The Question of Dissidence (4)
To be read in conjunction with
the Chronology of the Debate.
Rejecting the dissident conception: motives
Why do anti-revisionist writers so rarely contend against their opponents in a reasonable way, so often resort to denying out of hand that the viewpoint they oppose contains any intrinsic validity, persuasive arguments, or supporting evidence? The belligerence of much anti-revisionist language -- describing the assertions of revisionism as rabid or hysterical, denigrating revisionist arguments as "Stalinist" or "McCarthyite", decrying the dissident conception as a cult -- shows, if nothing else, that strong feelings are in play. Whence do these emotions arise? It is significant that the wrath of anti-revisionism is generally unknown in the musical circles of Russia and continental Europe. Indeed, anti-revisionism in Shostakovich studies is mostly an Anglo-American phenomenon with its academic headquarters chiefly in the USA. As such, there appear to be three main sources of this strongly held outlook: (1) academic reputations based on published views of Shostakovich which conflict with the dissident conception of the composer; (2) uninstructed presumptions about the nature of the Soviet Union and its cultural life; (3) a general feeling that to investigate Shostakovich's music too closely is to deprive it of something ineffable without which, it seems, music cannot properly be considered great.
The number of academic reputations at stake on the anti-revisionist side is small. Anti-revisionism consists essentially of the writings of two American scholars: Richard Taruskin and Laurel Fay, only one of whom (Taruskin) is a full-time academic. Malcolm H. Brown, a Prokofiev specialist, has published little on Shostakovich and participates in the debate chiefly as a critic of Testimony (although he has expressed general anti-revisionist sentiments in respect of MacDonald's The New Shostakovich). Other American anti-revisionists are journalists or broadcasters, e.g., Royal S. Brown, Bernard Holland, Tamara Bernstein, Alex Ross, Paul Mitchinson. Holland has made his affiliation with Taruskin clear; Bernstein has declared similar links with Taruskin and Fay; Ross and Mitchinson appear to be beholden to Fay for many of their opinions. This media-based outer circle of anti-revisionism is not wholly uncritical of academic anti-revisionism -- Ross, Mitchinson, and Royal S. Brown have minds of their own -- yet such secondary anti-revisionism in America (and in Britain in the case of David Gutman) is nonetheless fundamentally dependent on Fay and Taruskin. (One other academic, the declaredly neutral British scholar David Fanning, has often written to anti-revisionist effect. It remains to be seen how far his article on Shostakovich in the forthcoming update of the New Grove assimilates shifts in perception and judgement brought about by revisionism.)
Richard Taruskin, Laurel Fay, Malcolm H. Brown, and to a lesser extent David Fanning may be said to have academic reputations to defend in respect of the Shostakovich debate. There is nothing wrong with defending either a view or a reputation based on comprehensive and mature research. What is illegitimate is to defend a reputation founded on patchy or neglectful research and the vague prejudices which flow from this. Fanning, whose research is secure as far as it goes, ventures few opinions about Shostakovich in relation to the Soviet dissident culture. Accordingly, he is rarely if ever cited by secondary anti-revisionists and hence, unlike Fay and Taruskin, is not continuously in the position of defending his reputation with respect to assertions made in the Shostakovich debate. It is up to readers to assess criticisms of the methods and statements of Richard Taruskin and Laurel Fay which have been advanced in Shostakovich Reconsidered, in DSCH Journal, and at this website (e.g., review of Fay's biography, "The Turning Point", "Centre and pseudo-centre", etc). It is only by examining criticisms of their work at length that any consequential opinion can be formed as to how far they contend responsibly as legitimate scholars and how far, if at all, they seek merely to defend their reputations.
On the subject of (2) uninstructed presumption, it is only to be expected that secondary anti-revisionists -- journalists and broadcasters commissioned to comment on the Shostakovich debate who, having solicited the views of Fay and Taruskin, report hostilely on revisionism -- understand less than they might about the issues. What is more remarkable is the common conviction among such commentators that they know enough about the Soviet politico-cultural context to pass meaningful judgements on those who worked within it. At its simplest, this presumption of understanding can produce strident dismay at the mere suggestion that Shostakovich was a secret dissident. At a more sophisticated level, it results in a misconception of basic ideas and definitions. Alex Ross, for example, claims (The New Yorker, 20th March 2000) that Shostakovich wrote "ostensibly socialist realist symphonies" and that the Fifth Symphony "passed muster with socialist-realist [sic] aesthetics" -- a view betraying so complete a misconstruction of this aesthetic term as to expose the writer's supposed grasp of Soviet cultural affairs. Sadly, Olympia's fine catalogue no longer includes Dudarova's recording with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra of Lev Knipper's Fourth Symphony. A single listen to this brassily populist work -- one of the earliest examples (1933) of a genuine Socialist Realist symphony -- would let media pundits discern at once how different is Shostakovich's idiom.
