkov is fortunate that he and the book escaped the USSR intact. I agree with David Fanning that the loss of the original transcript is, to say the least, regrettable. However, while very important to the process of reconsidering Shostakovich, Testimony is not strictly crucial. Even if all we possessed were the other three (or four) parts of the puzzle, the enquiry into Shostakovich's true artistic identity would still be proceeding. As to my position on Testimony, I have outlined this in Shostakovich Reconsidered (p. 117, fn. 8; p. 295) and in an interview with DSCH accessible at the DSCH Web-site.

I would like to thank Martin Klopstock and Dr Michael Koball for their generous assistance with the German sources quoted in this article. Thanks also to Dr Koball and Hilmar Schmalenberg for permission to quote their remarks herein.

Back to Shostakovichiana. Back to Contents.