Jim Tobin references Shostakovich's fourth string quartet, and some
cicumstances attending its early performances. I'd like to clarify
his reference by quoting from Elizabeth Wilson's "Shostakovich: A Life
Remembered", who in turn quotes from Valentin Berlinksy, cellist of the
Shostakovich wrote his Fourth Quartet in 1949, the most difficult
year for him. We played this quartet at an audition with the
purpose of having it commissioned by the Ministry of Culture,
so that Shostakovich would get paid some money for it. Alexander
Kholodilin was the chief of the Ministry's Directorate of Musical
Instiutions, and responsible for taking the decision. He came
from Leningrad and was a cultured and intelligent man, with
progressive attitudes. He tried to help Shostakovich. The
audition succeeded in its purpose, and the Ministry bought the
quartet and paid Shostakovich a fee. However, it was only
performed in public after Stalin's death. There is a story in
circulation that we had to play the quartet twice on this occasion,
once in our genuine interpretation, and a second time 'optimistically',
to convince the authorities of its 'socialist' content. It's a
pretty invention, but not true; you cannot lie in music.
It appears that the story Jim repeated is one of the myths surrounding
DSCH's life. But the purpose of the performance for the chief from the
Ministry was not to obtain permission for a public performance: it was
to put some rubles in Shostakovich's pocket. One should bear in mind
that very little of DSCH's work was performed in public in 1949; I think
that didn't really change until after Stalin's death.
Some may be interested to know that the Borodin Quartet never got to
debut a work by Shostakovich: DSCH reserved that honor for the Beethoven
Quartet. Berlinsky relates he found that frustrating for a time,
But later, I realized that Dimitri Dmitriyevich was right. He
was a loyal friend, and he was loyal to his musicians.
Jim also takes Karl Miller to task for sticking his neck out by suggesting
that "Shostakovich's writing is more about emotion and Prokofiev's writing
is more often about music". While I'd like to hear Karl elaborate on
the point, I think he is in good company in sticking his neck out in
this manner. Robert Simpson claimed, I believe, that music was "about
form." Not that Simpson's music is bereft of strong feeling, but he
likely would have appreciated Robert Frost's little gem, "Pertinax":
Let chaos storm!
Let cloud shapes swarm!
I wait for form.
Larry Sherwood <[log in to unmask]>