Prokofiev and Natalia Satz give the first play-through of Peter and the Wolf
to an impromptu audience at Moscow's Theatre of the Young Spectator, 1936

Lyubov Shaporina's diary
and Shostakovich's symphonies 4-6

In his essay "Public lies and unspeakable truth", published in David Fanning's 1995 symposium Shostakovich Studies, Richard Taruskin brushed aside any possibility that a secretly dissident outlook is expressed in Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony:

If we claim to find defiant ridicule in the Fifth Symphony, we necessarily adjudge its composer, at this point in his career, to have been a "dissident". That characterization, popular as it has become, and attractive as it will always be to many, has got to be rejected as a self-gratifying anachronism. There were no dissidents in Stalin's Russia... [op. cit., p. 46]

In my review of Fanning's book (DSCH Journal 5 [Summer 1996], pp. 10-29) and later in Ho and Feofanov's Shostakovich Reconsidered (pp. 656-67), I sought to show from historical sources that Taruskin's claim has no basis in fact, being instead a clumsy attempt to quash interpretations of Shostakovich's work with which he happens to disagree. Since 1991, the archives of the former USSR have provided plentiful evidence of widespread popular dissent against Soviet rule, especially in the 1920s and 1930s (e.g., Sarah Davies, Popular Opinion in Stalin's Russia [1997], Vladimir Brovkin, Russia After Lenin [1998], Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism [1999]). In all but name, "dissidence" was a fact of everyday life throughout the history of the Soviet Union.

Taruskin's second line of defence in this case is his claim (made first in "Who Was Shostakovich?", The Atlantic Monthly [February 1995], and repeated in Defining Russia Musically [1997]) that Shostakovich was not a dissident but an intelligent -- i.e., a member of the Russian/Soviet intelligenty or intelligentsia. Defending this bizarre antithesis (never before proposed in Soviet studies), Taruskin argued thus:

[Shostakovich] was heir to a noble tradition of artistic and social thought -- one that abhorred injustice and political repression, but one that also valued social commitment, participation in one's community, and solidarity with people. Shostakovich's mature idea of art[...] was based not on alienation but on service. ["Who Was Shostakovich?", pp. 70, 72.]

Taruskin's proposed antithesis of "dissident" and "intelligent" is absent from Soviet historiography for the simple reason that there is no evidence for it. On the contrary, as Robert Conquest wrote in his study The Great Terror (1968/1990), "the Russian intelligentsia [is] the traditional repository of the ideas of resistance to despotism and, above all, to thought control". Many novels, poems, and memoirs of the Soviet era (including Testimony) represent this "repository of resistance" -- a conception of the intelligenty shared by historians of the period and, more significantly, by the Soviet secret police.

Ironically, just as Taruskin was launching these eccentric contentions in 1995, a book was published in English translation containing a prime illustration of the resistant intellectual context in which Shostakovich lived and worked: Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s, edited by Véronique Garros, Natalia Korenevskaya, and Thomas Lahusen. The particular source involved was the 1935-9 diary of Lyubov Shaporina, wife of the composer Yuri Shaporin (a manuscript deposited with the Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library in St Petersburg). Described by Solomon Volkov as "one of the rare surviving honest diaries of the period" [1], Shaporina's text is, in itself, a remarkable addition to existing written evidence of intelligentsia alienation from the Soviet regime. It is especially significant in that it represents the tenor of sentiment and opinion within Shostakovich's own Leningrad intelligenty milieu. The editors of Intimacy and Terror introduce Lyubov Shaporina's diary as follows:

Lyubov Vasilievna Shaporina was fifty-eight years old in 1937, living in Leningrad. The time described (1935-39), is truly Shakespearian: it is "out of joint". In a poignant image, she sees herself inside a painting by [the St Petersburg Romantic artist, Karl] Bryullov [1799-1852], Pompeii's Last Day.

Shaporina's diary is, above all, a chronicle of the times of terror in the martyred city of Leningrad, which had been enduring a wave of arrests and mass deportations that began after Kirov's assassination in 1934. It is a diary of resistance, not in the political tradition (the city was the scene of one of the last public demonstrations of the opposition [see Shostakovich Reconsidered, pp. 550-1]), but in the time-honored Russian intellectual and cultural tradition that has sustained throughout history a highly ambiguous relationship with the political power structure. Lyubov Shaporina was the founder of the Puppet Theater and the wife of the famous composer Yury Shaporin. Her world was deeply rooted in the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia, those who returned from emigration and thrived in Soviet reality in spite of everything. Her pen describes how the celebrities succeed one another; we see them at the pinnacle of their glory or fallen low.

In order to resist and survive, the diarist often abandons the present and retreats into reminiscences of her "tsarist" childhood or of the short period of emigration in France where Shaporina seems to have lived between 1925 and the early 1930s. Implicitly dedicated to Alyona, the little daughter who died in 1932, the diary is a requiem for the one who, to cite the diarist's own words, "chose for herself the better fate" -- not to live the civil war of "1937", or the Great [Patriotic] War, which Shaporina foresees with great lucidity at the time of the signing of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. [op. cit., p. 333.]

