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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shostakovich and Solzhenitsyn: Laughing at Authority

The U.S.S.R. no longer exists. The world (or at least the democratic capitalist governments) thought that the influence of Mother Russia as a Superpower had ended permanently with Mikhail Gorbachev exiting in shame, and Boris Yeltsin dancing on top of a Russian tank to the delight of the Muscovite masses. The idealist/propagandists world looked at this as a miracle--the more realistic groups knew enough to know that Perestroika and Glasnost had done their work, little by little, in breaking the mold of Soviet rule. But before the so-called "Cold War" was over, there were men and women risking their lives, daring (without an open dare) against a system they thought unfair. Most of these valiant individuals were artists.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was both a visionary and a traitor after the publication of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," and "The Gulag Archipelago." That was, of course, after Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to hard labor for anti-Stalinist comments around the same time he was being decorated for his service in World War II. From where, hence, comes the contradiction? His prose seemed to praise the system within a veil of criticism. Not even the Union of Writers (a puppet of the party) was able to keep up with the hidden meanings of his work. The Union knew, of course, that Solzhenitsyn was playing with fire, but could do little to control the output of this driven artist. Not even the KGB could stop the writing power of this man, and, some time after that, Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. Solzhenitsyn came under attack, all the while writing, hiding, writing some more. The KGB managed to confiscate some of his works (he had to recreate "The First Circle" entirely from memory). All the way up to 1974, Solzhenitsyn continued to write, hiding and existing in a world of shadows, but writing nonetheless. Shortly thereafter he was forced into exile and spent the better part of his advanced age in Vermont. (Incidentally, Mstilav Rostropovich was shortly after sent into exile for having sheltered and supported Solzhenitsyn). In 2005, Solzhenitsyn returned to a post-Soviet Russia for the first time, but he found out (the hard way) that the young nation was not going to be delivered by an author--the people needed jobs and the hope for a better future. Solzhenitsyn (might have) died of a broken heart.

Dmitri Shostakovitch was considered a sell-out by his contemporaries when, in 1960, he joined the Communist party. What his contemporaries failed to realize (as in Solzhenitsyn) was the hidden messages in his musical compositions. For example, the second movement of the Symphony No. 5 presents a theme that can only be compared to the music of a puppet show. The first movement sets the tone to a glorification of the U.S.S.R., the vast, sweeping and militant themes can be seen as a set up of sorts. Here, Breshnev and all the rest in the Politburo nodded and approved of his seemingly Soviet-exalting pieces, and all the while Shostakovitch laughing under his breath. There are many other examples of Shostakovitch's work that fall under the category of subversive; so much so that it is nearly impossible to present in any categorized manner. As a result, I selected the piece I thought best represented his rebellion.

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