Shostakovich Conference
Mannes College of Music
(New York, NY; 15 February 1999: Part 4)

Transcribed and edited by Allan B. Ho and Ian MacDonald

The panelists were: Vladimir Ashkenazy, Dmitry Feofanov, Allan Ho, and Solomon Volkov. Other speakers included Joel Lester and, in the audience, Martin Anderson, Louis Blois, Tim Bond, Antonina Bouis, John Deredita, Maya Pritsker, and Terry Teachout. "??" indicates that the speaker in the audience did not identify himself. (The verbatim text has been minimally edited to remove redundant repetitions and clarify grammar where the original construction obscured meaning. Nothing essential has been altered.)

Oswalt: My name is Ed Oswalt. I can't say that I'm entirely satisfied on the matter of the quoted passages. First of all, is it true that the quoted passages tend to occur, or all occur, at the beginning of chapters? And, two --

Ho: No, that's not true. In fact, if you look at Laurel Fay's [article], one of Laurel Fay's passages is in the internal part of a chapter. And then we've called attention to others, and of course...

Feofanov: We found another one.

Ho: ...Shostakovich's friends say "he told us that same story". So actually it's again been misrepresented -- it's been made to appear that they only occur at the beginnings of chapters. But I'm happy that you raised that because I don't want to read in the pages of DSCH Journal that somehow we avoided the plagiarism issue. In our book, we talked about investigating the possibility that Shostakovich had the ability to quote himself. I think that point's pretty well made. I would ask you here to use your common sense. We know from Litvinova's statement that Shostakovich himself told her: "I met a wonderful young Leningrad musicologist. We now meet constantly and I tell him everything I remember about my works and myself. He writes it down and at a subsequent meeting I look it over." There's been a suggestion that Volkov and Shostakovich were working on some type of compilation of earlier articles. One person has even suggested that Volkov took the first page of the old article, already signed, and that he fleshed out the rest of the chapter. First of all, there's no difference in paper type or font between those first signed pages and the other pages. Harper and Row weren't idiots. They took two years to authenticate the text. Don't you think that they would have noticed something suspicious -- if the first pages all looked different? The other thing is, if we read the first signed page of the manuscript, what are the first words that Shostakovich says? "These are not memoirs about myself. These are memoirs about other people. Others will write about us. And naturally they'll lie through their teeth -- but that's their business." He doesn't say "Volkov and I are working on some compilation of old articles." If that were the case, why would Shostakovich have told Litvinova "we meet constantly and I tell him everything I remember"? Why would they have to meet constantly? Why would Shostakovich have to tell him everything? Why would Shostakovich have to check over the manuscript later?

Feofanov: And from what we know about his memory, we know that when he says "I am telling him everything I remember about myself and my music," that was a lot. This is the guy who could play the the second violin and cello part of Die grosse fuge from memory with no prep. He could remember a lot.

Ho: The point I was leading to was that initially the plagiarism argument seemed to be sensible because it was alleged that Volkov and Shostakovich had two or three, or three or four, meetings. Now, if you have constant access, as Shostakovich said -- and Shostakovich said he was telling Volkov everything -- you have the horse's mouth. Why would you plagiarize passages such as "I met Meyerhold in such and such a year...", "The first work by Stravinsky I knew well was such and such..." These are boring, factual, innocuous passages. If I were plagiarizing something I'd certainly find something juicier. If you're going to plagiarize, why not only choose such innocuous passages but also put them on the first page of chapters where they would be most easily found? If you were going to plagiarize, why would you disguise, as Fay suggests? Why would you modify some of these "plagiarized" passages, to avoid detection, and then leave others verbatim so that they would be easily found? None of this plagiarism argument makes common sense.

What no one has ever thought of before is that Shostakovich may have had some decision as to what was recycled and how. What Solomon has said on the record is that Shostakovich would be very nervous when they met and, at the beginnings of conversations, he would start slowly, like a locomotive. Is it so hard to believe that, since Shostakovich -- who, we know, thought for twenty years about working on his memoirs and, in fact, asked for a notebook to outline the names of people he wanted to talk about -- that since Shostakovich himself was nervous about the situation, he might come prepared with one, two, three paragraphs of [memorised] text to get started? As I said to you today, I gave an introductory comment at the beginning of this that is basically verbatim from the AMS meeting three months ago. Then after that I elaborated and strayed from the prepared portion. Don't some of you work this way? That, if you're asked to talk about something, you might think ahead of time "Well, today I'd like to speak about Stravinsky." And then think about a paragraph, in pretty polished prose, just to get things going?

