Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues: Fashioning Identities, Representing Relationships

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Mark Mazullo, with Chloe Kiritz and Adam Nelson1

The "Loyal Son"

Some thirty years after Stalin's Minister of Culture Andrey Zhdanov ushered in the era of Socialist Realism in the Soviet arts by pronouncing, at the Writer's Congress of 1934, that "the present state of bourgeois literature is such that it is unable to create great works of art,"2 Aleksandr Dolzhanskii concluded his monograph on Dmitri Shostakovich's cycle of twenty-four Preludes and Fugues for piano with a by-then familiar echo:

The compositional peculiarities of Shostakovich's fugues emerged as the result of the innovative application of some of the most progressive contemporary ideas. For many years, the theme of peace and war was the predominant theme in Shostakovich's music. In representing it, the remarkable master of socialist realism appears as a passionate champion of peace and social justice, as the angry denouncer of evil and violence, the daring fighter "for the best ideals in the history of mankind." And therefore in creating the Collection of preludes and fugues, Shostakovich achieved what not a single composer from the bourgeois countries had been able to achieve for two-hundred years since the death of Bach.3

With such comments, Dolzhanskii's analysis faces off squarely against contemporary commentators on the cycle who, in the continuing and regrettably distracting wake of Solomon Volkov's infamous pseudo-memoir Testimony, have stressed the composer's supposed personal desire, especially after his denunciation at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Composers in April 1948, to imbue his works with secret subtexts that mask a deeper, dissident content.4

Insofar as it emanates from and reinforces the problematic discourse system of Soviet aesthetic ideology, Dolzhanskii's work is not likely to gain broad favor as an interpretive commentary on this cycle. The Preludes and Fugues, Shostakovich's largest and most ambitious work for his own instrument, constitute some of the composer's most serious work of the immediate post-1948 period. Yet for those interested in understanding the full complexity of these works something about Dolzhanskii's approach carries the ring of truth. Consider, for instance, another passage, quoted here at length, in which he describes the expressive peculiarities of this music using narrativistic imagery reminiscent of the discourse surrounding Beethoven's music in the 19th century:

In many fugues the slow tempo of the composition, a certain strain of its elements, creates the impression of significant difficulties that the hero of the work has to overcome. Furthermore, there is a stubbornness in claiming victory over these obstacles, an image of steadfast determination and strength.

The composer discovered and was a virtuoso at devising a variety of means for broad melodiousness, for the primordial slowness that characterizes Russian peasant singing. The fugues of Shostakovich are substantially different from those of Bach in the slowness of the individual elements and the composition as a whole.

However, Shostakovich does not limit himself to a one-sided depiction of the national character, but he evokes it in a multifaceted and full way.

The music of the Preludes and Fugues contains Russian national features of different "ages"—the most ancient, historically distant, even ossified features, as well as the newest features, born from the heroic and daring creation of a new life that lays down the way to the future.5

Here, Dolzhanskii singles out oft-cited key features of Shostakovich's cycle—the song-like nature of the majority of the fugue themes, the extreme length of many of the fugues, the "historical" character of the music—as evidence of the composer's aspiration to conjure up a complex view of Soviet life, and to build powerful connections that could speak meaningfully to a broad base of the citizenry.

Recent trends in Shostakovich scholarship invite us to place such ideas in a more constructive light than may at first glance seem desirable. In what might be understood as a corrective to the multitude of "secret subtext" readings spawned by Volkov's work, several prominent English-language Shostakovich scholars have been producing interpretations of key works that aim to deconstruct elements of the polarizing discourse surrounding the composer. Amidst this contentious landscape, one comment by Richard Taruskin has stood out as the most provocative, and therefore the most prone to attacks by opposing ideological camps. In his confrontational analysis of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Taruskin characterizes Shostakovich in the 1920s and early 1930s with the phrase "Soviet Russia's most loyal musical son."6 In brief, Taruskin's argument is that all of the characters in the opera except for the murderess Katerina Izmailova are portrayed as soulless caricatures, and in condoning her wicked behavior by giving her the only truly lyric writing in the opera, Shostakovich himself may have been guilty of perpetuating totalitarian patterns of degrading human subjectivity. The challenge for Shostakovich devotees is to face at least two essential issues: whether or not one wants to regard one of the composer's most widely beloved works from such a critical perspective and, even more uncomfortably, whether or not one is willing to grant the fact that Shostakovich may have been just human enough to produce art that conformed, at least in part, to the dominant ideologies and modes of representation of his unique time and place.

Along similar lines, Leon Botstein has recently argued that we might view Shostakovich's music after the Pravda denunciation of Lady Macbeth in 1936 "as an honest civic attempt to generate a more powerful Soviet art."7 Botstein compares Shostakovich and Karl Amadeus Hartmann, whose politically oppositional music composed under the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s was consigned to the drawer and left unperformed, thus removed from the public life that makes interpretation and meaningful communication possible. By contrast, Shostakovich's output does not represent a case of "inner migration": almost without exception, his music was meant for consumption on at least some social level. It therefore became necessary—especially after the attacks of 1936 and 1948—for his music to exploit "the inherent ambiguity of meaning that music possesses in regard to censors, dictators, and political operatives."8

Laurel Fay, too, reminds us of the extreme conflicts of meaning inherent in such works as the song cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry, composed, like the Preludes and Fugues, in the period immediately following the 1948 denunciations, a time of strident Soviet anti-Semitism. While by all accounts Shostakovich was appalled by such intolerance, we must remember that his interest in Jewish folklore and music was as much rooted in aesthetics as it was in politics, perhaps even more purely so: "The inflected modes of Jewish music went hand in hand with his own natural gravitation towards modes with flattened scale degrees. Shostakovich was attracted by the ambiguities of Jewish music, its ability to project radically different emotions simultaneously."9 As Fay suggests, contrary to the tendency to treat this cycle as a work of protest, Shostakovich "was in all likelihood approaching the project in a constructive attempt to satisfy the 'public' promises he had just made" at the Composers' Congress of April 1948 to write tuneful, accessible music for the Soviet people.10

Finally, perhaps the most intriguing of such interpretations concerns the composer's Fourth Symphony, whose premiere was cancelled under still largely unexplained (and perhaps ultimately unexplainable) circumstances shortly after the Pravda attacks of 1936. In her recent explorations of the symphony's genesis, Pauline Fairclough offers the suggestion that this work—in important respects, one of Shostakovich's most modernist scores—represents another of Shostakovich's sincere efforts to construct a model for ideologically acceptable Soviet art. As Fairclough reports, Shostakovich and his closest friend and champion Ivan Sollertinsky discussed the symphony in terms of the models set by Beethoven and Mahler, most significantly their "supposedly 'democratic' approach to musical material and an underpinning humanitarian world-view."11 Especially because the exact nature of the socialist realist symphony had not yet been codified in the practice of an established canon in the early-mid 1930s, they were able to construct a vision of socialist realism in music that accommodated even the most difficult of the Fourth Symphony's passages. They thus "had grounds for believing that [the Fourth Symphony] could find acceptance."12

Each of these scholars would likely agree that Shostakovich, at least to a certain degree, managed to fulfill the requirements of the State even while staying true to his artistic intentions. Their work thus challenges what for decades has been an essentializing discourse, a view of Shostakovich's aesthetic and political intentions that has all but obscured one of the 20th century's most powerful musical legacies. Inasmuch as Shostakovich's music represents simultaneously a horrifying instance of oppression and a liberating example of the potentialities of human creativity, it seems the duty of the next generation of Shostakovich scholars—not just historically and aesthetically, but also morally—to attempt to capture this art in its full complexity, even if that requires asking the most difficult questions, such as to what degree this music might conform, at times, to a vague and oppressive aesthetic-political ideology.

