The Shostakovich Wars: fresh evidence for Testimony's truth

The Shostakovich Wars: fresh evidence for Testimony's truth


norman lebrecht

August 29, 2011

US musicologists who persist in denying that Solomon Volkov’s book Testimony was based on extensive interviews with Dmitri Shostakovich mantain that the critic had hardly any contact with the great composer – at most, three meetings.

A forthcoming book, The Shostakovich Wars, by Allan B Ho and Dmitri Feofanov, soon to be posted online, brings fresh evidence of authenticity from an unexpected source – the pianist Vladimir Krainev, who shared first prize in the 1970 Tchaikovsky Competition with the Englishman John Lill and who became, soon after, Volkov’s roommate.  I have only just begun to read a pre-press version of Ho and Feofanov but what strikes me immediately is the disingenuous basis of some of the academic arguments, the desire to discredit Volkov overreaching the search for truth.

Here’s an exclusive extract from Ho and Feofanov:

Just as this book was about to go public, we learned of still another revelation
worth documenting.  This ‘bombshell’ came from Vladimir Krainev, who shared First
Prize with John Lill in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1970 and was one of
the most distinguished pianists in the world.  In his book Monolog Pianista (A Pianist's
Monologue), p. 106, published in 2011, Krainev confirms that ‘regular’ meetings took
place between Volkov and Shostakovich, after which Volkov told him about the content
of those conversations:
Then Zhenya [Yevgeny Nesterenko] moved to Moscow.  Both he and I
knew Solomon Volkov well.  The latter had been suggesting that we
perform duets.  I met Volkov during the Fourth Tchaikovsky Competition
— Solomon wrote a lot about it, did an extensive interview with me,
which he published in the Riga press.   We also met in Leningrad, where I
played often, and later Volkov moved to Moscow.  I lived in a three-room
apartment, with my mother, and she did not object for Solomon to stay
with us for about three months.  That was during the time when he had his
meetings with Shostakovich, which was the basis for the writing of
Testimony.   The authenticity of it, at a certain time, was contested, but the
fact that Volkov and Shostakovich met regularly is undeniable.  During the
nights, Solomon excitingly told me about their conversations, and also
advised me to join forces with Zhenya Nesterenko.



  • Luciano says:

    It has been proven that sections of Testimony were plagiarised word for word from already existing Soviet sources.

    The above excerpt can hardly be called a ‘bombshell’.

    Testimony may indeed reflect Shostakovich’s views and large sections might be authentic, but we will never know as Volkov did such a shoddy job it puts the whole document in doubt.

    • Herbert says:

      I seem to recall that some of those passages were actually taken from much earlier articles that Volkov himself had written for Soviet journals. If so, plagiarism would not be quite the right technical term. Plagiarism means you take someone else’s words or ideas without acknowledgement. Writers can ‘plagiarize’ themselves without using footnotes. I have read probably 7000 pages of Taruskin, whom I greatly respect in so many ways, and he has done just that from time to time, with short sections ‘lifted’ almost verbatim. It is legal, it is done, and it requires no explanation. All we can really say about the Volkov situation is that it is very complex indeed. Testimony was somehow written under extremely scary and dire conditions that most of us cannot imagine. Taruskin does know this and has said that we will not really know the full truth until Volkov himself “comes clean”. And Volkov will not talk, for reasons of his own.

      It is important to observe that since Testimony, Volkov has written many fine books with which we cannot quibble. The one based on Milstein is valuable and has much original material, found nowhere else, that I found extremely interesting. Nobody has ever charged Volkov for shady procedures there. Give the man a break. Even if, for the sake of argument,Testimony was such a ‘shoddy’ book, as Luciano says, Volkov has more than redeemed himself in the past 25 years. One thing I do observe from following the Shostakovich debate for the last 25 years is that academics are only human and can be very cruel to each other when fighting turf wars of opinion. To the point of willfully trying to hinder, damage or even destroy careers. Even as Volkov goes on to produce a steady stream of fine work, steadfastly refuse to do him the honour of citing his material and engaging with it. Only dredge up the one bad thing he did decades ago.

      The above revelation is indeed a bombshell in academic terms, given that one of the persistent charges against Volkov was that he rarely met with Shostakovich. Here now is direct proof that Volkov had plenty of material directly from Shostakovich himself. Now, to somehow still argue that Volkov would not have used such extensive material for Testimony simply will not wash. It puts the opposition in a very difficult and awkward position.

      • deb says:

        I was coming here to say exactly that: Volkov plagiarized himself. It’s a great book; I don’t care how many times he rewrote his own excerpts.

    • It has not been proven. It has been asserted by some interested parties.

      • Herbert says:

        True enough, but these interested parties are in a position to give us invaluable firsthand information. Krainev claimed to be there, in the thick of things. We either take him at his word, or not. Even Fay or Taruskin cannot easily discount him. They would have to resort to discrediting his person in order to weaken his information. But as far as we know, there is no reason at this point to assume he is disreputable. For me, his word is as good as Rostropovich or Ashkenazy. That is what has the potential to give some much-needed strength for Volkov.

  • greg hocking says:

    In 1988 I had the great pleasure of touring Mstislav Rostropovich around Australia,and had the opportunity to discuss many things with him during that time.I particularly asked him about the accuracy of Volkov’s book,which had recently been published.He answered very carefully that while he did not think the book was Shostakovich’s words,the book definitely represented Shostakovich’s views quite accurately.

  • Gentlemen:

    All of the above issues–the alleged “plagiarism,” Slava’s opinions (he had more than one), and a myriad others are addressed–we hope to everyone’s satisfaction (except for America’s Most Brilliant Musicologist, naturally), in The Shostakovich Wars, now available online. Do not take my word for it, by all means read it, it’s free.

    The book is posted at–


    Dmitry Feofanov

  • I still do not comprehend this argument. It’s like nobody has ever met an old guy who tells the same story at every party. If Volkov “plagiarised” himself, then as has been mentioned already on this thread a word other than plagiarism is wanted.

  • Olga says:

    His word beats the wife’s and the students’ and is regarded as “fresh evidence” in support of a book with plagiarized passages… Only in America is this degree of cynicism possible.