The Rambler :: blog

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Ross on Shostakovich 

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Alex Ross has covered Shostakovich once more in the new New Yorker, following up on a previous blog post. The choice line for me is, "Russian composers seem especially vulnerable to urban legends, as if facts mattered even less behind the old Iron Curtain." So true. It's that occasional chestnut of West-East European politics once more. There's a tendency among Western European critics to approach Soviet-era art as though the adjective was all that mattered: Soviet-era = X, where X is a fairly consistently defined narrative of oppression, subterfuge, underground triumph, etc. The designation is enough to deny the work the free air breathed by every piece of Western art. The problem is compounded by the fact that casting an East European artist as a struggling, samizdat hero often seems the noblest thing to do; many people follow this line unconsciously assuming that this is desirable. Not everyone takes up this position - to claim this would be to commit the same mistake in the opposite direction: Euro-occidentalism, anyone? - but sufficiently great a number to encourage great wariness when approaching any criticism of Eastern European art from a Western perspective. Make troubled heros out of Havel, Milosz and Shostakovich if you must, but never lose sight of the works they made, as works in themselves.

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