A review by Ian MacDonald
Shostakovich and Lenin
On p. 221 of her book, Fay quotes "Shostakovich" from Sovetskaya kultura for 6th June 1959: an announcement which, she says, "picked up a thread he had abandoned eighteen years earlier at the outbreak of war", having first broached the subject in 1938. This abandoned thread pertained to Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), the unpleasant political agitator of genius whose usurpation of power in Russia after the popular revolution of February 1917 precipitated, directly or indirectly, a civilian loss of life within a single country under a single political system exceeded only by Mao Tse-tung's Chinese revolution. Here is what "the great Soviet composer" had to say:
What form my idea will take, whether it will be an oratorio, a cantata, a symphony, or a symphonic poem, I don't want to predict. One thing is clear: the effort to embody the mighty image of the greatest man of our most complex epoch will demand the exertion of all my creative resources. I would really like to complete it in time for the ninetieth anniversary of Vladimir Ilyich's birthday.
How did such an "announcement" come about? Shostakovich had returned from his American trip three months earlier and was about to retire into his summer composing season. The musical apparat was, as usual, collecting "creative plans" from its leading composers in order to regale the public and the foreign press with them. In all likelihood someone from the Composers' Union rang Shostakovich to ascertain his plans and perhaps to suggest the Lenin anniversary. Shostakovich probably conferred with Isaak Glikman. The resulting jottings were then collated by a Sovetskaya kultura journalist, written up in the currently acceptable style, and ascribed to the composer himself.
Did Shostakovich actually utter the sentence "the effort to embody the mighty image of the greatest man of our most complex epoch will demand the exertion of all my creative resources"? If he didn't, his ghost-writer would have said it for him. If the composer did say it, then -- to judge by his dislike of the Soviet Communist Party and, by logical extension, its founder -- he must have been speaking, in Glikman's words, "with a nuance of irony". Of course, as a spinner of "exquisite parodies" of Soviet officialese (Fay, pp. 173-4) and a writer of alleged "long missives of sardonic political commentary to his friends" (ibid, p. 215), Shostakovich could easily have simulated the authentic turgidity of this sentence in the event that the hack who actually wrote his announcement for him had been unable to remember the correct phraseology.
Had Shostakovich sincerely meant what he was reported as saying to Sovetskaya kultura about a major work on Lenin on 6th June 1959, he would have to have got down to work on this score immediately, since the anniversary in question was then only about ten months away and his autumn timetable was extensively booked with journeys to Warsaw, the United States, and Mexico. However, the announcement in Sovetskaya kultura contained a proviso: he would be writing a cello concerto first. Accordingly, he spent the summer composing his First Cello Concerto, which thereupon became his concert work for the 1959-60 winter season, along with all the prefatory procedures of auditions and rehearsals. If Shostakovich had genuinely intended to compose his promised Lenin piece in time for the anniversary on 22nd April 1960, he would have begun composing it, at the latest, in December. He did nothing. Fay reports him three months later as "bored and lonely" -- temporarily hospitalised for treatment to his right hand. Did this prevent him writing the Lenin piece? Perhaps; although, curiously enough, he was able to write something else in this interlude: his Seventh String Quartet. If composing this Quartet ruled out any possibility of writing the Lenin piece in time for the April anniversary, there was still time to get it ready for the 1960-1 winter season. It is fair to suppose that a Soviet composer genuinely eager to address the mighty image of the greatest man of our most complex epoch would have got to work on the promised epic as soon as he was out of hospital. Shostakovich, though, spent the late spring and early summer of 1960 composing the subversive song-cycle Satires before going to East Germany as part of his work on his score for the film Five Days, Five Nights.
There, in Dresden, he "wrote" his Eighth Quartet in three days. Fay follows tradition in referring to this feat as one of "white heat", which would be justifiable if the old legend of the Eighth Quartet -- that it was inspired by the sight of the bomb-ruined city -- were tenable. However, as I have shown (Shostakovich Reconsidered, pp. 587-9), this is not the case. If Shostakovich had been following his usual compositional methods, he would have been thinking about the Quartet for some time before he arrived in Dresden, simply taking advantage of three days at the ministerial guest-house at Göhrisch to write the music down. Does this mean he had forgotten about his promised Lenin anniversary piece? Apparently not. Somewhere between Satires and the Eighth Quartet -- June 1960, about two months late for the event -- he began sketching this work, his Twelfth Symphony, although he does not seem to have got far with it before dropping it for his trip to East Germany and the composition of the Eighth Quartet, the film score for Five Days, Five Nights, and the installation piece Novorossiisk Chimes. Nor, to judge from what is known about these sketches, does he appear to have done much serious thinking about the Twelfth Symphony before then -- which is peculiar, since he'd had the entire preceding six months to do so.
Even more peculiar is the fact that Shostakovich's desultory first draft of his Lenin symphony contained what Elizabeth Wilson describes as "a substantial chunk with a parodying waltz based on material from the fourth song, 'Misunderstanding', [from] Satires" (op. cit., p. 344). What does a "parodying waltz" have to do with an epic symphony about Lenin? In particular, why a "substantial chunk" using the song "Misunderstanding"? This dryly ribald piece contains a fake Parisian salon waltz to an erotic lyric, but it is unclear how this could sit in a Lenin symphony, even a frankly satirical one. According to Wilson, the music coincides with the line "He did not understand the new poetry": a one-note vocal line over the barest one-finger piano figure. Since the intention was clearly satirical, a better choice might have been the third song of the cycle, "Descendants" -- yet its cynicism about the future would have been shockingly blatant in the context of a work on the founder of Soviet Communism (an ideology based on incessant assurances that the future was bright). Wilson cites as her source for this information Volume 2 of Khentova's biography. Yakubov, though, in his notes on the Twelfth Symphony for the 1998 LSO series of Shostakovich concerts, makes no mention of these sketches.
And Fay? Yet again displaying her puzzlingly uninquisitive reluctance to research beyond published books, the back numbers of Soviet arts magazines, and the grubby news-sheet Pravda, she is content to cite (p. 223) the identical passage in Khentova's biography (a "minefield of misinformation", as she calls it on p. 3). This is baffling. After fifteen years of seemingly open access to Soviet sources, Fay has failed to look into one of the most provocative claims about any work by Shostakovich (a claim published fifteen years ago). Evidently she did not ask Khentova for further details, presumably because she is not on speaking terms with her; but how about a call to Manashir Yakubov, curator of the Shostakovich archive in Russia? Sadly there is scarcely any original interview material in Shostakovich: A Life. Yakubov was not called. Thus, the question of the satirical quotation from Satires in the first draft of the "Lenin symphony" goes not so much uninvestigated as, ostensibly, unnoticed.
