Jim A.

Dmitri Shostakovich

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What I have listened to so far of Dmitri Shostakovich makes me think that he would have been a great Romantic composer had he not been spiritually broken by the Soviet system (the root premises behind which he accepted, from what I've heard).

Thoughts, anyone?

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It's such a shame he left the US to go back to the Soviet Union. The famous filmmaker Eisenstein did the same. I don't know why.

I don't know anything about Shostakovich in the U.S. In the case of Eisenstein, however, if he did live in the U.S. (I didn't know he moved here at one time), it's perfectly understandable why he would move back to the U.S.S.R.: he was, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn once christened him in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, an "ass-kisser"; he would do anything to gain favor with the Soviet leaders, and his films, at least the ones I've seen, glorify the "Masses" as an individual hero (just watch The Battleship Potemkin), duty, collectivism and self-sacrifice (watch Alexander Nevsky). He believed you were okay if you were "one of us". He was truly a Soviet film director.

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It's such a shame he left the US to go back to the Soviet Union. The famous filmmaker Eisenstein did the same. I don't know why.

I don't know anything about Shostakovich in the U.S. In the case of Eisenstein, however, if he did live in the U.S. (I didn't know he moved here at one time), it's perfectly understandable why he would move back to the U.S.S.R.: he was, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn once christened him in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, an "ass-kisser"; he would do anything to gain favor with the Soviet leaders, and his films, at least the ones I've seen, glorify the "Masses" as an individual hero (just watch The Battleship Potemkin), duty, collectivism and self-sacrifice (watch Alexander Nevsky). He believed you were okay if you were "one of us". He was truly a Soviet film director.

[sarcasm]...You are referring to the artistic genius Sergei Eisenstein?...[/sarcasm]

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It's such a shame he left the US to go back to the Soviet Union. The famous filmmaker Eisenstein did the same. I don't know why.

I don't know anything about Shostakovich in the U.S. In the case of Eisenstein, however, if he did live in the U.S. (I didn't know he moved here at one time), it's perfectly understandable why he would move back to the U.S.S.R.: he was, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn once christened him in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, an "ass-kisser"; he would do anything to gain favor with the Soviet leaders, and his films, at least the ones I've seen, glorify the "Masses" as an individual hero (just watch The Battleship Potemkin), duty, collectivism and self-sacrifice (watch Alexander Nevsky). He believed you were okay if you were "one of us". He was truly a Soviet film director.

[sarcasm]...You are referring to the artistic genius Sergei Eisenstein?...[/sarcasm]

Yep. Eisenstein was a pioneer in film editing. His innovations were philosophical at root. One famous demonstration was of an actor with a neutral expression against a blank wall. He used music and lighting to recast the image as "fearful," "happy," "sad," etc. His idea was that the individual actor needed to contribute nothing psychologically to the shot -- he, the director/editor would create the emotional content. It is certainly true that so much of what is done post-filming to heighten and shape the drama of a scene can make a good scene great and modern film acting technique has become quite minimal, given the size of the face on the screen in a close-up, for example. But his negation of the importance of the actor, the individual, is overstated and, I think, borne of a contempt for the individual. It reminds me of Schoenberg, who, irritated with the necessity of working with actual human beings, predicted hopefully that someday singers would be replaced by a machine so that he wouldn't have to deal with them.

It's ironic that true collaboration can take place only in an individualistic context, in which the individual's contribution is actually recognized and valued.

As far as Shostakovich, I don't know his actual story vis a vis Stalin, but I saw -- a long time ago -- a one-act stage play which had a fictional scene between Stalin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Shostakovich, eventually just Stalin and Shostakovich, in which Stalin explains the kind of music he wants for the new Russia and, at the climax, pleasantly, then with increasing ferocity, breaks every record of Shostakovich's music in his collection, one at a time, leaving Shostakovich a trembling basket-case.

Who knows what really went on and I'm not a huge fan of his music, but Shostakovich started a darling of the Revolution and ended up condemned and ignored by the leadership, as had so many idealistic artists before him, from Mayakovsky on. They saw themselves as the vanguard, but were trampled on by the thugs they extolled.

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What I have listened to so far of Dmitri Shostakovich makes me think that he would have been a great Romantic composer had he not been spiritually broken by the Soviet system (the root premises behind which he accepted, from what I've heard).

Thoughts, anyone?

The music of Shostakovich is, for me, almost unbearable to listen to, not because it is "bad"; quite the opposite: Shostakovich's music is among the most powerful and brilliantly written of the 20th century. I would describe the bulk of Shostakovich's work as music of extraordinary psychological and emotional devastation. Unrelentingly so. Nothing that he wrote could be classified as constituting a positive sense of life or uplifting testament to man and the human spirit. Even his great opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which is a parody of the Soviet system and which contains much expressionistic or Dada-like humor, presents a very dim view of human beings generally.

