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200 × 130 × 12 mm
192 pages
25 illustrations
12 Aug 2019
Critical Lives

Dmitry Shostakovich Pauline Fairclough

Dmitry Shostakovich was one of the most successful composers of the twentieth century – a musician who adapted as no other to the unique pressures of his age. By turns vilified and feted by Stalin during the Great Purge, Shostakovich twice came close to the whirlwind of political repression and he remained under political surveillance all his life, despite the many privileges and awards heaped upon him in old age. Yet Shostakovich had a remarkable ability to work with, rather than against, prevailing ideological demands, and it was this quality that ensured both his survival and his posterity.

Pauline Fairclough’s absorbing new biography offers a vivid portrait that goes well beyond the habitual clichés of repression and suffering. Featuring quotations from previously unpublished letters as well as rarely-seen photographs, Fairclough provides a fresh insight into the music and life of a composer whose legacy, above all, was to have written some of the greatest and most cherished music of the last century.

‘Few composers have been subjected to such long-standing distortions regarding their music and political outlook as Shostakovich. Pauline Fairclough acknowledges these minefields, and in this vivid and lucidly expounded study manages to steer a pragmatic course through the many controversial issues that blighted his career. Her fair-minded approach and scrupulous attention to detail, supported by references to newly discovered or previously unpublished archival material, combines cutting edge scholarship with tremendous insight into Shostakovich's complex personality. The picture that emerges is far more rounded and I dare say more human than has been the case with previous biographies of the composer. In this respect, Fairclough is particularly sensitive in dealing with Shostakovich's often problematic relationships with women. There's a real artfulness, too, in the way that she manages to weave Shostakovich's life and works into a gripping entity. In particular, Fairclough makes a convincing case for re-evaluating some of the much criticised music he composed to fulfil political obligations made by the soviet state.’ — Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine

‘For many years now, Shostakovich has been not only one of the most performed of 20th century composers but also an artist disturbingly shrouded in emotional and interpretative controversy. Pauline Fairclough¹s attractively readable and fair-minded new biography sails elegantly past old arguments, while taking fascinating account of the mass of new research that has appeared in recent years. The result is a wise and sympathetic portrait of a remarkable man, which will appeal broadly to musicians and music-lovers, to those who already love Shostakovich¹s music and those who would like to discover it for themselves.’ — Gerard McBurney, Composer

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Pauline Fairclough is Professor of Music at the University of Bristol. She is a well-known authority on Soviet music and on Shostakovich in particular. Her last book, Classics for the Masses: Shaping Soviet Musical Identity Under Lenin and Stalin (2016) was co-winner of the BASEES Women’s Forum Book Prize in 2018.