Even in the simplest of circumstances, inadequate contextual understanding may seriously mislead the newcomer; in the very complex study of Soviet culture, such contextual uncertainty is often crippling. So many and pervasive are the resulting media misconceptions of Shostakovich that it must suffice to produce only one more so as not to unduly impede the progress of the present argument.
Shostakovich in tears
One of Shostakovich's most discussed pieces, the Eighth Quartet has, mainly as a result of "witness" testimony to have emerged since 1990, become recognised as a work of despairing protest against the composer's forced enrollment into the Communist Party at the time it was written in 1960. Shostakovich's friend Lev Lebedinsky disclosed that, "with tears in his eyes", the composer told him a day after completing the Quartet that it was, in effect, a musical suicide-note, reflecting his anguish at being made to join the Party. Isaak Glikman describes Shostakovich as wildly distraught: "I had never seen him in such a state. He was quite hysterical... crying, weeping out loud." The composer's son Maxim recalls that, having bowed to the Party's demands, his father wept in front of his children: "This was sobbing, not just tears, but sobbing." The intensity of Shostakovich's distress is virtually guaranteed to mystify anyone who lacks knowledge of the Soviet context. Why, Westerners will wonder, would anyone be so upset at the prospect of joining a political party -- a party which many secret dissidents joined simply because not to do so would have killed their careers? (E.g., composer Vladislav Uspensky: "I was also a member of the Party. Being so meant absolutely nothing." DSCH Journal 12, p. 9.)
In this instance, the natural incomprehension of Westerners was also reflected within the USSR. Many of the younger intellectual generation -- people, born around 1930, lucky enough not experience the horrors of Stalin's dictatorship as adults -- were puzzled by Shostakovich's acquiescence to a political organisation which they thoroughly despised. This being the case, it is not, after all, so surprising that anti-revisionists, in conceding the code language of dissidence in the Eighth Quartet, simultaneously use the "witness" revelations about it as a means of mocking claims for Shostakovich's courage:
In 1960, by which time his international fame offered him a shield, Shostakovich gave in to pressure and joined the Communist Party. The autobiographical Eighth Quartet, which places his musical monogram in conjunction with a famous prison song, was an act of atonement for this display of weakness[...] Shostakovich's likely motive in dictating whatever portion of Testimony proves to be truly his was exculpation for [such] failures of nerve.
This paragraph, from Richard Taruskin's article "Casting A Great Composer As A Fictional Hero" in The New York Times on 5th March 2000, is characteristic of anti-revisionist contempt not only for the suggestion that Shostakovich was a secret dissident but also for the view that, in expressing his outlook through his music, he was a "moral beacon" (Joseph Horowitz, The New York Times, 6th February 2000). Such contempt logically extends to evaluation of the composer himself, for example Bernard Holland's attack on Shostakovich as "a mediocre human being" who "who toadied and cringed before his Soviet bosses" (The New York Times, 9th March 2000). Revealingly, Laurel Fay's vision of Shostakovich encompasses the same contempt: "On the one hand, he resisted and resented some of the things that happened to him [under the communist regime]. On the other hand, he was a wuss." (National Post, 15th March 2000.) The fashion for casual sneering at Shostakovich's supposed abjectness before the Soviet apparat has inevitably spread to the critical mainstream: writers whose unfamiliarity with Shostakovich studies does not prevent them pouring scorn on the composer from the safety of middleclass American neighbourhoods a world away from the cold reach of totalitarian terror. For example, Philip Kennicott, a staffer for The Washington Post, writes (19th May 2000): "Shostakovich for Dummies begins with this lesson: The composer was either a political milquetoast who caved in to the Soviet establishment (whenever necessary) by writing musical agitprop, or a sibylline character who encoded anti-Soviet messages into his seemingly Stalin-friendly symphonies." Kennicott's mischaracterisation of Testimony as "diaries" suggests a less than reliable grasp of this subject.
