End of ceasefire in the Shostakovich wars

End of ceasefire in the Shostakovich wars


norman lebrecht

August 26, 2011

Battle is about to resume over the ideological legacy of Dmitri Shostakovich.

One side believe that Solomon Volkov’s book  Testimony consists essentially of the great composer’s thought and present him as a brave resistant to Soviet tyranny.

On the other side, the American musicologist Richard Taruskin and his international allies dismiss Testimony as fraudulent and maintain that Shostakovich was a cowering lackey who did as he was told by the regime.

The battle has gone quiet in the last couple of years, but for  much longer. A document titled The Shostakovich Wars is about to be posted by Dr Allan B Ho on his university website in Illinois. The anti-Testimony side can expect a blasting. One chapter is titled:

Richard Taruskin: ‘America’s Most Brilliant Musicologist’, or Just Another ‘Neuvazhai-Koryto’?  I think the Russian phrase (from Gogol) means ‘a pig who disrespects his trough’.

I will let you know as soon as the Dr Ho document goes online.



  • Fergus Macleod says:

    Surely now in the academic world to try and say that Testimony is a reliable document in a way proposed by Volkov is almost impossible – it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt to be a ‘fake’. Whether what it portrays Shostakovich’s feelings is a different question and will probably never be answered.

    • Michael Hurshell says:

      While “Testimony” certainly has its merits, I far prefer Elizabeth Wilson’s “Shostakovich: a Life Remembered” (Princeton Univ. Press, 1994). Most of the text is from documents or interviews, only a minimum of her own connecting prose. Also a great read!

    • Olga Meerson says:

      Volkov’s book is believable, even if he does not quote Shostakovich verbatim. I have heard confirmations from people who had known both (Volkov and Shostakovich) personally, including my own cousin, whom I trust in these matters (more than I trust Taruskin, judging by his own rather condescending tone in many cases, incluyding my cousin’s).. In any case, Volkov’s Testimony does not portray Shostakovich as a hero or a fighter but rather as being torn, constantly, yet sincere with himself, to the extent this constant schizophrenia afforded him the opportunity. To the extent it didn’t, he killed himself with alcoholism…. His tone perhaps too presumptuous, Monchik Volkov nonetheless doesn’t enjoy dancing on coffins. Taruskin does.