For long generally thought to have been the work of Stalin [2], the assassination of Leningrad Communist Party "boss" Sergei Kirov on 1st December 1934 inaugurated an intensification of the normal level of Stalinist terror to such a pitch of savagery that the next five years became known as the Great Terror. (A period of especial ferocity within that span, 1936-8, became known as the Yezhovshchina, or "Yezhov Affair", after Nikolai Yezhov, then head of the NKVD.) Leningrad was particularly badly hit during the early stages of the Great Terror with hundreds of thousands of its citizens, chiefly from the intelligentsia and former nobility, being either executed, deported to internal exile, or condemned to the Arctic camps of the Gulag. Scarcely a family among Leningrad's educated class remained unaffected, this being the social context of, for example, Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony. Anna Akhmatova's partner Nikolai Punin and her young son Lev Gumilyov were among the arrested of 1935; when Lev was rearrested in 1938, the poetess spent seventeen months in the queues outside Leningrad's prisons, hoping, like thousands of other waiting wives and mothers, for news of him -- the experience evoked in Requiem. Shostakovich himself suffered many arrests of close relations and friends. This period is likewise the background to Lyubov Shaporina's diary, haunted by her fears for her son Vasya.

Shaporina's diary begins in media res with an entry dated March 1935 in which she refers to being interrogated for five-and-a-half hours in an NKVD processing centre at Detskoye Selo, just south of Leningrad. Presumably this was part of the ongoing wave of intelligentsia arrests in the city, although the diary's editors provide little in the way of biographical background about the author, which subject remains ripe for a researcher. For example, they are unable to say whether "M. Yudina", described as rushing to Detskoye to bring Shaporina a food parcel, was Maria Veniaminovna, the pianist and colleague of Shostakovich, or the actress Maria Petrovna. (The diarist was well enough connected in Leningrad arts circles to have known both women.) Shaporina's remarks on NKVD interrogation procedures echo those in letters and memoirs of the time, typical of the information circulated among the intelligentsia:

On March 15 Vasya hurried to Moscow, wasted five days there and got nothing done, and then when he came back he started calling the NKVD agent in charge of [my] case. That same evening (March 22), he was summoned to Liteiny [the central NKVD administration on the Liteiny Prospekt]. On March 16 Yu[ry] A[leksandrovich] [Shaporin] telegraphed the NKVD -- asking that the daughter of the Vladimirov family, which was being sent into exile, be exempted, that she was Vasya's common-law "wife." This was a lie, but it was the only way to save the girl. They called Vasya in to the NKVD and a dignified, high-ranking functionary started out by reproaching him: "You ought to be ashamed, Vas[ily] Yur[evich], you seem to want to wind up like Nikita Tolstoi [Count Alexei Tolstoy's son]. You're compromising your fathers, this marriage is a fraud." Instead of standing up for himself, Vasya caved in immediately and agreed with him and promised to be a good boy from then on, thus compromising both his own statements and his father's request. They got him, so to speak, by bluffing... With the NKVD you have to act as though you know what you're talking about, as though you were just passing the time of day, and most important, not let yourself be intimidated. How was Vasya, at 19, supposed to know all that? How could he not be intimidated? I recall very vividly my conversations with the Chekists [3] in 1931. Just passing the time of day. That you must not name names, though there are some you can -- and those because you know perfectly well how close they are to the NKVD... In general the best thing is to look dumb and completely self-confident.

The closely interrelated world of the Leningrad intelligenty is evinced by the NKVD agent's reference to Nikita Tolstoy. The same age as Shaporina's son Vasya, Nikita married Ina, the daughter of distinguished translator Mikhail Lozinsky, a friend of Akhmatova and the poet Nikolai Gumilyov (father of Akhmatova's son Lev). It was a marriage of convenience designed to prevent Lozinskaya from being exiled, along with her whole family, to Siberia during the post-Kirov purge in early 1935. In the event, Count Tolstoy appealed to Gorky, who managed to get the internal exile order annulled, while the marriage endured, producing, among seven children, the eminent contemporary writer Tatyana Tolstaya (b. 1951). In proposing to Natasha Vladimirova, Vasya Shaporin was, as his mother notes (op. cit., p. 336), emulating Nikita Tolstoy. Shaporina describes the desolate, fearful mood among Leningrad's intelligenty as the NKVD's internal exile orders intensified during March 1935:

The month of March, it was like some terrible, nightmarish avalanche coming through, destroying families and homes in its path. It is all so unreal: it came, and it's still here, right before your eyes, but you still can't believe it. Lida Bryullova (Vladimirova) called on March 13, but I wasn't home; I call them on the 14th, their apartment mate answers and says that L. P. is out taking care of things, they're leaving on the 16th. Where? "To Kazakhstan. All three of them." I went to their apartment at 3:00. The room in shambles, just bare walls. We had been there a month ago for tea. It had been so cozy... On March 12 they got an order to leave on the 15th, they barely managed to wrangle themselves a one-day extension. They managed to sell the piano and the wardrobe, and they farmed out various things to acquaintances. A ticket for Atbasar [a small town beyond the Urals on the railway to Karaganda]... I went to see them every day, I was there on the 16th, too, just before their departure, I regret I couldn't see them off. I stayed there a long time, waiting for a telegram to come from Moscow and save them... Right at that time the newspaper Vechernaya Krasnaya Gazeta [The Red Evening Gazette] carried an item entitled "Bird Day": "On this day all school children, Young Pioneers and Komsomol organisations will build starling houses and set them up in gardens and squares, so that when the birds come they will find shelter all ready and waiting for them!" Touching. Meanwhile tens of thousands of people of all ages, from newborn babies to old women in their eighties, are being thrown out in the most literal sense of the word onto the streets and their nests are destroyed. And here we get STARLING HOUSES...