"A satire of Lenin"
This would be bewildering enough on its own -- yet there is also the matter of Lev Lebedinsky's claim that Shostakovich had originally meant the Twelfth Symphony to be "a satire of Lenin" and had brushed off Lebedinsky's advice not to risk this by saying "He who has ears will hear" (Wilson, pp. 345-7). Fay makes a legitimate case against Lebedinsky's assertion that Shostakovich rewrote the Symphony at the last minute in a panic, having realised that his satire was too obvious. However, this leads her to the logical conclusion that such a rewrite might have happened at an earlier stage, "between the summer of 1960 and the following summer, when he completed [the work]" (p. 223) -- which leads us straight back to the satirical sketches, with their "parodying waltz", reported by Khentova. Certainly a symphony about Lenin which contained an extended quotation from Satires would have answered the description of a work containing "an obvious caricature" (Wilson, p. 346). Had such a work reached its final form, Shostakovich would have had very good reason to suspect that he had overstepped the mark, precisely as Lebedinsky claims he did.
In fact, the sketches of summer 1960 were but the first of three apparently separate drafts of the Twelfth Symphony. On 29th October 1960, after becoming a full member of the Communist Party, Shostakovich made another announcement, this time on radio, about his "progress" on his Lenin-dedicated Twelfth Symphony, describing the ideas behind its four movements, two of which, he told listeners, were finished. What is the relationship, if any, between the sketches of June and the half-finished Symphony of October? Fay tells us nothing. Soon after his October announcement, Shostakovich broke a leg and was hospitalised, composing no more music for nearly six months. Finally, two years after his June 1959 announcement, he began his Lenin piece as we now know it: the Twelfth Symphony -- a unique third version of this work.
If Shostakovich was filled with creative ardour at the prospect of a major piece on Lenin, he showed about as little initial enthusiasm for it as he had for the Eleventh Symphony, the "heroic" first version of the Ninth Symphony, or indeed the other "Lenin Symphony" he spent three years not writing during the late 1930s. Leaving aside for a moment what this implies about his attitude towards Lenin, what does Shostakovich's slow-to-nonexistent progress on the Twelfth Symphony from June 1959 to June 1961 suggest about his "announcement" in Sovetskaya kultura? There, he is presented as earnestly declaring, "I would really like to complete it in time for the ninetieth anniversary of Vladimir Ilyich's birthday." It beggars belief that, aware of his schedule for the remainder of 1959, Shostakovich did not realise immediately that, if he went ahead with his First Cello Concerto in July, the Lenin piece would stand almost no chance of being ready for the anniversary in April 1960. In other words, he palmed off Sovetskaya kultura with a deliberately false undertaking. Does Fay recognise this? No. Intent on describing Shostakovich's desultory progress on the Twelfth Symphony during the year summer 1960 to summer 1961, she fails to notice the total dearth of work on it during the year summer 1959 to summer 1960.
The purpose of this detailed trek through the chronology of work on the Twelfth Symphony is threefold: (1) to stress that what Shostakovich was presented as saying in Soviet periodicals had no dependable connection with what he really intended or thought; (2) to demonstrate how far from an adequately researched or contextualised narrative Fay's is; and (3) to indicate the extent to which Shostakovich was bored by, or actively disgusted with, Soviet ceremonial occasions, including those relating to the eponymous patron of "St Leninburg" (his name for Leningrad during the 1920s).
The last of these three factors is relevant insofar as Fay seems convinced that, while Shostakovich disapproved of Stalin, he cannot have taken Lenin's name in vain. Thus, prefacing her demolition of the claim that Shostakovich had rewritten his Symphony at the last moment, Fay reports Lebedinsky's claim, "incredible as it sounds", that Shostakovich "originally meant his Twelfth Symphony to be a satire of Lenin and could not be persuaded of the foolhardiness of the venture". Does the phrase "incredible as it sounds" refer to "the foolhardiness of the venture" or to Fay's incredulity that Shostakovich might have wished to satirise Lenin? It must be said at once that such incredulity is shared by the composer's third wife Irina and echoed by Manashir Yakubov who reports, in his LSO/Barbican booklet (p. 64), that Irina "recalls" that her husband "thought highly of Lenin". Speaking to Elizabeth Wilson (p. 345), Irina has suggested that, in his Twelfth Symphony, "the composer wished to describe a vision of the ideal ruler inspired by Pushkin's verses addressed to Nicholas I ("In Hope of All the Good and Glory" )". Wilson adds: "In this case, the triumphant major apotheosis of the Finale can perhaps be interpreted as the victory of a much hoped-for utopia." By way of exegesis, Yakubov comments:
For the vast majority of the population, Lenin remained an idealised mythical figure. Shostakovich quite probably shared these illusions in some respects. However, the image of the "Leader of the Revolution" promoted by official propaganda in every form and genre of art was a poor source of creative inspiration. The project kept being postponed. It is clear that Shostakovich no longer wished to compose a symphony about Lenin.
Contradicting Irina's assertion that her husband held a high opinion of Lenin and wished to apotheosise him as a model for the ideal ruler, the chronology of the composer's work on the Twelfth Symphony supports Yakubov's conclusion that Shostakovich showed no obvious sign of being sincerely fired by such a creative ambition. In fact, Yakubov's acknowledgment that, by the third draft of the Twelfth Symphony, "it was clear that Shostakovich no longer wished to compose a symphony about Lenin" omits a key part of the story. In 1989, I wrote as follows in The New Shostakovich:
The most important event in Russia during the spring of 1938 was the last of the show-trials, that of the so-called "Right-Trotskyite Centre", the chief accused being the most eminent surviving Bolshevik of Lenin's generation, Nikolai Bukharin. As an apparently conscientious Communist and an open patron of independence in the arts (at various times he had helped Pasternak, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Bulgakov, and Meyerhold), Bukharin was something of a beacon of integrity in the eyes of the contemporary Russian intelligenty and they followed his trial with horrified fascination. His famous confession at the trial (to a ludicrous catalogue of crimes that included an attempt on Lenin's life in 1918) was the climax of Stalin's willful assault on commonsense, the most brazen instance of "two plus two makes five" the Russian people were ever required to swallow. The atmosphere in the country immediately after it was breathless with fear.
