Article added in February 2001
The Grammy Award winning performance
Shostakovich String Quartets by the Emerson String Quartet -
a biography of Dimitri Shostakovich
Article added on February
27, 2001, based on the article in the German edition of March/April
Shostakovich: The String
Deutsche Grammophon, 2000. Get the CD-box from: Amazon.com,
The Emerson String Quartet was created in 1976.
Its founders are the violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip
Setzer. In 1977, violinist Lawrence Dutton and, in 1979, cellist David Finckel
joined them. The quartet borrowed its name from the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In 1978, the Emerson String Quartet won the Naumburg Award for
Chamber Music. It is the resident quartet at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington
and at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, Connecticut.
After recording the complete quartets by Beethoven
and Bartůk, the Emerson String Quartet turned to the 15 string quartets
composed by Shostakovich. For four years, the quartet had played them at
their concerts. The five CDs are the result of live recordings, but for
each of the quartets, several performances at the Aspen Music Festival
were used and cut together.
Shostakovich (1906-75) wrote his quartets
between 1938 (Quartet 1, op. 49) and 1974 (Quartet 15, op.
144). He began to deal with this form of music at a relatively late age,
first in 1931, when he composed two pieces for a string quartet for his
opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk. In 1936, the years of Stalin's terror
began with arrests, executions and show trials. In the following three
years, more than seven million people were arrested. In an article
published in the Pravda intitled "Chaos instead of music",
Shostakovich was accused of creating "deliberately a disharmonic,
chaotic flood of sounds". His music was called "an absurd game,
which could end in disaster".
Later, Shostakovich wrote about his first
quartet of 1938 that, while composing, he tried to imagine images of his
childhood, naive and cheerful atmospheres, that match with Spring.
Mostly, Shostakovich hid behind a mask, but here and there he let his true
face appear, as Philip Setzer remarks in his sleeve notes. As for the
quartets, each and every one has its history, which is reflected in the
music and this is what makes them so impressive - as the recordings by the Emerson String
Quartet testify. The 15 stories are told in the CD's booklet. The
performances as well as the compositions are outstanding.
The Memoirs of Dimitri Shostakovich
Published by Solomon Volkov. Article based on the new German edition
published by Propylšen in 1999 (1979), therefore, quotes may differ
from the English edition. Get the US paperback edition from Amazon.com
and the German edition Die Memoiren des Dmitri Schostakowitsch from
1979, posthumously, the memoirs of Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) were
published by the Russian musicologist Solomon Volkov, who had smuggled the
manuscript abroad before he emigrated to the United States in 1976. The
memoirs are the result of conversations Volkov had with Shostakovich.
The composer signed the pages he had read with the word "read" and
his initials. In 1974, Shostakovich gave Volkov a picture with the
dedication: "... In memory of the discussions about Glasunov,
Meyerhold. D. Sh." After its publication, the book was immediately
attacked by the Soviets because it contained a lot of political
observations and unsparing comments, which were embarrassing for the
Soviet Government. With the help of family members and friends of
Shostakovich, the Soviets tried to question the book's content and Volkov's
integrity. Despite a few critical, even derogatory remarks about
the United States, the memoirs were a useful weapon in the Cold War
because they were politically correct from the Western perspective. They
were a reckoning with the Soviet regime in
general and Stalinism in particular - and all this from a man who, despite moments of apparent
disgrace, was considered for decades a State artist in accordance with the
Despite these facts, the book was considered
a fake for years. Laurel E. Fay remarked upon non-matching data between the
memoirs and Shostakovich's curriculum vitae. Furthermore, several passages
of the book could be found in earlier essays by the composer, often word
for word. In 1981, Shostakovich's son Maxim emigrated in the West. Slowly,
he began to move away from his earlier criticism of the memoirs. In the
preface to the Finnish edition of the book, he completely changed sides.
He began to stress the critical position of his father towards the Soviet
regime. Ian MacDonald's book The
New Shostakovich, published in 1990, did not contradict the general
the memoirs, neither did Shostakovich's letters from the years 1941 to 1971,
published in 1995 by Isaak Glikman. Even if still not everybody is
convinced of the authenticity of the memoirs today, including Shostakovich's
third wife, a majority of specialists consider them an authentic source.
The passages repeated word for word are now explained by the photographic
memory of the composer. The book contains a lot of insights, information
on teachers, composers and other artists as well as on the functioning of
the Stalinist regime. Shostakovich's judgements are often harsh, extremely
open and sometimes unfair. At least after the period of Stalinist terror,
one would have wished that he had been more critical in public too. But he
remained entirely in line with the Party. The remark that, at least
in his music, Shostakovich never lied is justified. Whatever the truth about the book's
authenticity: Se non Ť vero,
Ť ben trovato. -
by Dmitri Shostakovich.
Quartet. Copyright: Deutsche Grammophon.
Added on July 24, 2006: On July 28, 2006 in the year of the composer's 100th
birthday, EMI will release a 10 box set with all 15 symphonies by Dimitri
Shostakovich recorded by Mariss Jansons directing various orchestras. Get
the CD box set Shostakovich - The Complete Symphonies from
by Dmitri Shostakovich.
Shostakovich with his mother.
Shostakovich with Ivan
Sollertinski (on the right),
1930s. Coypright: Propylšen.