Only six years ago, the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, evidently frustrated by the continuing ubiquity of Shostakovich's music in concert halls and on CD, declared that popular interest in the Russian composer was "influenced by the autobiographical dimension of his music". A modish enthusiasm for him was bound to be short-lived, suggested Boulez, for the music itself was just "third-pressing Mahler" (an allusion to the process used to extract the cheapest and most tasteless kind of olive oil). Not long ago, in my presence, one of our most distinguished and brilliant musical academics wrung his hands and asked, "But this music is completely empty. What do they see in it?", while one of his colleagues was elsewhere heard muttering a version of that old jibe: "If I could press a button and destroy all memory of him and his music, I would press without hesitation." And the British composer and writer Robin Holloway has written passionately and vitriolically about what he considers the grotesque overestimation of Shostakovich.
Shostakovich may be nearing saturation here On An Overgrown Path, and elsewhere. But Gerard McBurney's article in today's Guardian, from which the extract above is taken, is a very worthwhile contribution. Let's hope there will now be similar reappraisals of other anniversary composers already featured here. These include Sir Malcolm Arnold (Arnold's 9th - neglected 20th century masterpiece?), Edmund Rubbra (The Year is '72), and most notably Robert Schumann (Rare Romantic Requiems in Avignon). When all the Mozart ballyhoo is over this month will we hear it for the 150th anniversary of Schumann's death in July? He is a first rank composer; let's celebrate his tragically short life and superb music appropriately.
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