Teachout: When Mr. Feofanov told the story a few minutes ago of the Litvinova discovery, I've heard him tell that story before, and part of his telling of it is verbatim the same as the last time. We all do this.

??: It's part of the aging process.

Feofanov: I guess so.

??: We repeat the same story over and over.

Feofanov: Akhmatova called those sort of things "gramophone records". She, on cue, would get into little composed anecdotes, repeated verbatim. Two interesting things we discovered in researching Shostakovich Reconsidered -- which are bordering on sensational, I would have thought, although some musicologists disagree -- is that (1) that he was considering emigrating, and (2) he was considering writing memoirs, which is something no one ever mentions. With respect to emigration, he apparently thought about it quite -- well, thought about, I don't know how seriously he thought about it -- in the late '20s and even in the '50s. And it is through the good luck of our publisher, Martin Anderson, that we found that he actually sent a letter to one of his Western friends [Alexander Tcherepnin, in Chicago] asking for advice on how to go about it. So it's not an isolated occurrence. Which, as far as we're concerned, was sensational news, but nobody seems to have picked up on this.

The other thing we discovered is that he was, indeed, planning, thinking, talking about writing his memoirs for several decades. Now, Mrs. Shostakovich said a couple of things that are interesting about that. On one occasion, she said [in an interview in DSCH Journal] he never planned to write his memoirs -- yet, at a meeting nine months earlier [at California State University, Long Beach] she said not only was he planning to write his memoirs, but they also bought a notebook and came up with an appropriate motto for the book. Obviously that was something that was on his mind at the end of his life. He, perhaps, wanted to define his place in history. As Mr. Volkov pointed out to us during the time we were writing the book, in that regard it was very common: he was following the tradition of many, many Russian composers and other figures, who did exactly the same thing. One only needs to remember Rimsky-Korsakov and his Chronicle of My Musical Life, which, by the way, just like in the case of Shostakovich, was supposed to be published only after his death, etc. Sir, you have a question?

Bond: Yes, as I said earlier, I'm not a scholar, but I want to make two comments and pose a rhetorical question. First comment relates to what Mr. Volkov was saying about his nervousness not only about meeting the man, but also about engaging in this subversive activity, if I can put it that way. Second, I want to reinforce what was said earlier about censors and the appointment of censors. I mean, frequently these people are "several sandwiches short of a full picnic." And the rhetorical question is: Isn't it just barely possible that, where Shostakovich had some responsibility for the assembly of material in discussion with Volkov, isn't it just possible that by using previously published material, what might have been running through his mind -- with a degree of nervousness about the subversive nature of this publication -- isn't it possible that he thought "Well, if anyone does see this, and they read the first couple of pages and find that it's previously published material, maybe they're not going to go any further..."?

Ho: That's very possible. There's another theory that, perhaps, this was a way of authenticating his words. In other words, whenever he dealt with autobiographical works -- the Eighth Quartet, Viola Sonata -- it was his practice to self-quote, in music as well. He was well aware of Stravinsky's memoirs, too, and the organization of that: expositions and development. So his idea might have been: "I start out with what I was allowed to say in the Soviet press, and then I'm going to elaborate and tell you what I couldn't say afterwards."

Feofanov: Maybe it was just a convenient starting point. We don't know.

Ho: The thing that we tried to make clear in our book is that Laurel Fay said that it was "utterly inconceivable" that those passages could have appeared in Testimony in any other way than Solomon Volkov plagiarizing. We ask her, did she ever check to see? She never even mentioned that Shostakovich had the ability, with his memory, to repeat himself. And we're not talking about a lot of material.

