Witnesses for the Defence
Testimonies concerning Shostakovich's attitudes to the Soviet regime

by Ian MacDonald

I: Fear and Resistance

During the Rumanian revolution of 1989, the BBC's John Simpson reported that, as people left their houses to join the crowds flooding through the streets of Bucharest, the most overwhelming impression to strike the senses of Western onlookers was the smell of shit. Their nervous systems conditioned by thirty years of state terror, the marchers, even as they advanced to cast down a dictator, were soiling their pants in mortal fear. In 1991, press reports of Saddam Hussein's "torture palaces" provided more than enough data to account for the Rumanian phenomenon, and no doubt the same stench pervaded the streets of Basra and Kirkuk during the abortive Shi'ite and Kurdish uprisings in March of that year. "The new Hitler" was what Western journalists and democratic politicians were then calling the author of those horrors; yet, as with Ceausescu, a more accurate comparison for Saddam is not Hitler - who, notwithstanding the Holocaust, mostly slaughtered foreigners - but Stalin, whose gigantically larger toll of human life was taken almost entirely from his own people.

"Death to the Russians!" was, claimed Stalin's Politburo crony Anastas Mikoyan, the brooding Georgian's customary toast during the late Forties. How many deaths did the old monster chalk up in pursuit of this edifying philosophy? About fifty million, hazards Zenon Poznyak, leader of the Byelorussian Popular Front and excavator of the Stalin era mass-graves found at Kuropaty in 1988. Poznyak's guess (in line with those of Nedelya's Igor Bestuzhevlada[1] and Ogonyok's Vitaly Vitaliev[2]) appears in The New Russians (1990) by Hedrick Smith, a reporter who won a Pulitzer for his work as Moscow correspondent of The New York Times during the Seventies. Such claims of vast numbers of deaths under Stalin are inevitably controversial and some Western scholars have proposed figures between a tenth[3] and a hundredth as high.[4] These low estimates, though, depend on falsified census figures and KGB statistics compiled in the 1960s which have recently been dismissed as cosmetic by no less an authority than the current head of the secret police ministry archives. The struggle among Western scholars over the internal death-rate under Soviet Communism continues.[5] Meanwhile Russian researchers, still discovering unsuspected mass-graves, have yet to arrive at anything approaching a dependable final figure. (Galina Klokova, one of several teams of historians rewriting Soviet history textbooks, has grimly observed[6] that "even forty million may be short of the mark", implying that such an estimate would exclude, among others, the victims of the Civil War, now generally agreed to have been fomented by Lenin in order to consolidate power.[7])

State-created death on a scale indicated by figures like these is impossible to imagine; the mind, reeling before such enormity, gives up trying to grasp it, turning instead to things more easily comprehended in size and rationale. Yet even if the volume of "excess mortality" under Soviet Communism is beyond our power to conceive, we can surely at least begin to understand the fear which this phenomenon must have disseminated - indeed was intended to disseminate - throughout the society upon which it was imposed. Supposing, for example, that, during a period of many years in which our media harped on the necessity of maintaining "vigilance" against spies and renegades, one person from every twenty households in our land was arrested and subsequently disappeared? Such a frightful state of affairs - similar to the vision of a totalitarian Britain invoked by George Orwell in his black satire on Stalinism, Nineteen Eighty-Four - would clearly cause a profound upheaval in the national psyche, spreading fear so intense that most people would avoid or deny opinions inimical to the regime and betray even their closest relatives in order not to be taken away to the torture chambers[8] or death camps.

This is precisely what happened in Stalin's Russia and we now have a colossal amount of written testimony from those who were victims of Stalinist terror as to what, in fact and experience, it was like. To begin to discover this literature and the extraordinary, almost insane, reality which inspired it, Westerners have merely to visit their local libraries, pick up books like Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, Roy Medvedev's Let History Judge, Eugenia Ginzburg's Into the Whirlwind, Nadezhda Mandelstam's Hope Against Hope, or Robert Conquest's The Great Terror, read them attentively, and follow the references supplied in their bibliographies. They will find a terrible consistency to the hundreds of individual testimonies retailed in these books - and, through encountering what amounts to the same personal story related over and over again in different voices and from different perspectives, they will acquire a three-dimensional grasp of life under the Soviet regime which, apart from its inherent benefits in conferring a deeper understanding of the 20th century, will open their ears in ways they may not expect to the nuances of meaning and expression in the best music of Shostakovich.

While it is obviously impossible to distill this enormous, multitudinous story into a single life, something of the sort is required here since most of those reading this will not have read the five books listed above and will therefore be somewhat at a loss as to what is being proposed. Let us, then, take "for example" the life of the former Soviet film star Tatiana Okunyevskaya, born in Saratov in 1915. Tata, as she is known to her friends, now lives in a one-room cooperative apartment in Moscow with access to a decrepit summer-house on the edge of the city acquired for her by Memorial, the organisation dedicated to the rights, well-being, and commemoration of victims of Stalinism. This house, she told writer Jo Durden-Smith, once belonged to a scientist shot during Stalin's purge of Jewish doctors in 1953. Okunyevskaya has recently published her memoirs and, taking this as an opportunity, Durden-Smith interviewed her for The Sunday Telegraph, from which article[9] the following facts are taken.

Like Shostakovich, Tata lost her father in her teens. Kyril Okunyevsky, along with Tata's grandmother, was among hundreds of thousands shot at the peak of the Terror in 1937. Memorial traced their remains to a mass grave at Butovo near Moscow and arranged for Tata to examine her father's file in the Lubianka. The final entry states: "Arrested 26th August 1937; 6th October, shot with no investigation." Tata discovered that her grandmother had been shot five days later. "There wasn't any room," she explains. "Stalin said: 'Smash all the intelligentsia.' And there just wasn't room for them all in the Lubianka."[10] Her father had been denounced by several of his neighbours, including an old alcoholic who used to sing lullabies to her daughter, Inga. Later, Tata would be denounced to Stalin by her second husband.

Such betrayals, which rarely had any substantial basis, were intrinsic to Soviet life - institutionalised by state terror and coerced out of people by secret police agents and informers (although many denouncers acted without immediate duress so as to gain social advantages, such as the denounced one's post at work or his or her room in the communal flat). The late Sir Isaiah Berlin, who served as a diplomat in Moscow after the war and famously met the poetess Anna Akhmatova in November 1945, recalled of Stalin's USSR: "It was the most frightful regime I have ever lived under. Nobody knew who was friend and who was foe."[11] Under such circumstances, few of the normal bonds of human relationship remained intact. Of her Soviet rulers, Tata Okunyevskaya told Durden-Smith: "They were beasts. They killed everything: family, love, trust, loyalty. But I've outlived them; I'm a witness. And I'm so old that I can remember decent people!"

After being raped twice by Lavrenti Beria, the head of the NKVD, Tata was eventually arrested in 1948 and incarcerated for a year in the Lubianka. She found that her interrogators, following standard secret police practice, "knew everything" about her life in immense detail: her conversations, her parties, the remarks she had risked, believing herself to be among friends (such as, referring to Stalin's cult, "Not even Nicholas II put up such big statues to himself"). Charged with espionage, betraying the motherland, wanting to escape abroad, and anti-Soviet agitation, she was found guilty of saying Soviet songs were awful and for anti-Soviet conversations. For these crimes, she was awarded the statutory ten years hard labour in the Gulag.

Sent to a brick-making camp in Kazakhstan, Tata rashly wrote a letter of complaint to Stalin, for which she received 14 months' solitary confinement and a return visit to the Lubianka where Beria's deputy Viktor Abakumov informed her that she would die like a dog. She was despatched back into the Gulag, this time to a logging camp in the Arctic circle where most prisoners soon perished. She, though, survived, finally being released in 1954 after Khrushchev's accession. Every veteran of the Gulag seems to have had an epiphanal moment and Tatyana Okunyevskaya's happened at the Sverdlovsk transit camp, through which every prisoner passed. "I was," she recalls, "very sick with a raging fever, lying on a stretcher on the ground. There was a wire fence, with women on one side and men on the other; and suddenly I looked up through the wire and saw my first love, a boy I'd grown up with and played games with, for kisses. He saw me too. 'Tatushka! Tatushka!' he said, putting his face right up against the fence. It was the last I ever saw of him."

Although few Soviet citizens had the displeasure of knowing Stalin personally, life stories like Okunyevskaya's are legion in the still-shattered domain of the former USSR, and ubiquitous in the epic literature of memoirs and histories of that time and place (into which world the five books mentioned above are merely the most imposing gateways). The dominant note in such narratives, tolling insistently like a funeral bell behind every experience and every sensation, is that of fear - paralysing, all-pervading fear. Nadezhda Mandelstam writes with engrossing eloquence of the intense fear she and Akhmatova felt at certain periods during Stalin's purges - a fear that made physical movement difficult, tapered voices down to shivering whispers, and turned nights into hypersensitive vigils feverish with the anticipation of arrest. Fear is likewise the subject of their mutual friend Lydia Chukovskaya's novel of the time of the Terror Sofya Petrovna, as it is the title both of a contemporary play by Alexander Afinogenov and of the sequel to Anatoli Rybakov's novel of Soviet life in the Thirties, Children of the Arbat.[12]

Not only did the Soviet regime deliberately inspire fear of its agencies as a means of social control,[13] but it also fomented fear of the outside world so as to motivate efforts of national will - such as the Five-Year Plans - and drummed up fear of so-called "alien" elements within the USSR - such as "wreckers", "spies", "Trotskyites", "counter-revolutionaries", minor racial groups known as "nationalities", and in particular Soviet Jews - in order to muster support for purges expedient to the machinations of Stalin and the crew of self-cannibalising human sewer-rats referred to in Pravdaas his politburo. Apart from anything else, this institutionalised fear worked, hand in hand with the transparent falsehoods disseminated in government propaganda, to destroy any notion of dependable truth. Hence rumour had to stand in for reliable news, while the inadvisability of speaking plainly in public - and often at home, especially in front of one's children - caused a boom in "Aesopian" discourse, whereby what a person said in so many words was often to be interpreted euphemistically or even in precisely the opposite sense.

