Shostakovich: A Life

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Oxford University Press, 2005 - Biography & Autobiography - 458 pages
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For this authoritative post-cold-war biography of Shostakovich's illustrious but turbulent career under Soviet rule, Laurel E. Fay has gone back to primary documents: Shostakovich's many letters, concert programs and reviews, newspaper articles, and diaries of his contemporaries. An indefatigable worker, he wrote his arresting music despite deprivations during the Nazi invasion and constant surveillance under Stalin's regime.
Shostakovich's life is a fascinating example of the paradoxes of living as an artist under totalitarian rule. In August 1942, his Seventh Symphony, written as a protest against fascism, was performed in Nazi-besieged Leningrad by the city's surviving musicians, and was triumphantly broadcast to the German troops, who had been bombarded beforehand to silence them. Alone among his artistic peers, he survived successive Stalinist cultural purges and won the Stalin Prize five times, yet in 1948 he was dismissed from his conservatory teaching positions, and many of his works were banned from performance. He prudently censored himself, in one case putting aside a work based on Jewish folk poems. Under later regimes he balanced a career as a model Soviet, holding government positions and acting as an international ambassador with his unflagging artistic ambitions.
In the years since his death in 1975, many have embraced a view of Shostakovich as a lifelong dissident who encoded anti-Communist messages in his music. This lucid and fascinating biography demonstrates that the reality was much more complex. Laurel Fay's book includes a detailed list of works, a glossary of names, and an extensive bibliography, making it an indispensable resource for future studies of Shostakovich.

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Shostakovich: a life

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The Cold War has ended, but writers on Shostakovich now face its effects on information, as Fay's own published criticism of some Shostakovich-related work has shown. This meticulously documented ... Read full review


Childhood 19061919
Conservatory 19191926
Spreading Wings 19261928
Pioneer 19291932
TragedySatire 19321936
Crisis 19361937
Reprieve 19381941
The War Years 19411944
Consolidation 19581961
Renewal 19611966
Jubilees 19661969
Immortality 19701975
List of Works
Glossary of Names
Select Bibliography

Victory 19451948
Public and Private 19481953
The Thaw 19531958

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Page 4 - Testimony would still furnish a poor source for the serious biographer. The embittered, "deathbed" disclosures of someone ravaged by illness, with festering psychological wounds and scores to settle, are not to be relied upon for accuracy, fairness, or balance when recreating the impact of the events of a lifetime as they actually occurred.

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About the author (2005)

Laurel E. Fay is a widely published writer on Russian and Soviet music, who has been traveling to and studying in Russia since 1971. She lives in Staten Island, New York.

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