At this point, Shostakovich let it be known that he was about to start on a song-symphony -- a massive choral-orchestral work "inspired by" Mayakovsky's poem Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and dedicated to the Father of the Revolution himself. With the possible exception of Bukharin's confession, a more perfect avowal of conformism would have been difficult to conceive. The authorities were suitably gratified and bulletins on the progress of the Lenin symphony were regularly solicited from Shostakovich during the next three years. Always this great work was "going well" or "nearly finished", its composer "hard at work" on it. Yet Stalin's 60th birthday came and went in 1939: no sign of the Lenin symphony. 1940 arrived and the 70th anniversary of Lenin's birth went by: still no sign. Puzzled journalists came to him in December 1940 and asked how the masterpiece was coming along. "Nearly finished," Shostakovich told them. "It should be ready next year." That Shostakovich was having problems with the Lenin symphony was obvious from the fact that he kept producing pieces of music which had nothing to do with it: a string quartet, a second Suite for Dance Band, numerous film scores, another symphony (his Sixth), a piano quintet, and a reorchestration of Mussorgsky's massive opera Boris Godunov. Word had it that he kept getting stuck and having to go and write something else. Finally, when the war arrived, the Lenin symphony had to be shelved and, when eventual victory brought forward other pressing projects, the composer regretfully admitted that the legendary magnum opus had, perforce, been abandoned.
The official version of this chapter of accidents now dates Shostakovich's laying aside of the hoped-for Bolshevik chef d'oeuvre to early April 1939 -- two years before he last told journalists it was "nearly ready" and just after completing the apparently far more urgent business of writing a comic operetta entitled The Silly Little Mouse. In fact, he had stopped work on the Lenin symphony even earlier than that -- at the end of May 1938, six weeks after first announcing it. The incident puzzles Soviet commentators. Shostakovich had supplied a detailed outline of his plan, claiming that he was immersed in a "profound study" of "the poetry and literature, folklore, legends, and songs about Lenin". In the end, he produced absolutely nothing. Was it all some kind of joke?
Anyone familiar with the composer's character and tastes would have smelt a rat from the start. The idea of Shostakovich writing a song-symphony after savaging the genre in 1935 and practically discrediting it with his own Fifth in 1937 is, to put it mildly, somewhat quaint. That he should select a hackneyed ode by Mayakovsky, whose person and post-Revolutionary verse he frankly disliked, is even stranger -- particularly since his friend Shebalin had already used the poem in his own song-symphony, Lenin, of 1931. Furthermore, Shostakovich had assured reporters that the idea for a symphony about Lenin had first come to him in 1924, a project that had filled him with excitement and burned in his mind ever since. If this was, in fact, the case, why had he taken so long to get around to it?
In the light of From Karl Marx to Our Own Days, the non-existent choral symphony of 1931 behind which Shostakovich hid from the Proletkult his work on Lady Macbeth, it becomes virtually certain that the Lenin symphony was a similar hostage to fortune sent out in the hope of persuading the Soviet authorities to leave him alone for a year or two. Like Karl Marx, forgotten as soon as the Proletkult had gone, the Lenin symphony found its final excuse for non-existence in the Nazi invasion. All the verisimilitude Shostakovich had fed to the reporters was exactly that and no more. A song-symphony with a dash of folk-nationalism was something they would understand -- all the other composers were churning them out. A piece about Lenin was about as safe as it was possible to be -- no one could attack you for that. A choral setting of Mayakovsky was smart because Stalin had just made him the national poet, decreeing indifference to his verse to be a crime. (Shebalin need not worry, since the thing would never be written.) Even the Revolutionary songs Shostakovich claimed to be studying as source material for the symphony were really to do with something else -- his current crop of film score commissions: Volochayevsk Days, Friends, and The Great Citizen.
Fay passes over the "Lenin symphony" of 1938-41 (p. 115) as lightly as she passes over From Karl Marx to Our Own Days (not indexed, p. 71), apparently unconcerned by the fact that, while the composer "spoke" or "was interviewed" quite frequently about both works -- giving every impression that they mattered to him -- in private, he was getting on with a quantity of quite unrelated pieces. These two symphonies were, it seems, merely musical Potemkin villages, erected as edifying facades behind which Shostakovich could do what he wanted rather than what the regime expected of him. Hence, Yakubov's fair conclusion that, by summer 1961, "Shostakovich no longer wished to compose a symphony about Lenin" can legitimately be back-dated to summer 1938, if not considerably earlier (perhaps, indeed, to as early as 1924).
Attitudes to Lenin
Although Shostakovich's musical lack of interest in Lenin can be demonstrated to date from at least twenty years prior to his Twelfth Symphony, the possibility that he actively disliked Lenin remains difficult for many, both in the West and in Russia, to conceive. In the West, such sentiment has for some years been linked with the standard left-liberal position on the USSR: that the society Lenin created (and which Stalin, supposedly, perverted) was as advertised in Soviet propaganda: "humane", "democratic", and "progressive"; or, if not, then excusable as sincerely meaning to be. This naively tolerant verdict -- affirming faith in the principles of communism by heroising or exculpating Lenin -- continues to plague Western studies of Soviet music, art, and cinema (albeit less so as time advances and the academic specialties more frequently and efficiently exchange information). Being text-based, Western students of Soviet history and literature have never been as idealistically deluded about Lenin or Soviet Communism as their cousins in the visual and auditory arts. (For example, the quite damning material on Lenin presented by Richard Pipes in The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive was familiar to specialists in Soviet history for well over a decade prior to the book's eventual publication in 1996.)
