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Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, Second Edition Paperback – September 3, 2006

4.8 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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  • Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, Second Edition
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for the previous edition: "Elizabeth Wilson's magnificent new oral history, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, [is] the one indispensable book about the composer."--Richard Taruskin, The New York Times

Praise for the previous edition: "[Wilson] has gathered numerous recollections of Shostakovich and organized them into an enormous biography that follows every step of his life. . . . Together, these diverse sources provide a mosaic portrait of a shy, fidgety, punctilious musician."--New Yorker

"[T]he most important book ever published about the greatest Russian composer of the twentieth century. . . . For the first time, Shostakovich's anguished personality comes into focus, and his emotionally devastating encounters with the Soviet government are put into trustworthy perspective."--The New York Daily News

About the Author

Elizabeth Wilson, a cellist and Russianist, studied at the Moscow State Conservatory with Mstislav Rostropovich between 1964 and 1971. She is a teacher, writer, and performer.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 600 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Second edition (September 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691128863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691128863
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #480,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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In 1936 Stalin walked out of Dmitri Shostakovich's opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Soon an article in Pravda appeared: "Muddle Instead of Music" - inept criticism, but devastating effect. The political war for Shostakovich's soul had begun.

Performance of his Fourth Symphony was canceled. Friends avoided him. Musicians supporting him were persecuted. And as Shostakovich, one of the 20th century's greatest composers, would acknowledge much later, had it not been for the totalitarian regime under which he lived, "I would have written more pure music."

Yet this same man who suffered under Soviet communism also joined the Communist Party in 1960, even spoke or signed statements against Soviet dissidents. What are we to make of him?

In Elizabeth Wilson's artfully woven collection of reminiscences, Shostakovich (1906-75) emerges three-dimensional, fascinating, yet still enigmatic - neither Soviet cheerleader nor covert subversive, as some would have him. First published in 1994, the book is freshly augmented with new material for his centenary. The voices of family, friends, composers, conductors and other musicians make riveting reading; they document Shostakovich's struggle to balance the demands of musical genius with those of a repressive state.

Wilson's credentials are first-rate: She studied cello with the great Mstislav Rostropovich, a close friend of Shostakovich's, and attended several premieres of the composer's late work. She documents in chilling detail the fears under which Shostakovich worked, the subterfuges he used to make his music pass in a hostile climate while still mining his soul's depths.

For 1936 wasn't his last run-in with the state.
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Although not as thorough on the music of the great composer itself, this book is a must read for anyone interested in Shostakovich, or music and Soviet history in general.

Wilson lucidly supports her interviews and articles from colleagues, friends, and family of the composer with a curious detachment that serves to clarify rather than alienate the subject matter. The articles and interviews themselves are priceless artifacts, and presented here in an intelligent fashion.

Shostakovich's life is portrayed here with startling intimacy. The reader will find him or herself able to visualize the genius composer and his quirks, and those who listen to the relevant works of music will find their messages so much more meaningful.
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For anyone interested in Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) the man and his music, *Shostakovich: A Life Remembered (Second Edition)* is a compelling book. In a carefully researched and organized work, cellist and author Elizabeth Wilson presents a biography of Shostakovich comprising collated reminiscences and value judgments of his contemporaries that form the bulk of 537 pages of main text, along with her own input and documentary evidence where available. The prevailing political and cultural environment of the Soviet Union at the time looms large in the background. So many names familiar and unfamiliar appear throughout the text, that 30 pages of Biographical Notes come in handy for identification and as reminders of who's who in the world of Shostakovich. The detailed Index will prove useful to the serious reader of such a large, wide-ranging book. The Acknowledgements and the Annotated List of Sources give an idea of the vast amount of study, consultation and interviews carried out by Wilson mostly in Russia, but also Switzerland, Germany, UK and USA, in what must be termed a labor of love.

His parents wanted to name him Jaroslav, but the priest who baptized him insisted on Dmitri. So begins the story of the boy prodigy, who matured into one of the most significant composers of the twentieth century. Testimonies by more than 60 contributors authenticate some of Shostakovich's personal attributes, details of his life, and the way he went about composing music under often taxing circumstances and the shadow of a political system that sought to regulate the arts -- indeed all aspects of life -- to conform to "socialist reality."

Almost from the start, the young Dmitri (Mitya to his friends) did not have an easy life; but he was highly disciplined and determined to succeed.
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Elizabeth Wilson did a great job writing this book.It must be difficult to write a balanced biography on a deceased artist which lived under a different political-cultural regime compared to modern western regimes. Only recently I have read several biographies of Musicans which were very disappointing. Wilson collected lots of personal information supplied by friends, collaborators and other world known Musicans. This information provided an excellent picture of Shostakowich the giant Musican his outstanding work and personal difficulties. I heartily recommend this book to every Music lover.
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What a wonderful book! Shostakovich's hall-of-mirrors personality will probably never be completely understood by us Westerners, but this volume does a magnificent job of presenting his life as seen and understood by those closest to him. Far, far more reliable than the debunked "Testimony." Very highly recommended.
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