Fear, then, was a constant factor in Soviet life, albeit that the intensity of its effects varied from period to period and also between different segments of the populace. During the times of severely applied state terror in 1935-1939 and 1948-53, fear was generally felt across all social groupings, though invariably with more than average intensity among the intelligentsia, and more intensely still among certain "centres" within the intelligentsia, such as: those in the main cities of Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev; those old enough to have remembered significantly different conditions in earlier phases of Soviet history or pre-history (e.g., the senior generation of engineers and artistic intellectuals, and the Old Bolsheviks of Lenin's generation); those younger intelligenty in key contemporary posts in science and culture; and racial "aliens", viewed either as outsiders innately disposed to subversion or as potential scapegoats.

Outside the peak periods of terror - and, among certain strata of the Soviet populace, even within these peak periods - the social control of state-generated fear slackened, creating temporal, geographical, and social pockets of comparative relaxation within which another more or less constant factor of Soviet life found limited room for expression: resistance. Such resistance took many forms, from simple street cynicism concerning government announcements about the availability of toothbrushes to sophisticated principled dissent against the political system of the USSR in general. Yet, since the USSR was a police state, such resistance during local relaxations in the otherwise prevailing rule of fear always entailed an element of calculated risk - a risk which rose according to the articulacy and publicity with which such resistance was expressed.

One of the lesser risks (depending on the time, place, and company in which the risk was taken) was the political joke, a genre elaborated to unprecedented lengths under the Soviet regime. For example, during 1930-6 (i.e., between the peak periods of fear associated with the Cultural Revolution and the Great Terror), special outlets in the cities, called Torgsin (commercial) shops, sold "luxury" goods for gold and hard currency. A political joke was soon doing the rounds whereby "Torgsin" was mutated into an acronym (itself a joke at the expense of the Soviet bureaucracy's acronym-fetish): "Tovarishchi Opomnites', Rossiia Gibnet, Stalin Istrebliaet Narod" ("Comrades Remember, Russia is Perishing, Stalin is Exterminating the People"). Such jokes - not a few of which were circulated in anonymous dissenting leaflets - provide evidence of popular resistance to Stalin in the period before and after his crackdown following the assassination of Kirov at the end of 1934.

At other times, political resistance within the intelligentsia was able to manifest in public via stage productions, such as Mayakovsky's The Bedbug (an Aesopian attack on collectivism) and The Suicide by Shostakovich's friend[14] Nikolai Erdman, in which Semyon, the jobless hero, announces that he will commit suicide at 12 o'clock the next day and finds himself besieged by people asking him to champion their causes in the arts or business before he dies, on the grounds that only a suicide, having nothing to lose, can safely speak out in such a society. "There are 200 million people in the USSR," proclaims Semyon, "and all of them are scared. All except me. I fear nobody." These plays by Mayakovsky and Erdman date from 1928-9 - the onset of Stalin's first major attack on the Soviet intelligentsia as a social bloc. As that onslaught turned into the Cultural Revolution, non-Party artists were restrained or eliminated, and Aesopian satire became, for the duration, impossible. Yet this sort of oblique artistic resistance revived once conditions again became relatively relaxed (e.g., Nikolai Akimov's satirical production of Hamlet in 1932, for which Shostakovich wrote the music, as he had for Mayakovsky's The Bedbug), while resistance among other social groups - workers, peasants, young intelligenty, those in small towns or provincial cities - meanwhile continued to find voice at various levels of overtness and articulacy.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell draws a broad distinction between the Party (which in Oceania includes all of the intelligentsia, whether resistant or not) and the proles, "those swarming, disregarded masses, 85 per cent of the population" whom the Party - or rather the politically active Inner Party, equivalent to the Soviet apparat, or, in some parts of the novel, the nomenklatura - controls with a mind-quietening diet of sport and pornography. Something akin to this broad distinction existed in the USSR in that Stalin concentrated his efforts at control by fear, or straightforward elimination, upon the intelligentsia, a class long skilled at formulating sophisticated opinions and generating subversive political jokes of the sort given above. Yet, in the interludes of relative relaxation - and more or less constantly among the Soviet "proles" and the younger (and hence less cautious) intelligenty - such expressions of resistance were common, and sedulously gathered by secret police agents and their informers.

A recent book (Sarah Davies, Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia: Terror, Propaganda and Dissent, 1934-1941, Cambridge University Press, 1997) examines this ongoing expression of popular resistance by means of such NKVD and Party reports, showing widespread scepticism, and even open contempt, for official accounts of the Kirov murder and the show-trials which followed it (albeit that the most functional strata of the populace, their lives dominated by thought-excluding drudgery, took no serious notice of what they saw as a remote internecine quarrel among their new Communist bosses, confining their resistance to grumbles about bread-shortages[15]). Above the level of the archetypal "proles", from thinking urban workers upwards, dissent was common, sharpening into more articulate resistance as the intelligence of those involved rose. For example, Davies notes a rumour in the mid-Thirties that the USSR's population had declined from 175 million to 135 million as a result of Soviet state terror. Such rumours were reported in police files as originating among the intelligenty, especially Soviet Jews.

Davies also publishes excerpts from overtly resistant leaflets ("suggesting intelligentsia authorship") which appeared during the Terror, calling for revolt against the "bloody" tyranny of Bolshevik dictatorship. But her most fascinating chapter[16] describes the growth of resistance to the Stalin cult as it inflated to "gigantomanic" proportions during 1935-7[17], an account which makes it clear that antipathy to Stalin was widely felt and voiced. To give a single example, Davies records that, in 1934, among young people, it was popular to decipher SSSR [USSR] as "Smert' Stalina Spaset Rossiiu" ["Stalin's Death will Save Russia"].[18] It should be noted that, in 1934, Shostakovich, then 27, was among these young people.

Such, in general terms, is the socio-political background against which Shostakovich lived and worked. On the face of it, it would be surprising if he and his music had remained unaffected by any of this, and more surprising still if he had, during his life, formed no opinions whatever about it, whether pro- or anti-Soviet. Yet pundits in the West who espouse the "anti-revisionist" position on Shostakovich - i.e., will not concede that Testimony is a fair representation of his outlook and do not accept that he was anti-communist; or suspect that he may, in some sense, have been anti-communist, but held this conviction weakly, or arrived at it late and attempted to back-date it through Testimony - are united in neither professing nor demonstrating anything much beyond a pitifully superficial acquaintance with this background.

For example, Richard Taruskin, in his purported discussion of the Soviet reception of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony in Fanning's Shostakovich Studies, and Laurel Fay, in her article on the alleged provenance of From Jewish Folk Poetry in The New York Times, have both ventured some general opinions on the Soviet background which, for the most part, are factually wrong and interpretively obtuse or gullible.[19] Christopher Norris, a professed expert on "the politics of culture", has said almost nothing about the socio-political background to Shostakovich's music; what little he has said is, again, inaccurate or dimly credulous.[20] As for other anti-revisionists, like Malcolm Brown and David Fanning (who may place himself on neither side of the controversy), they have, to my knowledge, scarcely spoken of this background at all.

It is worth remembering why such pundits are called "anti-revisionists". Before the publication of Testimony in 1979, the view among Western music critics was that Shostakovich was a distinguished, if occasionally puzzling, alumnus of the Soviet system and ideology who was, in some sense, a communist and in no sense at odds with the policies and practices of the Soviet regime (under which he had received many honours and for which he had written occasional works, propagandist film scores, ostensibly conformist symphonies, and a multitude of orthodox articles and speeches whose political views he reiterated in interviews given to journalists). In terms of his music, these assumptions about him were, for the most part, accepted, and, in rudimentary conceptual ways, integrated into the technical analyses to which Western musicologists routinely subjected his music. For the sake of identification, I propose to call this position on Shostakovich the Naive Approach. After Testimony, the Naive Approach to Shostakovich, while by no means unviable in very general terms,[21] was less easily justifiable in the rudimentary conceptual ways established hitherto.

As a result, certain puzzling aspects of Shostakovich began to come to the fore and, rather than a straightforward communist laureate, he began to be seen as a troubled, contradictory introvert, much traumatised by Russia's gargantuan war-losses and yet, for some reason, unworried (or only retrospectively worried) by the comparably gargantuan internal losses inflicted on the USSR by its rulers from 1917 onwards. With the appearance of Bernard Haitink's recorded cycle of Shostakovich's symphonies, the composer started to be viewed less as an heroic Soviet artist with the occasional inscrutable hiatus, and more as a tragic neo-Mahlerian figure, flawed by incongruous outbursts of apparent vulgarity, but otherwise transparently sincere. The feeling, for example, among Gramophonereviewers during the six or seven years after Testimony was, in effect, that Haitink's Decca cycle had raised the whole tone of Shostakovich symphony recordings, if not of Shostakovich symphonies per se.