One point central to the study of the Preludes and Fugues of 1950-51 is that even if Shostakovich still genuinely believed in the 1930s in the potential for merging his own artistic identity with the demands of the state, it is less obvious how he began to feel after 1948. Laurel Fay writes that "the Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues represented a fundamentally different direction in the composer's output from the approved 'realistic' line of Song of the Forests, his recent film scores, and even the new choral work, Ten Poems on Texts by Revolutionary Poets."13 Any serious study of the Preludes and Fugues must address the degree of difference that this direction represents. Did a sense of optimism still prevail, or did his vision of the possibilities of artistic self-realization begin to take on an ironic or even despairing tone almost immediately? Or, to frame the question in the terms of a recent dispute between David Fanning and Lawrence Kramer over the meaning of the Eighth String Quartet, do the Preludes and Fugues represent a disavowal of the very notion of free subjectivity or, rather, a "breakthrough to autonomy"?14

Insofar as the Eighth Quartet, composed in 1960, represents one landmark text in the development of Shostakovich's attitudes towards the musical depiction of identity after 1948, it is worth noting here that Shostakovich sought refuge in the composition of string quartets after 1948, and at the same time slackened in his production of symphonies. As Taruskin elsewhere suggests: "To a certain extent, Shostakovich's post-1948 compositions obviously invited autobiographical reading. Many of them contained signals that their latent content was private rather than public. The very shift, beginning in the 1950s, from symphony to quartet as the center of gravity for Shostakovich's output was such a hint. It was manifestly an anti-Soviet move of a sort . . . . To concentrate on chamber music was not just un-Soviet activity, it was un-Russian."15 The choice suggests that Shostakovich was finding it increasingly difficult to achieve balance between maintaining a secure and artful sense of self and satisfying aesthetic doctrine. The possibility of authentically being in the world seems to have grown further out of reach.

We wish here to begin to sketch a view of Shostakovich's attitudes on such issues as symbolized in the Preludes and Fugues. Our fundamental concern is to ponder the extent to which op. 87 represents an assertion of subjectivity in a highly formalized, even esoteric setting, and if such symbolic representation indeed can be discerned, to contemplate what manner of subjectivity is being characterized. For we believe that the terms David Fanning employs to convey the power of the Eighth Quartet are equally relevant here: "[The Eighth Quartet] is a reminder of what it is to have a self at all in a society founded on the notion of subordinating the self to the collective, and in an era when forces of dehumanization were by no means confined to that society."16


Self and Authority: Dialectics in C Major

Consider the oft-used locution characterizing Shostakovich's music as "the secret diary of a nation."17 What do diaries accomplish, in general, and what is their particular role in the Soviet era? At the most basic level, one would say that a person writes in a diary to express personal thoughts and relate personal experiences. Diarists are, in effect, writing themselves into being—drawing upon experiences in the social world to create and maintain a cogent story of their place in the world. What emerges from these self-explorations is a sense of what we would call personality. As Lydia Ginzburg—a pioneer in the study of such "peripheral" literary genres as memoir, correspondence, and diary—explains: "Personality is an ideal conception, a structure created by the individual himself in consequence of his self-conception, and continuously created in everyday life by everyone on the basis of observations of other people or of information around them."18

Insofar as she is concerned primarily with representations of subjectivity in literature, and in particular what has been termed "the semiotics of behavior"19 in Russian social life, Ginzburg steers her conception of personality towards a discussion of the aesthetic dimension of social life:

Human social life is shot through with the process of self-organization (whether conscious or automatized). Out of chaos and flux social man identifies and combines those elements that are most valuable and suitable for the situations in which he finds himself—social, professional, domestic, emotional, and so on. He passes, so to speak, through a series of images that are oriented toward shared norms and ideals, images that not only have a social function but that also possess aesthetic coloration. . . . The aesthetic stands out most vividly in those periods or circumstances where behavior has a ritual or ceremonial character or a particularly organized form.20

Clearly, the Soviet Union constitutes a case in which the ritual aspects of behavior are heightened, and in which modes of organization enacted upon individuals and groups take extreme form. Thus, with the observation that "people of remarkable gifts carry within themselves a rich fund of the universal, of the social and historically characteristic," one comes close to understanding how it became possible for Shostakovich's music to speak as broadly and as deeply as it did, and how the "secret diary of a nation" locution could serve so well to explain this phenomenon.

But the question of diary keeping in the Soviet Union contains deeper complexities than the mere act of fashioning a sense of self. For one thing, there is the fact, pointed out by Svetlana Boym, that the Russian self in general has traditionally been conceived as historical, mythic, and communal; indeed, "until recently, many words used in Western public and private spheres lacked Russian equivalents: among them are the words for 'privacy,' 'self,' 'mentality,' and 'identity,'"21 Boym thus cautions investigators of Russian subjectivity to tread carefully when distinguishing between the concept of individual identity and the historical notion of the "spiritual community"—which she describes as "the mythical alternative to private life, advocated by 19th-century Slavophile philosophers and contemporary nationalists."22 To an important degree, in other words, what it means to be a Russian self has been a question complicated by various external forces, both historical and ideological, that have aimed to subordinate the private to the public.

Moreover, one must also always acknowledge the historical development of the relationship between individuality and authority. As one recent writer has put it, historians must "treat these transformations as ongoing and open-ended, a persistent realm of debate rather than a trajectory toward a particular end."23 Just as the work of Anthony Giddens has examined the manner in which external elements such as society, state, and authority are internalized in modern, reflexive subjectivity in general, so must any study of subjectivity in the Soviet Union treat delicately the negotiation of power between self and state.24 One must be especially careful in the case of Russia and the Soviet Union, in other words, to stress that change, rather than continuity, characterizes such relationships, and that the conditions of subjectivity in the Soviet Union had more in common with the same conditions elsewhere than totalitarian theories of individuality would have us believe.25

For as Jochen Hellbeck has recently argued, to see Soviet society as anything less than a site of reciprocity and reflexivity is to fall victim oneself to totalitarian constructions of subjectivity, in which the "true individual" is imaginable only when set in relief against the regime and its ideologies of historical-material progress.26 This is exactly the doctrine, according to Richard Taruskin, to which Shostakovich seems to have subscribed when composing Lady Macbeth in the early 1930s. Hellbeck's analysis of the internalization of the state into the self, realized in the diaries of average Soviet citizens of this same time who were "creatively writing themselves into the Soviet order," may also be useful in our understanding of Shostakovich's attempts to turn his own artistic identity towards the task of contributing to historical representations of Russian/Soviet identity after 1948.27 Hellbeck concludes his study of Soviet diaries of the 1930s with the observation that the reflexivity of this relationship, the "fusion of personal and social identity," ran so deep that an individual's "only enduring identity (in the face of his fleeting class or ethnic identities) can be said to be his identity as a project an unfinished piece of work on himself."28 As a result, true individual dissent in the Stalinist system constitutes "a potential loss of world and self."29

As Taruskin's work makes clear, it is mainly in Shostakovich's symphonies and chamber works that the idea of his music as a "secret diary of a nation" is most applicable. One might even go so far as to argue that in his solo piano music, because it was his own instrument and because the performance of this music involves only a single person, the "national" must be emphatically excluded from the phrase. And yet, as Dolzhanskii suggests, there is undoubtedly in the cycle of Preludes and Fugues a degree of representation of heroic, epic, and historic qualities, of rhetorical modes that communicate beyond the solipsistic level and require that one listen with an ear for the social.