As to whether or not he would have been a "great Romantic composer", I cannot say. Stylistically, Shostakovich's work is an amalgam of various compositional techniques some Romantic (Mahler was a huge influence in that regard), some neo-Classical (Stravinsky, another influence), some Modernist (Hindemeth was a strong influence here). The best that can be said of Shostakovich with any certainty, I think, is that he was truly a composer of 20th Century Russia.

As for the philosophical premises he may or may not have "accepted", I do think it important to consider Shostakovich's circle of friends, acquaintances, correspondents and other artists he championed. From his earliest days, for example, he was an admirer of (the admiration was mutual) and frequent correspondent with Benjamin Britten and Sir Peter Pears, W.H. Auden, the great Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, and Boris Pasternak (whose horrible treatment by the Soviet regime over the Western publication of Dr. Zhivago served as inspiration for Shostakovich's Cello Concert No. 1). Later, his closest circle of friends and acquaintances included Mstislav Rostropovich, Galina Vishnevskaya (there are other Forum posts on the latter) and, in a limited way through the Rostropoviches, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I do not know whether Solzhenitsyn's view of Shostakovich -- that he was something of a coward for reaching "accommodation" with the Soviet regime in his last years (I'm reminded of Miss Rand's critical view of Richard Strauss here) -- reflects a basic difference of philosophical premises or whether Shostakovich's apparent acquiescence was the action of a very sick and dying man who wanted nothing so much as to be left alone at the end of his life. Whatever the case, I would be quite surprised if his own tortured experience under the Soviet system did not serve as a contributing factor in Shostakovich's outlook and how that translated into his work and that, perhaps in that sense, it is true that he was "broken".

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It's such a shame he left the US to go back to the Soviet Union. The famous filmmaker Eisenstein did the same. I don't know why.

I don't know anything about Shostakovich in the U.S. In the case of Eisenstein, however, if he did live in the U.S. (I didn't know he moved here at one time), it's perfectly understandable why he would move back to the U.S.S.R.: he was, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn once christened him in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, an "ass-kisser"; he would do anything to gain favor with the Soviet leaders, and his films, at least the ones I've seen, glorify the "Masses" as an individual hero (just watch The Battleship Potemkin), duty, collectivism and self-sacrifice (watch Alexander Nevsky). He believed you were okay if you were "one of us". He was truly a Soviet film director.

[sarcasm]...You are referring to the artistic genius Sergei Eisenstein?...[/sarcasm]

Yep. Eisenstein was a pioneer in film editing. His innovations were philosophical at root. One famous demonstration was of an actor with a neutral expression against a blank wall. He used music and lighting to recast the image as "fearful," "happy," "sad," etc. His idea was that the individual actor needed to contribute nothing psychologically to the shot -- he, the director/editor would create the emotional content. It is certainly true that so much of what is done post-filming to heighten and shape the drama of a scene can make a good scene great and modern film acting technique has become quite minimal, given the size of the face on the screen in a close-up, for example. But his negation of the importance of the actor, the individual, is overstated and, I think, borne of a contempt for the individual. It reminds me of Schoenberg, who, irritated with the necessity of working with actual human beings, predicted hopefully that someday singers would be replaced by a machine so that he wouldn't have to deal with them.

It's ironic that true collaboration can take place only in an individualistic context, in which the individual's contribution is actually recognized and valued.

As far as Shostakovich, I don't know his actual story vis a vis Stalin, but I saw -- a long time ago -- a one-act stage play which had a fictional scene between Stalin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Shostakovich, eventually just Stalin and Shostakovich, in which Stalin explains the kind of music he wants for the new Russia and, at the climax, pleasantly, then with increasing ferocity, breaks every record of Shostakovich's music in his collection, one at a time, leaving Shostakovich a trembling basket-case.

Who knows what really went on and I'm not a huge fan of his music, but Shostakovich started a darling of the Revolution and ended up condemned and ignored by the leadership, as had so many idealistic artists before him, from Mayakovsky on. They saw themselves as the vanguard, but were trampled on by the thugs they extolled.

The Battleship Potemkin is presently playing on Netflix Instant, but after a few minutes I decided I wouldn't live long enough to watch the rest. It doesn't bother me to read subtitles, but it was too much with the Russian dialog also written. I knew all those sullen "we must help our comrades" faces were going to depress me. Without such knowledgeable Forum members, however, I would have missed the opportunity to watch the same shot of waves repeated 3 times. I always enjoy learning something new.

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