Shaporina's account recalls Edison Denisov's record of Shostakovich's words to him in 1957: "He told how during the period of the purges he would go to visit a friend, only to discover that this friend had disappeared without a trace, and nobody knew what had happened to him. His possessions had been bundled up and thrown out on to the street, and strangers were occupying his flat." [4] Soon orders for internal exile would be replaced by five- and ten-year sentences of hard labour in the Gulag.

A year later, on 15th March 1936, Shaporina reports Meyerhold's speech, given to a packed hall in Leningrad the previous day. "Meyerholdism" had been attacked in the Pravda article "Muddle Instead of Music" in January; the director provocatively entitled his speech "Meyerhold against Meyerholdism", defending Shostakovich who was nervously present in the hall. Shaporina recalls some of Meyerhold's statements, probably based on rough notes scribbled while listening to him speak.

The first part [of Meyerhold's speech] was an amendment to the Pravda articles. Quite a few brilliant passages. One statement that provoked thunderous applause was: "Soviet subject matter is often a smoke screen to conceal mediocrity." We need Soviet classics, as Com[rade] Stalin said. There was also laughter over the principle of the Pope's infallibility. Obviously people with shattered nerves have a need to believe in the infallibility of their Leader...

They did their best to disgrace Shostakovich. Yesterday was his rehabilitation. The famous "it's just chaos" has been replaced by "bold experimentation." There's a parallel with the agronomist Tsytsin, to whom Stalin said: "Be bolder in your experiments, we will support you."

A great master, Sh[ostakovich] -- a thinker. Here are some of the things M. said that hit the mark: "The path to simplicity is not an easy one. Each artist goes at his own pace -- and they must not lose their own distinctive way of walking in the quest for simplicity... The angry, cruel headlines of the Pravda articles trumpet the high standards of the Party, standards for improving taste... The highest form of poetry is tragedy, if there were no suffering in life, there would only be such anguished longing that we all would go hang ourselves before our time..."

On 30th January 1937, Shaporina discourses on the second of the three great Moscow "show trials" of the Yezhovshchina, the Pyatakov trial, which finished on that day [5]. With such stage-managed events, Stalin wiped out his remaining prominent rivals in the Party by forcing them to falsely confess in public to being spies and saboteurs. Only the most perceptive Soviet citizens fully understood the trumped-up nature of these "witch trials", though the penny gradually dropped as the 1937 purge rolled on. Shaporina recalls her hairdresser whispering incredulously to her after the Pyatakov trial: "I can't make any sense of it -- the entire leadership!" Her own remarks on the affair are complex in tone, as if conditioned by fear of discovery. The historian Sheila Fitzpatrick observes that this passage "appears to combine ironic skepticism, genuine hatred of Communists, and the desire to mislead any unauthorized reader" [6]:

Each People's Commissariat has in its leadership a traitor and a spy. The press is in the hands of traitors and spies. They are all party members who have made it through all the purges... For the last 15 years, there's been a continual process of decay, treachery and betrayal going on, and all of it in full sight of the Chekists. And what about the things that are not being said at the trial? Think how much more terrible they must be. And worst of all is the very openness of the defendants. Even Lafontaine's lambs tried to justify themselves before the wolf, but our wolves and foxes -- people like Radek, Shestov [7], Zinoviev, old hands at this business -- lay their heads down on the block like lambs, say "mea culpa" and tell everything; they might as well be at confession. Feuchtwanger[8] wondered why everyone is so forthcoming -- how naive can you get! What's hypnosis for, anyway?

Shaporina's last remark reflects the contemporary belief among the intelligenty that the emotionless quality of the confessions at the Moscow show trials was brought about by hypnotising the accused. In fact, exhaustion -- induced by the continuous process of sleep-deprivation and constant interrogation known as "the conveyor" -- plus physical torture and the threat of more, sufficed to explain this phenomenon.

By 27th August 1937, Shaporina finds herself living in a communal nightmare: "I keep getting the feeling that I'm inside the Bryullov painting: Pompeii's Last Day. Columns falling all around me, one after the other, there's no end to them; women run past me, fleeing with terror in their eyes." On 10th October, she speaks directly of what's going on, beginning a sequence of entries full of reports of arrested friends:

The nausea rises to my throat when I hear how calmly people can say it: He was shot, someone else was shot, shot, shot. The word is always in the air, it resonates through the air. People pronounce the words completely calmly, as though they were saying, "He went to the Theater." I think that the real meaning of the word doesn't reach our consciousness -- all we hear is the sound. We don't have a mental image of those people actually dying under the bullets. You hear the names: Kadetsky, Vitelko, a singer who'd just recently performed in competition. Nat[alia] Sats -- the director of the Moscow Theater of the Young Spectator. [9] And many others. What I just can't understand is the cruelty of exiling the wives of people who are arrested. A physicist [Vsevolod Frederiks] is exiled to Vladimir, to a concentration camp, and his wife, Marusya Shostakovich [the composer's elder sister], to Alma-Ata. [Film composer N.] Malakhovsky hasn't been sent into exile yet. People tell rumors about him that are so horrible that you have to cover your ears -- but his wife is in Alma-Ata already; from there they are sent out to the "regions," i.e., into the bare desert. Evgeniya Pavl[ovna Starchakova]'s life is like that of a baby mouse with a cat sitting right above her, waiting for just the right moment to finish her off. [Her husband, Izvestiya journalist Aleksandr Starchakov, had been arrested in November 1936. The Starchakovs were close friends of Shaporina.]... Who will fall next, will it be you? And it's already so commonplace, you're not even scared anymore... God forgive the living and give rest to the dead.