Thus, while on one level Shostakovich's idea of creating an homage to J.S. Bach in the abstract genre of the prelude and fugue may suggest a "formalist" challenge to the 1948 decree, the lyric immediacy, the clear folk element, and the accessible tonal-modal language of op. 87 at least leave open the possibility that Shostakovich was aiming in this work to bridge the gap between real politics and abstract, "formalist" art—between, in other words, the public and the private. These are not the learned fugues, for instance, that a mere homage to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier would suggest. Rather, they seem to be couched in terms more closely aligned with the preludes that precede them: tuneful and expressive of emotional characters and moods more than of the technical, formal qualities of the intervallic, motivic, and rhythmic make-up of their subjects. The fact, for instance, that every one of the twenty-four fugues employs at least one distinct counter-subject—a feature not at all characteristic of Bach's practice—suggests that the fugues might be heard, at least on one level, more as lyric duets than exercises in formal counterpoint. (The double fugue in E minor, for instance, seems especially to dramatize this effect.)

Moreover, as many commentators have noted, the material for op. 87 draws heavily on Russian folk sources. Shostakovich's own pledge, made during the Moscow meetings of the composers' union in February 1949"—I will work ever more diligently on the musical embodiment of images of the heroic Russian people"30—seems, therefore, not to be entirely dismissible. Insofar as such a pledge, with its precise use of the words "Russian people," carried overtones of the dangerous tension between the ideologies of Russian nationalism and Soviet brotherhood (a differentiation so fraught with political meaning that a misstep could land a Russian person in prison), one must always keep in view Shostakovich's uncanny ability to walk the tightrope and not fall. Following on the heels of World War II, which served for a time to bridge the gap between "Russian" and "Soviet," his pledge therefore managed simultaneously to appeal to the folk element of the former and (intended or not) the state element of the latter.

Along these lines, it becomes instructive to turn our attention back to Dolzhanskii, in particular to the imagery of war and peace that pervades his discussion of the Preludes and Fugues. As it turns out, such imagery seems not to be completely off the mark, especially when one considers that the first fugue in the cycle, in C major, restates the opening melody of Shostakovich's patriotic oratorio of 1949, Song of the Forests, which accompanies the first line of text by the officially favored poet Yevgeniy Dolmatovsky: "The war came to an end with victory."31 (Figure 1) One must wonder about the degree to which the first audiences of the Preludes and Fugues caught the allusion, and if they did, what impressions the connection might have made.


Figure 1.



Of course, Shostakovich was a flagrant quoter, both of his own music and that of others, and perhaps the coincidence of themes held no special significance at all. Moreover, the basic tonal material of this melody—the tonic, dominant, and submediant scale degrees—is hardly exceptional in its originality. One need only think of the opening measures of three of Beethoven's most beloved works—the Sonata for Piano and Cello in A major, op. 69; the Seventh Symphony in A major, op. 92; and, for a minor-mode variant, the String Quartet in C-sharp minor, op. 131—to recognize a certain universality inherent in this particular combination of pitches.32 Indeed, Dolzhanskii, who refers to the C major fugue subject as "a symbol of truth," has another model in mindthe Promenade theme from Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition—which leads him into a discussion of the admixture, throughout op. 87, of high and low intonations, a simultaneity of the simple and the complex that brings Shostakovich's achievement in line with that of Pushkin.33 It seems reasonable to argue that the material shared by Song of the Forests and op. 87 represents a topos, a part of Shostakovich's language—and the languages of folk music and common practice tonal music—that sprung forth naturally, effortlessly, and sincerely without any overt or covert extra-musical intentions whatsoever.

And yet, one feels compelled at least to consider Dolzhanskii's proposition that the Preludes and Fugues constitute a statement about war and peace that proceeds from the historical facts laid out in the opening of the oratorio's text: the war ended, the Soviets emerged victorious. Consider, for instance, that several of the Preludes and at least nine of the fugue subjects in op. 87 are built upon the same scale degrees and contours of the first fugue's subject. (Figure 2)


Figure 2.





This suggests not only a degree of overall coherence for a cycle that is otherwise quite remarkably varied in its expressive material, but also a certain obsession over this melodic structure on the composer's part that, again, may invite interpretation. For as the two-and-a-half hour cycle progresses, the regular recurrence of the motive, especially as a fugue subject, keeps it directly on the musical surface for an almost inordinate amount of time. Taken as a nod to Musorgsky, the 15flat-6 contour functions as an element of cohesion—akin to the recurring Pictures Promenade theme—amidst an otherwise frenetically changing array of styles and characters, a focal point for the cycle that reminds the listener of an underlying, if unnamable, essence. Taken as an allusion to the beginning of Song of the Forests, however, it might serve any number of purposes. Was Shostakovich wishfully throwing a bone to the committee, as if to make clear that while he was moving in a new direction, he was not straying far from the path?

Or was he perhaps employing the material as a cautionary (and potentially dangerous) reminder, especially given that it appears in both major and minor modes, that one should not place too much faith in a strict division between "war" and "peace," or between victory and catastrophe? If Song of the Forests proceeds from a statement of facts toward an unabashedly optimistic vision of a better life in the peace that follows war, perhaps op. 87 provides a less straightforward vision, one more closely in line with the conclusions of the Fourth and Eighth Symphonies—two compelling statements that both play on the distinction between C major and minor, and thus problematize the polarity between light and dark, victory and defeat, war and peace.34

Another act of self-borrowing emerges early in the cycle of Preludes and Fugues: the second fugue, in A minor, takes its subject from the Fourth Symphony, in particular a rhythmic cell that appears near the middle of the third movement. (Figure 3)


Figure 3.



Closer to Shostakovich's parodistic vein than the 15flat-6 motive, this see-sawing figure provides the first taste of the range of expression characteristic of the opus as a whole. And in general this second fugue, with its sharp angles, pianistically awkward leaps, and quirky harmonic turns, plays the foil to the sincerity of the first fugue. But the allusion to the Fourth Symphony—which few if any of those who heard the Preludes and Fugues in their first appearances in the years 1951-53 would have known—also suggests that Shostakovich had something deeper on his mind, or at least in his subconscious. In drawing upon existing materials so drastically opposed in their aesthetic characters for the subjects of these first two fugues (which we know he composed in order, before proceeding to the rest of the cycle), he appears to be thinking about his own artistic identity in its past, present, and future manifestations.35 While merely abstract piano music on the one hand, this music seems also, clearly, to be born of the desire to say something about one man's fragile artistic identity.

On the subject of this rather obsessive self-quoting on Shostakovich's part, Taruskin offers the following: "The transfer of musical ideas . . . or of whole passages of music, from one work to another, suggesting that different works are chapters in an overarching narrative, also puts us in mind of biography, the most overarching personal narrative of all. The obsessive quotations and self-quotations all but force the prefix 'auto-' onto the biographical gesture."36 Given Shostakovich's public promises in 1948 to create monuments to the heroic Russian people, one must note a fair degree of tension between such intentions—which undoubtedly inspire many of his works on several fronts, such as the Eleventh Symphony—and the more deeply personal motivations of more clearly self-referential works from the post-denunciation period, such as the Tenth Symphony and the Eighth String Quartet.