An adequate case against such ignorant disdain cannot be made in brief. Here, we must encapsulate what should properly occupy an entire volume. The main Western misapprehension about Shostakovich's decision to join the Communist Party is that he was quite safe to have refused. The many assurances by his friends and family that he was then under severe duress and had no choice but to acquiesce are either not taken seriously by anti-revisionists or undermined with insinuations that the composer was merely drunk or confused at the time. Richard Taruskin furnishes a further sceptical variation in claiming that, by 1960, Shostakovich's international fame offered him a shield. Shostakovich himself requested his third wife Irina not to ask him any questions about it: "They blackmailed me." (Manashir Yakubov, LSO 1998 Shostakovich Season book, p. 61.) Naturally, anti-revisionists who let their contempt for Shostakovich shape their thinking will reject this as yet more unseemly self-justification.
Accepting that Shostakovich could not then have been conspicuously harmed by the Soviet authorities -- harmed in such a way as to have caused international consternation -- could anything less public, but no less effectively punitive, have been done to him if he had simply told the Communist Party to go to hell? Certainly there could. Covert punishment is a protocol built into totalitarian situations, predicated on the inability of those living under such conditions to complain publicly, let alone internationally, about what is done to them.
In 1960, any number of threats could have been brought to bear on Shostakovich behind the scenes. His burgeoning relationship with Irina Antonovna could have been interdicted by removing her to another city. His extended family (which, as Vishnevskaya points out in her autobiography, included faithful retainers) could have been victimised in many devious ways. His meagre privileges (some of which he refused on principle to use) could have been curtailed. His income could have been choked off, his medical requirements threatened, his living conditions jeopardised. None of this need have come to the attention of prying foreigners. (In 1985, footage was screened in the West which purported to show Sakharov in good health, though he had recently been force-fed while on hunger strike.) Worst of all for Shostakovich, as his close friends knew, was anxiety over his beloved children Galina and Maxim, respectively 24 and 22 in 1960 and then setting out on their careers, with their own families to follow. What if, as a result of their father refusing the Party, they had found their progress blocked, their lives (in Akhmatova's phrase) "turned aside" -- wasted, ruined? Taruskin scornfully compares Shostakovich with public dissidents like Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, neither of whom had an adult son or daughter to worry about. None of this occurs to anti-revisionists, whose condemnation comes too easily.
Why did Shostakovich weep?
The young intellectuals who refused to comprehend Shostakovich's acquiescence during the 1960s have, in maturity, become more understanding. For example, Sofiya Gubaidulina: "I now realise that the circumstances he lived under were unbearably cruel, more than anyone should have to endure... I accept him, for I see him as pain personified, the epitome of the tragedy and terror of our times." (Wilson, op. cit., p. 307.) Others, including not only Gubaidulina's generation but older contemporaries of the composer, reason that if he had not agreed to join the Party he could not have become the First Secretary of the RSFSR Composers' Union (from which position he did so much good for his fellow artists that testimony to this is still coming in). Such arguments, no doubt, were put to him in 1960 not only by his apparat masters but by his colleagues in the dissident culture, anxious to prevent him yet again falling foul of the authorities, or taking his own life. (It must also have been pointed out that Party membership and his subsequent official elevation would afford him extra protection, something which he may have exploited in the manoeuvres before the premiere of the Thirteenth Symphony in 1962.) All this, together with whatever "blackmail" was inflicted on him, would rationally explain his acquiescence. What it doesn't explain is the extremity of his anguish prior to giving in -- his repeated lapses into tears and shaking fits, his childlike "running away".
Laurel Fay's view of Shostakovich as "a wuss" (wimp, wet, gutless wonder) -- and the similar opinions of those secondary anti-revisionists who follow her -- reflects distaste for a man seen as not only caving in when, supposedly, there was no pressure to do so, but who also wept and wailed at being made to enrol in an organisation which any mildly cynical secret dissident would have joined at once had the need arisen. The answer is obvious. When Galina Serebryakova, a lifelong diehard Communist, was released from the Gulag in the late 1950s, she was astonished to find that Shostakovich, one of the USSR's most respected artists, did not belong to the Communist Party. Presumably she reasoned that the laws of Soviet careerism should have ensured that no one without a Party card could achieve, let alone maintain, Shostakovich's eminence in his field. Indeed, it is more remarkable that Shostakovich avoided joining the Communist Party until he was 54 than that he succumbed at this very late age. It is the composer's non-membership of the Party between 1917 and 1960 that is the key.
