When DSCH met Isaiah

When DSCH met Isaiah


norman lebrecht

May 24, 2015

A play about the 1958 meeting of minds between Dmitri Shostakovich and the Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin opens next month at Sadlers Wells.  From the blurb:

In 1958, at the height of his artistic ability and reputation, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich was invited by Oxford University to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Music, along with fellow musician Francis Poulenc and other dignitaries. From the initial invitation by Oxford to Shostakovich in Moscow, the story is a fascinating, humorous and poignant portrayal of the clash of two distinct, and distinctly insular, worlds: the Byzantine rituals and orotundity of Oxford University and the unsmiling officialdom of Soviet Russia.

Details here.

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  • CDH says:

    Shouldn’t that be “Meet Dr Shostakovich”? And “What in socks has he done to earn a doctorate?” And Poulenc?

    I’m not asking, but a lot of English might have — then.

    Play sounds promising, though — shades of Stoppard’s Travesties.

    • Lewis Owens says:

      Thanks for your comment. I do address the ‘why Shostakovich?’ and ‘why Poulenc?’ questions a little in the play, along with the ‘why not Picasso?’ question. Picasso actually scored 18/21 votes but did not attend.

  • MacroV says:

    Must admit I’m fascinated by the bringing together of Shostakovich and Poulenc; easy to forget sometimes which composers were contemporaries.

  • Lewis Owens says:

    According to Isaiah Berlin, Poulenc was a little in awe of Shostakovich and although both played at an arranged soirée, P was rather upstaged musically by S. According to Berlin. Truth is that S was suffering badly with his right hand at that time (he was hospitalised shortly afterwards) and didn’t play quite as profoundly as Berlin claims. Not that that matters, though.