America's Most Brilliant Musicologist – is now online

America's Most Brilliant Musicologist – is now online


norman lebrecht

August 31, 2011

The Shostakovich Wars – or how US academics ganged up on Solomon Volkov’s book Testimony – is now online and free to read.

The chapter that will excite most interest is a devastating, line-for-line account of the twists and turns that Professor Richard Taruskin has performed to maintain an intellectually untenable position.

Taruskin is not just the Most Brilliant – an accolade bestowed on his by the authors Allan B Ho and Dmitri Feofanov* – but also the most powerful musicologist in America, a maker and breaker of academic careers.

This contrapuntal account of his works makes irresistible reading.

Here’s in the link: –

*Allan B Ho has just contacted me to disown the Most Brilliant accolade. It was, he says, bestowed by ‘one of Taruski’ns longtime friends, Rose Subotnik, hence the quotation marks.  He or his publisher then used that for promotion purposes on the dust jacket of his book “Text and Act”. ‘




  • I remember these debates from the later 90s on the AMS list. They were a reminder of Sayre’s law that academic politics are so bitter because the stakes are so low. True to musicological form, the discussions had all the drama and color of a potty-mouth flea circus. Only we composers outdo them in small-mindedness.

  • Alan Williams says:

    I was a postgrad student in the University of Manchester alongside Pauline Fairclough, and as a composer maintained a wry smile at it all. But I do remember one anecdote at the time – after a particularly vigorous debate involving Taruskin, possibly at the Glasgow conference in 2000, an audience member stood up and said “Gentlemen, please! For the sake of musicology!”

    It has passed into legend, and is now code for any storm in a teacup.

  • Doug says:

    I think Taruskin is angry first about the Shostakovitch quote regarding musicologists in Testimony. I would be too if I were a failed musician with dreams of grandeur. Besides, I can read “Marxist” in between the lines of everything he’s written and he’s probably upset that a brilliant artist like Shostakovitch could actually create great art within, and despite of, the Soviet system, whereas a ‘useful idiot’ like Taruskin is now only left to daydream about his Marixist Utopia.

  • TJ says:

    I studied with Taruskin at UC Berkeley and can personally vouch for his brilliance. In my time at Berkeley, Taruskin attracted numerous scholars from Russia to Berkeley to give lectures. He is and was clearly up-to-date on the state of Russian musicology. Readers need to go no further than his two volume “Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions” to understand how truly original and sound Taruskin’s scholarship and methodology is.

    Doug’s allegation that Taruskin is a “failed musician with dreams of grandeur” could not be further from the truth. In the 1970’s Taruskin was an eminent viola da gamba player on a level equal with Jordi Savall. He made several landmark recordings as a choral director essentially re-introducing the world to the music of Antoine Brumel.

    After reading the relevant parts of “The Shostakovich Wars” it is clear Ho and Fanofanov distort Taruskin’s allegations. Ho and Feofanov frequently cite Taruskin’s “Danger of Music” and “On Russian Music,” but both books are compendiums of Taruskin’s popular and occasional writings on music – e, I should note, that were never intended for academic journals, rather, to bring the popular audience summaries of academic debates. Yes it is tabloid musicology, as Ho/Feofanov asset, but Taruskin never suggested it was anything else than that.

    The Shostakovich wars spends much time (and here is the only real new information offered) showing that Volkov probably had more time with Shostakovich than has been previously substantiated. The basic facts are unchanged:

    1) Volkov sold the original typescript (“Moscow typescript”) to an anonymous private collector in 1997 or 1998 after it was held for years in a Swiss bank. It was only made available to Harper and Row once, which had a clear conflict of interest to prove its authenticity. All other research has been done from photocopies. Without the typescript available for an examination by scholarly hands, its authenticity will always be in doubt.

    2). The only pages in the typescript signed by Shostakovich (читал. Д. Шостакович) “read by D. Shostakovich” consist of WORD FOR WORD QUOTATIONS OF MATERIAL PUBLISHED IN THE SOVIET UNION BEFORE SHOSTAKOVICH’S DEATH. More to the point, NO OTHER PLACE THAN THE SIGNED PAGES in the manuscript include such word-for-word quotations. And the killer: the quoted passages IN EVERY CASE extend exactly one word past the typed page. This cannot be coincidental.

    • Dmitry Feofanov says:

      Based on what Mr. TJ wrote above, he does not understand what The Shostakovich Wars is all about.

      It is about academic integrity.

      Everything that Allan Ho and I report in The Shostakovich Wars is publicly available. Yet it is not reported.

      Where are “Lenochka, Lorochka, Milochka, Ritochka, and especially Malcolm Hamrickovich”? Where is “America’s Most Brilliant Musicologist” himself? Why don’t they report the facts, as more and more of them become available?

      That’s what academic integrity is all about.

      And to say that “the only real new information” in SW is regarding the number of meetings between Volkov and Shostakovich is to demonstrate one’s own lack of academic integrity. I invite the readers to verify whether or not this is so for themselves.

      The link is

      Dmitry Feofanov