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The New Shostakovich Paperback – 6 Jul 2006

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Frequently bought together

  • The New Shostakovich
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  • Shostakovich: A Life Remembered
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  • Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by  Solomon Volkov
Total price: £45.06
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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico (6 July 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184595064X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845950644
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 3 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 126,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

"One of the best biographies of Dmitri Shostakovich I have read" (Maxim Shostakovich)

"Compelling ... a portrait of a creative artist tormented and harried by the random assaults of Stalinism" (Financial Times)

"Persuasively argued and forceful ... A valid, politically driven reconsideration of the composer's works" (New York Times Review of Books)

"With passionate integrity, MacDonald fastidiously builds a case to rival the most compellingly labyrinthine detective investigation. Now the great music of Shostakovich will be heard anew" (Q)

"Much-needed - a very fascinating insight" (Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys))

Book Description

Party stalwart or secret dissenter? A major reassessment of the life, works, and politics of the Soviet Union's greatest composer by one of our best music critics.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Very interesting, and for a long time unobtainable, except with difficulty and expensively on the second hand market. Good to have it back in print. I bought three copies, one for myself, and two as presents for other Shostaloonies.
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Unfortunately, when dealing with Shostakovich, politics becomes inextricably bound up with the fact of his survival and the shape his career took by that very act of surviving. After the hot breath of official reprimand by Stalin no less, Shostakovich's sarcastic edge and spontaneity became blunted by an internalised self consciousness. The sarcasm was still there, but not on obvious display, it had been encoded, otherwise he would not have survived. The plea for less politicisation of music is a worthy one but with composers from the Soviet Union during the first half of the twentieth century, this is virtually impossible when narrating their achievements. Even a strenuously apolitical composer such as Prokofiev was constantly caught up in the political quagmire much to his disillusionment. This is a music biography from a political perspective that helps decode some of Shostakovich's perplexing and ambiguous music, enabling us to enter more deeply into his disturbing yet very moving soundscape, loaded as it is with irony and emotion: Highly recommended!
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This book was not written for an audience with me (a general appreciator of Shostakovich) in it - nor should it have been. It does however pack a huge punch in the realm of music history academy. More than anything, this amalgamation of comprehensively researched essays serves to educate, although the incessant opinions around decoding of the works can become tiresome as they can be nothing more than subjective in reality - one man's interpretation, so to speak. I listened to the works whilst reading the description of them and whilst I bow to McDonald's far superior education (indeed I doff my cap), did not always feel that the hypothesis matched my own. I recommend this book to anyone who has the time and desire to entrench themselves in the psychological influences of this fine composer's works. If you don't have time and are looking for a general biography I would recommend an alternative.
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British musicologist Ian MacDonald's "The New Shostakovich" first appeared around the world in hardcopy about 1990 and was revised this decade by Hugh Clarke with a foreward from Vladimir Askhenazy, additional material, footnoted and corrected information, and other extras that help you understand the history, times and music of Soviet composer Dmitri Shotakovich (1906-75), whose dark and despairing music hides its messages better than Solomon Volkov told you in Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov, the mind-bending biography from Shostakovich that turned everyone's ideas about the man and his music upside down in 1975.

To this end, it is actually two different books; MacDonald did not survive to make the 2006 revisions. While much of the content is the same, the original edition does not believe "Testimony" to be authentic and takes issue with its characterization of the composer and his work. The later account turns 180 degrees and credits "Testimony" as a potent and accurate account of the composer's life, beliefs and feelings during his days as the Soviet Union's greatest composer. For this reason, it is important that purchasers buy the later edition, which my review covers.

The book is divided into the sections of the composer's life, from his earliest family life and influences to his years in academy, the great Stalin purge of the 1930s, his isolation in the post-Stalin years and his assertive period at the end of his life.
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ANOTHER ROYAL PROCLAMATION FROM HIS MAJESTY KING BONEHEAD IX, THE COSMIC TEDDY BEAR:

Ian MacDonald's "The New Shostakovich" was first published in 1990 and received criticism from scholars for its heavily revisionist stance, nowhere near sufficiently nuanced to give a balanced view of Shostakovich's life and music. After MacDonald's death the book reappeared in 2006 in this new edition, comprehensively revised by the English pianist Raymond Clarke, who has explained in an eight-page introduction his approach in undertaking the many changes that were necessary.

For most readers familiar with the original edition, the most radical change will appear to be the removal of MacDonald's "musical codes"; as Clarke points out in his introduction, MacDonald's assignment of supposedly hidden symbolism to the presence of tiny motifs that are fundamental building blocks of music - without which no composer would be able to compose anything anyway - is no more logical than a literary critic assigning hidden symbolism to the presence of small words such as 'to', 'it' or 'the' in a text. Another noticeable change is that whereas in the first edition MacDonald treated the authenticity of Solomon Volkov's 'Testimony' (a book which claims to be the memoirs of the composer) with a pinch of salt, the new edition proceeds from a viewpoint of fully accepting Volkov's book; Clarke mentions in his introduction that this reflects MacDonald's change of view in his last years, though one has the distinct impression that Clarke himself is not convinced by Testimony but is too tactful to state so unequivocally.
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