So far as Russians are concerned, attitudes towards Lenin differ with the strata of the generations from 1917 onwards. Nowadays in Russia, only diehard communists still believe in Lenin (usually still believing in Stalin, too); most of the rest wish to forget him, while the young are generally derisive. Formerly the chief conduit of the Lenin cult, the Soviet education system has gone and children are no longer brought up to picture him as a human god. Those of Irina Shostakovich's generation experienced a very different world; indeed, as a child raised in a state orphanage, she would have had the sanctified image of Lenin drilled into her mind, morning, noon, and night. There is therefore the possibility that her husband, realising this, avoided the subject with her in as noncommittal a way as he could. Without further elucidation from Irina, her claim that Shostakovich "thought highly of Lenin" must be treated with caution. From a generation relentlessly brainwashed into believing that Lenin was a saint, she may merely have unconsciously assumed that Shostakovich, despite his silence or evasiveness on the subject, felt as she did. Unless she can present convincing evidence of her husband's faith in Lenin, the weight of evidence suggests otherwise.
Yet even though -- as we know from his son Maxim among others -- Shostakovich detested and feared the communist apparat, it would not be reliable, in the absence of specific evidence, to assume that he loathed Lenin too. This is why his attitude to his Lenin symphonies is so significant. In the case of the first of these, he went for three years pretending to be writing an epic song-symphony about Lenin, producing, in the end, precisely nothing. In the case of the Twelfth Symphony, he did not begin the final version of it until two years after "announcing" it -- and, in this third draft (apart from the second movement), the promised focus on Lenin was replaced by a general impression of the events of 1917. In Testimony, Shostakovich is quoted as saying of the Symphony that "the material put up resistance", adding (as though to underline that the "material" in question was the character of Lenin himself) "you see how hard it is to draw the image of leaders and teachers with music". His irony suggests that the difficulty of drawing such images consisted not in the ineffability of "leaders and teachers" themselves, but in conveying the truth beyond propaganda.
Serious or satirical?
If, as Khentova and Lebedinsky have stated, the first draft of the Twelfth Symphony includes satirical material, the contention that Shostakovich took a wry attitude to Lenin is plainly established; in which case, the credibility of Lebedinsky's remarkable story of the hasty revision to the Symphony (Wilson, pp. 346-7) is strengthened, as Fay appears to realise. As for Irina's suggestion that her husband wished to convey a vision of an ideal ruler in this work, it is difficult to reconcile this with his expressed attitudes to communism, let alone to find any evidence of it in the Symphony itself. Elizabeth Wilson's suggestion that "the triumphant major apotheosis of the Finale can perhaps be interpreted as the victory of a much hoped-for utopia" betrays a sadly insensitive response to a finale so clearly satirical in its bombastic overstatement. (Only the finale of Gavriil Popov's Sixth Symphony goes, equally deliberately, so far over the top.) As for Wilson's willingness to believe that a man so scarred by Soviet utopianism could harbour any utopian hopes in 1959-61, one can only venture that her Fay-inflicted wariness of Testimony has here led an otherwise astute critic astray. (The case for believing the Twelfth Symphony to contain a satirical sub-text -- suggested in The New Shostakovich [pp. 225-7] -- has been reinforced by the suggestion of Japanese musicologist Fumiko Hitotsuyanagi that the work contains a "Stalin" code ["The New Face of the Twelfth Symphony: hidden depths in an unfairly neglected work", Muzykal'naia Academiia No 4, 1997; published, in an English version by Veronique Zaytzeff and Frederick Morrison, in DSCH 13, Summer 2000].
Edison Denisov records (Wilson, p. 302) that Shostakovich was wont to complain of his former pupil Georgi Sviridov: "I don't understand Yura. If I wrote The Song of the Forests that was because I was forced to. But who has forced him to write The Pathétique Oratorio?" Also known as the "Lenin Oratorio", Sviridov's work was the big Soviet hit of 1959, the year in which Sovetskaya kultura reported Shostakovich's promise to write a piece on Lenin. Based on Mayakovsky's poems about the Civil War of 1918-21, the Pathetic Oratorio employs a seven-movement lay-out which corresponds to that of Shostakovich's The Song of the Forests; indeed, as the slow sixth movement of Shostakovich's oratorio forms its notional heart, so likewise does the slow sixth movement of Sviridov's work -- a sombre meditation entitled "Dialogue with Comrade Lenin". It was for this above all that its composer received the Lenin Prize of 1959. Yet, insofar as the "rules" of that time allowed, Sviridov's "Dialogue" is implicitly critical, its solemnity barely disguising a deeper ambiguity towards the man whose political intolerance and harsh enforcement of Red Terror in 1918 precipitated the Civil War itself. It is puzzling that Shostakovich failed to detect this connotation; perhaps he gave up listening after the Pathetic Oratorio's noisily conformist earlier stages. More significant is that he so scornfully rejected Sviridov's piece -- for, if he believed the "Dialogue" to have been in earnest, he was implicitly dismissing the Pathetic Oratorio for the very fact of glorifying Lenin.
"Leaders and teachers"
Eleven years old at the time of the October revolution, Shostakovich completed his general education before Lenin died in 1924. As such, he escaped the brainwashing effects of the Lenin cult as they later came to be inflicted on several generations of Soviet children. More importantly, he lived within the ambit of the Russian higher education system between 1919 and 1928; and the universities and conservatoires, being the heart of Russian liberal intelligence, were also the heart of intelligentsia resistance to Bolshevism. While socialist and populist sympathies were strong in academia (particularly among students), a suspicion of authority -- and in particular of autocracy -- kept Soviet higher education in a state of sceptical discontent during the 1920s. Academic pay-scales, student grants, and working conditions were awful between 1917 and 1932. Proletarianisation saw unqualified young workers and peasants drafted into universities and technical schools over the heads of young bourgeois who had studied since their childhoods. General disillusionment set in, creating a student culture of poverty and apathy: the Yeseninshchina, named after the characteristic attitude of the young people's favourite poet of the time, Sergei Yesenin. Escapism and suicide flourished, enlivened by bouts of protest in the form of demonstrations or letter-campaigns to the Komsomol. Vladimir Brovkin, in Russia After Lenin, describes the student culture of the 1920s as one of poverty, decadence, and dissent:
In 1927 get-togethers [skhodki] and spontaneous meetings became a matter of daily occurrence at numerous institutes and universities. Leaflets were posted and campaigning conducted under the slogans: "For the free development of youth! For democracy! For free elections!"... The GPU [secret police] surveys for 1927 and 1928 show an increase in the critical attitudes of professors and students, especially in the big cities: "During the elections of the Leningrad soviet, anti-Soviet activities took place among teachers, students, and professors [who went from] school to school, trying to persuade [people] not to vote for the Communist Party candidates. At open election meetings, they spoke out against the Communists, saying that the teachers of the USSR have been deprived of political rights." (GPU report, February 1928.) In virtually every city in Russia and Ukraine the teaching faculties of schools and universities argued that Communist Party candidates should not be forced on the electorate; that the freedom to campaign should be guaranteed; that political rights be granted to all citizens of Soviet Russia; and that schools and universities should retain their traditional academic freedoms. [Brovkin, op. cit., pp. 130-1.]
