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Shostakovich: A Life Paperback – 1 Jun 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 490 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (1 Jun. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195182510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195182514
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 3.6 x 15.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 544,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The rest of us can nevertheless be grateful for [Fay's] humble and herculean efforts, thanks to which Shostakovich can no longer be discussed in terms of black or white; her work has begun to make it possible to focus on the lasting inner life of the music and to think of the music's creator in fuller human terms."―The Boston Sunday Globe

"The combined effects of scholarly incompetence, deliberate obfuscation, and the imposition of political agendas have made it nearly impossible to get a clear picture of the life of Shostokovich, one of the most fascinating figures in the cultural life of the twentieth century. Laurel Fay, the most patient of scholars, has done an amazing job of getting the material sorted out so as to be able to tell the compelling story of this troubled life. She is calm, bound by no political parti pris, and when even she has been defeated in her research she is not afraid to say 'I don't know'. Long awaited, this is an immensely important book and hugely welcome."―Michael Steinberg, author of The Symphony: A Listener's Guide and The Concerto: A Listener's Guide (OUP).

"Fay's Shostokovich is not only the best biography in English or in any other West European language, it offers readers a factual accuracy and balanced perspective unmatched in post-Soviet era publications by Shostakovich specialists in the composer's homeland. Undaunted by the lurid debates surrounding Shostakovich's purported lifelong dissidence and the covert meaning of his music, Fay has produced exactly what we need at this stage in Shostokovich scholarship; a reliable and basic life and works―clear-eyed, straightforward, copiously researched, sympathetic, objective, and uncluttered by Cold-War and post-Cold-War myths."―Malcolm Hamrick Brown, Professor Emeritus of Music, Indiana University, and Founding Editor, Russian Music Studies

About the Author

Laurel E. Fay is a widely published writer on Russian and Soviet music, who has been travelling to and studying in Russia since 1971. She lives in Staten Island, New York.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Ms. E. Arkady on 4 May 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I approached this book with some trepidation after one of the previous reviewers described it as academic. Over the years, working in a music library as I do, I've read plenty of academic books written by musicologists, and yes, they can be dry and hard going, this book however is definitely not that. I found it to be accessible and easy to read, the use of language is clear with an excellent use of appendices which ensures that the main body of the text isn't cluttered up with all the detailed notes. It contains a really good list of D.S's works, a list of the many abbreviations used, a glossary of the important people in his life, a select bibliography, and crucially, a really detailed index (ideal for use when listening to a particular piece of his music).

Another great thing about this book is that it is objective about Shostakovich, there is no hyperbole, no loaded value judgement and no political angle.

Its almost perfect, my only minor quibble is that the maps and pictures don't seem to have transfered from its its initial print run very well, with some loss of quality, however, the main reason to buy this is for the text, which is excellent!
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A. Squires on 27 May 2000
Format: Hardcover
As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of Shostakovich's death it appears that the definitive account of the life and works is still to be written. I would imagine that Volkov's 'Testimony' remains the most widely read book on the Russian composer and whilst the ongoing authenticity debate rages about these memoirs it is as well to have other source material available with a different approach.
On first reading Fay's book may appear tepid in comparison with Volkov's more sensational work. Where 'Shostakovich - A Life' scores is the straightforward and factual approach to the story of the composer's life and the events surrounding the composition and performance of the works. This is laid out in a logical, chronological style with copious supporting notes and evidence to support any incidents referred to. It is refreshing that supposition on the part of the author is kept to a minimum. I finished the book in a matter of days and whilst I may not have felt that I 'knew' Shostakovich any better, I certainly felt better informed than I had been before and in a position to make some of my own jugements based upon the additional facts and information the book provides.
A particular success is the description of the conditions in which the Soviet Artists of the period were expected to produce their works and how this influenced their creation.
Shostakovich may in time be proved to have been either a dissident working within the Soviet system, a Communist Party stoodge, a Composer who was just trying to get his (fine) works performed, or none of these things.
Many more words are to be written and more information will come to light before the Shostakovich enigma is eventually solved, if ever. Fay's book deserves to be read with an open mind by anyone with an interest in the composer, regardless of what position they may hold in any of the ongoing debates surrounding his life and works.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jake on 18 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
If you want a book that gives you a thoroughly detailed account of Shostakovich's life and how his music ties into it, this book is ideal. The quality and quantity of references puts Laurel Fay's writing beyond any reasonable doubt.

However I can only agree with what other reviewers of this book have said about how dry it can be: the pages are quite large, the font-size relatively small (but completely legible nonetheless), and most of the chapters each being at least 30 pages long. So apart from these factors making it a physically-taxing read, it is very difficult to stop mid-chapter and pick it up later without losing the flow and main ideas of that chapter.

What I would suggest is this - this is not the sort of book which you can just 'dip-in-and-out-of', I'd advise that you allocate a slot of time in your day to read a chapter without interruption (one chapter alone has taken me between 45 mins to 1 hour). This is also the sort of book where you would need to re-read each chapter a few times for it all to sink in. Defintely NOT a book you can just 'reel-off-quickly'! Whilst it does seems like a tall mountain to climb, for the academic study of shostakovich it is absolutely INVALUABLE, defintely worth every ounce of effort. If you want to study the life of shostakovich in detail and engage into it academically this book is an absolute must, no exaggerations!
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By Heli on 27 Feb. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is worth reading. It is an objective appraisal of the life and works of Shostakovich that also allows you a good view of those troubled times.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Really interesting especially as I was doing an essay on Shostakovich at the time I purchased this. Helped me get a good mark.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Interesting book, presumably more for a student of Russian history or music as I am.
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