Music is a means capable of expressing dark dramatism and pure rapture, suffering and ecstasy, fiery and cold fury, melancholy and wild merriment – and the subtlest nuances and interplay of these feelings which words are powerless to express and which are unattainable in painting and sculpture.
Shostakovich was a true representation of Tolstoy’s quote referring to Dostoyevsky “an individual in which everything is struggle” and Zamyatin’s revealing prose, with Gogolian wit. His music is very much an similar to an encounter with Russian literature, a very private and apparent nationalist universe of hardship, irony, melancholy and anxieties, but that winds up engulfing all of us, and making us feel akin to fates and situations that are some perhaps not ours, but which the listening experience makes it an essential constituent of our souls.
His personality was quite a complex one, introverted, at times obssessive (particularly with cleanliness) and nervous to those that didn’t know him, and with a more peaceful, laid-back disposition with his close friends, and ever kind. Vladimir Ashkenazy recalls an anecdote in which he was invited by the maestro for a private performance of the Piano Trio No 2 at the composer’s apartment in Moscow, and after playing, quite nervous and expectant to hear his opinion, was instead adamantly insisted by Shostakovich on having a cup of tea, an invitation to which the young players had but to surrender.
For this marvelous ocassion, his 110th anniversary, I made some cakes similar to a Biskvit, but drenched in crème anglaise and chantilly, with some spring berries and tea. Then onwards to enjoy Mravinsky’s and Rozhdestvensky’s recordings of his symphonies, and Tatyana Nikolayeva’s quintessential execution of his 24 Preludes and Fugues, to be then followed by the Four Verses of Captain Lebyadkin, another delightful work.
There can be no music without ideology. The old composers, whether they knew it or not, were upholding a political theory. Most of them, of course, were bolstering the rule of the upper classes. Only Beethoven was a forerunner of the revolutionary movement. If you read his letters, you will see how often he wrote to his friends that he wished to give new ideas to the public and rouse it to revolt against its masters.
for The New York Times, December 20, 1931