Where the likes of the Ninth and Eleventh had previously been sniffed at, they now became works to take seriously (or at least not to dismiss as casually as before). Whenever a new Shostakovich symphony disc came out, reviewers adopted the reverential manner formerly reserved for new recordings of symphonies by Beethoven and Bruckner. Shostakovich symphonies were now seen as "tragic" works of "great intensity"; reviewers were accordingly "much moved", even "spellbound", by them. Despite the New Solemnity of Shostakovich reception in the Gramophone of the mid-Eighties, all that the magazine's writers felt safe to venture in exegesis of this intense, spellbinding tragedy was the prudently general view that it derived from the composer having lived in "troubled times".

The most perceptive Gramophone reviewer of this period, Michael Oliver received the 1984 paperback of Christopher Norris's Shostakovich: the man and his music with the observation that "this book must be read as a whole, and judiciously chewed, not swallowed". Yet he was by himself in venturing that he heard subversive undertones (let alone anything satirically sarcastic) in these works. (He found "irony and anxiety at the very heart of the Ninth Symphony", reporting the finale of Kondrashin's 1980 version to be, far from non-stop jollity, "a horridly sinister thing".) Meanwhile his colleagues continued to discuss Shostakovich symphony recordings in generalised terms of tempi ("spacious" ones preferred), sound quality (ditto), and the occasional interpretative allusion to the mysterious Russian landscape (ditto again) or, alternatively, to "the interior landscape of the Russian soul" (Robert Layton on the Tenth).

The New Solemnity in Shostakovich studies came to an end around the time of the fall of the USSR in 1991. Then, my book The New Shostakovich, together with fresh testimony and evidence in the form of interviews and articles from colleagues of the composer freed by the absence of state-created fear or Soviet censorship to speak their minds, combined into a third position against both the "communist laureate" conception central to the erstwhile Naive Approach to Shostakovich and the "tragic introvert" (or "Hamlet figure") vaguely envisaged under the New Solemnity which replaced it. This third position, congruent with the view of Shostakovich proposed in Testimony and in isolated comments made by his former colleagues (and his son Maxim) during the 1980s, is that of revisionism in Shostakovich studies[22] - that for which revision is urged being our basic interpretation of Shostakovich's attitudes to the Soviet regime with regard to their bearing on the expressive aspects of his music. Intrinsic to revisionism is the proposition that, far from helplessly immersed in the unhappy aspects of his "troubled times", Shostakovich was bitterly critical of those responsible for Russia's woes and that therefore his music is as satirical as it is tragic.

Since revisionism directly challenges both of its rival positions on Shostakovich, it is inevitable that what amounts to a fourth position, anti-revisionism, now exists in order to rebut it. Anti-revisionism, which takes as its fundamental tenet the alleged fraudulence of Testimony, is a heterogeneous outlook embracing everything from the unreconstructed Naive Approach, through variations on the "tragic introvert" model, to more attacking postures in which Shostakovich is claimed to have written several key works not, as revisionists would insist, in a spirit of resistance or "secret dissidence" amounting to protest, but as deliberate sops to the Soviet regime in the hope of rehabilitation. The model of Shostakovich proposed in the attacking form of anti-revisionism implies a man of flexible, or inert, ethical make-up who, whether out of confused ambivalence or craven self-interest, did not attempt to disassociate himself from the Soviet regime until the early 1960s, and then only superficially and ambiguously, continuing to "accept" official posts and refusing to assume the role of an overt dissident, like Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Grigorenko, Yakir, Kim, and others. This, to borrow the coinage of two prominent advocates of such attacking anti-revisionism, may be called the "collaborator" model of Shostakovich.[23]

Whatever we understand to be meant by this term, it at least has the virtue of ostensible clarity. Here anti-revisionism unequivocally contends that the general Soviet socio-political background, outlined above, did not affect Shostakovich in the way it affected the many who, despite the fear spread by the Soviet state in order to discourage dissent, expressed resistance in various ways throughout the entire period of Soviet rule; or that this background did affect Shostakovich in much the same ways as it affected Soviet citizens neither too overworked to think, too frightened to feel, too deprived of information to form a judgement, nor too morally incompetent to be disturbed by their impressions - but that he chose not to express such impressions in his life or work, becoming instead effectively a part-time collaborator with the Soviet regime.

Inasmuch as the negative character of the Soviet regime is very firmly established, the "collaborator" model of Shostakovich interpretation amounts to a charge against him of complicity in the crimes and oppressions of that regime; indeed, the main interpretive line flowing from the "collaborator model" is that Shostakovich was a man haunted by guilt for such complicity. One apparent justification for this thesis is that the original title of Testimony was to be Testimony of Guilt. Yet there is a vast difference between, on the one hand, supposing Shostakovich to have been haunted by guilt for direct collaborative complicity with the Soviet regime, and, on the other, deducing that he, like many other intelligenty, had been haunted by guilt for the paralysing fear which prevented him speaking out (other than in Aesopian ways or through his works) against a regime he loathed and had loathed throughout his life.

In the end, what is at issue is Shostakovich's music: is it expressive of resistance, of complicity, or of neither? Musical sceptics unacquainted with Soviet history often ask whether such a question has any intrinsic validity. Music is music, they argue; how can it matter what it is "about"? Since the emergence, during the last few years, of so much shocking testimony from friends and colleagues of Shostakovich, the popularity of this thoughtless contention has, thankfully, dwindled.[24] In its place, there is a new objection, proposed by certain anti-revisionists, that to interrogate Shostakovich's music as to whether it can be said to resist, abet, or ignore the crimes and oppressions of the Soviet regime is to propose a "crudely one-dimensional" (or "ideological") criterion. It should be noted that this has never been said of the Naive Approach, whereby Shostakovich's communist orthodoxy is "given" and, as such, an integral assumption of interpretation[25]; nor, evidently, is it deemed applicable to such inarguable crudities as Richard Taruskin's claim that Shostakovich, in Lady Macbeth, endorsed Stalin's genocidal policy of collectivisation[26] or Laurel Fay's idea that Shostakovich wrote From Jewish Folk Poetry to appease Soviet demands for folk-nationalism, foiling his own manoeuvre by inadvertently picking "the 'wrong' folk".[27]

Indeed, to ask whether Shostakovich resisted or complied in his music - to enquire, in effect, whether he was a "collaborator" or a "secret dissident" - is not an ideological but a moral question and, as such, one both fundamental and traditional to all critical apparatus, musical or otherwise. Nor, as I hope the material set forth above will have established, is there anything intrinsically "one-dimensional" in proposing that Shostakovich's music be set against the socio-political background of Soviet society and morally interrogated accordingly. The historical reality is abstruse, subtle, and multifarious. "Crudity" is merely in the eye of the ill-informed pundit.

Given the character of the Soviet regime, the charges of complicity and collaboration made by leading anti-revisionists are in effect a case for the prosecution, i.e., far from a moral giant, as most of his former friends and colleagues believe (and, so far as revisionists are concerned, his music self-evidently proclaims), Shostakovich was at best fearful, morally confused, and intellectually inconsistent; at worst a justly guilt-ridden trimmer who spent his life trying to suck up to a gang of outrageous political criminals. Those adhering to the Naive Approach naturally put a different spin on this: Shostakovich was indeed faithful to the regime - but why not? The USSR was, they assert on no discernible factual basis, a noble socialistic enterprise disfigured by Stalin's megalomania, but in other respects (apart, perhaps, from a regrettable lack of democratic free expression) morally superior to "capitalist imperialism".

Since we have before us what amounts to a preliminary case for the prosecution, it is the duty of those taking a contrary view to deploy a case for the defence. Such a case is, of course, fully argued in The New Shostakovich and Shostakovich Reconsidered. However, in a court of law, the logic of advocacy differs in kind from the first-hand experience and personal viewpoints of primary witnesses to facts adduced by defence or prosecution. Advocacy is rational and persuasive; witnesses are more immediate in impact - more vivid, more emotionally affecting. And, in the end, without such witnesses, neither defence nor prosecution can present an entirely convincing case. Since it is a well-tried tactic of anti-revisionism to imply that there is an equivalence of witness - and hence of credibility - on either side of the debate, it is time to make clear how far this is from the truth. We must turn to the witnesses for the defence in the case of Dmitry Shostakovich versus anti-revisionism and the Naive Approach.

II: The Witnesses

The largest single collection of individual testimony to who Shostakovich was and what he did is that edited by Elizabeth Wilson in Shostakovich: A Life Remembered (Faber & Faber, 1994). Wilson offers 81 individual "witnesses", of which around two-thirds constitute statements taken from existing books and articles, the rest being derived from interviews conducted by her or written contributions elicited by her during 1988-90. Of these 81 witnesses, 36 offer one or more statements showing that Shostakovich was disaffected with the Soviet regime in ways ranging from distaste to open hatred.[28] Of the remaining witnesses, 42[29] may be classified as neutral on this question in that their comments contain no explicit or implicit political content, although most are complimentary about Shostakovich's character and motives - dependable indicators in a totalitarian environment. (This would not be true of a similar list of testimonials to the character and motives of, for example, Dmitri Kabalevsky.)