Permeated by ironic melancholy (including half a dozen references to suicide), Shostakovich's letters to Tanya Glivenko of 1923-27 faithfully reflect this background. The world of politics goes almost unmentioned (see Shostakovich Reconsidered, pp. 530-544), while Shostakovich's sole favourable allusion to Lenin is balanced by sardonic allusions to his sainthood and a pointed disagreement with his view of film as the most "useful" of the arts (Shostakovich preferring the "useless" ones: music and ballet). Raised in an apolitical milieu, the young composer had no reason to idolise Lenin; on the contrary, he played his "Funeral March for the Victims of the Revolution" at a memorial service for those machine-gunned by Lenin's Bolshevik militia during the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918. (Fay also refers to what seems to have been another funeral march written by Shostakovich in memory of two leaders of the Constitutional-Democratic (Kadet) Party, murdered by pro-Bolshevik sailors in April 1918. As for the legend that he saw Lenin at the Finland Station in April 1917, she quite rightly rejects this as "almost certainly apocryphal".)
The Bolshevik assault on the Russian bourgeois during the Red Terror/Civil War period is unlikely to have persuaded the Shostakovich family of Lenin's benignity. In 1924, Shostakovich's aunt Nadia tried to persuade his mother Sofiya to send him to America; Sofiya in turn attempted to get her son out of the USSR in autumn 1928 (Shostakovich Reconsidered, p. 184, fn. 250). As for Shostakovich himself, he is sure to have enjoyed the sense of liberation generally felt after the fall of Tsarism and, in 1922-24, probably accepted the Bolsheviks' propaganda shorthand for this: "October". Reflecting his lack of interest in politics, however, his acquaintance with Bolshevik "scripture" remained scant. Moreover, once he had entered the world of Russian higher education, he would have become aware of the scepticism of the teaching staff towards their Bolshevik masters. "For these people," observes Roy Medvedev in Let History Judge, "Lenin was no idol." Writing to Tanya Glivenko (from "St Leninburg") on 3rd June 1924, Shostakovich reported that a purge of radical students at the Conservatoire had "got rid of" his best friend. Indeed, his choice of friends and contemporary heroes during this period was uniformly non-Bolshevik. (Prominent among his circle was Mikhail Kvadri, the dedicatee of the First Symphony, who was arrested and "allegedly shot" in 1929. Apart from telling us that Kvadri introduced Shostakovich to Tukhachevsky, Fay supplies no more data about this seemingly key figure in the composer's early life than she offers about the "internal political intrigues" that came close to barring Shostakovich from his graduate course in 1924.)
Quite apart from the special conditions obtaining in Soviet higher education, there was no deep-rooted popular culture of Lenin deification during the 1920s. Shostakovich's dislike of the renaming of St Petersburg/Petrograd was common in Russia. The religious peasantry hated the atheist Lenin and continued to do so after collectivisation. Less disposed towards such basic opposition, the workers remained cynical about their Bolshevik "bosses", not excluding Lenin himself (addressed as "Baldy" in contemporary satirical rhymes). After a few years of Stalinism, Lenin was seen in retrospect as preferable to his successors, and, as time wore on, he came to be idealised as having supposedly presided over a golden age of freedom and plenty. In the first twenty years of Soviet rule, however, debunking jokes about him were as common as those about Stalin and Kirov (Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism, pp. 184-5; Davies, Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia, pp. 168-182). The young Shostakovich even had his own Lenin joke, baffling admirers by telling them: "I love the music of Ilyich." Since "Ilyich" was the name by which Lenin was popularly referred to, the composer's victims would express puzzlement; whereupon, affecting surprise, he would explain "I am talking about the music of Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky"' (Malko, A Certain Art, p.190). The affected surprise was a necessary protective measure. Not to have adopted this would have left no room to plead a genuine misunderstanding in the event of a cold response. Context was crucial. In fact, context often provided the joke, as in the case of the Lenin-cult slogan "Lenin is dead but his spirit (or deeds) live on" which could be used subversively without alteration -- for instance, on the wall of a factory urinal (Davies, op. cit., p. 179; cf. Shostakovich Reconsidered, p. 701).
There is no reason to assume that Shostakovich ever held a high opinion of Lenin. As for his work, his two protractedly aborted Lenin symphonies suggest that he was either immune to the saintly Lenin of Soviet propaganda or positively antagonistic both to this false image and the irascibly autocratic man behind it. Fay's incredulity that Shostakovich might have wished to poke covert fun at Lenin in the Twelfth Symphony once again reveals how little she understands the background, while the fact that she seems never to have asked to look at the satirical first draft of the work (now, according to Lebedinsky, in the safekeeping of Irina) betokens either ineptitude or an active avoidance of anything contrary to her preconceptions about who Shostakovich was and what he really thought.
A wish to cling onto the idea that Shostakovich was dutifully in thrall to the Lenin-worship of the average latterday Soviet citizen seems to drive Fay's presentation of the circumstances attending the little-known Lenin-glorifying choral cycle Loyalty:
Another milestone that passed while Shostakovich was being treated in Kurgan was the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of Lenin's birth on 21 April 1970. It was not, however, a milestone overlooked by the composer. As early as December 1968, he had appealed to his colleagues to compose stirring musical tributes for the occasion; he was already thinking about his own contribution for the upcoming jubilee. In April 1969, he declared he was beginning work on an oratorio to commemorate the event. The work he eventually produced was Loyalty, eight ballads for male chorus, Op. 136, on texts by Dolmatovsky. Exactly when he began composing it is unknown. Dolmatovsky recalled that, having been asked by the composer to reflect on what Lenin meant to them, they met several times in the quiet of Shostakovich's Moscow apartment, after which the poet distilled the essence of their conversations into verse[...] Shostakovich dedicated his choral ballads, which elevate Lenin above God, Confucius, Buddha, and Allah as an object of devotion, to Gustav Ernesaks, founding director of the State Academic Male Chorus of Estonia[...] Although there was some presumption that the new work should be unveiled at the Lenin jubilee concert, Shostakovich was unwilling to rush the preparation. Ernesaks set the premiere for the end of the year; the composer traveled to Tallinn to assist in the rehearsals and attend the first performance on 5 December 1970. In conjunction with the Moscow premiere of Loyalty, on 25 February 1971, Shostakovich was interviewed for television: "It seems to me that Dolmatovsky's words, on which my ballads are based, contain serious, very heartfelt lyrical reflections about Lenin, about the Motherland, about the Party. This is not the first time I have treated this theme... And I think it will not be my last work about Vladimir Ilyich. In the future I will most certainly strive to embody the image of this great man." [Fay, pp. 266-7.]