Executions in Leningrad rose towards the end of 1937, with thousands of naval and military commissars liquidated, in addition to the near-annihilation of the city's Party functionaries, a massacre supervised by Zhdanov. Shaporina heard gunfire:

On the morning of 22nd [October] I woke up at about three and couldn't get back asleep until after five. There were no trams, it was completely quiet outside, except for an occasional car passing by. Suddenly I heard a burst of gunfire. And then another, ten minutes later. The shooting continued in bursts every ten, fifteen or twenty minutes until just after five. Then the trains started running, the street resumed its usual morning noise. I opened the window and listened, trying to figure out where the shots were coming from... The Peter and Paul Fortress is nearby. That was the only place where they could be shooting. Were people being executed? After all, between 3 to 5 in the morning it couldn't be a drill. Who were they shooting? And why?

This is what they call an election campaign. [The first "elections" to the Supreme Soviet following the adoption of the Stalin Constitution in 1936.] And our consciousness is so deadened that sensations just slide across its hard, glossy surface, leaving no impression. To spend all night hearing living people, undoubtedly innocent people, being shot to death and not lose your mind! And afterwards, just to fall asleep, to go on sleeping as though nothing had happened. How terrible. In Yaroslav Province, right where we used to live, everyone who had had anything to do with the church was arrested, all the priests, church elders, pastors, etc., etc. In Detskoe, Irina [the Starchakovs' daughter] came home from school and said, "They told us there are mass arrests going on right now. We need to rid ourselves of undesirable elements before the election!"

Two weeks later, the onrushing waves of civilian arrests broke closer to Shaporina:

2nd November 1937. How can you find the strength to live, if you let yourself think about what's going on all around you? On the 20th I come back from work, and Natasha and Vasya open the door and rush into my arms. Evgeniya Pavl[ovna] has been arrested, and Ir[in]a is here with us. Irina looks terrible. Her face is so swollen from tears that you can't even see her eyes, and there are big blue circles around them. She was at school, and they called her out of class. Ev[geniya] P[avlovna] only had time to say goodbye to her and tell her that she had been sentenced to 8 years of hard labor; the crime: being the wife of an enemy of the people (without a trial or investigation) -- the investigation was done without her knowledge. Mara [Irina's sister] was sobbing uncontrollably. E[vgeniya] P[avlovna] had also told them: "Go to Lyub[ov] Vas[ilevna]." Irina rushed to the Lensovet [Leningrad Soviet], got a pass to see the prosecutor, Shpigel, burst into (her words) his office and told him everything: "How are we going to live without our mama?" Shpigel answered: "The charge and the arrest are justified, why don't you go to your grandmother's in Moscow, maybe your grandmother will take your sisters too; we'll wait five days, if you can't arrange things for them, we will come up with something." But they came up with something immediately, without waiting, and at 6 p.m. some people from the NKVD came to Detskoe, picked up the little ones and took them to the NKVD children's placement center at 66 Kirov Street. When they told me that on the phone, I was just shocked. We had put on shows there before and the teachers had told us about the children. They are delinquents, neglected children. There are children with a long record of incarcerations. There are murderers in there. What could we do? Mara with her bad heart. The poor girls, what they've had to go through: in the morning their mother is taken away, and then they're picked up and taken to a place that is no better than prison. Irina was shocked, though I tried to reassure her that it's not so bad in there. It all seems like a dream to me. In the morning they were still a family, and now there's nothing, everything has shattered.

Shaporina describes the ten-year-old Irina's precocious maturity in applying to the NKVD for custody of her parents' property. Within a week, Shaporina had taken the Starchakov girls out of the state orphanage and into her own apartment. (At this point, the diary's chronology becomes confused, suggesting later interpolations; op. cit., pp. 355-6.) On the 20th November, Irina Starchakova again went to see the file prosecutor for her mother's case; he kicked her out: "What are you doing hanging around her for? You don't watch out, we'll sign you into the orphanage." (Evgeniya Pavlovna, her mother, was sent to the labour camp at Tomsk.) Shaporina continues:

21st November 1937. There was a concert at the Philharmonic, and the orchestra played Shostakovich's 5th Symphony. The whole audience leapt to their feet and erupted into wild applause -- a demonstration of their outrage at all the hounding poor Mitya has been through. Everyone kept saying the same thing: "That was his answer, and it was a good one." D. D. came out white as a sheet, biting his lips. I think he was close to tears. Shebalin, Aleksandrov [10], and Gauk came from Moscow, the only one missing was Shaporin. Can anyone be more disorganised than poor Shaporin [11]?... I ran into [Gavriil] Popov: "You know, I've turned into a coward, I'm a coward, I'm afraid of everything, I even burned your letters."

Shaporina is, of course, describing the legendary premiere of the Fifth Symphony, given by Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic, nominally in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution. Solomon Volkov describes the intelligenty audience for the Symphony: "This was a brilliant crowd, dancing on the volcano, the intellectual elite of the city, leading a precarious existence in those terrible days. Theirs was a surrealistic world, the nights spent listening for the Black Maria, guessing on which floor the elevator bearing unwelcome callers would stop, the days pretending everything was fine." [12] Shaporina's next-day entry serves to emphasise the (by Western liberal standards) unusual circumstances of this concert:

22nd November 1937. The joys of everyday life. I wake up in the morning and automatically think: thank God I wasn't arrested last night, they don't arrest people during the day, but what will happen tonight, no one knows. It's like Lafontaine's lamb -- every single person has enough against him to justify arrest and exile to parts unknown. I'm lucky, I am completely calm; I simply don't care. But the majority of people are living in absolute terror.

