Story of a Friendship

Story of a Friendship

The Letters of Dmitry Shostakovich to Isaak Glikman, 1941–1975
Dmitry Shostakovich, Isaak Glikman
Translated by Anthony Phillips
After considerable hesitation and soul-searching I have decided to publish the letters Dmitry Dmitriyevich Shostakovich wrote to me. This choice by the composer's close friend Isaak Glikman brought the tormented feelings of the musical genius into public view. Now those feelings resound in the first substantial collection of Shostakovich's letters to appear in English.

From the early 1930s until his death in 1975 Shostakovich wrote regularly to Glikman, a Leningrad theater critic and historian. The 288 letters included in this volume began in 1941, at the time of Operation Barbarossa and the composition of the controversial (Leningrad) Symphony no. 7, and continue until 1974, by which time Shostakovich was too frail to write. Glikman's extensive introduction explains that the earlier letters were lost—presumably left behind when both men were evacuated from besieged Leningrad. In his account of those years, Glikman relates personal details of the composer's life during the height of the Stalinist Terror, including Shostakovich's response to the public humiliation inflicted by the regime after the premiere of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

Taken together, the letters and Glikman's fascinating commentary form a portrait of a complex and acutely sensitive personality endowed with enormous moral integrity, humanity, compassion, and a sharp, often self-deprecating, sense of humor. The book recounts some of the most pivotal episodes of Shostakovich's life, including the long withdrawal of the Symphony no. 4, the regime's 1948 attacks on the composer, his subsequent trips to the United States and other Western countries, his frame of mind upon joining the Communist party in 1960, his reactions to the music of his contemporaries, and his composition of the devastating late symphonies and final string quartets.

The battles over the politics of Dmitry Shostakovich and his music continue with undiminished vehemence, and Story of a Friendship is sure to occasion still more argument. At the same time, the book provides a unique opportunity better to understand the man and his music, on the one hand, and the regime that alternately hailed and reviled him, on the other.

Anthony Phillips

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