Moreover, the testimonies of many of the "neutral" witnesses also strongly suggest, without giving specific positive evidence, that Shostakovich held the Soviet regime in low esteem (e.g., the testimony of Lyubov' Rudneva, pp. 248-55). Only 3 witnesses make statements remotely susceptible to the interpretation that Shostakovich ever, at any time, had any sympathy with communism - and one of these has elsewhere made emphatic statements to the opposite effect. All in all, a fair-minded person would conclude from Shostakovich: A Life Remembered alone that the composer was seriously disaffected with communism; indeed one reviewer of Wilson's book, Terry Teachout, wrote thus: "Testimony or no Testimony, it is no longer possible to regard Shostakovich as a faithful servant of the Communist party. Shostakovich: A Life Remembered leaves no doubt whatsoever that he hated Stalin, hated Communism, hated the apparatchiki and the nomenklatura, and that much of his music was in some meaningful sense intended to convey this hatred."[30] Let us examine the testimonies of the 36 witnesses who make statements of this sort in Shostakovich: A Life Remembered (to which page numbers in the text below refer).

For the Defence

1) Zoya Shostakovich
The composer's younger sister provides an invaluable insight into the atmosphere of his home life during boyhood, a picture confirmed by Boris Lossky and Nadezhda Galli-Shohat. In common with other intelligenty, Shostakovich's father welcomed the revolution of February 1917 as a liberation from Tsarism (p. 6). However, his and his wife Sofiya's political views, far from radical or ideologically specific, appear to have been humanely generalised. "The atmosphere in our house," says Zoya, "was very free and liberal" - i.e., there were no prevailing sacred opinions derived from a fixed ideology such as Marxism or the programme of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs). Sofiya gave temporary shelter to "all kinds of people... Chernosotintsy [anti-semitic Black Hundreds] and communists included". This equivalence of right-wing anti-semites and communists implies that they were equably regarded by the family as similarly extreme (even though the latter included Shostakovich's uncle Maxim Kostrykin). Otherwise, Zoya represents the Shostakoviches as effectively apolitical: "I do not remember talk of politics." (p. 6) This was at a time, between the February and October revolutions, when most intelligenty argued incessantly about politics.[31]

2) Boris Lossky
A fellow pupil of Dmitri's at the Shidlovskaya Gymnasium, Lossky confirms Zoya's contentions about the Shostakovich family's virtually apolitical outlook, recording that Dmitri's parents "belonged to the liberal traditions of the intelligentsia", adding that "the family was of a fairly conservative nature" (p. 30). In that communism is militantly atheistic, it is significant that Sofiya Shostakovich gave Dmitri's father a full Orthodox funeral which she took very seriously (pp. 30-1). It is of even greater significance that Madame Grekov, in her funeral oration, made an extremely risky reference to "the thinning ranks of the intelligentsia". By 1922, Lenin's antipathy to intelligenty who held views other than his had ensured that thousands of these had been executed or sent to the Gulag (Solovki). This places the Shostakoviches among the mainstream of the intelligentsia in that it would have meant automatic arrest to have said this at the funeral of, for example, an SR (particularly in 1922).

Lossky (p. 12) recalls Shostakovich performing his Funeral March in Memory of Victims of the Revolution at the Stoyunina Gymnasium in January 1918 as part of a memorial for the intelligenty killed by communist troops whilst protesting Lenin's dissolution of the democratically elected Constituent Assembly.[32] As for the Shidlovskaya school, Lossky describes its pupils as "chiefly drawn from the ranks of the 'out-lived'[33] liberal intelligentsia who were unsympathetic to the 'official' [Soviet] bureaucracy of the day" (p. 13). One of these pupils, though, was none other than Trotsky's son Lev, with whom Dmitri "particularly" failed to get on. "During the spring of 1918, during Trotsky's rise to power," says Lossky, "Mitya never so much as hinted at any kind of sympathy with the 'existing regime', and I can vouch that this was the case until 1922". (In 1922, Shostakovich entered the Petrograd Conservatory as a full student.)

3) Evgeny Chukovsky
Chukovsky testifies that, in later years, Shostakovich recalled the publicly-displayed lists of those shot as "Enemies of the People" in the years after the revolution. Given the testimonies of Zoya and Boris Lossky, we can assume that this recollection was distasteful and, as such, representative of the young Dmitri's sentiments at the time.

4) Nadezhda Galli-Shohat
Shostakovich's aunt confirms the impressions of Zoya and Boris Lossky: "Mitya did not belong to any party, nor did Sonya [Sofiya, his mother]; and Sonya had lost her job partly on account of it." (p. 29) She adds: "It was clear that Mitya's position in the conservatory during this winter [1923-24] was only tolerated." So conspicuous were the young Shostakovich's lack of communist credentials at this point that a group of politically motivated fellow students tried, in spring 1924, to oust him and have his stipend suspended. (In September 1924, his home piano, on loan from Muzpred, was repossessed.) Galli-Shohat's contentions are supported by Nikolai Malko's claim that, in 1923, Shostakovich failed to answer a single question in the political section of his piano exam.[34] Significantly, the only references to Lenin in Shostakovich's letters to Tatyana Glivenko occur around the time that he was being persecuted by communist students at the conservatory. Three of the four references are implicitly sceptical, including two instances of giving his address as "Saint Leninburg".[35]

5) Valerian Bogdanov-Berezovsky
Confirming that Dmitri shared his immediate family's marked lack of interest in politics, Bogdanov-Berezovsky portrays him as "totally absorbed" in his music, an opinion echoed by the composer himself in a letter to the musicologist Boleslav Yavorsky (16th April 1925) in which he states: "There are no other joys in life apart from music. For me, all of life is music." (p. 30) Bogdanov-Berezovsky also remarks (p. 26) on the young Shostakovich's "early independence of thought and behaviour" (dependable Aesopian code for "he wasn't a communist", inasmuch as independent thought and communist orthodoxy were, in practical terms, mutually exclusive).

6) Gavriil Yudin
Yudin describes the teenage Shostakovich's "ferocious wit and lively spirit" and recalls "all kinds of pranks, jokes, and improvised parodies which tumbled out of him in rich abundance". This tends to support Bogdanov-Berezovsky's hint that he was not a communist since, even in the 1920s, political orthodoxy and frivolity were incompatible in the USSR. That Shostakovich annoyed the conservatory's Soviet administrators is clear from the fact that, in spring 1924, his application for the post-graduate piano course was refused because of "his youth and immaturity". (Defying the conservatory council, Leonid Nikolayev gave him free piano lessons. In the end, Shostakovich found conditions so hard that he applied to be transferred to Moscow.)

7) Mikhail Druskin
Druskin confirms Shostakovich's love of satire and "keen eye for the ridiculous" (p. 41). He further confirms Bogdanov-Berezovsky's view of Shostakovich's outlook: "From his first creative efforts, Shostakovich occupied an independent position and defined his own terms in art without submitting to the aesthetic of the recognized authorities... His deep sense of responsibility towards life and art was an organic constituent of his make-up, and he totally accepted the moral principles behind these concepts." (pp. 42, 44) Anyone espousing moral principles in the USSR of the 1920s would have been identified as one of the "'old' people" in that the October revolution explicitly redefined traditional morality in terms of political expediency (i.e., moral decency ceased to exist, being replaced by communist doctrine). Druskin expands upon this by noting that Shostakovich was indifferent to, or aloof from, most of the fashionable left-wing art trends of the 1920s. Instead, "he searched for a more dynamic, complete expression of the national tradition within the context of modern-day actuality, resonant as it was with the dramatic events of a turbulent history, and a threatening sense of catastrophe" (p. 45). Druskin clearly implies that Shostakovich took a critical attitude to contemporary Soviet political developments.

8) Tatyana Glivenko
With its Leninist chorus, Shostakovich's Second Symphony is often taken to be a work exhibiting its composer's communist orthodoxy. There are several reasons to doubt this, but Tanya Glivenko gives a particularly strong one: that Shostakovich thought Bezymensky's verses for the aforementioned chorus "quite disgusting" (p. 61). This sentiment is voiced by Shostakovich himself in a letter to Tanya dated 28th May 1927: "Bezymensky has written abominable verses... I'm afraid I won't be able to handle them." This left-wing poem - which finishes with the fervent exclamations "October! Communism! and Lenin!" - is as creatively uninspired as it is "politically correct". The logical conclusion from his dislike of these verses is that Shostakovich himself was no closer to being "politically correct" in 1927 than he had been in 1924, when he was targeted as vulnerably apolitical by left-wing students at the Leningrad Conservatory. Moreover, his dismissive attitude to Bezymensky's verses in 1927 is consistent with his later contempt for the communist libretti for his three ballets.[36]

9) Nikolai Malko
Malko confirms that Shostakovich despised Bezymensky's Leninist verses for the Second Symphony: "He simply laughed at them." He adds that Shostakovich had no more sympathy with the left-wing agitation group RAPM, the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians, "and its limited ideas of simplification" (p. 62). RAPM was one of the groups used by Stalin as proxies to police his Cultural Revolution in 1928-32; as such, it was instrumental in bans or early closures for several Shostakovich theatre works of that era.[37] Former members of the proletarian groups continued to persecute Shostakovich through official bodies and committees until the late 1950s.

