Sunday, May 17, 2015

Shostakovich and Stalin

I'm surprised to see a quite good article in the Guardian about Shostakovich and politics. The title is "Putting the Stalin in Shostakovich" which is fairly awkward, but the article itself is a fair discussion of the release of Paavo Järvi’s recording of two pro-Soviet cantatas from a performance in Estonia in 2011. There was lots of controversy because while it is common knowledge that Shostakovich wrote a great deal of music praising the Stalinist regime as he was required to do, in contemporary performances the texts are usually altered to suppress this. Järvi gives the reason for using the original texts:
“I have grouped these three of Shostakovich’s cantatas together on one disk which has never been done before – two of them are very pro-Soviet and one is very critical of the Soviet system. Through these pieces, Shostakovich’s music tells the terrifying story of that time and I think that story is only truly effective if it is honest and not modified according to the fashions and political waves of the time. People should confront this uncomfortable part of history.”
This is, of course, admirable. Removing the texts praising Stalinist Russia is to blot out history. Yes, this is uncomfortable history, especially for those who still have a liking for socialist economics, but trying to turn Shostakovich into a dissident, as has been attempted, or simply trying to suppress certain works is as stupid and historically inept as altering texts of Bach cantatas because they are Christian!

I think this is the first part of one of the cantatas, The Song of the Forests, and from some of the comments, I think it may be using the original text. But my Japanese is even worse than my Russian, so I'm not sure. I also don't know the conductor and performers, but the concert is pretty clearly in Japan:

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