As if to explain such conditions, Levon Hakobian has explained how the dialectic of reflexive identity takes on, in the Soviet case, an especially horrifying and yet artistically productive aura. Despairing of the tendency to view the spectrum of Soviet life in terms of a binary opposition between oppressor and oppressed, Hakobian proposed a more complex vision of Soviet social psychology, attributing the power of Soviet art—and music especially—to the conditions created by the regime, the "extraordinarily rich psychological background for every kind of reflection on the ultimate and most profound metaphysical questions."37 He suggests that Shostakovich's own relations with the outside world mirrored those of all Soviet citizens, constituting a realm in which the most difficult choices between good and evil were unavoidable facts of everyday life:

No wonder that, under the conditions of a repressive state, "private" thoughts should be centered especially on the paramount subjects of existentialist philosophy: the tragic splitting of the human soul between good and evil, the impossibility of reaching complete mutual understanding with one's fellow man, and the search for self-identity in an alien and absurd world. . . . The perpetual presence in the everyday life of every Soviet citizen of tempting, existential Evil served as the most efficient means for training the instinct for existential choice.38

The irony is that precisely because of these powerful means of identity-control wielded by the Soviet regime, more powerful representations in abstract art were possible. Hakobian maintains, therefore, that "if there were one single credible realm in which the party provided the favorable conditions for artistic creativity proclaimed in Soviet propaganda, that realm was music. For this reason, the musical culture of the Soviet Empire provides unique testimony about one of the most somber and absurd pages in world history viewed from the inside and at the same time somewhat 'at a distance,' thanks to the mediating nature inherent par excellence in music."39

The uneasy relationship between the C major fugue of op. 87 and the opening of Song of the Forests seems to put into play this very dialectic: even if we wished, along with David Fanning, to read the fugue as "a refuge: a return to the musical womb," in other words, we would still have to acknowledge, with a fair degree of disquiet, that some element of authority still lurks within this retreat.40 We thus find ourselves able to view Shostakovich's achievements as simultaneously personal and social, modern and historical, private and public. The shopworn binary oppositions—public/private, state/self, authority/identity—melt before our eyes, replaced by the realization that Shostakovich was simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, and has thus proven impossible to pin down. And, of course, the same goes for the music itself: the opening motives of Song of the Forests and the C major fugue creating not a strict opposition between two Shostakoviches, but rather a natural (and therefore complex) expression of the field of play whose values and practices determine the constitution of modern identity.

Especially because it is a piano work that Shostakovich himself played on several occasions, both privately and publicly, op. 87 might be understood as a performative act of self-fashioning modeled particularly on a multidimensional, dialectical view of Soviet life. And to treat the Preludes and Fugues as a performative act of self-fashioning means to acknowledge that whatever visions of subjectivity Shostakovich's music reveals are destined to become implicated in subsequent generations' own historical constructions of what it meant, and how it felt, to be a Soviet person.


Representing Relationships

On every level, from the large-scale to the local, Shostakovich's cycle of Preludes and Fugues places before the listener the idea of identities and relationships. The cycle was composed at least in part as a result of the direct inspiration of another such cycle, and thus we have the first relationship, established between Shostakovich's op. 87 and J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, a relationship whose terms concern the history of musical style and influence. As a work taken on its own terms, Shostakovich's cycle is arranged according to the circle of fifths, a dramatic mode of organization with direct ties to the 19th century (Chopin's 24 Preludes, op. 28, for example), whose main difference from Bach's chromatic model of organization is that it immediately sets up the possibility, and perhaps even the expectation, of experiencing the whole in terms of pairs: one expects, at least to a degree, that pairs of preludes and fugues representing a major key and its relative minor will bear some relationship that is discernible in the experience of hearing the work.

Moving ever toward the local musical event, we shall soon note relationships between given preludes and their fugues in Shostakovich's op. 87, and relationships inherent in the textures of given individual pieces in the cycle. The cycle thus represents not only Shostakovich's return to the personal mode of solo piano writing, and to the idea of a comprehensive cycle of miniatures organized around the dramatic logic of the tonal system (as in his own 24 Preludes, op. 34), but also a statement about the role of the individual in the world—socially, historically, and aesthetically. Fugues cast as duets, preludes featuring textures that polarize keyboard space, melodies that conjure the ghosts of folk songs—all of these are features of a mode of address that Shostakovich employs here in order to say something about both his own relationship to the world and about the ethical, moral, and aesthetic dimensions of life in general.

No part of Shostakovich's cycle seems to have caused more controversy during the initial hearings of the work, performed by the composer at the Union of Composers in May 1951, than the Fugue No. 15 in D-flat major. Singled out by several committee members, and alternately described as "ugly" and a "caricature" of Soviet reality,41 this particular fugue—with its cacophonous, chromatically unwinding subject and relentless flow of marcatissimo quarter notes in mixed meters—represents something of a non sequitur within the opus as a whole. No contrast between a prelude and its partnering fugue is more sharply drawn: the playful and relatively consonant surface of the prelude finds its antithesis in this dissonant fugue. Consonance and dissonance—or, rather, tonality and its abandonment in wild, unfocused chromaticism—are put on display, functioning here primarily as signs, with the result that the element of parody on which the reviewers commented unmistakably pervades the whole.

And yet, such surface contrast only masks a more complex relationship between the Prelude and the Fugue. The return of the Prelude's bouncy, iambic accompaniment rhythm about three-fifths of the way through the Fugue (beginning in m. 116), for instance, serves as a disruption in the Fugue texture that at first seems comically to undermine the authority of the Fugue subject, but eventually culminates in a final cadential passage revealing that the Fugue and its Prelude have perhaps always represented two sides of the same character. In the Prelude's final cadence, a firm landing on the tonic D-flat major on the downbeat of m. 199 is followed by an eight-measure codetta in which chromatic alterations to the pitch collection—raised dominant, subdominant, and tonic scale degrees—upset repeated attempts at dominant-tonic closure. Such treatment of the melodic-harmonic palate is a part of this Prelude's overall language, especially in its contrasting middle section, featuring a melody of child-like simplicity (reminiscent of the trio melody in the Fifth Symphony's scherzo movement), set above an equally stark, wide-leaping accompaniment figure.

In the Fugue, however, such tonal slippage is unveiled as a more threatening element—time gives way to madcap mixed meters, and comfortably contoured melodies become a spiraling anti-theme. When the Prelude invades the Fugue, the effect is devastating: what we had thought was a safe zone, a simple realm of tonal stability, is revealed as an equal partner in the chaos. The final section of the Fugue, which reprises the Prelude's concluding texture, unites the Prelude and Fugue in a ghastly procession of dominant-tonic chords invaded by sliding chromatics.

If a sense of overall coherence in the Prelude and Fugue in D-flat major is screened by a pointed surface contrast, Shostakovich elsewhere in the cycle provides numerous instances of more overtly symbiotic relationships between paired pieces. The Preludes and Fugues in C minor, D minor, E minor, F-sharp minor, B minor, G minor, and A-flat major all, for instance, feature explicitly organic connections between the two parts. In some, fugue subjects are introduced within the preludes themselves; in others, the beginnings of both are built upon the same motives, and/or similar rhythms drive both. Another such case, the Prelude and Fugue in G-sharp minor, however, seems to involve a simultaneity of coherence and contrast similar to that found in the Prelude and Fugue in D-flat major.

The G-sharp minor Prelude takes the form of a stately Passacaglia that features a 12-measure ground bass melody in sentence structure (a-a'-b—or, short-short-long), in which the concluding contour of each sub-phrase features a descending octave leap. Over the course of successive statements of this ground, treble voices first accumulate in turn, rise to a climax, and give way to a rhapsodic solo that spans ardently over two statements of the bass melody. In the next rotation, the seventh, the treble usurps the ground itself, leaving the bass open for its own octave-doubled solo in free counterpoint. Immediately before the ninth statement of the ground, which itself constitutes a two-voiced canon, a briefly stated dactyl rhythm in the uppermost voice foreshadows a more extended, new contrapuntal line that takes over throughout the final, tenth statement. This melody, characterized above all by the dactyl rhythm and a concluding descending leap, transforms the similarly contoured but steady-rhythmed ground bass into a more energetic form of itself. Emerging first as a contrapuntal line over the final statements of the ground, the motive is uttered one final time in the concluding two measures of the Prelude, as the bass holds its final note, before materializing, fully formed and independent, as the Fugue subject.

