'Shostakovich in Dialogue'
Searching for the Meaning Within Shostakovich’s Chamber Work
The music of 20th-century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich is fraught with meaning. But just what the persecuted genius was trying to say, few can agree. In this thought-provoking, carefully researched book, ex-lawyer Judith Kuhn—who now teaches musicology at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee—makes a persuasive argument that the chamber works of Shostakovich represent not just philosophical statements or an emotional reaction to the political repression of the Soviet regime, but an effort to establish an active dialogue with his critics and to comment on the conventional form and genre in which he worked.
Like many before her, and many others to come, Kuhn seeks to bring a new context to the text, moving beyond the notes on the page to grasp the forces that shaped Shostakovich’s work.
“Whether one hears Shostakovich’s music as an examination of the Socialist Realist narrative, or as a part of other discourses, or as all of these things,” she writes, “his masterful dialogue with form and genre is a revealing and under-explored aspect of his music.”
Ultimately, this is an exhaustive academic pursuit, rich in detail, and one that can introduce even the uninitiated reader to the world of musicology in all its nitpicky, deconstructive glory. In addition to her own research, including visits to the Shostakovich family archives, Kuhn credits the research of musicologists James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, authors of Elements of Sonata Theory, for helping to lay the groundwork for her own examination. She presents a considerable number of other sources and peppers the text with music examples and a variety of notational tables.
Don’t be turned off by what may seem to be arcane academic artifacts; the reader needs only to share a respect for Shostakovich’s music to gain insight from Kuhn’s research—you’ll come away with a new way of looking at these monumental chamber works.
This intriguing and insightful book fits comfortably among several others from the same publisher during the past decade—starting with Esti Sheinberg’s 2000 book Irony, Satire, Parody and the Grotesque in the Music of Shostakovich—that have sought to plumb the intellectual depths of Shostakovich and his music.