Volkov: I want to add a few words about this. For me, this is kind of irrelevant. I really never understood what this word "plagiarism" is all about. Who is plagiarizing from whom? Shostakovich is plagiarizing from Shostakovich. This is absolutely absurd! The people who repeat these words, they are just not thinking, they are parroting somebody else. It was first introduced as an issue of plagiarizing and nobody thought "what was plagiarized?" -- Shostakovich repeating the thoughts he expressed on Stravinsky earlier? That's absolutely absurd. Once again it implies that "devious Volkov" was able to manipulate this innocent dupe or dummy, Shostakovich...

Feofanov: "Puppet".

Volkov: Yes, that's the regular, famous phrase of Taruskin, who describes me as a puppeteer of this little dummy Mitya. It describes probably Taruskin's frame of mind more than anyone else's -- what he would have wanted to be, if he'd been in my situation. And that, to my mind, belongs more in the realm of psychoanalysis than anywhere else.

Oswalt: The issue really isn't plagiarism, and I didn't use that word in my question. The issue is simply trying to get as much understanding as we can into the manner in which the book was written.

Anderson: May I ask a question to get off this issue of plagiarism? Did Shostakovich ever discuss his motivation with you, off the record, before you sat down to talk about it? And did he give any consideration, allowing that he intended it to be published after his death, to the possible repercussions on his family? The fact that you'd both initially intended it to be published in the Soviet Union, obviously, should be borne in mind...

Volkov: Yes, this is a thing that is frequently misunderstood -- that it all started in all innocence by both of us, as a book that could be published inside the Soviet Union. When I spoke about nervousness initially, I certainly didn't have in mind the nervousness about smuggling [the book] into the West and publishing there. That wasn't in my mind at all. Because I assumed -- more importantly, Shostakovich assumed -- that he had earned his right to say whatever he wanted at the close of his life. For me, it was always like that. Take, for example, dissidence. The first Soviet dissidents, they never said -- if you look closely into their statements -- they never said that "we are anti-Soviet and our line is anti-Soviet." They said "we are defending the human rights of individuals inside the Soviet Union according to the Soviet Constitution." And, in fact, I believe that that was their earnest belief. The Soviet Constitution said that you could express yourself freely -- so we were following the Soviet Constitution. I myself never considered the book, when it was written, to be anti-Soviet. No! Anti-Stalin, yes, 100%. It was very clear from the beginning that this book was going to be an expression of Shostakovich's real sentiments towards Stalin. But both of us made the same mistake at the beginning. We considered then that it would be somehow possible for Shostakovich to speak his mind about Stalin. If you look with a magnifying glass at the book, you will not find one anti-Soviet [remark] or anything criticizing the Soviet authorities as such. [Note 4.]

Teachout: In what year did you have your first conversations with him? In what year did you have your first talks with him that went into the book?

Volkov: I believe it was at the end of the '60s. I would like to have the exact chronology, day by day; it doesn't exist, unfortunately. I didn't think, at the time, of it as being important. I couldn't later take anything out of the Soviet Union; it would be arrested at the customs or going through the customs. Of course, the KGB was there. When we arrived in Vienna and opened our suitcase, Marianna was horrified because somebody tore through everything in the suitcase. Those things now are funny, but then they were not: because there was a pot which we depended on to make food, because we were without money. But there was no cover. The cover had been removed. Somebody left the pot but removed the cover. And the few photographs that were taken with us were all crumpled and some of them torn. People went through our belongings with a vengeance... So the situation changed during the writing, when I first discussed the possibility of publishing this material with my boss at Sovetskaya Muzyka, Yury Korev -- which he has confirmed to the present researchers -- and with a representative of an official Soviet publishing house. They flatly refused to do so. Only after that... they were interested at first -- and by the way we didn't make a secret of our sessions. Everybody around knew about it. So I was summoned first to my boss at the magazine, and he says "OK, let's listen. We're interested. What are you talking about?" And the moment I started to tell him he just went pale and said "No, no, no - that we're not printing from anybody, including Shostakovich." The reaction was absolutely terrified. That was the first time it dawned on me that probably to publish the book inside the Soviet Union would be impossible, which proved to be correct.