10) Pavel Maranchik
Maranchik records (pp. 78-79) a remarkable public run-in at the Leningrad branch of TRAM between Shostakovich and some RAPM representatives: "A fierce argument arose over the various ways in which Soviet musical culture should be developed. Shostakovich proved that in itself the term 'proletarian composer' was absolutely meaningless... and that many proletarian composers write noisy declarations and very mediocre music." In view of the conditions of the time, this was astonishingly outspoken behaviour and presumably the incident dates from no later than 1929.[38]

11) Yuri Yelagin
Confirming the claims of Glivenko, Malko, and Maranchik, Yelagin records that, in Akimov's 1932 production of Hamlet, for which Shostakovich wrote the music, the composer "angrily mocked both the Soviet authorities and [RAPM] who at that time were at the height of their power and caused much harm to Russian music and musicians" (p. 82). By 1932, conditions had eased sufficiently to allow such Aesopian satire to be presented on stage again, as it had been before the Cultural Revolution.

12) Venyamin Basner
Basner asserts that Shostakovich displayed "great courage" after the Pravda attacks and Composers' Union debates of early 1936, pressing ahead with rehearsals for his subversive Fourth Symphony until "the bosses" forced him to withdraw the work. (Basner's story about Shostakovich's alleged interrogation in 1937, together with his attached doubts about Testimony, are unreliable and not to be taken at face value.[39])

13) Boris Khaikin
Tonality was a political issue both during the Cultural Revolution and under the auspices of Socialist Realism after 1932. Minor keys were frowned upon; the "bright future" of socialism could only be associated with the major keys. Khaikin recalls a conversation with the composer in late 1937: "Shostakovich told me: 'I finished the Fifth Symphony in the major and fortissimo... It would be interesting to know what would have been said if I finished it pianissimo and in the minor.' Only later did I understand the full significance of these words, when I heard the Fourth Symphony, which does finish in the minor and pianissimo." (p. 127)[40]

14) Mikhail Chulaki
Chulaki supplies an amusingly sarcastic account of the Soviet apparat's reception of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony (pp. 132-8), showing that they did not understand it (trying to pass off its genuine popular success as a plot by the composer's formalist friends) and that its official acceptance was forced on the apparat rather than freely bestowed on Shostakovich as a "foreordained... immediate reward" (the words of Richard Taruskin, whose polemic on the reception of the Fifth omits any reference to Chulaki's deposition or to the supporting testimonies of Glikman and Gauk).[41]

15) Flora Litvinova
Litvinova, a long-standing friend of Shostakovich, wrote a memoir for inclusion in Elizabeth Wilson's book. A passage in which Litvinova implicitly gives credence to Testimony[42] was omitted by Wilson because she "did not want to get too involved in the whole vexed question about the authenticity of Volkov's Testimony".[43] Flora Litvinova got to know Shostakovich during his war-time evacuation to Kuibyshev, where he confided the meaning of his "anti-fascist" Seventh Symphony: "National Socialism is not the only form of Fascism; this music is about all forms of terror, slavery, the bondage of the spirit." Later Shostakovich told Litvinova "straight out" that the Seventh Symphony ("and for that matter the Fifth as well") were not just about Fascism, but about "our system, or any form of totalitarian regime" (pp. 158-9). Shostakovich, says Litvinova, was very upset by Zhdanov's ban on Akhmatova and Zoshchenko in 1946 (p. 201), while he and his wife Nina were "despondent" about the apparat's treatment of Soviet Jews (pp. 202, 206).

As for his view of communism, she recounts a conversation of 1956 in which Picasso's name was mentioned (pp. 271-2): "Dmitry Dmitriyevich burst out, 'Don't speak to me of him, he's a bastard.' We were stunned. 'Picasso, that bastard, hails Soviet power and our communist system at a time when his followers here are persecuted, hounded. and not allowed to work.' I interjected: 'But your followers are also hounded and persecuted.' 'Well, yes, I too am a bastard, coward and so on, but I'm living in a prison. You can understand that I'm living in a prison, and that I am frightened for my children and for myself. But he's living in freedom and he doesn't have to tell lies...' I tried to explain that Picasso probably didn't know what was going on in our country [and] pointed out that Picasso probably backed the idea of communism in general... 'And you, too, Dmitri Dmitriyevich, are for the ideas of communism.' He answered, 'No, communism is impossible.'" Litvinova is of the opinion that Shostakovich joined the Communist Party in 1960 under duress, because he was "simply afraid" (p. 308).

16) Isaak Glikman
Glikman is discreet to a fault and also somewhat naive. While his upsetting account (pp. 338-9) of Shostakovich's distress upon being forced to join the Communist Party in 1960 is sufficient in itself to establish the composer's attitude towards his country's political regime at that time, his commentary on Shostakovich's letters to him avoids overt political interpretations. Occasionally, however, he allows himself the luxury of underlining Shostakovich's political views in his observations on certain Aesopian passages in these letters - passages which, in themselves, establish the continuity of Shostakovich's anti-communism from at least 1942 (e.g., p. 175).[44]

17) Sofia Gubaidulina
Gubaidulina recalls that her generation (born around 1930) was very disappointed when Shostakovich joined the Party in 1960, believing him merely to have caved in and capitulated for "a carrot" (i.e., a measure of shelter and security). "I now realize," she adds, "that the circumstances he lived under were unbearably cruel, more than anyone should have to endure... I see him as pain personified, the epitomy of the tragedy and terror of our times" (p. 307). It should be noted that the composers of Gubaidulina's generation were so completely disillusioned with Soviet society that disappointment with Shostakovich's capitulation was the only possible response for them; indeed, the very fact that his action was seen as a capitulation - rather than (as those Westerners who follow the Naive Approach would assume) a confirmation of his principled communist commitment - is damning in itself and illustrates all too clearly why Shostakovich should have been suicidally agitated at being thus coerced.

18) Lev Lebedinsky
Lebedinsky confirms that Shostakovich "hated and despised" the Communist Party (p. 336) and suggests that the composer was tricked into signing the application for membership after having been "plied with drink". Lebedinsky continues: "As the date of the meeting where Shostakovich was to be 'admitted to the Party ranks' drew near, Dmitri Dmitriyevich's life became a torment. He went up to Leningrad, where he hid in his sister's flat, as if escaping from his own conscience... Shostakovich was so conditioned by fear that no logical argument or reasoning could reach him. In the end I literally physically restrained him from going to the station to take the night train, and forced him to send a telegram saying that he was ill." As a result of this, the Party meeting could not be canceled: "The authorities had to resort to deception, announcing that Shostakovich had been taken ill so suddenly that there was no time to notify all the invited Party members. Since an unprecedented number of people had gathered to witness Shostakovich's ultimate humiliation, in their eyes the cancellation of the Party meeting acquired the proportions of a major public scandal. They all formed the impression that Shostakovich was being pushed into the Party by force." (p. 337)

Lebedinsky relates the Eighth Quartet[45] to this chain of events: "The composer dedicated the Quartet to the victims of fascism to disguise his intentions, although, as he considered himself a victim of a fascist regime, the dedication was apt... He associated joining the Party with a moral, as well as physical, death. On the day of his return from a trip to Dresden, where he had completed the Quartet and purchased a large number of sleeping pills, he played the Quartet to me on the piano and told me with tears in his eyes that it was his last work. He hinted at his intention to commit suicide. Perhaps subconsciously he hoped that I would save him. I managed to remove the pills from his jacket pocket and gave them to his son Maxim, explaining to him the true meaning of the Quartet. I pleaded with him never to let his father out of his sight. During the next few days I spent as much time as possible with Shostakovich until I felt that the danger of suicide had passed." (pp. 340-1)

Lebedinsky is categorical that Shostakovich was a lifelong anti-communist: "As a true democrat, he deeply detested the communist system, which continuously threatened his very life... When I remarked to Dmitri Dmitriyevich, 'You were the first to declare war against Stalin,' he did not deny it." (p. 335) Lebedinsky contends that Rayok was written as a secret protest against the Soviet regime in 1948 (pp. 298-9) and that Shostakovich originally composed the Twelfth Symphony as a satire on Lenin but rewrote it at the last minute, fearing that his intentions were too obvious (pp. 346-7). Elizabeth Wilson provides some corroborating evidence (p. 344).[46]

19) Marina Sabinina
Sabinina's evaluation of the Soviet cultural scene is particularly contemptuous. She describes Shostakovich satirically mimicking Soviet officials during the winter of 1949-50 (p. 225)[47] and recalls his tone of "venomous sarcasm" in speaking of them (p. 310). Most damning is her account of his self-revulsion at being forced to read out a "piece of idiotic, disgusting nonsense concocted by some nobody" (presented as his own opinion) at the 1948 Composers' Union congress. He "shrieked": "I read like the most paltry wretch, a parasite, a puppet, a cut-out paper doll on a string!" (pp. 293-5)

20) Yuri Lyubimov
Lyubimov confirms that, far from believing in and supporting the statements and articles which he read out or which appeared over his signature, Shostakovich often did not even read them - indeed would sign anything without looking at it in order to be left alone by Soviet officials, whom he despised and feared (p. 183). This fact is confirmed by Galina Vishnevskaya (p. 430), Sergei Slonimsky (pp. 430-432), and Edison Denisov (pp. 432-3).[48] Lyubimov adds: "People told me that he used to carry a briefcase with a change of underwear and a toothbrush in constant expectation of arrest... It is also recounted how he waited for his arrest at night out on the landing by the lift, so that at least his family wouldn't be disturbed if they came to get him."