On 12th December, she fulfills her duty as a Soviet citizen by voting in the election:

Quelle blague! I went into the booth, where supposedly I was going to read the ballot and choose my candidate for the Supreme Soviet -- "choose" means you have a choice. There was just one name, already marked. I burst out laughing uncontrollably, right there in the booth, just like a child... Shame on them for putting grown people in such a ridiculous, stupid position. Who do we think we're fooling?

On 6th February 1938, a week after the Moscow premiere of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, Shaporina records the arrest of yet another friend, Veta Dmitrieva:

They came at 7 in the morning, locked them in their room and conducted a search. They made a call to NKVD [headquarters]: "Nothing here." Veta said goodbye to Tanechka (aged 4), she said, "When I come back, you'll be all grown up." My girls (Mara and Galya) were outside in the courtyard, they saw them putting Veta in the Black Maria. They came back in tears. Anisimova (the ballerina) has been arrested. I just feel sick -- from the accumulated weight of all the crimes in our country. They seize their victims and the victims disappear, a great many of them without leaving a trace. Starchakov, Milyaev, Zhenya's father, an old man of 77, Nechai-Tsarskoselsky, an old servant, a Pole without a single relative still living in Poland. Who needs all this? Evg[eniya] Pavl[ovna] is in Tomsk. The Tomsk prison is a special camp. What threat could she pose to anyone, this unhappy woman who raised her children in such a way that they didn't utter a word of complaint when their father and mother were taken from them? They haven't gotten over their fear yet. Mara said once, while reading Buratino [Pinocchio], "How is it Papa Carlo doesn't know how to find the country where all the happy people live? I thought everyone knew it's the USSR!"

On 11th March 1938 -- last day of evidence in the final Moscow show trial in which Bukharin, Rykov, the former head of the secret police Genrikh Yagoda, and a cast of minor victims confessed to espionage, wrecking, and plotting to destroy the USSR and reimpose capitalism -- Shaporina reflects on the fate of her country, showing an understanding of recent Russian history characteristic of the dissenting intelligenty:

The great, great Dostoevsky! We now see, not in a dream, but right before our eyes, that great herd of devils that entered into the swine, we see them as they have never been seen before in all human history [13]. All through history people have always struggled for power, have plotted revolutions. Robespierre destroyed all the dissidents, but NEVER in the world have people and parties struggling among themselves worked to destroy their own homeland. Over the past twenty years all those members of our government have inflicted famine, pestilence, plague on their people -- and sold the country off wholesale and retail. And this whole Yagoda inquisition. What we read in the papers is bad enough. But what about what they don't put in the papers? Now Yezhov, there's a smooth operator for you. I hope that my other predictions will come true too and the emperor will be left standing there with no clothes on. [14]

People in Moscow are in such a panic, it's made me sick, literally... Irina's aunt, a lawyer, said that every night two or three defense lawyers from her office are arrested. Morloki was arrested on December 21, and on January 15 Leva, our simple-minded theater fan and prop man, was exiled to Chita. At that rate they might as well arrest the table or sofa. Straight into exile without an investigation... And you won't find any articles now in the legal code that say what it is you have to avoid in our befouled fatherland. When you read about all those mysterious murders -- Gorky, Max, the dying Menzhinsky, etc [15] -- you can't understand who needed the lives of all these people and what they needed them for. The only one they needed, the only really dangerous one was Stalin, plus Voroshilov, Kaganovich... They could have killed them a hundred times over, poisoned them, done anything they wanted to them, but no one has even made an attempt... It is unbearable to live in the middle of it all. It's like walking around a slaughterhouse, with the air saturated with the smell of blood and carrion...

The Terror did not abate. Ten days later, Shaporina records what turned out to be the first moves in a purge of Leningrad writers: "the Pereval Case", named after the literary magazine [The Pass] on which these writers collaborated during the 1920s.

21st March 1938. I call and ask for [the writer] E[lena] M[ikhailovna] Tager, and they tell me that she has a high fever, I knew she had angina. After a whole day of ordeals with the government theater administration and three trips to Smolny to see Gribkov, hungry and exhausted, I go up the stairs to Tager's apartment. Masha opens the door, and I go in; the door to E. M.'s room is open, which is unusual. "Isn't your Mama home? Where is she, in the hospital?" "No, Mama's not in the hospital, she was taken away by the NKVD." They came on 19th at 11pm and stayed until 6 in the morning, searching the apartment: they went through everything... They didn't find anything. They took E. M.'s letters to her father, written over 20 years ago. The letters are very interesting, she had wanted to write a novel, the story of a family. [In the margin: Zabolotsky has been arrested.] They took the old bible, and when her aunt asked them to leave it, they answered, "What for? Religion is the opiate of the people."