Once set free, the fugue subject is revealed as a variation on the ground bass: again, two short sub-phrases are followed by a more extended concluding one, and each of the three is marked by a concluding descending leap. Unlike the purely diatonic context of the Passacaglia, however—with its notable dearth of accidentals, making each of the only five non-diatonic pitches in the entire piece stand out all the more poignantly—the Fugue is marked from the outset by a succession of chromatic neighbor tones in the subject's final sub-phrase. This contrasting diatonic-chromatic relationship between the Prelude and Fugue is reinforced by changes in tempo (Andante to Allegro), articulation (tenuto to marcatissimo), and meter (3/4 to 5/4)—all of which combine to create an antagonistic effect: as the ground bass lies peacefully still at the end of the Prelude, the Fugue subject violently takes up and transforms its phrase structure, like a cruel child pulling on a docile animal's tail.

This antagonistic relationship between prelude and fugue is carried through in the fugue itself on another level: the marcatissimo subject finds its own antithesis in a counter-subject that is consistently phrased as a legato statement. Insofar as it falls neatly into two halves (the first eight-note sub-phrase concluding with the quarter note tied to an eighth, and the second sub-phrase mirroring the first, its downward movement lending a sense of repose), this counter-subject provides a sense of symmetrical relief to the jagged, three-part subject. Throughout the fugue, a sense of contestation between these two elements persists: following nearly every statement of the strident fugue subject comes the calming effect of the smooth counter-subject.

In the recapitulation of this devilish and dramatic Fugue, the storm is somewhat quelled: accents are removed, the dynamics hushed to pianissimo, and the downward leap of the final sub-phrase is removed, suggesting that of the two opposing forces at play throughout the fugue (marcatissimo subject and legato counter-subject), it is the latter that has emerged victorious. The mysterious winding down of this final section, whose dynamic never rises above mezzo-forte but whose phrases seem never to want to cease, culminates in a brief Andante in the final measures, thus harkening back to the tempo of the passacaglia, and reminding us once more of the relationship that the Fugue had established at its outset.

Here, the Fugue subject's chromatic inflection of the ground bass is worked out in a sequential treatment of a melodic fragment that leads to a final rising chromatic line in one of the inner voices and closes with a serene picardy third, set off expressively by a rare breath mark, and marked triple-piano. This ending, one of the cycle's most remarkable, recalls a similar strategy in Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C major, op. 32, no. 1, in which the rising chromatic line that drives the dramatic opening phrase upward, and culminates in a frenzied final burst of energy in the penultimate section, is reversed—deflated, as it were—in the masterfully scored chords in the final measures. (Figure 4)


Figure 4.



Here, as in Shostakovich's G-sharp minor Fugue, a change of direction serves to subdue a force of energy that had heretofore appeared to be relentless. In the G-sharp minor Fugue, unlike the Prelude and Fugue in D-flat major, a certain sense of peaceful equilibrium is achieved: the uneasy, indeed at times grotesque, refashioning of the Prelude's material has not completely undermined its source.

Both the D-flat major and G-sharp minor Preludes and Fugues might be said to represent visions of dialectical relationships that reveal points of encounter between identity and authority. One must, of course, be careful not to treat the abstract musical statements so literally as to assign particular roles to the various characters. At the same time, however, the stark contrast between song-like simplicity in the D-flat major Prelude and chaotic dissonance in its corresponding Fugue certainly made a most definite impression on its initial, ideologically inspired audience at the Union of Composers. Moreover, it would be equally plausible to imagine that the melodic, and perhaps "historic" or "heroic" passacaglia in G-sharp minor may have met with more favor to the same listeners than its craggy, difficult Fugue.

Beyond such details, however, one would not be making too much of a stretch in arguing that governing all of the relationships we have witnessed in this cycle thus far is the idea that real threats never lie too far from the surface, that the line between empathy and antagonism is rarely as finely drawn as it would seem, or as we may hope.


A Quest for Wholeness

Perhaps no single Prelude and Fugue in op. 87 wears a sense of ambiguous duality on its sleeve more conspicuously than the one in E major, no. 9. On a number of levels—melodic, harmonic, textural, expressive—it puts the idea of a quest for wholeness front and center, as a problem to be confronted. To begin, as is clear from the most cursory analysis, the melodic material of the Prelude's opening figure is organically related to the Fugue's subject: both outline the ubiquitous interval of the major sixth in a rising and falling figure, and the particular interval involved (EC-sharp) forms the crux of a certain ambiguity between the tonic key and its relative minor that characterizes the prelude throughout. Like many of the Preludes and Fugues discussed briefly above, the fugue functions in part as a variation on the Prelude's main idea: its sharp expressive contrast from the Prelude offers an alternative riff on the same theme, another revelation of the possibilities for realizing this melodic material. Moreover, as we shall see, it may suggest some degree of a reversal of fortune—a retreat into the abstract realm of the fugue, a flight from the psychological and emotional anxieties that plague the Prelude. In this Prelude and Fugue in particular, we are reminded of the irony that Levon Hakobian has found in the conditions of Soviet life: the more fearful the situation and the stronger the forces of control, the deeper and more compelling statements about selfhood become in the medium of abstract music.

The texture of the Prelude represents one of its more obvious manifestations of the idea of duality, of separate worlds. The opening consists of two parts, each part (low and high) comprising two voices, doubling the same pitch-class two octaves apart. The effect, perhaps, is that of an ominous shadow, creating an almost visceral reaction: any slight out-of-tuneness on the piano will yield a high degree of discordance between the two lines.42 The resulting vibrations create a charged field of tension, a problematic context in which the ethereal upper-register material speaks touchingly. Such poignancy is enhanced by the contrast in expressive markings: the low-register line is marked piano, phrased legato, and conspicuously shaped with hairpin crescendo and decrescendo markings, while the upper-register statement is marked pianissimo, with slurred staccato and no markings to delineate a particular shape.

While on the one hand such textural and melodic starkness seems absolutely typical for Shostakovich (one thinks of the openings of the Fifth and Eighth Symphonies and the haunting fugato opening of the Piano Trio No. 2), it seems in this context to verge on parody, as if the composer were demonstrating the number of ways in which he could represent the idea of duality in a concentrated musical space (two planes, each comprising two voices, doubling at the octave). When considered alongside the fact that the Prelude is followed by the only two-voiced fugue in the entire set, and the only one to use strict inversion of the subject, one begins to suspect that Shostakovich is making a point here. Perhaps all of these musical dualities, all of these twos on the surface, are to be associated with ideologies of Soviet identity: the radical incongruity between the private self and the state, the idea that modernity risks fragmenting identity, the existential fear that one experiences when constantly being shadowed. In any event, the Prelude undoubtedly presents a unique soundscape that evokes the idea of two separate worlds with a chasm in between.

Lending credence to such views is the fact that the following Prelude, in E major's relative minor of C-sharp, also highlights elements of duality. To begin, there is the mirror relationship between the two hands, a textural device clearly modeled on Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and thus representing not only a surface instance of doubleness but also one of the most overt cases in the cycle of Shostakovich's acknowledgement of his own relationship to the past master, and his own position within the history of musical style. Moreover, the C-sharp minor Prelude also presents a duality between the horizontal (lines of running 16th notes) and the vertical (chords), two textures kept separate until the penultimate phrase group, when their collision (mm. 42ff.) creates a moment of surprising dramatic intensity. Finally, there is the fact that, in the final two measures of the Prelude, the running 16th-note figures cease their motion, becoming stuck or fixated on a single motive (the cycle's unifying 5flat-651 motive) that becomes the head of the fugue subject. Insofar as the Preludes in E major and C-sharp minor constitute a pair, it becomes impossible to ignore the surface instances of doubleness that pervade both.