As with her superficial account of the chronology of the Twelfth Symphony, Fay, in discussing Loyalty, fails to notice Shostakovich's typical prevarication whenever cornered into writing anything about Lenin. On 4th December 1968, Literaturnaya gazeta published a statement "by" Shostakovich in which, says Fay, "he appealed to his colleagues to compose stirring musical tributes for the occasion; he was already thinking about his own contribution for the upcoming jubilee". For someone who had twice failed to portray Lenin, as promised, in a suitably grandiose work, this would be risible -- supposing that he actually said it. Yet, given standard apparat procedures, Shostakovich's "announcement" would have been half-elicited from, half-imposed on him. This time the apparat, perhaps learning from past mistakes, obtained Shostakovich's undertaking a full sixteen months ahead of the due date, leaving the whole of 1969 for him to complete his Lenin jubilee "contribution" on time. (He may have had an additional inducement: Fay reports that Shostakovich complained, early in 1968, of "one of his intermittent precipitous drops in income".)
In the event, the usual dawdling occurred. Instead of getting on with the Lenin piece, Shostakovich settled down with some texts about death and imprisonment, and wrote his Fourteenth Symphony (which, becoming his concert-season work for 1969, took up most of his free time for the rest of the year). Soon after this, he amused himself by reorchestrating Boris Tishchenko's First Cello Concerto. On 25th April, two months after finishing the Symphony, he "declared" (in Pravda) that he was beginning an oratorio to celebrate Lenin's centenary, then less than a year away. Whether he thereupon began this work and abandoned it is unknown. In any case, he had only a month in which to do so, since the rest of his summer was taken up with a leisurely holiday in Dilizhan, Armenia, and the resorts around Lake Baikal in Soviet Central Asia. During this sojourn, Shostakovich had plenty of time to think about his Lenin oratorio. Instead, he began his Thirteenth Quartet. Back in Moscow in late September, he joined the rehearsals for his Fourteenth Symphony before entering hospital for more tests. If he wished to deliver the promised oratorio in time for the centenary jubilee in April 1970, he would now have to hurry, writing through the winter of 1969-70 so as to finish the work by February 1970 at the latest.
According to the date given in the Collected Works, this is what Shostakovich did, stopping work on the Thirteenth Quartet (which he eventually finished in August 1970) and completing his jubilee "contribution" -- no longer an oratorio but a cycle of eight songs for male-voice choir -- on 13th February at Repino, before leaving for Dr Ilizarov's clinic in Kurgan. But if Loyalty, as the cycle was called, was finished in February, why wasn't it performed at the Lenin jubilee in April? After all, there was no orchestra to convene and there remained nine weeks for rehearsals. Fay writes: "Although there was some presumption that the new work should be unveiled at the Lenin jubilee concert, Shostakovich was unwilling to rush the preparation." To say that there was "some presumption" that the cycle would be ready for the centenary is putting it mildly. Had not Shostakovich (allegedly) "appealed to his colleagues to compose stirring musical tributes for the occasion" in 1968? Had he not, a year before the jubilee, "declared" that he was "beginning work on an oratorio to commemorate the event"? What does Fay mean by saying that Shostakovich was "unwilling to rush the preparation" (and where is her citation for this)? Surely the apparat would have been hopping mad that he had let them down on a Lenin piece yet again? Are there no memoranda in the Composers' Union archive to this effect?
Turning to the Notes, we discover something fishy: Fay observes (p. 342, n. 8) that the date and place of completion of Loyalty, as given in the Collected Works, are incorrect, Shostakovich having left Repino for Moscow and Kurgan a week earlier. This suggests that the cycle was backdated by the composer. If so, why did he do it? And when did he really finish it? According to the librettist, Yevgeny Dolmatovsky, Shostakovich wrote to him in April 1970 from Kurgan to say that Loyalty was finally complete. Fay does not give the date in April, but it is clear that this was far too late for the Lenin centenary (April 22nd). Dolmatovsky's testimony tells us why the cycle wasn't performed at the celebrations: Shostakovich had again missed the due date. -- This might also explain why Loyalty was backdated: to pretend that he had not, in fact, been late (even if he had). Certainly he cannot merely have been tardy in informing Dolmatovsky, who could hardly have failed to notice that the cycle had not been included in the jubilee schedule. -- But, if this is what happened, why does Fay spin us a yarn about the composer being "unwilling to rush the preparation"? Is she fumbling for an explanation for why he was late, yet again, with a Lenin piece? This is an interesting question, after all -- and not one for which we would expect the author of an objective "resource" to conjure a solution out of thin air.
Besides, further questions are raised by Shostakovich's lateness with Loyalty. What made him choose the Estonian Academic Male Voice Choir to premiere the work? Estonian choirs are renowned, but Lenin was Russian and the man who moved the capital of Russia back to Moscow. Surely a Russian choir was available to do the premiere in Moscow? Instead, the premiere took place in Tallinn on 5th December 1970, the Moscow premiere following (ten months late!) on 25th February 1971. Tallinn?? Why didn't the apparat step in and insist that Shostakovich's song-cycle be given in Moscow in November at the celebration of the 53rd anniversary of the revolution? Or were they, perhaps, angry that the promised oratorio was not only late but proved to consist of a paltry twenty-minute cycle of choruses for male choir (no soloists, no orchestra)? Had they, in fact, blocked a Moscow premiere as punishment? And did Shostakovich find himself casting about for somewhere else to premiere the work?
