BBC Proms: Bychkov Conducts Shostakovich’s Eleventh


If you skip all that chatter (symphony begins around minute 13) in the beginning (all that bullshit about how Shostakovich was really a secret anti-Soviet rebel, sneakily writing music about 1905 but in fact criticizing Soviet system without, however, really leaving any evidence of that), this is a great version of Shostakovich’s 11th symphony.

3 thoughts on “BBC Proms: Bychkov Conducts Shostakovich’s Eleventh

  1. I haven’t listened to this particular chatter, but I’m curious about your views on the matter generally speaking. Do you mean only that there’s no reason to listen to #11 in particular this way, or do you reject the whole idea that DSCH was a less than enthusiastic supporter of the state? Of course you don’t have to be a “secret anti-Soviet rebel” to decide that you better be careful when Stalin walks out on your opera (or was it s. #4) and declares it “muddle instead of music”.

    I should say that all ll I know about this comes from reading Testament (which I know is controversial, but it sounded plausible to me), and, of course, hearing the music, which does indeed seem, if not always ironic exactly, at least, hmmm, multi-layered. What do you think, o undoubtedly better-informed one?

    • Dave, I’m by no means completely against the idea that Shostakovich was resentful of the Soviet state and attempted to express some of his ideas in his music, to suggest otherwise would be to simply mirror those who proclaim him to be a hero dissident and a secret fighter (with music). I think my own problem with that theory is not the theory itself, but the people who came up with it (based on some rather anecdotal evidence and a lot of nudge-nudging), i.e. the general assumption is very simple, and I’m not sure how much you know of this, so forgive me if I’m presenting this matter in a rather primitive way, Shostakovich’s music is so awesome it couldn’t have been produced by someone who believed in Soviet ideas, it simply couldn’t have been. The truth is, Shostakovich, like many Soviet artists, musicians and regular folks, was very much into socialist ideas and did not, like the people in the West at the time equate Stalin and such other figures with the system itself, it’s a complex issue, I think and that’s why the crowd of music critics who talk about how amazingly hidden Shostakovich’s secret anti-Soviet messages are just strike me as a bunch of politically simplistic idiots. Now Shostakovich’s music was innovative and threatening to the Soviet cultural self-image early on (see/hear The Nose, a rather amazingly novel piece of music), but not in a way of hidden ideas. You can tell I’m not neutral here at all – I love Shostakovich’s symphonies, including 11th and (my favorite) 13th and I think that they are very much what they are, that is, symphonies addressing the themes of 1905 and Babi Yar. I think this reminds me of people trying to “save” Heidegger by suggesting that his enthusiasm for Nazism was not genuine, or people trying to save Wagner by suggesting his anti-Semitism was cultural and so on – bullshit, but that doesn’t mean we throw away Heidegger or stop listening to Wagner (which is why Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan’s performance of Wagner at the Proms the other day was so significant). Anyways, no a real answer to your question, just some ramblings, but I would love to hear what you think.

  2. Well, I certainly agree that it’s ridiculous to suggest that “Shostakovich’s music is so awesome it couldn’t have been produced by someone who believed in Soviet ideas, it simply couldn’t have been”; and I also agree that “Shostakovich, like many Soviet artists, musicians and regular folks, was very much into socialist ideas,” although also relevant here is that he was a patriotic Russian and no doubt felt about the war like everyone else did.

    My sense, and again I’m just going by the music and Testament (which I think is at least not a hoax), is that Shostakovich was first of all a composer, and resented having his music vetted for political purposes (so that some of his compositions had to be “for the drawer”), and of course he was rightly fearful that his very life would be subject to the whim of tin-eared Party functionaries (or Stalin himself). So it’s very plausible that he meant his music to have the multiple levels critics find in it, and for some of the same reasons they say. It’s only the “hero dissident/secret fighter” bit that sounds wrong to me.

    I also think it’s stretching it to say, as I think Volkov does, that Stalin/the Party tolerated some of Shostakovich’s provocations because they regarded him as a “yurodivy”/”holy fool” and so to some extent sacred and untouchable. I think it’s more likely that they didn’t really pay as much attention to his music as they might have, and/or they didn’t think it was worth it to crack down on him for a few dissonances. But again, I don’t really know.

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