Dmitrii Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (On his 60th birthday), by Maria Yudina
The significance, importance and scale of Dmitrii Dmitriyevich Shostakovich as a creative artist knows no borders, but nevertheless he is first and foremost a deeply Russian man and composer. It is quite possible, that this realization that he has numerous attributes that lie at the very core of the Russian culture and tradition, and connect him to Andrei Rublev, Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and Lenin [this article was published in 1966 in "Moskovskii Komsomolets", a popular Youth Party newspaper, which is probably the reason for the last name on this list], gives us a key to understanding his art and life.
However, there are other unsubtractable connections.
Compositions of Dmitrii Dmitriyevich Shostakovich rise above us as dazzling mountain peaks, reminding us of Shakespeare's art. Fortunately, Dmitrii Dmitriyevich is now at the height of his genius and enormous creative powers; and we, his grateful contemporaries, congratulate him on his birthday, and his recovery from recent illness, the illness of his heart, that has room for all of us; and we pray and hope that it is too early to summarize his art. The hope to witness birth and realization of many opera by this favorite composer fills us with happiness.
Developing our comparison to Shakespeare, we envision in Shostakovich art abysses, landslides, and rapid streams consuming in their implacable run both man and nature, as in "Lady Macbeth of Mtzensk", or in the unbearable sorrow of the Tenth Symphony, next to almost unreachable peaks of most of the symphonies, quartets, preludes and fugues for piano, the Second piano sonata, the vocal cycle on Pushkin poems.
Echoing the last words of Alexander Blok: "Learn through suffering!" - from his "Shakespeare's 'King Lear', a speech to actors" (Petrograd, 1920), we inevitably recall this ancient wisdom, when we realize that the spiritual shock we experience is some kind of a gift from the tragic Shostakovich music. It draws us into the vastness of the "Historic Chronicles": the Seventh, Eleventh and Thirteenth Symphonies, the chorales, devoted to the events of 1905, the Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello. The unprecedented novel realism of these two compositions, transformed and generalized to an unheard of degree, sometimes surpasses in its power and blinding truth both Shakespeare's chronicles and even Pushkin's and Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov". We should add that Shostakovich does not strive for an equilibrium of an epic, he involves us directly in the catastrophes of modern times.
However, we also know examples of incomparable humour, brilliance, inexhaustible creativity, such as in "The Nose" (an opera based on Gogol's play), vocal cycles on English texts and Sasha Chernyi poems; sparkles of this humour spread over all his compositions, incinerating any trace of spiritual laziness.
Shostakovich and Pushkin are ingenious Russian Europeans. The composer exposes the sins of man and humanity, as Dostoyevsky and Mahler, bursting into tears of compassion, as Shakespeare; he is encompassing all and everything. However, in many important respects his art connects him also to Mozart and Schubert. We should remind our reader that each and every connection and analogy to other authors should be understood only as a comparison of kindred spiritual atmospheres; Dmitrii Dmitriyevich Shostakovich is always himself, he never "borrows", he is overflowing with his own treasures, that he alone brought into being, but no matter how ingenious a creator, he always lives not in an interplanetary vacuum but in the history of man and humanity! Shostakovich has his own precise language, his constructive thinking, his rhythmic and intonational formulas, signs, symbols and images.
Let us return to some connections: Mozart and Schubert. What are they? Oh, they are in the whole magnificent, shining and transparent world of Shostakovich. These "lightened endings" - the finales of many of his compositions, the codas in the finales, "the last words of the dying", or the words of a burial service, the end of ends, the meeting of man and Eternity, for which Christians pray all their lives, "the painless, unshameful and peaceful end" ... We will not ask the author whether this was his line of thinking, that is his personal secret and mystery. What matters is the presence of the angelic spirit in the pages of his compositions, and the influence of this music on listeners.