The Leningrad poet Nikolai Zabolotsky was arrested on the same day as E. M. Tager. Robert Conquest describes what happened to him in Leningrad's prison-system:

Zabolotsky was interrogated for four days without a break, and tortured... On his return to his cell, he tried to barricade himself in and fought the warders who came for him. He was then beaten even more severely and taken in a state of collapse to the prison psychiatric hospital, where he was held for two weeks, first in a violent, then in a quiet ward. On recovery, he was literally pushed into a common cell designed for twelve or fifteen, which now held seventy or eighty, and sometimes a hundred prisoners. "People could lie down only on their side, jammed tight against each other, and even then not all at once, but in two shifts."... At night, the cell was pervaded by "dumb terror" at the screams as "the hundreds of sergeants, lieutenants, and captains of State Security, together with their assistants got down to their routine tasks" in the main Liteyni prison. Meanwhile, several Soviet writers are reported as coming to Zabolotsky's defence, and, together with his failure to confess, this seems to have led to the removal of his name from the list of major plotters. He was later transferred to a two-man cell in the Kresty [16], now inhabited by ten. In September or early October, he was sentenced by the Special Board to eight years. On 8 November, he was sent to Sverdlovsk, and on 5 December started a sixty-day train journey in a forty-man railway wagon, suffering the usual horrors, and ended up at Komsomolsk-on-the-Amur, at hard labor in the notorious Bamlag [17]. For part of the time, he is reported employed in the camp craftsman's office, which may have saved his life. He was released in 1944 and returned from exile in 1946; his sentence was annulled in 1951. However, his health had been undermined, and he was an invalid until his death seven years later. (The Great Terror [1990], pp. 303-4.]

Also arrested in connection with "the Pereval Case" were Zabolotsky's fellow poets Benedikt Livshits and Boris Kornilov (author of the words to "The Song of the Meeting", Shostakovich's hit song from Counterplan). Both were shot in prison (Livshits on 21st October 1938). Likewise arrested, Kornilov's first wife, the poetess Olga Berggolts, then pregnant, was released after his execution. Before they let her go, her interrogators kicked her belly; the resulting miscarriage prevented her having more children and, like many other Soviet intellectuals of the Stalin years, she subsequently became an alcoholic. [18] Others linked to the Case included the Georgian poet Titsian Tabidze (shot on 16th December 1937) and the Leningrad poet Daniil Kharms (died in captivity, probably 2nd February 1942). As for E. M. Tager, she was convicted of working for the "Fascist Intelligence Service" and given ten years in Kolyma: a virtual death-sentence. Like fellow writer Eugenia Ginzburg [19], she survived and spent a further six years in exile. Returning to Leningrad in 1956, Tager sought out Akhmatova and told Nadezhda Mandel'shtam of the last days of her husband Osip, who died in a Kolyma transit-camp on 27th December 1938. [20]

On 18th March 1938, Shaporina broods on the disjunctive degeneracy of her times:

It really bothers Vasya sometimes that I don't go out to the movies or the theater. Impressions just slide over them, the young people of today, without making any impact on their conscious mind. They've grown up in these terrible conditions: the words "arrested", "shot" don't make the slightest impression on them. But what about us, who grew up among civilized human beings, not wild animals -- but then why slander the poor animals? Here's what I can't understand: Yagoda was shot, and he, and his action, and his stooges were disgraced. You'd think, if you reason it out, that all those absolutely innocent people, like the hundreds of thousands of members of the nobility who were exiled in 1935 for the death of Kirov (who was murdered by Yagoda [21]) ought to have been allowed to return. But what happens is the reverse. Now after they've served their five years or three years of time, they all are resentenced to new terms of the same length and sent even farther away. Does this make any sense? [22]

The Great Terror wiped out so many of the country's brains -- its technical experts, experienced administrators, teachers, scientists and economists, as well as thousands of its creative intelligentsia -- that by 1939 the Soviet system was falling into a state of severe disrepair. Services and supplies broke down. Everyday life became ever more difficult; yet the public sphere continued to resound with optimistic propaganda -- a contrast perhaps encoded in Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony. Shaporina was grim:

24th January 1939. Everything has disappeared, why? The city is freezing for lack of coal and firewood. Our theater is using the building of the Tram Workers' Park. You'd think that, even if they won't give you any books, you'd at least be able to get some coal. There's not any, not a speck, they don't even give it out through official channels, and there won't be any before summer. There's no firewood. No electrical supplies, no stockings, no cloth, no paper. If you want to buy some manufactured product you have to spend all day in line, and stay overnight too... Salaries are being cut everywhere, from workers to writers and composers. The factories are standing idle for lack of fuel. The newspapers are in ecstasy about our happy and prosperous life and the advances being made in worker discipline... Koltsov has been arrested [23]. And he was praised to the skies. And what about must be going on in Al[eksei] Nik[olaevich Tolstoy]'s mind? Lyudmila [24] said that he had been very close to K[oltsov] recently.

19th February 1939. I. I. Rybakov died -- in prison. Mandel'shtam died in exile. People everywhere are ill or dying. I have the impression that the whole country is so completely exhausted that it can't fight off disease, it's a fatal condition. It's better to die than to live in continual terror, in abject poverty, starving. When I go out into the streets looking for something I need, all I can do is repeat the words over and over to myself: Je n'en peux plus. Queues, queues for everything. Their faces are blank, they go into the stores and come out with nothing, they fight with each other in the lines.

23rd March 1939. Maybe our great God will take pity on us for the sake of those righteous martyrs, for the sake of those millions who are in captivity. What insane, desperate cowardice not to speak a word of truth at that Congress [25]. How much more convincing it would have been just to come out and say: yes, comrades, the whole country is naked, there are no manufactured goods, there's not enough coal, there's not enough food -- and then explain why it is so. But a deliberate lie doesn't fool anyone.

28th April 1939. I picture the body of Russia covered with purulent abscesses -- everywhere confusion, negligence, sabotage, squabbling, denunciations... I look at the faces of people standing in lines a verst long, dull-faced, embittered, haggard, not a single thought on their minds. They, these people, can stand in line for hours, days, all day and through the night... Sviridov was just here [26]. We got to talking... He's very talented, though he's still under the strong influence of Shostakovich.