Fay informs us that the cycle's evidently surprised dedicatee, Tallinn choirmaster Gustav Ernesaks (and not, we note, V. I. Lenin), "had learned that Shostakovich was writing a major work [sic] for men's chorus from the newspaper and was flattered by the composer's unexpected attention". According to Fay, "Ernesaks set the premiere for the end of the year". Again, what is her source? "The composer," she continues, "traveled to Tallinn to assist in the rehearsals and attend the first performance on 5 December 1970." When did he go to Tallinn? (Presumably it was after he composed the score for Kozintsev's film of King Lear and finished the Thirteenth Quartet.) Is there no eye-witness record of Shostakovich's winter journey to Estonia? While Shostakovich was there, did he perchance hear any Scandinavian music, such as the Sixth Symphony of Carl Nielsen or something early by Aulis Sallinen, whose sparsely sardonic sound-worlds have something in common with his Fifteenth Symphony of 1971? All that Fay tells us is that on the day of the belated Moscow premiere, Shostakovich appeared on television to say that Dolmatovsky's words contained "serious, very heartfelt lyrical reflections about Lenin" and to claim, on dubious grounds, that this was not the first time that he had "treated this theme".
In keeping with her disinclination to do primary research or conduct interviews in pursuit of information not already stored in books or newspaper libraries, Fay tells us nothing new about the enigmatic figure of Yevgeny Dolmatovsky. The son of a jurist, he was born in Moscow in 1915 and, as Komsomol member, worked, during 1933-34, on the construction of the marble-lined, chandelier-hung, mosaic-ceilinged Moscow metro (subway), about which he wrote verses in classic Socialist Realist style. For this accomplishment, he was fostered as the regime's official bard, writing innumerable popular and patriotic songs conceived in a spirit of "civic optimism". Under Stalin, he was guaranteed publication, accruing wealth and lasting influence. (He wangled Shostakovich's 1970 visit to Dr Ilizarov, a famed practitioner to whom patients came from all over the world.) Dolmatovsky's verses exude a child-like pictorial candour which parallels the idealised "realism" of the panoramas of such state-approved painters as Aleksandr Gerasimov, Fyodor Antonov, and Aleksandr Deineka. As such, he was immensely popular among ordinary middlebrow Soviet citizens -- and despised by the intelligentsia, who hated Socialist Realist painting for the same reason: its absurdly bathetic falsity. Why, then, did Shostakovich compose so many dull scores to Dolmatovsky's deeply dull verses? Some of the composer's friends (e.g., Kondrashin) were baffled. Another, Flora Litvinova, records in a diary entry for 1956 that she asked Shostakovich about his songs on Dolmatovsky's texts (presumably the Five Romances, Opus 98, written in 1954 and premiered in 1956):
I said that I didn't think much of them (in reality I didn't like them one little bit), and the words were terrible. "Why did you write music to those texts?" I asked. Shostakovich replied, "Yes, the songs are bad, very bad. They are simply extremely bad." And I piped up again, "But why did you write them?" He answered, "One day I'll write my autobiography and there I will explain everything, and why I had to compose all this."
It is unclear whether the phrase "had to compose" means that Shostakovich was told to collaborate with Dolmatovsky -- just as he was "given an assignment" in 1964 to compose an opera on Sholokhov's The Quiet Don -- or whether the story of their chance meeting in a railway carriage is true and Shostakovich collaborated with Dolmatovsky because he saw that their partnership would guarantee money whenever he needed it. What is obvious is that his 1971 television reference to the poet's "serious, very heartfelt lyrical reflections about Lenin" must have been tongue-in-cheek, if only for aesthetic reasons. On the other hand, Shostakovich may have had a soft spot for Dolmatovsky (who was Jewish, according to Arkady Vaksberg [Stalin Against The Jews, p. 262]). Bad as they are, the poet's less ceremonial verses give the impression of a naively decent man of genuine feeling. And Dolmatovsky had a "background". He was that rarest sort of Soviet war hero: captured by the Nazis, he escaped, and lived to tell the tale. (Most men or women in his position were shot by SMERSH, Stalin's military counter-intelligence bureau, on the routine suspicion that they were spies.) Even more poignant, his father was one of Stalin's political prisoners -- a fact which must be borne in mind in connection with the poet's robotic obedience to every state commission that landed on his desk. A member of the Communist Party from 1941, Yevgeny Dolmatovsky may have been, like Galina Serebryakova, one of the "believers" whom Shostakovich wryly tolerated -- and perhaps the title of the 1970 song-cycle Loyalty reflects something more personal than loyalty to V. I. Lenin.
Contrary to Fay's impression, Shostakovich's attitude to Lenin as revealed in the curious story behind the Lenin centenary composition in 1969-71 is far from exalted. Several times set aside by the composer so that he could write music which genuinely meant something to him, Loyalty was "relaunched" as an oratorio and delivered -- late as usual -- in the form of a choral cycle of indiscernible inspiration. Certainly the Soviet authorities seem to have been unimpressed: Shostakovich's Glinka Prize for Loyalty was not bestowed until 1974. (Needless to say, Fay tells us nothing about this delay.) As for Dolmatovsky's recollection that he was "asked by the composer to reflect on what Lenin meant to them", this suggests that Shostakovich -- presenting himself to the poet under one of the personae he seems to have adopted with those to whom he could not speak frankly -- subtly prodded him into coming up with verses about a dictator in whom the composer himself either had no interest or secretly disliked. On this particular issue, we have little to go on, since, as Fay admits, "Shostakovich was comparatively tight-lipped during the composition of Loyalty" (as opposed, for example, to the Fourteenth Symphony, about which he wrote often to Glikman while composing it).
As for the real Shostakovich -- the one hiding inscrutably behind the bland facade of Loyalty -- we need only recall Vladimir Zak's account of Shostakovich's appearance at the Fifth Congress of Soviet Composers, held in the Kremlin a year after the song-cycle's Moscow premiere. Reading the inaugural address from a platform below a gigantic bust of Lenin, Shostakovich gave a classic yurodivy performance:
The text had been cooked-up in the depths of the Communist Party and contained a flattering passage directed at L. I. Brezhnev. And Leonid Ilyich himself was all set to listen. But what on earth was taking place?...