Feofanov: If we could get back to Laurel Fay and her article, one of the accusations that she makes, is that Mr Volkov made this book up when he came to New York and took three years to have the book published. And the implication in Laurel Fay's article, and on various internet sites that are dedicated to this subject [such as that by "Redrick"], is that that was the time when he made it up using recycled materials, etc., etc. Now Professor Taruskin says that Dr Fay meticulously tested her claims of Mr Volkov with respect to Testimony -- nothing of the kind. Allan Ho was the one who meticulously tested her claims because we checked Mr Volkov's words and we checked whether or not people knew about Testimony's existence before he emigrated. And what do you know? It turned out to be the case. Mr Korev confirmed everything that Mr Volkov was telling us and just last week we learned the names of yet two more people who saw the manuscript of Testimony before Mr Volkov's emigration. And so yet another theory of Laurel Fay's goes up in flames. This book was not created when Volkov emigrated to New York, it was not written when he was working as a research associate at Columbia [University], which by the way an American Communist newspaper said was a known euphemism for "working for the CIA"!

Blois: Mr. Volkov, does the material in Testimony, in the sequence that it appears, does it approximately reflect the sequence of meetings, the chronological sequence of meetings with Shostakovich? Could you tell us something about that?

Volkov: No. Once again, it was done in a big hurry from a pile of handwritten material. And the manner in which it was done... I can only now reflect here in a safe environment, postmortem so to speak, how it was done. If I'd known that this would be such a controversial book for which accounting of day to day to day activities and material would be needed, maybe I would at least have tried to preserve all this material -- which is not the same as saying that the material would be there, considering all the external facts of our existence in the Soviet Union. But once again, as I said at the beginning, it was my first big project in this genre. If I'd been wiser by twenty-five-plus years, then probably I would have handled it better. My book of conversations with Joseph Brodsky -- my personal belief is that it's structured better than Testimony. And, as I said, I certainly see some flaws in the organization and structuring of material [in Testimony]. But that's it. That's how the book exists, for better or for worse. And -- in my opinion, once again -- it honestly represents the views of late Shostakovich.

Anderson: Can you address the issue -- you haven't yet done so -- of his willfully exposing his family to potential danger? "When I'm dead you can..."

Volkov: The moment it became clear that the book could be published only in the West, of course that was the first [thought] which entered his mind. That's why he asked me repeatedly to publish the book only after his death -- and he asked me to put this agreement in writing. Which I did. And the letter was brought from me to Shostakovich by none other than [Boris] Tishchenko himself. It should be somewhere in the Shostakovich Archive in Moscow.

Feofanov: Something else to keep in mind with respect to the family -- which, of course, is a very legitimate question and something with which we struggled in trying to figure out how it happened -- is to look at Shostakovich's life and activities not in this isolated moment, when he was writing or dictating Testimony to Volkov, but as a whole. Was that the most daring and risky act that he had done in his entire life? Actually, no. In one of the chapters in our book, we discuss the absolutely suicidal work which is commonly known as Rayok, and formally known as the Struggle Between Realism and Formalism in Music, which he wrote in the wake of the 1948 Zhdanov Decree. And, according to the best sources we could track down, Rayok was actually begun back then, in 1948. Now, I don't know whether I can explain this adequately, but you don't mock -- rather viciously, I might add -- you don't mock "No. 1" [Stalin] back in 1948 and expect to stay alive. Yet he did that. He was kind of one moment very depressed about [things] and, apparently, in the next moment was full of vigor and humor. Sometimes he did such things as that -- and, as we mention in the book, the fact that he did survive indicates that perhaps he understood the Soviet authorities better than his critics [did]. And the fact that he calculated it right and he survived and his family did not perish even after Testimony proves that he knew the regime that imprisoned him better then we do.

Anderson: We ought to be bringing this session to a close before too long, so can we have some last questions, please?

Deredita: I have a very quick question. Mr. Volkov, you represent yourself as "pre-Gutenberg". So I assume that you write your books with a quill pen, right? [Laughter.]

Volkov: No, even worse. I dictate.

Deredita: I'm wondering about the technology of the interviews with Shostakovich for Testimony. Was that [done with a] tape recorder or just transcription by hand?