In April 1939, against this bleakly static background, Shostakovich began to compose his Sixth Symphony, its opening movement at once a portrayal of the frozen state of mind described in Shaporina's contemporary diary, and a memorial ode to the dead of the preceding five years. (The Soviet writer Lukyanova hears in this music "the rustle of footsteps, the flutter of lowered flags, subdued voices, bitter exclamations, and mournful silence".) Within two months, one of the most distinguished figures in the Soviet Russian arts became added to the roll-call of the repressed: Vsevolod Meyerhold -- Shostakovich's last remaining senior adviser and defender. Shaporina records (precisely accurate) "rumours" of Meyerhold's arrest on 20th June: "Can it really be, that with a man so important, a man who is so well known throughout the world, there's no other way of taking action than to arrest him? For shame." On 24th August, galvanised by her contempt for the non-aggression pact with Germany, she writes an entry which would have got her shot if her diary had been discovered:

"To save the revolution" Lenin paid indemnities, it's easy to give away other people's property, he gave away whole seas, what can we give away this time?... Look where Lenin's betrayal has led us. Seventeen million exiled [27], how many shot, a starving, enslaved peasantry and now a second Moscow-Brest Treaty [28] with Germany... We know that people under Yezhov, and not only under Yezhov either, confessed to crimes that had never taken place. [Satirist M. Saltykov-]Shchedrin couldn't have dreamed up anything like this. I can just imagine [Nazi foreign minister] Ribbentrop's scorn as he sits on the train, looking through the window, into the window of the car, the russische Schweine-Schurken[29], who betrayed their country, who ALLOWED SEVENTEEN MILLION PEOPLE TO BE IMPRISONED IN THE CAMPS. AND HE'S ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.

I saw the floor of the room where [Starchakov] was interrogated; it was all covered with blood... A[nna] Akhmatova told me that her son had said that there were such brutal beatings last June, in '38, that people's ribs and collarbones were broken... Akhmatova's son is accused of a plot to assassinate Zhdanov [Kirov's replacement as Leningrad Party boss]... It's very clear now why they had to get rid of Kirov, who was an honorable and forthright man. The German Gestapo needed only pawns. That photograph in Pravda tells it all: on the right the stupid, bloated snouts of Stalin and Molotov, and on the left [Joachim] von Ribbentrop standing like Napoleon with his arms folded across his chest and a smug grin on his face. Yes, we've lived to see the day. The triumph of communism! A lesson for all times and all peoples -- this is where a government of "workers and peasants" will lead you! I believe that the only honorable course of action for any true communist and revolutionary would be to send a bullet through his brain. And what about you, INTELLIGENTSIA?

Lyubov Shaporina's diary illustrates in detail what was known and thought among the tight circle of Leningrad's arts intelligentsia during the Great Terror. -- But is it a reliable guide to what Shostakovich himself knew and thought? Without specific confirmation (and there may be many discoveries of this kind yet to be unearthed in surviving private documentary sources), only inferences may be drawn. On the general level, it is reasonable to suppose that Shostakovich knew considerably more even than Shaporina, if only because of his contact with Marshal Tukhachevsky, whose synoptic role as a "military entrepreneur" [30] -- not to mention his longterm closeness to Kliment Voroshilov, one of Stalin's closest aides -- made him arguably one of the best-informed people in the USSR outside the Politburo. Indeed, some of the more accurate information to circulate in the Leningrad arts scene in 1935-7 may have come through Shostakovich, originating in his meetings with Tukhachevsky.

How well did Shaporina know Shostakovich? Her allusion to his elder sister's fate, together with her account of the premiere of the Fifth Symphony (with her recourse to his diminutive, "Mitya"), suggests that they were on more than nodding terms. In fact, one of his favorite anecdotes seems to have been based on a story Shaporina reports on 19th February 1939: the funeral of the painter Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, First Chairman of the Leningrad Artists' Union:

The grave diggers... [argued] about how to lower the coffin. The band struck up a funeral march. They grabbed the ropes, pulled the boards out from under the coffin and started to lower it, but suddenly it slipped and tumbled into the grave upright, and the lid flew open. My heart froze. I ducked behind the crowd and turned my back. I thought he was going to fall out of the coffin. Then the loud cursing of the grave diggers again, as the band launched into a spirited performance of the "Internationale."

According to Rostropovich, Shostakovich told this "regularly, maybe twice a year":

I was an eye-witness, you know, an eye-witness to this event. After the siege of Leningrad I saw a funeral procession in the streets... The coffin was being loaded onto an open lorry. Just imagine, an open coffin on the back of the lorry, which is bumping and shaking, together with a band of musicians playing Chopin's Funeral March. All of a sudden the corpse gets up from his coffin, and all the relatives and friends fall into a faint. Can you imagine, it wasn't a corpse they were going to bury, but somebody who was in a state of lethargic sleep. Only the musicians kept their wits about them, and seeing that the man was all right they stopped halfway through a bar of the Funeral March and started playing the "Internationale". Yes, I saw this with my very own eyes...