The only sensible rationale for Shostakovich's refusal to join the Party until he was blackmailed into doing so is that he regarded it as the heart of every indigenous evil in the Soviet Union -- the operating centre of a totalitarian terror which had destroyed millions of lives, including those of many people he knew. For him, being able to keep the Party and its loathed officials at arm's length was almost certainly his personal "bottom line". Contrary to the assumptions of anti-revisionism, no one in the Soviet union was free to choose whether to "accommodate" the demands of the state (Fay, p. 173) or to "accept" Party authorship of speeches and writings (Fay, index entry). Refusal to toe the Party line in the USSR before 1956 got you jailed, tortured, and/or shot; refusal thereafter invited reprisals only slightly less draconian (including the novel refinement of conceivably losing your mind in a Soviet mental ward). Shostakovich had no more choice in "accommodating" and "accepting" impositions from the state than anyone else. One acceded or one suffered the consequences.
Shostakovich's convulsive reaction to being made to join the Party in 1960 can be understood as the breaching of a psychological dam which he had maintained throughout every indignity he endured at the hands of those who did Stalin's will from the 1920s onwards. Hypersensitive and hyperintelligent, the composer must have felt his personal humiliations and the grinding fear he shared with his fellow citizens particularly vividly. Unable to suppress his revulsion for those who inflicted these things, he was incapable of cynically joining the Party for career advancement and a degree of protection; on the contrary, as several of Elizabeth Wilson's witnesses attest, he feared and loathed Soviet officialdom. For many secret dissidents, the apparat ("them") represented the embodiment of a cold and often vicious amorality built into Leninist doctrine at foundation level. Judging by the testimony of his friends and colleagues, Shostakovich shared this sentiment. Hence, to be forced to abandon his last-ditch position after all he had endured must have been catastrophic for him.
In this perspective, his misery at being compelled to join the Party is all too readily understood, and doubtless made more volcanically eruptive by the facade of stoical control his fate otherwise required of him (a habit of self-repression into which he rebounded even during the worst moments of the summer of 1960, as witnessed by his dryly ironic description of weeping over his "ideologically unsound" Eighth Quartet in his letter to Glikman of 19th July). It is a measure of Shostakovich's remarkable self-possession that he did not break down completely at this point or plummet into terminal alcoholism, as so many of his colleagues (and even apparat functionaries) did under less stress.
When, referring to Shostakovich's acquiescence to the Party in 1960, Richard Taruskin dismissively describes the Eighth Quartet as "an act of atonement for this display of weakness", he displays both an appalling lack of human empathy and a wholly unscholarly failure of insight into the basic contextual issues in this field. Laurel Fay likewise reveals total contextual incomprehension when she speaks disdainfully of memoir witnesses "grappling with discomfiting issues of complicity and culpability". Only the most morally sensitive people in the USSR, of whom Shostakovich was evidently one, tortured themselves with guilt over being obliged to do what everyone else was obliged to do. Only acts of gross betrayal committed in the absence of unbearable coercion warrant the label "collaboration": there is no record of Shostakovich descending to this. On the contrary, his record behind the scenes is of endless intercession for the victims of Soviet rule, writing to the functionaries he despised in aid of those they had wronged. (Arkady Vaksberg lists Shostakovich first among those who tirelessly petitioned on behalf of Jewish victims of the Soviet system.)
As the accompanying Case for Dissidence shows, Shostakovich had no affiliation with Communism as a youth, inclined decisively to the non-Party intelligentsia thereafter, was persecuted by totalitarian Leftist from the period of the Cultural Revolution onward, and lost very heavily in friends and relatives to Soviet repression throughout his adult life. The scatological revulsion of his satire Rayok should suffice to convey the disgust he understandably felt for those who inflicted all this on him. Those who attempt to shrink the scope of Rayok to mere cultural burlesque effectively seek to lower the temperature of Shostakovich's tangibly raging anger. Anti-revisionism cannot countenance an angry, morally resistant idea of the composer without conceding the dissident conception. Resolutely ignored by anti-revisionists, Shostakovich's satirical impulse bears directly on the third basic source of hostility to the dissident view: the feeling that to investigate his music too closely risks depriving it of a supposed "mystery" without which it cannot properly be considered great.