21) Karen Khachaturian
"Shostakovich's favourite New Year toast reflected his philosophical irony: 'Let's drink to this - that things don't get any better!' After all, it was constantly being drummed into us that things would improve in our society; whereas we knew perfectly well that in reality things only ever got worse!' (p. 185)

22) Isaak Schwartz
Schwartz relates how, while his father was in the Gulag and his family internally exiled, Shostakovich secretly paid for his education during 1946-8, a period when Soviet Jews were being publicly persecuted as part of the officially approved post-war campaign against "rootless cosmopolitans" (pp. 219-222).[49] Anyone aiding Soviet Jews at this time was by definition anti-Stalinist and in serious danger.

23) Rafiil Khozak
Khozak (p. 234) states that, in 1948, Shostakovich sheltered the Jewish musicologist Moshe Beregovsky while he was on the run from the Soviet authorities in Kiev.

24) Thomas Sanderling
Sanderling states (pp. 232-4) that Shostakovich always helped "innocently persecuted victims" in the aftermath of Stalin's death in 1953: "Anyone who came into contact with Shostakovich, whoever he might be, could not but be intensely aware of being in the presence of a person of great spiritual purity and moral fibre." (p. 419)

25) Abraam Gozenpud
"Shostakovich first showed his cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry at the Moscow Union of Composers early in 1953, just after the news bulletin in the press had appeared denouncing the Doctors. This provoked an immediate reaction from many well-known and famous persons demanding punishment of 'the murderers in white coats' (who were mostly Jews). Therefore, the performance of this cycle at that time was an act of great civic courage." (p. 238)

26) Natalya Vovsi-Mikhoels
Madame Vainberg describes how Shostakovich courageously wrote a letter of protest against her husband's arrest in 1953 (p. 231). For her, From Jewish Folk Poetry was "an open protest... against the hounding of the Jews in this last five year plan [1946-50] of Stalin's" (p. 229). She further recounts Shostakovich's amusement over the announcer's statement at the belated premiere of From Jewish Folk Poetry in 1955, concerning the line "Your father is in Siberia", that this sad situation "all took place in Tsarist Russia". Evidently, as with the Eleventh Symphony, the original historical setting had a dual (contemporary) focus and significance so far as he was concerned.

27) Zoya Tomachevskaya
"I was told by the choreographer, Igor Belsky, who produced a wonderful ballet on the music of the Eleventh Symphony, that, when he consulted Shostakovich, the composer said to him, as if in passing: 'Don't forget that I wrote that symphony in the aftermath of the Hungarian Uprising.'" (p. 320) Flora Litvinova (p. 269) confirms that Shostakovich was eager for news of events in Budapest in 1956. Lev Lebedinsky describes the Eleventh Symphony as "a truly contemporary work... composed in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Hungary" (pp. 318-9): "True, Shostakovich gave it the title '1905', but... we heard in this music... not the police firing on the crowd in front of the Winter Palace in 1905, but the Soviet tanks roaring in the streets of Budapest. This was so clear to those 'who had ears to listen', that his son, with whom he wasn't in the habit of sharing his deepest thoughts, whispered to Dmitri Dmitriyevich during the dress rehearsals, 'Papa, what if they hang you for this?'"

28) Yevgeny Mravinsky
Mravinsky, in an article collected for Soviet publication in 1967, speaks Aesopically about his methodological relationship with Shostakovich during their collaboration on his symphonic music between 1937 and 1961. Referring to their first encounter at rehearsals for the Fifth Symphony in 1937, Mravinsky writes as follows: "However many questions I put to him, I didn't succeed in eliciting anything from him... In truth, the character of our perception of music differed greatly. I do not like to search for subjective, literary and concrete images in music which is not by nature programmatic, whereas Shostakovich very often explained his intentions with very specific images and associations." By starting this last sentence with his disclaimer, Mravinsky sets up a sceptical tone, thereby allowing an important revelation (that Shostakovich "very often" conceived his symphonic music in programmatic terms) to slip through "past the censor", as it were (p. 139).

In reality, as Yakov Milkis points out, Mravinsky himself likewise conceived Shostakovich's symphonic music in this programmatic way: "For instance, during a rehearsal of the Fifth Symphony, in the third movement, in the episode where the oboe has a long solo over the tremolos of the 1st and then the 2nd violins, Mravinsky turned round to the violin sections and said, 'You're playing this tremolo with the wrong colour, you haven't got the necessary intensity. Have you forgotten what this music is about and when it was born?'... I remember another occasion when he was rehearsing the Finale of the Ninth Symphony. He objected to the character of the sound in the celli and double basses when they play in unison with the trombones. 'You have the wrong sound. I need the sound of the trampling of steel-shod boots.' (We knew that he wasn't referring to ordinary soldiers, but to the KGB forces.)" (p. 315)

Shostakovich was reticent about "explaining" his music, particularly to anyone he did not know well, because he feared reprisals if such explanations ever reached the wrong ears. In the case of rehearsals for the premiere of the Fifth Symphony, he wrote a reciprocal account which Mravinsky quotes in his article. Again, the approach is Aesopian: "It seemed to me that [Mravinsky] was delving into too much detail, that he paid too much attention to the particular, and it seemed that this would spoil the overall plan, the general conception. Mravinsky subjected me to a real interrogation on every bar, on my every idea, demanding an answer to any doubts that had arisen in him. But by the fifth day of our collaboration, I understood that his method was undoubtedly correct. A conductor should not just sing like a nightingale."[50] (p. 140)

The ingenuous tone of these comments is uncharacteristic. Shostakovich is known to have paid intensive attention to the tiniest detail during rehearsals of his works. (Indeed, Mravinsky goes on to describe how the composer objected when the cor anglais played an octave down during a tutti in the second movement of the Eighth Symphony [pp. 140-1], one of several such stories recounted by Wilson's witnesses.) This can only mean that Shostakovich's alleged "realisation" that Mravinsky was "undoubtedly correct" in grilling him on detail is a rhetorical pose adopted for the sake of conveying to readers the importance of paying close attention to the details of his music, wherein, one must presume, lie clues to its programmatic dimension.

That such programmatic clues depend on sometimes very small expressive details is indicated by Valentin Berlinsky's anecdote about Shostakovich firmly requiring the Borodin Quartet's cellist to play the low F at the beginning of the Third Quartet arco instead of pizzicato. The quartet made this change because they thought it sounded better. "Yes, yes," Shostakovich hastily replied, "pizzicato is much better, but please play arco all the same." (p. 245) We may deduce that the composer actively wanted a crude effect in this passage, having a programmatic meaning he wished thereby to imply. (I suggest a rationale for this in The New Shostakovich, p. 181.)

29) Yakov Milkis
Evidence that Shostakovich and Mravinsky not only collaborated in rehearsals, but also colluded in making Aesopian statements and gestures in connection with these rehearsals and the resulting performances, is supplied by Milkis, a violinist with the Leningrad Philharmonic. "Shostakovich," says Milkis, "never changed anything in his scores which he always prepared meticulously" - a carefulness which extended to his preparatory sessions with Mravinsky: "[Shostakovich] had many preliminary meetings with Mravinsky where every point, including the tempi, was agreed before orchestral rehearsals began." (pp. 312-13)

This throws an intriguing light on Milkis's story of rehearsals for the Eighth Symphony: "In the break Mravinsky turned round to us and said, 'Do you know, I have the impression that here in this place Dmitri Dmitriyevich has omitted something: there's a discrepancy between the harmonies of these chords as they appear here and where they occur elsewhere. I've always wanted to ask Dmitri Dmitriyevich about this point, but somehow I have never got around to it.' Just at this moment, Dmitri Dmitriyevich came up to Mravinsky, who put the question to him without further ado. Dmitri Dmitriyevich glanced at the score: 'Oh dear, what a terrible omission, what an error I have committed. But you know what, let's leave it as it is, just let things stay as they are.' We then understood that this 'error' was deliberate." (p. 312)

In other words: (a) Shostakovich wished, via Mravinsky, to draw the orchestra's attention to a significant distinction in the score; and (b) Shostakovich and Mravinsky prearranged this piece of Aesopian "theatre" in their preliminary meetings, during which Shostakovich conceivably confided, in varying degrees of explicitness, the programmatic significance of passages like these.

Milkis himself is certainly convinced of this programmatic dimension: "I hear in all [Shostakovich's] instrumental music a hidden text and even specific words - and I hear a particular conflict, rather than a general drama." (p. 315)[51] Of course, were this programmatic dimension to operate in Shostakovich's music, it would have to be self-consistent within works and very probably across whole chains of works. This, too, Milkis is unafraid to propose: "Shostakovich's whole musical output is logical and consistent in its expression. Through it Dmitri Dmitriyevich found a way of registering a protest and of mocking the Soviet regime. However, the irony and sarcasm in the music are outweighed by a sense of profound tragedy." (p. 314)[52]

30) Kirill Kondrashin
Kondrashin's account of events leading up to the premiere of Shostakovich's openly anti-Soviet Thirteenth Symphony (p. 357-62) makes it clear what he considered the composer's attitudes towards the Soviet regime to be. Elsewhere,[53] Kondrashin joins Mravinsky and Milkis in discerning a programmatic dimension in Shostakovich's instrumental music: "The majority of Shostakovich's symphonies do not have titles and at first glance appear to be plotless. Nevertheless, contemporaries associate each of his symphonies with a specific period in the life of the composer... Several of his symphonies elicited such vivid associations with our reality that I developed them to full programme detail. Dmitri Dmitryevich knew about my 'decodings'. He himself did not like to discuss the subtext of his music and usually said nothing, although he did not contradict me either. Since he was usually pleased with my performances, I believe he had no objection to such an approach to his music."