As the musical narrative of the Prelude in E major progresses, it becomes increasingly suggestive that the lower-register material provides the context or symbolic social framework for the upper-register voice. The treble melody comes to a grinding halt on a repeated pitch three times, giving the impression of a tentative personality—unsure of its role in this context, unconfident, perhaps, in asserting its own agency, unable to attain a sense of lyric wholeness through any satisfyingly regular phrase structure. Each of these sudden cessations of melody is followed by a measure of silence—the stalled melodic subject taking time to pause and peer around the corner, as if to gauge the relative safety of the situation before proceeding.

If it seems slightly overstated to read such a literal sense of self-fashioning into this melody, consider several other conspicuous features of this Prelude. For one, the first page appears to draw upon the Baroque harmonic strategy identified by Jan LaRue as "bifocal tonality." As LaRue explains, such harmonic structures represent "an intermediate stage in the development toward unified tonality," and are "characterized by oscillation between major and relative minor" in which "the two centers seem to be of approximately equal importance."43 Such ambiguity is exploited rather overtly throughout the Prelude: the first phrase, beginning with a rising, partial E major scale, comes to an inconclusive melodic pause on C-sharp, suggesting, if ever so slightly, an arrival on C-sharp minor. Shortly thereafter, the melodic contours alternately emphasize various tonal-modal zones, including G-sharp minor (m. 13), B mixolydian (without its leading tone, sounding quite emphatically unlike a typical dominant to E major), and F major and minor (both A-natural and A-flat being present).

While it is possible to hear the repeated Bs in mm. 23-24 as dominants in E major, both in pitch collection and contour, the Prelude's opening section undoubtedly presents a less secure image of E major than most of the other preludes in this cycle (which, after all, is at least on one level "about" the tonal cycle of key relationships) do of their own respective keys. In some sense, the Prelude seems to be about the idea of keeping the promise of E major unfulfilled, or at least troubled. In this sense, this first page also represents an example of the so-called "alternating tonality" (tonal'naia peremennost') characteristic of Russian music in general, in which inconspicuous shifts from the major to the relative minor are made possible by a lack of strong cadences, an emphasis on less active scale degrees, and ambiguous melodic contours. As Boris Gasparov explains, such a harmonic strategy, "with its potential for dissolving tonal and chordal integrities, could be seen as an alternative path into modernity."44 The Prelude in E major thus looks both forward and back, its harmonic ambiguities placing it simultaneously on both sides of the tradition of common-practice tonality (pre-tonal and modern), while its discursive strategies, as we shall see, mark it clearly as a piece of music ultimately concerned with articulating an untroubled tonic.

In mm. 33-37, the key of E major is firmly asserted for the first time in the piece, and it is worth noting that the contextualizing bass drone is conspicuously absent here, replaced by a solid, root position E major chord in the heretofore uninhabited middle register—marking the first time the melody has had a chance to speak on its own, untainted by the lurking shadow figure, supported instead by a redeeming glimpse of wholeness. This momentary, fragile realization of the tonic, however, is quickly dissembled via a series of troubling slippages: the first phrase to emerge out of the E major triad begins on the pitch-class D-natural, which signifies the loss of the tonic key's leading tone, and soon a clear focal point of E-flat mixolydian is established, in effect tonicizing the lost leading tone. The mixolydian moment, however, soon gives way to E-flat major, and an intense passage, marked espressivo and occupying the piano's middle range (serving as a musical battleground for the piece as a whole), brings us chromatically to B major, the home key's dominant. The opening melody of the piece returns in m. 56, marking a quasi-recapitulation, if only momentarily, on E major. However, immediately after the intense middle-register passage, the lower-register melody appears, for the first and only time in the piece, in the upper register. Thus, the opposition of registers and tonal-modal ambiguity that lend the prelude its expressive import are supported also by an opposition of themes. Whatever specific narrative significance one wishes to read into this event, it is crucial to note that the appearance of the lower-register melody in the upper register occurs directly after the prelude's most passionate moment, and leads directly into a clear recapitulation in E major—suggesting that it took an unprecedented degree of tension to force this material into the upper register, and thus to bring about some degree of calm in the restatement of E major at the point of recapitulation.

The ending of the Prelude, however, categorically refuses to allow E major any solace. While the upper voices, in a series of poignant triads, alternate between G-sharp minor and E major (mm. 65-68), the bass line—in keeping with its role as a lurking menace—lags behind, falling from an F-sharp not by step to the expected tonic of E, but down a fourth to its omnipresent double from the Prelude's opening, C-sharp. Meanwhile, the upper voices revert from triads back to the opening's rising-scale melodic idea, seemingly trying to urge on the bass to reach the E. When this finally occurs (m. 69), and both the upper and lower registers are happily ensconced in E major, one final ambiguity upsets the sense of closure: just as the pitch G-sharp had served as the final word in the first articulation of E major in m. 13 (the melodic arpeggiation having rested on the third of the chord instead of the root), so too does the ending underscore the third of the tonic chord, with an octave G-sharp ringing out in the middle register, drawing our attention away from the disparity between the low and the high by filling in the space between. Read either as a sign of reconciliation or the slightest hint of continuing trouble (the middle-register G-sharp being, after all, a shared note of E major and C-sharp minor), the point here is that Shostakovich seems to be fashioning yet another dialectical relationship in the final measures of the Prelude.

As might be expected, the Fugue also takes advantage of the relationship between the major and its relative minor. In this context, however, the move to C-sharp minor functions merely as part of the technical exercise: as do all good fugues, this one moves to the expected related keys in its development (C-sharp minor, B major, F-sharp minor), all while maintaining an overall carefree mood. While all realizations of E major in the Prelude remain fragile, in other words, in the Fugue the tonal center is so clearly grounded as to be able to move unproblematically through any number of related keys without losing a clear sense of identity. If in the Prelude E major never really "means" E major with any real conviction, in the Fugue E major finally seems to enjoy some degree of self-realization.

The Fugue asserts a secure sense of self through its reconceiving of the meaning of modulation and harmonic ambiguity. It also seems to define a self that has been realized through refined artistic craft. Consider, for instance, that this Fugue is not only the single two-voiced fugue in the cycle, but that it also is the only fugue in the cycle to make use of the inverted subject. Not only is inversion present as a contrapuntal tool, in other words, but the inverted subject is used in the place of the subject itself in a complete set of entrances in the dominant key (mm. 21 ff.). By virtue of its absence elsewhere in the cycle, inversion seems to serve here as yet another sign for the kinds of dualities expressed so thoroughly and overtly in the Prelude and in the fact that this is a two-voiced fugue. As noted above, while the majority of the other fugues in the cycle are best understood as lyric duets, in this fugue, the subject is joined not only by a clear counter-subject but also by its own inverted double. The effect is that Shostakovich seems here, more than in any of the other fugues, to be disguising himself in antique dressto be offering an especially Baroque sounding, carefree Fugue as the foil to the tension-filled Prelude.