Introspection and the impact of modernity
The highest achievements of Romantic Western art are usually taken to be those associated with introspection. Poets and composers meditate on their inner lives in relation to the great "themes": love, death, the mystery of existence and so on. By being occupied with such "universal" concerns, an artist rises above the merely actual as represented in the more conversational or action-intensive types of play or novel -- or in what is vaguely known as "program music". This is not a golden rule. Many find in opera insights as profound as the supposedly more abstract kind associated with, for example, the late works of Beethoven. In general, though, introspective art is prized above that based on observation of the external world, being thought purer and more essential.
Introspective art allows those who apprehend it to be guided by it into their own inner worlds. It is a gateway to private places of the heart and mind -- places which are doubtless different for all of us (although, judging by mass surveys of common fantasy-patterns, such differences are exaggerated). Until Testimony -- and, owing to Bernard Haitink's "introspective" readings of the symphonies, for some time thereafter -- Shostakovich was discussed by critics as a sub-Mahlerian enigma, veering unaccountably between introspective musing and outbursts of ostensibly vulgar blatancy. Reviewers valued the supposedly introspective slow passages of the symphonies and concertos over their other elements; it was conventional to regard the quartets as more serious because they were, supposedly, more "private" and "personal" (i.e., more susceptible to interpretation in Romantic introspective terms). In other words, Western listeners heard Shostakovich as a typical Russian introvert, either trapped in the clamorous external world of Soviet Communism or, somehow, simultaneously genuinely enthusing over this external world in disconcertingly vulgar ways.
So long as the details of life in the context within which Shostakovich lived remained vague, the "enigma" view of him could be sustained without raising serious questions. The common Western leftwing revolutionary-romantic view of Lenin and the state he created was (as it still is) important in maintaining the supposedly insoluble enigma of Shostakovich. Indeed, until around 1990, it was common to ascribe both the tragedy and the violently acerbic anger in his music to Russia's gigantic losses during the war against Hitler. Nowadays, we do not see Shostakovich as solely exercised by fascist oppression -- or rather we understand that fascism comes in red, as well as brown or black, varieties. Nevertheless the reflex assumption among Western intellectuals is that, since Lenin's revolution was declaredly progressive, rational, and humane, no one of Shostakovich's generation could have doubted it. According to this ubiquitous view, the dark side of Soviet Communism only became apparent under Stalin, who supposedly perverted Lenin's lofty ideals. Such, more or less, is the extent of contextual understanding of Shostakovich's milieu among musicologists and general listeners in the West. Hence, the "enigma" view -- the assumption that we can never know what he really thought or felt -- endures. Coincidentally or not, this essentially romantic concept of Soviet history nourishes the idea of Shostakovich as brooding introvert. Accordingly, Westerners tend to form their own private and personal conceptions of what his music may or may not convey.
When the dissident conception is criticised on the grounds that its contextual aspect produces supposedly over-specific interpretations, what is thereby said to be lost is the music's "mystery", its potential for "infinite" non-specific meaning. In effect, such criticism defends the right to hear Shostakovich in wholly private and personal ways, as if his music reflects the Romantic ethos of introspection. While claims for infinite potential meaning are rhetorical, there is nothing unreasonable in contending that something mysterious resides in Shostakovich's work which can be damaged by interpreting it too precisely. There is always a deep core of subjectivity in any response to art, whether on the part of artist or audience. Nothing in the dissident conception threatens this. There are aspects of Shostakovich's music which, while not beyond verbal paraphrase, will always remain in the realm of the subjective, as personal and private as any Romantic introvert could fairly desire. What, however, must be recognised is that Shostakovich was no Romantic, but a modern realist. Devoted to the satiric observational tradition in 19th century Russian literature, he looked out at the external world in his music far more than he turned inward. Rebelling, like his contemporaries, against the culture of Russia's Silver Age (whose stormy introspection is matched by the early symphonies of Myaskovsky), Shostakovich, like Britten, saw himself as a social artist, living and working in the everyday world and, in a variety of styles and moods, reflecting its activities and values. He was not, or not primarily, an introspective Romantic who mused on eternal verities or explored his private and personal inner life.
