Shostakovich and Stalin by Solomon Volkov
The Extraordinary Relationship Between the Great Composer and the Brutal Dictator

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“Music illuminates a person and provides him with his last hope; even Stalin, a butcher, knew that.” So said the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose first compositions in the 1920s identified him as an avant-garde wunderkind. But that same singularity became a liability a decade later under the totalitarian rule of Stalin, with his unpredictable grounds for the persecution of artists. Solomon Volkov—who cowrote Shostakovich’s controversial 1979 memoir, Testimony—describes how this lethal uncertainty affected the composer’s life and work.

Volkov, an authority on Soviet Russian culture, shows us the “holy fool” in Shostakovich: the truth speaker who dared to challenge the supreme powers. We see how Shostakovich struggled to remain faithful to himself in his music and how Stalin fueled that struggle: one minute banning his work, the next encouraging it. We see how some of Shostakovich’s contemporaries—Mandelstam, Bulgakov, and Pasternak among them—fell victim to Stalin’s manipulations and how Shostakovich barely avoided the same fate. And we see the psychological price he paid for what some perceived as self-serving aloofness and others saw as rightfully defended individuality.

This is a revelatory account of the relationship between one of the twentieth century’s greatest composers and one of its most infamous tyrants.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Solomon Volkov

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Solomon Volkov is the award-winning author of several notable books about Russian culture, including St. Petersburg: A Cultural History and Shostakovich and Stalin, published worldwide. After moving to the US from the Soviet Union, he became a cultural commentator at the Voice of America and then Radio Liberty broadcasting to the USSR (and later, Russia), discussing contemporary artistic developments in his former homeland. He lives in New York City with his wife, Marianna, a pianist and photographer.
Published December 18, 2007 by Knopf. 313 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Arts & Photography, Travel. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Shostakovich also traded in subtleties, such as insinuating Jewish motifs into his music in order to protest official anti-Semitism.) Stalin was mercurial, of course—an actor who flubbed his lines in the leader’s presence went on to win the Stalin Prize, but the relevant cultural officials were p...

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Publishers Weekly

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Shostakovich's tortured relationship to the Soviet authorities was a main subject of Testimony , a book published after the composer's death by Volkov, who claimed that it contained Shostakovich's own remembrances.

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The New York Review of Books

According to Volkov, Shostakovich chose him as the person to record his private thoughts, and in a series of interviews he spoke about his recollections and opinions, which Volkov did not tape but wrote down in shorthand.

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The New York Review of Books

There are precious few original observations or insights in Orlando Figes’s review of my book Shostakovich and Stalin: The Extraordinary Relationship Between the Great Composer and the Brutal Dictator [NYR, June 10].

Jul 15 2004 | Read Full Review of Shostakovich and Stalin: The ...

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