31) Fyodor Druzhinin
Druzhinin, who joined the Beethoven Quartet in 1964, shares the programmatic view of Shostakovich's instrumental music proposed by Mravinsky, Milkis, and Kondrashin: "People who lived in Shostakovich's epoch have no need to dig in the archives or to marvel at the evidence of repressions and executions and murders. It is all there in his music." (p. 390)

32) Mstislav Rostropovich
Rostropovich has made numerous statements in Western publications to the effect that Shostakovich was the secret musical historian of the USSR but that the Soviet authorities were too stupid to realise the extent of his musical campaign against the Soviet regime.[54] Wilson quotes his opinion on Testimony ("basically everything that is stated there is true") (pp. 187-8) and his disclosure of the satirical presence of Stalin's favourite tune, "Suliko", in Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto (p. 323).

33) Galina Vishnevskaya
Vishnevskaya describes how the song-cycle Satires was given the sub-title Pictures of the Past in order to disguise its relevance to the USSR in the time it was written: "One of the poems was 'Our Posterity'. Though written in 1910, it had recently been published in the Soviet Union. Yet with the music of Shostakovich it took on an entirely different meaning - it became an indictment of the current Soviet regime and its insane ideology." (p. 342) Vishnevskaya's autobiography[55] contains the most sustained portrait of Shostakovich as an anti-communist outside the pages of Testimony. Wilson does not quote Vishnevskaya's direct statements on this subject, which are worth excerpting here:

"If in today's Russia the human consciousness is being more and more liberated, a great share of the credit must be given to Dmitri Shostakovich, who in his music, from the beginning of his career to the end, called upon people to protest against the coercion of the individual... An album called 'Shostakovich Speaks' and consisting of recordings of his public statements was issued in the Soviet Union.[56] How the authorities hastened to cover up the traces of the gradual murder of that great man! But they deluded themselves if they thought that by presenting Shostakovich in their package, by palming a Party card off on him, they had made him the very image of a loyal communist. Those statements, which run counter to his art and life, constitute nothing more than a damning document - a searing testimony to the communist regime's perversion and suppression of the individual... In his symphonies, those wordless monologues, there is protest and tragedy, pain and humiliation. If music can be called anti-communist, I think Shostakovich's music should be called by that name."[57]

34) Edison Denisov
Denisov quotes Shostakovich to the effect that he was forced to write The Song of the Forests (p. 302) and that prominent members of the Soviet government were tainted with blood (p. 303). When, in 1962, Solzhenitsyn's novella of the Gulag One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published in Novy Mir, Shostakovich (p. 304) told Denisov that the book was "reality varnished over; the truth was ten times worse than that", a view confirmed by the publication of The Gulag Archipelago in the 1970s. Denisov further confirms that Shostakovich's hatred of the Soviet regime was morally, rather than politically, driven. For this reason, he became ever more angry in old age over Soviet communism's systematic dismantling of traditional morality and human decency: "Dmitri Dmitriyevich always returned to one and the same theme: 'In my youth we were brought up on the Ten Commandments: "Don't kill; Don't steal; Don't commit adultery." But nowadays there exists only one commandment: "Don't sully the purity of Marxist-Leninist teaching."'" (p. 433)

35) Nikolai Karetnikov
Karetnikov corroborates Denisov's claim of Shostakovich's preoccupation with the destruction of traditional moral values under communist rule. Shostakovich asked Karetnikov about a film which everyone was talking about. Karetnikov replied that he did not think the film would interest Shostakovich, since "the moral truths propounded in the film do not transcend the boundaries of what our mothers taught us in childhood: 'Don't steal, don't lie, respect your elders...'". Shostakovich replied: "But that's wonderful! That's wonderful! Indeed now, so to speak, now has come the time, the time when, so to speak, such things are necessary, these things should be constantly repeated. It must be a wonderful, so to speak, wonderful film. I'll definitely go, so to speak, I'll definitely go to see it." (pp. 308-9)

36) Grigori Kozintsev
"Music is not a profession for Shostakovich, it is the necessity to speak out and to convey what lies behind the lives of people, to depict our age and our country... In Shostakovich's music I hear a virulent hatred of cruelty, of the cult of power, of the persecution of truth..." (pp. 374, 371)

For the Prosecution

A) Lev Arnshtam
Arnshtam was a lifelong close friend of Shostakovich and is therefore vanishingly unlikely to have dissented from the view of the composer as an anti-communist put forward by the aforegoing 36 witnesses. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Wilson includes an article "by" Arnshtam, collected in 1976 for a Soviet anthology,[58] which contains statements that suggest the teenage Shostakovich was enthusiastic for communism, including the claim that the composer's rhythmic sense was "forged by the rhythm and pace of the Revolution" (p. 23). This phrase is (a) a standard cliché of Soviet officialese based on Proletkult ideas about "rhythms" and "tempos" of production, (b) a meaningless statement in itself, and (c) contradicted by the testimonies of Zoya Shostakovich and Boris Lossky.

As for the article's further claim that the composer "did not notice deprivation" because his "conscious awakening in life coincided with the Revolution", this is extensively contradicted in Shostakovich's own words in his letters to Tatyana Glivenko (1923-31), where his illnesses, depressions, and suicidal impulses bulk large while references to the Revolution are virtually non-existent. If Arnshtam did any more than add his signature to this nonsense, he may have interjected the ambiguous words "coincided with" in the above phrase. Sadly, he died in 1980, so Wilson had no opportunity to ask him whether or not he would have consented to this article appearing in her book. For these reasons, Arnshtam cannot be counted as a serious witness for a prosecution case against Shostakovich.

B) Daniil Zhitomirsky
Zhitomirsky believed Shostakovich's Second Symphony to have been shaped by a genuine attempt "to glorify the October Revolution" (p. 72); he also criticised Lady Macbeth for not being free of the "propaganda tendencies of the 1920s" (p. 95). The first of these opinions is, on the face of it, demolished by Shostakovich's established contempt for Bezymensky's poem for the symphony (see above: 8. Tatyana Glivenko and 9. Nikolai Malko) and his own lackadaisical attitude to the composition of the work.[59] The second of Zhitomirsky's opinions is unreconcilable with Shostakovich's lifelong regard for Lady Macbeth, which remained centrally important to him. Were such "propaganda tendencies" present in the opera, it would be reasonable to expect him to have stood by these only if he had been a lifelong communist, which he was not. As for the details adduced by Zhitomirsky, it should be pointed out that the end for which these were introduced into the libretti was arguably to satirise Soviet life. In other respects, Zhitomirsky, a friend of Shostakovich from the war years, must be counted among witnesses for the defence, as Wilson's remaining excerpts show (e.g., pp. 176-8, 328-9). That Daniil Zhitomirsky regarded Shostakovich as unequivocally anti-communist from the mid-1930s is clear from his extensive essay in Daugava.[60]

C) Andrei Balanchivadze
Balanchivadze, a Georgian composer and brother of George Balanchine, befriended Shostakovich in 1927. It was at Balanchivadze's home in Tbilisi that Shostakovich finished the second act of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in 1932 and, when the opera was attacked in 1936, Balanchivadze came to his aid with a deposition (p. 80) concerning Shostakovich's alleged theories on "musical ideology". According to Balanchivadze, Shostakovich wrote to him "often" during the period of the Cultural Revolution. In one such letter, from which Balanchivadze presumably quotes, Shostakovich speaks of ideology as defined by attitude. In Marxist-Leninist terms, this contention is, of course, heretical. (Ideology, while undoubtedly born from attitude, is nonetheless an objective entity independent of attitude thereafter.)

What Balanchivadze seems to have intended by quoting this letter is to depict Shostakovich as a serious-minded cogitator on ideological issues, as opposed to the irresponsible perpetrator of musical "muddles" portrayed in the Pravda attacks. In the letter, Shostakovich begins with a comparison between the approaches of his hero Gogol and the "proletarian" RAPP playwright Alexander Afinogenov. He takes the comparison no further; apparently Balanchivadze is to know what is meant. Instead, Shostakovich proposes a contrast between two composers, Ivanov and Petrov (Smith and Jones), who each write a piece on the theme of "the Factory". Ivanov, with "the greatest professionalism", ends up merely imitating the rhythms and sounds of the machinery. (Shostakovich may have had in mind Alexander Mosolov's then internationally notorious Zavod [Factory].) Petrov, a more perspicacious fellow, hears these noises but sees something else: "He notices the pathos of socialist labour, the enthusiasm and dynamic energy of the working class, its tragedy in relation to its failures and its joys at its success in the overfulfilling of the Plan." This sentence, which is a sequence of contemporary propaganda clichés ostensibly copied from the front page of Pravda, is retailed with a straight face as if the author believes in it - precisely as similar passages of Soviet propaganda clichés are presented in Shostakovich's letters to Isaak Glikman.[61] (As Flora Litvinova points out, "he excelled at parodying the bureaucratic lingo".)[62]

The letter pivots on the Aesopian question and answer: "Which of them is closest [sic] to us? Clearly, Petrov." In fact, clearly neither the Mosolovian constructivist nor the pathos-seeking proletarian are "closest" either to Shostakovich or to Balanchivadze (who went on to become an admired symphonist in the colourful nationalist style of his Armenian colleague Aram Khachaturian). If anyone in these examples is "close" to Shostakovich, it is Gogol. Balanchivadze presumably hoped that Shostakovich's conclusion ("it is the attitude of the composer to a particular subject that defines his ideology") either sounded virtuous enough to deflect his attackers or was, as it was surely meant to be, ambiguous enough to throw them off the scent whilst indicating a more subversive interpretation. In any event, the statements about "ideology" in this letter cannot be seriously cited as evidence for the prosecution.