Beyond introspection: the communal response
Again like Britten (and 20th century Mahler), Shostakovich's creative subject may be said to be the impact of modernity on traditional values. In his case, this impact was brutally immediate: the revolutionary overthrow of a corrupt traditional order involving an unprecedented socio-cultural upheaval and the destruction of millions of lives. When revisionists say that Shostakovich's music is dissident, they do not mean that it is "about politics". They mean that it concerns the universal trials of life (and the varieties of actor on that stage) taken to extremes of nuance and intensity which free democratic societies never experience. Recurrently tragic, often harsh and frightening, frequently blackly funny, Shostakovich's music is a report on experience in the world he knew -- a series of musical dramas, most of them wordless, based on life under moral and emotional pressures which Western listeners rarely if ever experience at first hand. By reserving the right to project our private meanings on his music, we distance ourselves from the very life-impacts which Shostakovich, far from seeking to evade, met head-on and made the subject of his work. To the extent that we turn art into whatever we want it to mean, we forfeit the chance of being changed by it. Introducing Testimony, Solomon Volkov definitively expressed this through his overwhelmed response to the "naturalistic authenticity" of the Eleventh Symphony: "The poetics of shock. For the first time in my life, I left a concert thinking of others instead of myself." There could be no more direct statement of the anti-Romantic, non-introspective, down to earth realism of Shostakovich's creative principles.
No Communist, Shostakovich nevertheless almost certainly inclined to a broadly socialistic vision of a humane society in which individualities are respected and protected without being exalted at the expense of communal cohesion, gross inequity, and simple decency. This being so, he would not have wished his work to have been susceptible, in the Romantic tradition, to overly individualistic (private and personal) interpretation. Given that we cannot help experiencing in our own ways, Shostakovich aimed his work into the communal sphere, trying to unite his audiences in more or less the same response, even the same mental imagery. Within the Soviet Union, and especially within the dissident culture shared by most of the Soviet intelligentsia from 1917 onwards, this communal response was far easier to activate and exploit than it is in the fragmentary culture of the individualistic Western world. Volkov's example, the Eleventh Symphony, uses the unsung texts of Russian songs, alluded to through their melodies, to address Russian audiences with an unusual precision by activating emotional associations which are impossible to reproduce outside that culture.
The modern Western notion that composers write pieces as pure additions to a Platonic corpus of supranational universality misleadingly oversimplifies the truth -- which is that music has many social uses, some of which are locally specific beyond "translation". This is not true of Shostakovich's work, or not entirely true -- yet his mission to address those sharing what might be called "the Soviet experience" often assumes an urgent specificity which, without the exegesis of context, can cause problems of comprehension for non-Russians. At the same time, even for Westerners, the sheer concentration of Shostakovich's idiom rarely fails to produce the intended "communal effect", as the Emerson Quartet have confirmed. Shostakovich in concert can be a unique experience.
By the same token, performed by mere technical virtuosi or by conductors who project the softening light of Romantic introspection on his essentially hard-etched forms and colours, Shostakovich's music loses its dramatic sharpness, its operative tension between tragedy and satire. Herein lies one of the most persuasive arguments for contextual investigation, for tragedy is universal in the sense that anyone may use their own sorrows to connect with that strain in Shostakovich's work, regardless of whether they comprehend the vast scale of the communal tragedy of which he speaks. Satire, on the other hand, is highly specific to time and place. To understand the particular tones of this aspect of Shostakovich's work, interpreters require some familiarity with the warped mores of Soviet life, the nuances of Soviet cultural discourse which dissident intellectuals found so ironic and at times so hysterically funny. Shostakovich is often spoken of by critics who do not grasp his idiom as a gloom-merchant with imponderable interludes of crass grandiosity or vulgar raucousness. Like readers of Nineteen Eighty-Four who do not distinguish Orwell's mordant jokes about Stalinist customs and practices, such critics fail to see how funny much of Shostakovich's music is, even in ostensibly serious moments. Of course, the humour often verges on the appalling (e.g., the burlesque trumpet-commissar in the third movement of the Eighth Symphony) -- yet it always identifies itself through irony: the irony which the composer's friends insist was his defining trait. While, as always and everywhere in life, over-interpretation remains an abiding danger, such ironic precision calls for reciprocally specific reading. The sharper the mental imagery, the more incisive the expression conveyed by performers. (The trouble with performances like Keith Jarrett's of Opus 87 or Eliahu Inbal in the symphonies is precisely that they are too unspecific.)