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Shostakovich in Context.

Edited by Rosamund Bartlett. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. [xviii, 224 p. ISBN 0-19-816666-4. $65.]

This is an anthology of papers that were presented at the conference "Shostakovich: The Man and His Age," which took place in 1994 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It reflects the state of scholarship at that time, although several contributions bear the mark of later modification. The opening sentence of the introduction, which claims that the volume presents "recent research into Shostakovich" (p. [xiii]), should thus be read with the appropriate caveat: many of the opinions presented have since been challenged and discussed in other conferences and symposia dedicated to the composer. Some of these later articles were published in a Russian anthology in 1996 (L. Kovnatskaya, ed., D. D. Shostakovich: Sbornik statey k 90-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya [St. Petersburg: Izd-vo "Kompozitor," 1996]). Even with its updating comments, Shostakovich in Context can hardly be regarded as groundbreaking for the specialist. In the past decade, research on Dmitri Shostakovich has become one of the most lively and controversial fields of musicology, and articles that were innovative and opened new areas for research six years ago may now seem almost out of date. Some of the facts that were discovered at that time are by now familiar even to the English reader, mainly because they have been referred to by scholars who have had access to the 1996 Russian collection. Some of the material published in the present anthology has already been discussed in more recent papers that nonetheless have earlier publication dates; for example, Lyudmila Kovnatskaya's article "Shostakovich and the LASM [Leningrad Association of Contemporary Music]" (Tempo: A Quarterly Review of Modern Music 206 [1998]: 2-6) refers to Laurel Fay's findings published here as "Shostakovich, LASM, and Asafiev." Yet every cloud has a silver lining. This collection does contain some references later than 1994, and with the cross-references between the articles, what could have been just a presentation of conference proceedings has been upgraded to the level of a scholarly discuss ion with a coherent, specific, and definable statement.

The material in the various articles is, in most cases, excellent. Despite the lapse of six years, the interdisciplinary approach is still fresh anti stimulating. As the title promises, the collection presents the composer "in context," not only within his political environment, but within the wider (and deeper) cultural, historical, and social environments, going far beyond the outworn repetition of his alleged political stance. Indeed, the reader looks forward with excitement to further research stimulated by these papers: new projects on Shostakovich are probably taking place as this review is being written. Furthermore, the articles by David Fanning, David Haas, Caryl Emerson, and Rosamund Bartlett, which inspect Shostakovich's output from a broad cultural perspective while offering scrupulous examinations of his music, provide ample justification in themselves for purchasing the volume, for they raise important issues and present interesting and perceptive ways of dealing with them. Fanning addresses the problem of musical expression in a new way that demands higher scrutiny and far more self-awareness from the music analyst than is usually found in the literature. Not giving in to "pure absolutist" approaches that avoid the difficult questions of musical meaning, nor to political or expressionistic slogans that avoid a real, close, conscientious analysis of the music, Fanning offers an unusual method of harmonic analysis that is eventually correlated with semantics. Haas points at cultural perceptions of musical traditions that may have affected Shostakovich's compositions. Suggesting a thorough inspection of developmental techniques and thematic transformations and going beyond the obvious musical quotations and allusions, he takes a step forward in the contextual analysis of the composer's music. Emerson, pointing at cultural perceptions of existential ideas in light of which Shostakovich lived and wrote, makes fascinating comparisons between Modest Mussorgsky's attitude toward Aleksandr Pushkin's texts a nd that of Shostakovich toward Marina Tsvetaeva's. Her quotation from Mikhail Bakhtin at the opening of her paper suggests connections that need to be more thoroughly addressed. (See my Irony, Satire, Parody, and the Grotesque in the Music of Shostakovich [Aldershot, Hants: Ashgate, 2000], 168-98). Bartlett's article "Shostakovich and Chekhov," the last in the collection, also offers a wide scope; as editor, Bartlett had the advantage of supplying the most updated material, with references up to 1997. The lines she draws between Chekhov's literary style and Shostakovich's musical style start from an apparently enigmatic reference, which she develops toward a wholly new understanding of the composer's musical structures--an idea that can be connected to those presented by Haas.

As in all similar collections, some articles are better than others. Richard Taruskin opens the collection in his characteristic style, providing intellectual entertainment that several slight printing hiccups, like the repetition of one footnote number (pp. 16-17) and the omission of another (pp. 18-19) cannot spoil. Fay's report is typically erudite, detailing Shostakovich's connections with LASM and Boris Asafiev. Her work, which is of great importance for Shostakovich scholars, has since been documented in her recently published biography Shostakovich: A Life (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), a work that Marina Ritzareva referred to as "the urtext for Shostakovich studies" in a paper presented at the Shostakovich symposium ("Shostakovich Twenty-Five Years On") held in Glasgow in October 2000. In her article "Shostakovich as Reflected in His Letters to Ivan Sollertinsky," Lyudmila Mikheyeva-sollertinskaya follows her habit (and that of other Russian scholars) of giving out some informa tion from her source while keeping the rest for dire times; sitting on the basket of golden eggs and releasing bits and pieces (some formerly published) to the press from time to rime is perhaps financially clever but does not add much to her reputation as a Shostakovich scholar. The articles by Olga Komok and Nelly Kravetz contribute information hitherto unknown to the English reader and are useful for building a comprehensive historical picture of the composer and his music. For example, Kravetz's apparently anecdotal (yet engrossing) discourse about Shostakovich's alleged affair with Elmira Nazirova has relevance for understanding not only his Tenth Symphony but, more broadly, his approach to music as a personal expressive device.

Although this collection would have been more valuable had it been published four or five years ago, it is still a worthwhile contribution to the Shostakovich scholarship of today.
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Title Annotation:Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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