The Fugue's playful stretto section plays up the idea of relationships as well—another sign for the "two-ness" of it all. The absence of a third voice is almost palpable—one hungers for another entrance. And for this reason the ending of the Fugue—which moves away from the Baroque model of Fortspinnung, the continuous churning out of motivic-melodic material, and towards Classical models of punctuation and articulation of phrase and cadence—again seems to signal an overt relationship between the present and its various pasts. A repeated motoric rhythm in the bass in m. 60 recalls similar moments in many of the cycle's fugues (e.g. A-flat major, A major, A minor, G major, B major), when forward-moving counterpoint gives way to static repetition, signaling the approaching conclusion of the piece. And in the final four measures, the counterpoint gives way to octave doubling, recalling the opening of the Prelude, with its own dualities, but here at the closer and more natural-sounding level of one octave instead of two.45 The only other fugue in the cycle to conclude with such doubling, instead of the move conventional winding down of free counterpoint to the end, is the final one, in D minor, in which the alternative tonic and dominant pitches that comprise the head of the Fugue subject are sounded triumphantly in four octaves. In the E major Fugue, the effect is similarly exultant, serving both as a reminder of the Prelude's troubling opening and an emphatic reversal of the authorial attitude towards that previous dilemma—a jaunty and jovial finale to a story with its fair share of danger.


The Self-Seeking Substance

We have been attempting to demonstrate that Shostakovich felt compelled in his Preludes and Fugues to represent issues of identity and relationships, and we suggested at the beginning of the discussion that such a desire arose specifically out of his being situated in the context of Soviet artistic life after 1948. Moreover, we have wished to show that the tendency in Shostakovich scholarship of the last several decades has been to read his work always through the lens of Soviet history. In a recent essay on Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony, Boris Gasparov has made a plea that the time for such readings has come to an end: "I believe that in order to escape the vicious duality in which Shostakovich's image is entangled, one has to resist the communicative allure of his music, the seeming immediacy with which it calls for the listener's response and understanding."46

Gasparov suggests that we cannot help ourselves in judging the man while responding to the music. And thus, when it is so manifestly clear that his work is at times connected to the values of high Stalinism, we despair. But perhaps one way for us to get out of this bind is to realize that we are dealing here with art, and not with advertising. As Gasparov puts it, "t is the aesthetic nature of Shostakovich's musical discourse and narrative rather than its emotional modality that can tell us about the place his music occupies in the world it reflects." His own aim in reading the Fourth Symphony, then, is to study Shostakovich's music "as an aesthetic and intellectual phenomenon in their own right that emerged in a particular epoch, rather than as a reflection of or a reaction to extraneous ideological pressures and totalitarian coercion."47

These are admirable aims, especially given the unfortunate tenor of much of the discourse surrounding Shostakovich and his work. But Gasparov's choice of words in the phrase "the world it reflects" should give one pause, for the question of whether music merely reflects its world is not, of course, a simple one to settle. There is a degree to which Shostakovich's music also helped to create or construct the world that it may reflect. As Botstein, Taruskin, and Fay have suggested, and indeed as Pauline Fairclough's and Gasparov's own analyses of the tantalizingly communicative and yet ultimately ambiguous Fourth Symphony demonstrate, Shostakovich's aim may have been just that—not merely to reflect the conditions of his society in abstract sound, but to assist in shaping these conditions by representing them, and perhaps reinforcing them, symbolically.

Such a perspective may take us some of the way towards explaining the marked difference in the expressive characters of the Prelude and Fugue in E major. The intensely personal Prelude, with its epic wide spaces and affecting, emotional melodic statements, meets its most extreme contrast in the impersonal and abstract Fugue. Indeed, the Fugue appears almost a non sequitur to the prelude, unable to match the depth of its expression. It is as if Shostakovich is disavowing in the Fugue all of the urgent questions posed by the Prelude, untangling the brooding subject from its shackles and setting it free in the playful, perhaps apolitical, realm of pure craft. It is surely not too much of a stretch to place Shostakovich's work in such a context. As Botstein points out, Shostakovich drew upon the symphonic model of Gustav Mahler in the realization of "strategies that could function, sympathetically, to convey coherently affirmation along with despair and doubt. . . . a musical framework that allowed for the expression of various if not contradictory emotional states."48 In the performative act of composing op. 87, Shostakovich had at his disposal any number of conflicting expressive moves. The juxtaposition of two extremely opposing characters in the single Prelude and Fugue in E major, however, serves as an especially concentrated version of this tendency towards representing dialectical relationships.

In making the interpretive leap towards arguing that all of this represents somehow a statement of Soviet subjectivity, however, two points must be underscored. First, we must keep in mind the advice of such scholars as Jochen Hellbeck and Yanni Kotsonis, who remind us of the dangers in overstressing the differences between the Soviet experience and modern Western experience in general.49 Any quest for authenticity in Stalin's Soviet Union would be fraught with perils at times unimaginable to Western commentators. But the case of Mahler, as only one example, indicates that such concerns have also motivated artists in other times and places and produced equally captivating art. As Stephen Greenblatt's recent biography of Shakespeare reveals, the divided self, threatened by official ideology and hiding under the cover of art, has been a ubiquitous presence since the dawn of modernity.50 In representing this quest for wholeness, Shostakovich revealed the depth of his kinship with artists of the past.

Second, as strongly as we feel about the acuity of our interpretations, we must always remember that our conclusions, no matter how relevant to the expressive effects of the music under investigation, can never come close to conveying the depths of meaning that lie hidden beneath the sonic surfaces. We must never allow our idea of what music "means" to be limited by our own analyses. Our attempts to find meaning are always bound up with our own psychological and social motivations, which, despite any concordance between the artist's time and place and our own, lie quite apart from the conditions of the music we are seeking to understand.

Indeed, the doors must remain open for exactly this reason: we will continue to need to draw upon this art in order to make sense of our own lives, in the most personal of senses. The question of the relative stability of E major in Shostakovich's Prelude and Fugue No. 9 stands as a proxy for the most important and perpetual questions we have about ourselves and the security of our own identities. Along these lines, Lawrence Kramer writes that "musical affect, expression, and association become pure forms of self-apprehension; music is known by, and valued for its 'transcendence' of any specific meanings ascribed to it; identity seeks to become substance in music, even though music, being more event than substance, continually eludes this desire in the act of granting it."51 However close we may have come in the preceding analysis to conveying the importance of the idea of dialectical or reflexive relationships in the Preludes and Fugues, issues of the extent to which this cycle represents a political act by virtue of its "formalism" will persist, not only because of a lack of authentic testimony on the composer's part, but because the nature of music itself deems it so. In the end, the tension between affirmative and oppositional readings of this music must be viewed as productive, illuminating, and ultimately indispensable to our continuing quests to understand the special power of Shostakovich's artistic achievement.



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Braun, Joachim. "The Double Meaning of Jewish Elements in Dmitri Shostakovich's Music." Musical Quarterly 71 (1985), 68-80.

Clark, Katerina. Petersburg: Crucible of Cultural Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Dolzhanskii, Alexandr. 24 Preliudii i Fugi D. Shostakovicha. Leningrad: Sovetskii Kompositor, 1963.

Fairclough, Pauline. A Soviet Credo: Dmitri Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

_____. "The 'Perestroyka' of Soviet Symphonism: Shostakovich in 1935." Music & Letters 83/2 (2002), 259-73.

Fanning, David. Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2004.

_____. "The Present-Day Master of the C Major Key." Acta Musicologica 73 (2001), 101-40.

Fay, Laurel E. Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Gasparov, Boris. Five Operas and a Symphony: Word and Music in Russian Culture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.

_____. "Introduction." In The Semiotics of Russian Cultural History, edited by Alexander D. Nakhimovsky and Alice Stone Nakhimovsky, 13-29. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1985.

Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.

_____. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Ginzburg, Lydia. On Psychological Prose. Translated and edited by Judson Rosengrant. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.

Hakobian, Levon. "A Perspective on Soviet Musical Culture during the Lifetime of Shostakovich." In A Shostakovich Casebook, edited by Malcolm Hamrick Brown, 216-29. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004.