Shostakovich's anecdote is couched as an Aesopian joke about Soviet Communism, the corpse being that of the discredited ideology itself. (He may have combined the story of Petrov-Vodkin's funeral with his friend Nikolai Erdman's film-script Mitya, directed by Nikolai Okhlopkov in 1927, in which a "corpse" sits up suddenly in his coffin, having been in a state of catalepsy.) Was Shostakovich at Petrov-Vodkin's funeral or did he merely hear about the incident through the grapevine? Since the painter, born in 1878, was a cagey but confirmed anti-Semite in the mould of so many highborn Russians of his age, it is unlikely that Shostakovich would have frequented his milieu, even after his death and out of dry curiosity. Yet Shaporina herself blots her copybook with a display of the same patrician prejudice, stirred up perhaps by the anti-Semitic tone of Soviet reportage of the "Trotskyite" show trials:

I recall that scrap of paper that Logvinovich showed me in Vyazma in 1917. Everything in it was clear, the only thing I didn't understand was how they [Russian Jews] could socialize the land, divide it up, and then turn around and re-establish private property so to transfer it into new hands, Zionist ones this time. And suddenly it turns out that Mr. Trotsky already had everything figured out in advance, it was all ready to go, the machinery was already in place. Amazing! But as always with the Jews, it hadn't been planned carefully enough and was bound to fall through. They construct their grand schemes, but forget who's in charge... They took it into their heads to eat the Russians for dinner, figuring they're just pigs anyway. Just you wait, my dearies, the Russian people will show what it's made of yet...

Shaporina's allusion to "a scrap of paper" shown to her in 1917 seems to refer to an anti-Semitic tract akin to the so-called "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" [31]. Possibly, her prejudice was sufficiently socially generic for her to have considered it vulgar to voice it in public except in the company of more candid types like Petrov-Vodkin. In fact, the Leningrad arts intelligenty included so many talented Soviet Jews that she probably kept her sentiments to herself for purely pragmatic reasons. On the other hand, Shostakovich had so many Jewish friends that a close social relationship with him would seem unlikely so far as Shaporina was concerned, even if she knew him well through mutual acquaintances and social events in the Leningrad arts calendar.

Shaporina's diary is a significant source for anyone interested in the background to Shostakovich's symphonies 4-6. They shared a very particular and especially well-informed socio-cultural context in Leningrad, a city exceptionally ravaged during a period of terrible upheaval. They saw the same sights, heard the same rumours, and more often than not knew the same people, including many eminent local victims of Stalin, Yezhov, and Zhdanov. Her views, moreover, are in harmony with other intelligenty memoirs and letters of this period; her diary is, in other words, part of a well-established wider pattern. The virulence of her anti-Communism may surprise newcomers to this subject (e.g., 29th April 1939: "Our masters are a streptococcal infection eating away at the organism of the country") but it is, in fact, characteristic of intelligenty of her age, who looked upon Stalin's crudely anti-intellectual cadres with privately expressed contempt. (Such scorn was particularly prevalent among the "engineers", the Russian scientific and technical intelligentsia, whose objective expertise was constantly subjected to political "revision" by ignorant commissars.)

In tone, Shaporina's diary is very close to Testimony. Both texts are anti-Communist without being pro-Western; indeed, Shaporina is as bitterly cynical about the West as Shostakovich. Twenty-six years his senior, she was of Meyerhold's generation but socially more akin to the outlooks of Stravinsky and Prokofiev. If she shared with Shostakovich a derisive view of Soviet Communism, his wider human sympathies, going beyond feelings for his own social class, would have distinguished them even during the difference-dissolving conditions of the Terror. Shaporina's loneliness and agony over her daughter (who figures in many of her diary entries) induced an escapism which finds an echo in, for example, Shostakovich's First Quartet. Their undeceivable dry-eyed realism is likewise similar. But these traits were common in their milieu and there is no reason to suppose them close friends, if friends at all.

In the light of characteristic documents like the diary of Lyubov Shaporina, Richard Taruskin's offhand contention that "there were no dissidents in Stalin's Russia" appears more preposterous than ever. (He has never defended this statement.) With friends and acquaintances falling all around her, Shaporina's life in Leningrad during 1935-9 closely resembles that of Shostakovich -- unsurprisingly, since their social circles overlapped so extensively. With arrest, imprisonment, and death a constant fact of everyday life, being alive in that beleaguered pocket of culture cannot help but have been an intensely concentrated experience -- an experience which, I would suggest, is directly reflected in Shostakovich's symphonic music of the time. Shaporina's diary often becomes a roll-call of the fallen in the local arts, but the list of cultural figures done away with during this time is enormously longer than she realised or can be indicated here. For example, according to the Writers' Union, 2000 literary figures were repressed during the Terror, of whom 1500 perished in prison or the Gulag. So vast were the repressions in the arts world that scholars are still piecing the picture together. (For an overview, see Chapter 10 of Conquest's The Great Terror, Chapter 6:11 of Medvedev's Let History Judge, chapters 5 and 6 of Volkov's St Petersburg: A Cultural History, and Vitaly Shentalinsky's The KGB's Literary Archive, passim.)

As for Shostakovich, four of his close relations were arrested at the height of the Terror: his sister Maria, her husband Vsevolod, his mother-in-law Sofiya, his uncle Maxim. Furthermore, his losses among friends and colleagues were considerably worse than Shaporina's. One would have to be a very stupid or otherwise impervious person not to feel such losses deeply and assign the blame for them where it quite obviously applied. Whether Shostakovich, in the late 1930s, shared Shaporina's contempt for both Stalin and Lenin is, for now, conjecture; from a commonsense outlook, it is a very strong probability, given his sensitivity, intelligence, and informed awareness of the facts.

Ian MacDonald

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