Shostakovich comes to podium, picks up the typed sheets of paper, and ostentatiously (as if in a slow-motion movie scene) gives them a 180-degree turn. Then, he looks at them for a long time and reverses them again. Silence. Seconds seem to be years. In the Presidium, everyone is perplexed: "Why is Shostakovich 'fooling around'?" But he is in no hurry. Once again, "with a flourish", he turns the pages upside down. Once again!! This "silent scene" took place in a deathlike hush, somehow reminding one of the scenes in Gogol's Inspector General: the functionaries, rooted to the ground, stood motionless...
But anybody who still had a conscience rejoiced and clearly understood: it was to them that Shostakovich was sending "Aesopian signals", clearly hinting at the fact that he, the composer, had absolutely no relation to what had been written. And, indeed, this "preliminary tuning" also determined our interpretation of Shostakovich's speech, for we, the listeners, were now capable of catching the notes of a well-hidden irony in his voice. In essence, Shostakovich had somehow become a real inspector-general -- a commentator, who obviously disagreed with the written "document".
Laurel Fay's presentation of Shostakovich's work on the Twelfth Symphony and the song-cycle Loyalty relies on official Soviet publications (chief among these being the propaganda newspaper Pravda) to give the impression that the composer sincerely wished, in these scores, to glorify Lenin. I submit that a balanced analysis of his work vis-à-vis Lenin suggests the opposite. In addition to quoting extensively from such fundamentally tainted official sources -- on the manifestly ridiculous basis that they are more, rather than vastly less, reliable than Testimony -- Fay quotes relatively rarely from the depositions of Shostakovich's friends and acquaintances, ignoring many key statements (such as Litvinova's report concerning the composer's view of Dolmatovsky's verses of 1956). Moreover, her narrative is littered with elisions, omissions, misleading juxtapositions, and persistent failures to pursue ostensible contradictions or otherwise puzzling facts. Rather than comment sequentially on Fay's coverage of the period 1960-75 in Shostakovich's life, I have chosen to look closely at one aspect of it in order to illustrate the evasive shallowness of her book. Readers will thus be primed to perceive for themselves the same methodology at work in Fay's treatment of the many other events and compositions of this period.
Before turning to a summary of the findings in this review, I would like to add one further example of the misrepresentative methodology referred to above. Towards the end of Fay's chapter on the years 1966-9 -- blandly entitled "Jubilees" in sublime indifference to the period's significance as the end of the Thaw and with no chronological reference to the central fact of the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring liberation movement in Czechoslovakia -- she presents Shostakovich as quoting the words of the hero of Nikolai Ostrovsky's Five-Year Plan novel How The Steel Was Tempered (1934) in summary of his "underlying motivation" for the Fourteenth Symphony:
Man's dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world -- the fight for the liberation of mankind.
Fay makes no comment, ironic or otherwise -- which is odd since, on the face of it, this passage has nothing whatever to do with the Fourteenth Symphony. Ostrovsky's novel (described by Shostakovich in Testimony as "horrible") was one of the prize exhibits of Socialist Realism and the passage in question became part of Soviet "scripture": a popular Credo learned by heart by all schoolchildren. Except for the closing words about "the finest cause in all the world -- the fight for the liberation of mankind", it could be construed as a purely moral declaration -- which is how Mark Lubotsky interpreted it when Shostakovich apparently repeated the statement in a speech before the closed premiere of the Fourteenth Symphony: "The essence of the passage was that one should die with a clear conscience, 'so that one need not be ashamed of oneself'." (Wilson, p. 418.) Manashir Yakubov reports something more provocative:
Shostakovich -- in a rare personal departure -- offered a few words of introduction. "You probably wonder why all of a sudden I've become so interested in such a ghastly and frightening topic?" said the sixty-year-old composer. "It's not because I'm already getting on in years, nor because, as the artillery men would say, 'the shells are exploding all around and friends are dying...'" The audience was listening to him with bated breath, and Shostakovich then sprang his surprise. He began to recite the passage that every Soviet schoolchild knows, the one they were made to learn by heart in literature lessons, as if it were great poetry -- the words from the propaganda novel How The Steel Was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky: "Man has only one life, and must live it so that he does not recall with pain and regret the aimless lost years, and does not blush with shame over his mean and trivial past, so that when he dies he can say, 'All my life has been devoted to the struggle for the liberation of mankind.'" However, although Shostakovich began this passage using its original words, he left out its closing reference to the liberation of mankind, and said instead: "One must live life in all its aspects honestly, nobly, properly and in such a way as never to commit any shameless deeds." The important thing was not to die honestly, but to live honestly. [LSO booklet, pp. 69-70].
As Yakubov notes, Shostakovich was talking about "the moral basis of existence", just as he did to Nikolai Karetnikov, Edison Denisov, and Boris Tishchenko around this time (Wilson, pp. 308-9, 433; Fay, p. 229). To raise the subject of morality in the USSR was explosive, for communism was based on the destruction of "bourgeois morality" which it had replaced with allegiance to the Revolution and unwavering duty to the Party, whatever the Party-line dictated. Thus, to speak of "morals" was, by implication, anti-Soviet: the subject was a flash-point. Yakubov continues thus:
Shostakovich's words at the rehearsal caused such a tremendous shock among the party functionaries present in the hall that during the performance of the symphony that followed, Apostolov, an executive of the Soviet Communist Party's Central Committee and a former persecutor of Shostakovich, collapsed and died from a heart attack.
Why did Shostakovich repeat the Ostrovsky passage at the closed premiere of the Symphony only to depoliticise it in this way? Did he, in fact, repeat it? The original statement quoted by Fay derives, like so many of her quotations, from Pravda. In other words, it is very possible that Shostakovich never referred to Ostrovsky's "horrible" novel or its hackneyed Credo before doing so at the closed premiere; that, instead, the editors at Pravda decided that a work on the taboo subject of death had to be given a properly edifying context in a Soviet newspaper, and decided to add the Ostrovsky passage without asking the composer. -- In which case, his reference to it before the concert would have been meant as an antidote to "his" otherwise baffling announcement about the "underlying motivation" for the Fourteenth Symphony in Pravda five months earlier.
Laurel Fay's failure to account in any way for the Ostrovsky quotation in Pravda is typical of her methodology. Whether it arises from genuine confusion on her part or from a surreptitious wish to present Shostakovich as a figure of cardboard cut-out political orthodoxy is difficult to tell. A fair guess would be: a mixture of both.