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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 Featuring quotations from previously unpublished letters as well as rarely-seen photographs, Fairclough provides a fresh insight into the music and life of a composer whose legacy, above all, was to have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Her fair-minded approach and scrupulous attention to detail, supported by references to newly discovered or previously unpublished archival material, combines cutting edge scholarship with tremendous insight into Shostakovich's complex personality.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

‘Pauline Fairclough provides lucid, no-nonsense commentary. A Bristol-based academic who has published widely on Shostakovich reception history, she pitches her stall on the fact-based, non-conjectural side of the debate without dissing conflicting ideas with the belligerence associated with a scholar such as Richard Taruskin . . . what gives her slim volume its distinctive tone is the way Fairclough searches out biographical and stylistic continuities where others see only disjunctive leaps.’ — Gramophone

‘Pauline Fairclough’s elegantly written and richly documented biography of the twentieth-century cultural icon Dmitri Shostakovich offers a fair-minded view of the myriad personal and musical political issues that challenged the composer from his student days at the Leningrad Conservatory until his death in Moscow in 1975 . . . Pauline Fairclough’s biography makes an important contribution to Shostakovich scholarship and Russian historical and cultural studies. The discussion of selected musical works interspersed throughout Shostakovich’s compositional life and the incorporation of illustrations from the Shostakovich archives in Moscow contribute substantially to the richness of this book. It serves as an essential point of reference for future studies on Shostakovich and the musical culture of Soviet Russia.’ — The Russian Review

‘This is an excellent, thoroughly researched, brief biography of the famous and still controversial Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich. Fairclough has done a fine job of presenting Shostakovich's life and works within their artistic and political contexts. She is fair to the composer and sensitive to the enormous political pressures he suffered, pressures that were literally matters of life and death. Fairclough also provides real intellectual substance, describing musical compositions in an informative manner without resorting to detailed musical analyses. Informed music lovers without a background in music theory and harmony will find much of great interest. Musicians and music historians will also benefit from Fairclough’s specialist insights into biographical details garnered from her work in Russian archives. The book includes many fine photographs, a brief but useful bibliography, and end notes. . . . Highly recommended.’ — Choice

‘this book invites you to see more . . . [the author] wants you to stand back and take a broader view of a creative artist who made use of the system that otherwise oppressed him, playing it at its own game. And she makes the point that Western readings of Shostakovich have been suspiciously changeable over time, for reasons that relate to politics as much as music.’ — Catholic Herald

‘a concise new biography by a post-war musicologist has set my feet pounding, for once in admiration rather than indignation. Pauline Fairclough, a professor at the University of Bristol, has left the Taruskin camp to present a superbly nuanced account of a musical homo sovieticus who sampled all of the century’s emotions, from Leninist exhilaration to Stalinist despair, from youthful dreams of a better society to a desperate struggle to appease the commissars . . . There may be more still to emerge from KGB archives but Fairclough’s study, delicately balanced and compellingly readable, is the most reasoned and revealing biography I have yet seen. Between the lines, her passion for the music is irresistible.’ — Norman Lebrecht, The Critic

‘This is a sensible and insightful book. Much of Shostakovich’s reception has been distracted by political agendas wielded both for and against the man and his works, and interpretation of the music has often been a fraught affair played for high stakes. Pauline Fairclough deals with these "Shostakovich Wars" calmly and judiciously, without attempting to resolve "his divided existence" in favour of either his public or private side . . . There is much to be gained from this slim volume . . . Aside from the programme notes on individual works, which consist of the sorts of explications that the general reader might desire (the string quartets are treated to some wonderful interpretative prose), the book also includes genuinely new archival material . . . Shostakovich’s film music is given space alongside his concert music, all the better for the book’s portrait of the composer as a Soviet artist.’ — Slavonic and East European Review

‘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.

Prelude: Writing About Shostakovich

1 ‘She did not wait for me’
2 On the Edge of the Whirlwind
3 Civic Responsibility and Self-assertion
4 Finding a Way Forward
5 The Inner Gaze
6 Final Years

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Photo Acknowledgement