In these last words of the author, when a relief comes as a result of all the road taken by him and his listener, the pain ceases, peace and tranquility come, shines the purification of man, sometimes even a smile, or its transformation into a different essence, that is not always accessible to our comprehension; indeed, this is Transfiguration. Let us use the words of Vladimir Solovyev: "The Evil past\\ Drowns in blood,-\\ Rises transformed \\ Sun of love," ("White bells again") or Boris Pasternak: "The hand of artist is most powerful\\ And washes dirt from every thing.\\ Out of his studio transformed\\ Comes life, reality and past..." ("After a thunderstorm") [all poetry was translated verbatim]
Therefore, allowing ourselves to comment on some Shostakovich finales we talk now about some, that seem to us especially significant in this respect: about the finale of the Cello sonata, about the finale of the Piano quintet, about the finale of the Thirteenth Symphony (we do not talk now about the finale of the Eighth Symphony - this is a separate topic and essence). We hear in the finale of the Cello sonata a vague remembrance of a city song, may be even a factory one. It is hummed by a slightly drunk character who is somewhat similar to the people of Gor'ky, Hemingway, Andrei Platonov, - a simple-minded worker, who has his own necessary and unsubtractable place in life, with a slightly philosophic role, who passed through great and small troubles in his own way, who is in peace both with his past and mysterious future... The finale of the quintet is much more complicated: after all its outbursts of happiness, after a worrisome sharpness of its culmination, that views the traversed path and its hardship, mostly summarizing the exceptional and significant depth and diversity of the past four movements; the Gothic, angular beginning of the prelude and its subsequent thoughtful and even elegiac character, the grandness of the fugue and Intermezzo, that contemplate the meaning of the medieval culture, merge with it, or move toward it, and then realize it in modernity, - all contradictions disappear in the coda: the bird is chirping - merrily, lightly and happily. Isn't this bird similar to the famous mysterious magpie of Peter Breugel Sr. that is present at the charred ruins among the little that is left after the recent total destruction? No, the bird from the Quintet is both kinder and wiser. It is joyous with all of us; the Breigel magpie is "emotionless nature", it only states the facts, it is totally ignorant. The whole composition insists on the transparent light of kindness. The coda of the finale of the Thirteenth Symphony is the crown of these ideas, combined with the unbelievable, incomprehensible beauty of its rhythmical and intonational formulas.
If we turn now to some of the slow movements in Shostakovich chamber compositions, what will we find there? In Largo of the cello sonata, and in the fugue of the Quintet - the artist and Eternity, their dialogue. This music organizes the inner world of the listener (and hence his life and actions), in the same manner as the ancient Russian art, the treasures of icon-painting, as the choral culture of religious music, as Bach "Passions" ...
A little comment: I have written once to Dmitrii Dmitriyevich about the coda of the fugue: "You don't know what you have written. That happens with ingenious artists ... This is Michelangelo 'Pieta'. And even in your rhythmic formulas ..."
We have now approached the crucial part: love and human heart. There is a lot of talk now about humanism, but there are many errors in these writings, such as its "Renaissance" roots. (However, it is not possible for us to dwell on a historic analysis that has no direct relation to the art and life of Dmitrii Dmitriyevich in this article.) This notion and its sources are abstract and cold. And we, the people of Russian culture, have neither ability nor will to create in heartless indifference. The outer image of the life of Dmitrii Dmitriyevich moves in travels and flights, congresses and premieres, in his care for lesser composers, in the beating of his warm heart. He carries in his heart and intellect a unified image of all the human race and the uniqueness of each human being, and of a genius; and in his art he faces the Eternity. He carries in himself all the complexity of the modern man and artist.
In Russia, history is too important to leave to the historians. Great novelists must show how people actually lived through events and reveal their moral significance. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained in his 1970 Nobel Prize lecture, literature transmits “condensed and irrefutable human experience” in a form that “defies distortion and falsehood. Thus literature . . . preserves and protects a nation’s soul.”
The latest Solzhenitsyn book to appear in English, March 1917, focuses on the great turning point of Russian, indeed world, history: the Russian Revolution.1 Just a century ago, that upheaval and the Bolshevik coup eight months later ushered in something entirely new and uniquely horrible. Totalitarianism, as invented by Lenin and developed by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others, aspired to control every aspect of life, to redesign the earth and to remake the human soul. As a result, the environment suffered unequaled devastation and tens of millions of lives were lost in t…