Volkov: I still can't manage to use a tape recorder. At my sessions in the United States, Marianna, my wife, manages all the recording. So I wrote down my notes [while Shostakovich was talking]. I formed my own shorthand method which I perfected through doing numerous interviews, and subsequent publishing of these interviews, in the Russian press. By the way, the first time I realized that I was good at this was after I met with a very famous Soviet poet of the time for an interview. We did it using my technique and then I published the interview -- and to my amazement it appeared next in the poet's collection, verbatim, as I published it, without any mention that this was the result of an interview. I concluded that I had mastered the technique, because he just accepted it as his own words. (It was published as a statement, not in question-and-answer form.) So, I was and I still am very good at it, although after thirty years my hands are not so agile and so forth. Then I deciphered it, first in long hand, and then it was retyped. And then it was given, chapter by chapter, to Shostakovich.

I never asked him to sign for or authenticate it in any way -- that would be absolutely insensitive and stupid for me to ask. And another thing: do people really think that without all these signatures, or without even one signature by Shostakovich, the book wouldn't have been published here? It would. My credentials were checked very carefully by Harper & Row. So, even without a single signature, the book would have appeared anyway. So why would I need to present not one signature, but several of them? As I said, I never intended to ask Shostakovich for anything like that. It was absolutely his initiative. I was stunned myself when the chapters -- which, by the way, were sometimes returned by Irina, his wife, as a go-between in these situations -- when I saw these signatures "Read.--Shostakovich"... Which, once again, postmortem, after the time, I interpret as a really very clever statement on Shostakovich's part. Because if, say, the manuscript had found its way to the KGB, or the authorities, or whatever, he could say, "Yes, I read this. That's all." It's a very specific inscription, I believe, and a result, perhaps, of long thinking. My theory of a genius is that a genius is a person who arrives at a correct decision very quickly -- as opposed to an average person who might arrive at the same correct decision after spending a lot of time thinking about it. The minds of geniuses are like big computers, they work very quickly. Having met four or five people belonging to this category, I can say, yes, that's how they work. So maybe he arrived at that signature intuitively, or maybe after some consideration -- but that was his formula. And I think it was a very clever one.

Ho: If I could just emphasize one point -- which is that what's important in the authentication of the text of Testimony is that Shostakovich read the manuscript. We have that not only from Solomon Volkov, but also in the statement from Flora Litvinova, where she says "Shostakovich told me 'I tell Volkov everything I remember, he writes it down, and at a subsequent meeting I look it over'." So whether or not you're convinced about how these recyclings appeared there, the fact of the matter is that Shostakovich read this and he was satisfied. I don't want that point to escape: that this was sort of a check and balance -- that it wasn't that Volkov was just writing everything down and Shostakovich would never have a chance to look at it. We spoke to Galina Shostakovich and she is of the opinion that, while her father did sign some ridiculous letters of denunciation against people without reading them carefully, that on this project, something so big and important -- about which he thought for twenty years -- he would not have just automatically signed it without reading it.

Feofanov: She also said that she often hears people saying that this book is a half-truth about Shostakovich and wonders which half they're talking about. She said that -- I'm getting into this because I'm the one who spoke to her -- she said that she not only recognizes the choice of words, but even her father's sentence-structure in Testimony. As far as she's concerned, this is a slam-dunk. The only complaint that she had was that there was too much "kitchen talk" in the book -- kind of, you know, anecdotes. That, of course, is her desire to protect her father's image, but has nothing to do with whether Shostakovich actually said these things to Mr. Volkov. I'd like to conclude our conference by asking Mr. Volkov to retell that anecdote about the breakfast... when Maxim spoke about his father...

Volkov: Yes. We talked with Maxim -- with whom I maintain a perfectly friendly relationship nowadays -- about some particulars in this book, which aroused some controversy. In particular, the attitude of his father to Prokofiev was one contentious point. He said to me, "Yes, but father's attitude towards Prokofiev was very complex and contradictory. In the morning he could attack Prokofiev, then in the middle of the day he could say, 'oh, you know, he was a great composer', and then in the evening he might say, 'well, he was a great composer with some flaws.'" To which I replied, "Well, I met with your father usually in the mornings." [Laughter.] Another anecdote that relates to this, in my mind, concerns Lunacharsky, the Peoples' Commissar for Education and a person very close to Lenin, who after Lenin's death, at some public meeting, quoted Lenin. Somebody from the audience shouted "Lenin didn't say that!" To which Lunacharsky answered: "To you he didn't, to me he did." [Laughter.] Thank you very much.


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