Notes from the Composer

Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich

as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov, translated by Antonina W. Bouis
Harper & Row, 289 pp., $15.00

Prokofiev by Prokofiev: A Composer's Memoir

edited by David H. Appel, translated by Guy Daniels
Doubleday, 370 pp., $14.00

O I.F. Stravinskom y ego Blizkikh

by Kseniya Iur'evna Stravinskaya
Leningrad: Muzyka, 232, illustrated pp.

Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev; drawing by David Levine

The following comments on Testimony, Solomon Volkov’s presentation of some of Dmitri Shostakovich’s opinions, confessions, and recollections, were provoked by three events occurring within a week: the refusal of the Soviet Embassy in Berne to allow a microfilm of the 1917 manuscript of Les Noces to be sent from a Swiss library to a musician in the USSR for a concert that was to have taken place in Moscow on December 6; the publication in the November 14 issue of the Moscow weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta of a letter signed by six friends and pupils of Shostakovich denouncing Volkov’s text as a forgery; and the appearance, at last, of an informed criticism of the book, Simon Karlinsky’s, in The Nation, November 24. Professor Karlinsky has pinpointed the main shortcoming of Testimony, that first-person “memoirs” written by a second person must inevitably result in confusing obliquity.

The first of these provocations, the senseless banning of a musical score, merely serves as a reminder that the Stalin-period establishment still reigns over Soviet musical life. The second, the letter in the Gazeta, might seem to require no answer, since the reasons stated therein for condemning the book prove that the signatories have not even seen it; nor are they, or anyone else in the USSR, likely to be allowed to read so powerful an indictment of Soviet cultural tyranny. But the letter must be protested, if only for its argument that although the 1948 campaign against Shostakovich’s “formalism” was “unjustified,” he

courageously put up with the unfounded charge and in his music again and again showed his greatness. [Moreover], in 1958, the Communist Party’s Central Committee formally removed the accusation.

In other words, the official censure, the second of three, this one lasting a mere ten years, could not have been of any great consequence to Shostakovich, since he managed to stay alive and even to work! The question of possible damage to him is immaterial, therefore, and these brutal and humiliating assaults can hardly be blamed for the state of mind of a man who says:

I’m certain that everyone is staring at me, that they’re all whispering and watching me behind my back, and that they’re all waiting for me to fall, or at least to trip…. I’m drawn to people…yet if I were to become invisible, I’d be happier. I think that this is a recent problem. Once upon a time I derived pleasure from appearing in public…. [Now] I’m afraid to go out. I’m terrified to be seen. I feel fragile, breakable.

Solomon Volkov’s Shostakovich is the most humanly likable of composers. And he is endowed with an insightful mind, which is by no means self-evident from his music:

Someone called up [the Komsomolskaya Pravda] once and wanted to know why that day’s paper didn’t have a poem by Mayakovsky. “He’s on vacation,” they explained.…

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