on 27 February 2014
The author is explicit about her limited musical knowledge, and this shows through. She hangs a very good commentary on Shostakovich's life and times on a survey of his String Quartets, but her subjective 'description' of the Quartets is extremely amateurish and virtually useless without any informed analysis, and, most importantly, without any musical examples. Very disappointing and a missed opportunity.
on 21 October 2011
The author clearly loves the string quartets of the great Dmitri Shostakovich and she has tried to pay hommage to the legacy that he has left us. She has also skillfully intermingled the composition and content of the quartets with what is known about DSCH's life, from existing sources as well as her interviews with people who knew him and loved him, not least several members of string quartets that pioneered his works. Unfortunately, it is incredibly difficult for a non-musicologist to write intelligently and informatively about music without resorting to cliches and platitudes, something that this author does quite a lot of. I think that the entire discourse of 'silent voices' is such a tired one and one that does not begin to capture the complexities of life for a creative genius in a tyranny. Many of the great Soviet artists, including composers like Shostakovich, performers like Richter and Oistrakh, dancers etc. enjoyed a relatively great lifestyle compared with many of their compatriots, provided that they adhered to certain routines and standards. Of course, many of them found them intolerable, though undoubtedly the unfreedom and oppression stimulated their creative imagination and disciplined delivery in remarkable ways (probably helping them rise to greater levels than their Western counterparts). But what price did they have to pay? The author does not really begin to cast any light into the psychological complexities of someone like Shostakivich beyond what is already known.
I am very reluctant to criticize a very honest effort, but as a psychologist, I find the author's venture into Shostakovich psyche simplistic and unenlightening. Her ability to articulate what she herself finds in the quartets and why, at times, they engulf her entire being is also very limited, frquently lapsing into tired and well-rehearsed generalizations. There are very few non-musicologists who can write intelligently about music and reveal some of the reasons why it has a particular effect on the listener. I am thinking of Thomas Mann towards the end of Magic Mountain and a few others. Wendy Lesser does not belong to those gifted few.