Should I feel guilty about Shostakovich?

Tonight I intend going to watch the CBSO perform Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. But for some reason I feel guilty about going…

During my time at university, I found that the name Shostakovich was generally spoken in hushed whispers around the corridors. Certainly within the composition department there seemed to be a general feeling that Shostakovich was frowned upon. (Perhaps this will change with the publication of Andrew Kirkman’s new book Contemplating Shostakovich.) But why? Among my composer friends it often appears to be the case that Shostakovich is not completely acceptable. But among my performer friends there does not seem to be the same antipathy. And audiences love him! (but what do they know…?!)

Is this the Boulezian hangover? Shostakovich was perhaps not modernist/atonal enough. Too conservative. Restricted. Various other criticisms are leveled at Shostakovich. Gerald McBurney mentioned many of them in his article for the Guardian back in 2006. His music has variously been labeled as vulgar and undercomposed and merely using cheap tricks to create form. Perhaps this criticism is valid? Perhaps this criticism stems from a staunch modernist condemnation of anything which is not avant-garde enough. Perhaps the aversion to certain biographical details in Shostakovich’s life still hangs over him.

I don’t have any Shostakovich on my itunes. I do have some second-hand vinyl of a few symphonies. Perhaps tonight will be a turning point for me. But I won’t tell anyone I’m going. Just in case.

Shostakovich entering the annual Soviet Harry Potter competition. (He lost as his costume was too conservative.)

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