First some disputed facts, then some debatable opinions.
Larry Sherwood, and my initial response:
>>Jim Tobin references Shostakovich's fourth string quartet, and some
>>cicumstances attending its early performances. ...
>>It appears that the story Jim repeated is one of the myths surrounding
Larry quotes Valentin Berlinksy, cellist of the Borodin quartet as saying:
>> "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."
>Larry has helped me recover my reference, which was Stormy Applause:
>Making Music in a Worker's State (1989), by Rostislav Dubinsky [Dubinskii],
>who was... first violinist of the Borodin Quartet, as I said.
Larry correctly identifies the quartet and the year of the alleged
incident (1949, the year after all the major Soviet composers got into
BIG TROUBLE.) What Dubinsky says, in his chapter "Shostakovich," dated
1975, on page 279, is that the Borodin Quartet rehearsed secretly at
night, with muted instruments, when the quartet was new, in 1948. A
year later, when "music seemed to be less controlled, we wrote a letter
to the Ministry of Culture, asking permission to perform the quartet in
public. Strangely enough, we received an answer: They wanted to audition
it first.... We put our hearts and souls into the performance. We
emphasized everything that socialist realism requires to be concealed.
We spoke the truth! When we had finished silence fell. ...I hastened
to say, 'Will you permit us to play it once more?' We were given a nod
of assent. This time we played it differently. The tempi were faster,
the sound lighter. We removed all possible 'anti-Soviet' insinuations
from the music. Even our faces tried to look optimistic. We lied! We
presented the foreboding mood of the first movement as hope for a brighter
future; the plaintive lyricism of the second as a pleasant little waltz;
the sinister muted scherzo became a cheerful dance; and the tragic Jewish
themes of the finale took on traditional Oriental coloring. The tension
ended. There were smiles. We were thanked, even praised. The music
was still banned."
Here are recollections, after many years, of two immediate witnesses to
the same event. I have no present basis for impugning either one, so
this makes for an interesting study in historiography. I might just add
that Dubinsky left the quartet in disgust with Soviet bureaucracy, the
same year as this incident, as an emigre to Israel.
The really interesting disagreement between the violinist and the cellist
here is whether it is possible to "lie" in music. I do know some recorded
performances, for instance--not literally lies, of course--of Mozart
slow movements, for instance, the mood and spirit of which seems amazingly
transformed simply by different tempos. A truly extreme, not to say
grotesque, instance is the way Saint Saens turned a can-can into a