Why, though, would Shostakovich write Aesopically to Balanchivadze? For the same reason that he wrote in this way to Glikman: in case his mail was interdicted by the NKVD. But there is an additional reason. During the Cultural Revolution, when this letter was written, both composers were working for TRAM in their respective cities in order to obtain shelter from the Leftist attacks of RAPM. Since TRAM was also a left-wing organisation (merely a less oppressively censorious one), anyone working under its auspices would have had to present a degree of conformist appearance. Writing as one TRAM composer to another, it would only have been prudent for Shostakovich to have employed publicly accepted forms of political discourse of the sort found in this letter. In the testimony of no other witness in Wilson's book does Shostakovich animadvert on ideology, which, to go by majority opinion, held no interest for him.

In other words, none of the three ostensible "witnesses for the prosecution" adduced from Elizabeth Wilson's book are, in truth, anything of the sort. In fact there are no witnesses for the prosecution at all in Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. All of the witnesses in this book are either sympathetically "neutral" or plainly for the defence.


On its own, Elizabeth Wilson's book totally destroys the assumption of communist orthodoxy upon which the Naive Approach is constructed. Consequently the Naive Approach must be deemed obsolete, notwithstanding that writers like Christopher Norris and Robert Matthew-Walker doggedly and dishonestly continue to propound it.[63]

If the Naive Approach is a dead duck, the attacking brand of anti-revisionism I have characterised as the "collaborator model" continues to show signs of what, in certain departments of Western academia, passes for life. Yet the testimonies for the defence given here are equally fatal to any idea that Shostakovich acquiesced to the demands of the Soviet regime out of anything but fear for himself and his family, and under extreme duress. If such acquiescence can be called "collaboration", then the whole of Russia must be said to have been in a state of collaboration with the Soviet regime. Indeed, if mere acquiescence (let alone acquiescence under duress) is to be the criterion for collaboration, every citizen in every democracy who does not actively campaign against whichever party happens to be in power at a given time is a "collaborator" with that party.

If one is to play fast and loose with language, such a contention may seem acceptable; however, by the standard of those fascists and anti-semites in Nazi-occupied countries who enthusiastically co-operated with the Nazi authorities to betray or persecute their fellow countryfolk, such "collaboration" is so mild that it is plainly absurd to stretch the term to cover both kinds of behaviour. If Shostakovich can be shown to have betrayed and persecuted like this, either out of conviction or a wish to save his own life at the expense of others, then he may truly be called a collaborator. But there is no evidence at all that he betrayed or persecuted, while the idea that he held serious political convictions (in this case, in the ideology of Soviet communism) is, to go by the witnesses quoted in Elizabeth Wilson's book, simply out of the question.

In any case, the reality of conditions in the USSR was far subtler than anti-revisionism conceives. Many people of impeccable moral character (such as Vladimir Ashkenazy)[64] found themselves coerced by the KGB into offering information about their fellow citizens, and faced horribly difficult ethical problems as a result, striving not to comply with such requirements whilst at the same time maintaining an appearance of loyalty. Persecuted as he was, Shostakovich never had to confront such direct dilemmas (although we can confidently expect that he would have met them with the same "virtuously duplicitous" evasions resorted to by, for example, Ashkenazy).

Likewise, many people in the USSR carried Party cards merely as a disguise and a protection, believing in no part of the ideology which notionally came attached to such documents. (Kirill Kondrashin was once such.) Without an admixture of betrayal or persecution, this sort of pragmatism could only be termed "collaboration" by someone unacquainted with the practical dynamics of living in a totalitarian state. Even those unfortunate people - and there were thousands upon thousands in the USSR - who did betray their fellow citizens (and their loved ones) under duress of various kinds, can only be accused of collaboration if all extenuating circumstances are mercilessly disregarded.

Actively believing or venally self-seeking collaboration of the sort seen in Nazi-occupied Europe did exist in the USSR, but it is a very far cry from anything perpetrated by the average citizen and certainly nothing remotely close to what we know Shostakovich to have done in the way of signing petitions without reading them or dutifully composing ridiculous works for Soviet state occasions. Indeed, the numerous stories of Shostakovich risking his life to aid Soviet-persecuted friends and colleagues run so sharply counter to anti-revisionist insinuations of collaboration that it is shameful that such insinuations have not been publicly withdrawn and apologised for. (Nor can the key anti-revisionist charge that Shostakovich collaborated by joining the Party in 1960 be seriously maintained after the publication of Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. As for the four alleged witnesses for the prosecution advanced by Malcolm Brown in support of this charge, not one of their testimonies survives the scrutiny of logic or contrary evidence.[65])

To the 36 "witnesses for the defence" herein adduced from the pages of Elizabeth Wilson's book may, at present, be added at least 17 others, including Shostakovich's son Maxim, daughter Galina, third wife Irina[66], Vladimir Ashkenazy, Rudolf Barshai, Andrei Bitov, Semyon Bychkov, Rostislav Dubinsky, Emil Gilels, Ilya Musin, Sviatoslav Richter, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Kurt Sanderling, Rodion Shchedrin, Yuri Temirkanov, Vera Volkova, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Nor do these include all of those to have gone on record as endorsing Testimony (around 30 witnesses to date) or Boris Tishchenko who (despite his by no means unreproachable criticism of Testimony) is known to share the prevailing view of Shostakovich as a moral anti-communist and secret dissident.

To this must be added the damning fact that there is no credible witness - not one! - to the contrary. (Tikhon Khrennikov is obviously excluded by definition.) I have demolished Fay's slurs on Shostakovich's motives for writing From Jewish Folk Poetry. (Since she has made no reply to my criticisms, the reasonable presumption must be that she has no reply to make.) I have likewise demolished Taruskin's theory on Shostakovich's motives for writing Lady Macbeth and his contentions concerning the official Soviet reception of the Fifth Symphony. (Since he has made no reply to my criticisms, the reasonable presumption must be that he has no reply to make.) Allan Ho and Dmitry Feofanov have demolished the anti-revisionist case against Testimony. There would seem, then, to be little left of the existing anti-revisionist position at the time of writing, though new attacks may yet develop.

At the root of the risible failure of anti-revisionists to come up with a single witness or a single sustainable argument to support their insinuations is a basic lack of interest in the Soviet background which, in turn, confers a basic ignorance of it. Whenever a new source turns up, they seem to skip lightly over the socio-historical aspects and alight on whatever musical details such a source may contain, however trivial. For example, David Fanning, in reviewing Elizabeth Wilson's book on BBC Radio 3, made no mention at all of its copious evidence of the political arm-twisting inflicted upon Shostakovich, let alone of the overwhelming testimony to his anti-communism, seizing instead on Edison Denisov's claim (pp. 301-2) that, during a fallow interlude, Shostakovich kept himself occupied by orchestrating (and then discarding) all of Rimsky-Korsakov's songs. Fanning found this to be suspicious, but not because he doubted that Shostakovich could ever have needed to block out the world quite so determinedly; rather, because of the quantity of Rimsky's songs! It is this loftily superficial response to the whole subject of Shostakovich's life and work which lies behind the anti-revisionists' ignominious failure to come to grips with the background adequately enough to support their preposterous contentions.

Worse than mere superficiality, however, is the openly expressed indifference of Laurel Fay. Speaking at a meeting of the American Musicological Society in New York, on 3rd November 1995, Fay admitted that she deliberately pays no attention to the testimonies of Shostakovich's family and friends (i.e., the entire contents of her friend Elizabeth Wilson's book!) on the grounds that she considers these testimonies to be unreliable. She gave no evidence to support this contention but added that she "didn't want to become compromised by having them [such witnesses] tell me their stories and then being obliged somehow to retell them". [67] In other words, Fay ignores all 36 of the individual testimonies to Shostakovich's attitudes and motives quoted in this article - and, implicitly, the 17 others listed here. To her, the opinions of over 50 people who knew Shostakovich count for less than a demonstrably [68] bogus Soviet "toast" to "equality and mutual respect for the ethnic cultures of all the Soviet Union's constituent nationalities" printed on a front page of Pravda in 1948! Even a complete novice in this subject would know enough not to expect to derive an accurate, let alone an adequate, impression of it from reading Pravda. By taking her view of Soviet history from that tawdry propaganda rag, Fay turns herself into a scholastic laughing-stock. By cavalierly dismissing the testimonies of Shostakovich's family and friends, she disqualifies herself from consideration as a serious authority on his music. Her stance and conduct in this affair can only be called outrageous.

The attitudes of Richard Taruskin and Malcolm Hamrick Brown to the testimony of our "witnesses for the defence" are scarcely less defensible. The latter's claim that "it doesn't really matter how many ex-Soviets believe that Testimony is 'essentially accurate'" [69] is merely an echo of Fay's dismissive complacency. As for Taruskin, he seems either not to have read Wilson's book with close attention, or to have decided to ignore everything in it which does not conform to his prejudices, or simply to have farcically failed to understand any of it. For their persistent misinterpretations, misrepresentations and outright falsifications, these anti-revisionists deserve only history's contempt and, unless they soon mend their ways, that is what they will get.

March 1998

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