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184 pages, Hardcover
First published January 28, 2016
Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savour it…. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time. Art does not exist for art’s sake; it exists for people’s sake.
On the LandingIn my humble opinion, this is the most important paragraph/message/introduction in the book. After reading my tedious, probably boring, long-winded breakdown of elements which underscores this novel, you might want to refer back to this paragraph above and understand what the author meant by it, and how profoundly true it rings for all of us as well.
It had all begun, very precisely, he told his mind, on the morning of the 28th of January 1936, at Arkhangelsk railway station. No, his mind responded, nothing begins just like that, on a certain date at a certain place. It all began in many places, and at many times, some even before you were born, in foreign countries, and in the minds of others.
And afterwards, whatever might happen next, it would all continue in the same way, in other places, and in the mind of others.
"It's easy to be a Communist, when you don't live in a Communist country."Testament, an alleged autobiography of Shostakovich, published in October 31, 1979, by the Russian musicologist Solomon Volkov (editor), was widely critized. Volkov was accused of offering his own perception and ideas to the world by putting words in Shostakovich's mouth.
"Being a hero is easier than being a coward"The composer had three different drawers for his work:
So he read how his music ‘quacks and grunts and growls’; how its ‘nervous, convulsive and spasmodic’ nature derived from jazz; how it replaced singing with ‘shrieking’. The opera had clearly been scribbled down in order to please the ‘effete’, who had lost all ‘wholesome taste’ for music, preferring ‘a confused stream of sound. Course, primitive vulgar.The moral complexity with which Shostakovich struggled in his life is divided into three periods in the book. The composer was seriously superstitious of leap years.
But even the stone deaf couldn’t fail to hear what ‘Muddle Instead of Music’ was saying, and guess its likely consequences. There were three phrases which aimed not just at his theoretical misguidedness but at his very person. ‘The composer apparently never considered the problem of what the Soviet audience looks for and expects in music.’ That was enough to take away his membership of the Union of Composers. ‘The danger of this trend to Soviet music is clear.’ That was enough to take away his ability to compose and perform. And finally: ‘It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly.’ That was enough to take away his life.
He remembered an open-air concert at a park in Kharkov. His First Symphony had set all the neighborhood dogs barking. The crowd laughed, the orchestra played louder, the dogs yapped all the more, the audience laughed all the more. Now, his music had set bigger dogs barking. History was repeating itself: the first time as farce, the second time as tragedy. He did not want to make himself into a dramatic character. But sometimes, as his mind skittered in the small hours, he thought: so this is what history has come to. All that striving and idealism and hope and progress and science and art and conscience, and it all ends like this, with a man standing by a lift, at his feet a small case containing cigarettes, underwear and tooth powder; standing there and waiting to be taken away.Read within the philosophical framework of history, this book is two hundred pages of insight, compassion and acknowledgement of a genuis. The author proves that Shostakovich's life story or his music for that matter, was not written by him alone. Hence the importance of the paragraph in the beginning of the review that I have invited you to reread.
"Art is the whisper of history heard above the noise of time," notes the narrator.Certain "whispers" roar, as anyone knows who is familiar with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 (four movements of munitions brilliantly disguised at the time as a "whisper") or Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita (a caviar caterwaul silenced for 27 years by publishers' terrors).
So, he had lived long enough to be dismayed by himself. This was often the way with artists: either they succumbed to vanity, thinking themselves greater than they were, or else to disappointment. Nowadays, he was often inclined to think of himself as a dull, mediocre composer. The self-doubt of the young is nothing compared to the self-doubt of the old. And this, perhaps, was their final triumph over him. Instead of killing him, they had allowed him to live, and by allowing him to live, they had killed him. This was the final, unanswerable irony to his life: that by allowing him to live, they had killed him.