Hellbeck, Jochen. "Self-Realization in the Stalinist System: Two Soviet Diaries of the 1930s." In Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices, edited by David L. Hoffmann and Yanni Kotsonis, 221-41. London: Macmillan, 2000.

Ho, Allan B. and Dmitry Feofanov, eds. Shostakovich Reconsidered. London: Toccata Press, 1998.

Kotsonis, Yanni, "Introduction: A Modern Paradox—Subject and Citizen in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Russia." In Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices, edited by David L. Hoffmann and Yanni Kotsonis, 1-16. London: Macmillan, 2000.

Kramer, Lawrence. Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

LaRue, Jan. Guidelines for Style Analysis. 2nd edition. Warren, MI: Harmonie Park Press, 1992.

Maes, Francis. A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar. Translated by Arnold J. Pomerans and Erica Pomerans. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002.

Mazel, Lev. "O fuge do mazhor Shostakovicha." In Chertï Stil'ya D. Shostakovicha, edited by Lyubov' G. Berger, 332-35. Moscow, 1962.

Ottaway, Hugh. Review of recording of Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues by Roger Woodward. Tempo 118 (1976), 26.

Roseberry, Eric. Review of recordings of Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues by Tatyana Nikolayeva and Marios Papadopoulos. The Musical Times 132/1783 (1991), 453.

Scott, H.G., ed. Problems of Soviet Literature: reports and speeches at the first Soviet Writers' Congress. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979.

Taruskin, Richard. Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 1997.

_____. "Double Trouble." The New Republic. 225 (24 December 2001), 26.

_____. Review of Ian MacDonald, The New Shostakovich. Slavic Review 52 (1993), 396-97.

Ursova, Tanya. "Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues op. 87: Subtexts in Context." DSCH Journal 22 (2005), 11-15.

Volkov, Solomon, ed. Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Wilson, Elizabeth. Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

1The present study represents the product of a student-faculty collaborative research grant funded during summer 2005 by the Keck Foundation and administered by Macalester College. Much in the spirit of the master teachers and scholars who took part in the "Forum on the Symbiosis of Teaching and Research" that appeared in this journal in fall 2004, the authors wish to acknowledge the joys inherent in the collaborative process that characterizes all research.

2Quoted in Scott, Problems of Soviet Literature, 19. See also Fairclough, "Perestroyka," 268.

3Dolzhanskii, 24 Preliudii i Fugi, 243. We wish to express our gratitude to Gitta Hammarberg, of Macalester College, and Hilde Hoogenboom, of the University at Albany, SUNY, for their invaluable assistance in translating Dolzhanskii's text.

4See, for instance, Ursova, "Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues" and Braun, "Double Meaning." See also Volkov, Testimony.

5Dolzhanskii, 24 Preliudii i Fugi, 232.

6Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically, 508. For an especially strident attack against this statement, see Ho and Feofanov, Shostakovich Reconsidered. See also Gasparov, Five Operas, 163-64.

7Botstein, "Listening to Shostakovich," 374.

8Ibid., 359.

9Fay, Shostakovich, 169.


11Fairclough, "Perestroyka," 264. See also Fairclough, A Soviet Credo.

12Fairclough, "Perestroyka," 260. On the impact of socialist realist ideology on literature, see Clark, Petersburg.

13Fay, Shostakovich, 178.

14Fanning, String Quartet No. 8, 135. See also Kramer, Musical Meaning, 216-41.

15Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically, 490-91.

16Fanning, String Quartet No. 8, 139.

17See, for instance, Taruskin, Review of The New Shostakovich and "Double Trouble." Francis Maes borrows the phrase for the title of his chapter on Shostakovich in his A History of Russian Music.

18Ginzburg, On Psychological Prose, 10.

19See Gasparov, "Introduction."

20Ginzburg, On Psychological Prose, 11.

21Boym, Common Places, 3.


23Kotsonis, "Introduction: A Modern Paradox," 1.

24See Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity and Modernity and Self-Identity.

25See Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity, especially pp. 28-32.

26Hellbeck, "Self-Realization," 221.

27Ibid., 237.

28Ibid., 228, 230. In making such an assertion, Hellbeck notes "the uncanny proximity of totalitarianism to the ethos of modernity." (240)

29Ibid., 235.

30Quoted in Fay, Shostakovich, 160.

31Various reviewers of the cycle's recording history have casually noted the allusion. See, for instance, Roseberry and Ottaway. See also the brief discussion in Fanning, "Present-Day Master," 137-38.

32For a discussion of this motive's roots in folk music, see Mazel, "O fuge do mazhor."

33Dolzhanskii, 24 Preliudii i Fugi, 8-9.

34For an extended discussion on the expressive import of C major in Shostakovich's symphonic output, see Fanning, "Present-Day Master."

35One should also note here another presumably significant relationship involving the Preludes and Fugues and an existing work—this time between the Prelude No. 12 and the fourth movement of the Eighth Symphony (1943), both passacaglias in G-sharp minor with brooding ground basses sharing such characteristics as wide leaps and repeated notes.

36Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically, 490-91.

37Hakobian, "A Perspective on Soviet Musical Culture," 226. Hakobian's essay appeared originally as the introduction to the chapter "The Rise of Shostakovich" in his Music of the Soviet Age, 1917-1987 (Stockholm: Melos Music Literature Kantat HB, 1998).

38Hakobian, "A Perspective on Soviet Musical Culture," 218.

39Ibid., 220.

40See Fanning, "Present-Day Master," 137.

41See Wilson, Shostakovich, 248-51.

42As anyone who has studied in Russia and/or the Soviet Union knows, out-of-tune pianos are ubiquitous there. One gets the distinct impression here that Shostakovich was aware of the potential for a wolfish sound in this piece, much in the way that he seemed to have exploited, for expressive purposes, the inferior quality of Soviet reeds in the many woodwind solos in his symphonies. One might compare such an aesthetic to Mahler's purposefully inelegant treatment of the double bass in its solo at the beginning of the third movement of his First Symphony.

43LaRue, Guidelines, 52-53.

44Gasparov, Five Operas, 7.

45It is perhaps worth noting that Bach's own two-voice fugue in Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier (no. 10 in E minor) also utilizes the idea of octave doubling at structural cadence points for dramatic emphasis.

46Gasparov, Five Operas, 164.


48Botstein, "Listening to Shostakovich," 367.

49See Hellbeck, "Self-Realization," and Kotsonis, "Introduction."

50Greenblatt, Will in the World.

51Kramer, Musical Meaning, 4.

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Last modified on Thursday, 04/10/2018

Mark Mazullo

Mark Mazullo is Professor and Chair of the Music Department at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, where he has been teaching piano and courses on music history since 1999. He is the author of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues: contexts, style, performance (Yale University Press, 2010), as well as many essays on diverse musical subjects that have appeared in such publications as The Yale Review, The Musical Quarterly, Popular Music, Journal of the American Musicological Society, and American Music. As a pianist who appears frequently in solo, chamber, and concerto settings, he has performed concertos by Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev with the Dubuque (Iowa) Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Philharmonic, the Civic Orchestra of Minneapolis, and the St. Paul Civic Symphony. Other recent projects have included a complete performance of John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano in collaboration with Macalester College’s dance program, and an all-Beethoven recital and master-class at the University of North Dakota School of Music. Mazullo received his Bachelor of Music degree at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and his Master of Music degree at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. He received a Ph.D. in musicology at the University of Minnesota. The recipient of Macalester College’s 2009 Excellence in Teaching Award, Mazullo is known for his broad range of courses, including seminars on Beethoven and Shostakovich and a first-year course called Music and Freedom. He is also a popular pre-concert lecturer for both the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Minnesota Orchestra.

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