The Rambler :: blog

Friday, August 12, 2005

Arts and Communism redux 

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The Guardian's sub-editors have done it again:
It pays to be poor

Sofia Gubaidulina's 'music of poverty' was born of Soviet repression and censorship - and was all the richer for it.
I've blogged before about how uncomfortable these lazy conclusions make me feel. I mean, yes, the picture of a censored artist struggling in abject poverty against a state which censors her work is a good story - no less so for being true - and stories are what make the world go round; but there's always the risk of letting a good story get in the way of what actually matters: the music. It's possible to have both - essential even. Drawing dotted lines between stories and sounds is what music writers (should) do after all. The problem is that the story about the composer struggling under communism has become so hackneyed and inviolate that whenever - as is possibly the case with Shostakovich, say - the evidence starts to suggest a less friendly, more complicated story, we prefer to angrily deny it, to the detriment of everything. So when the same kind of story is dragged out (simply substituting 'post-communism' for 'communism' when the dates stop adding up) over and over again, it demands to be held up to the light. You see, the musical works are what make the story - they're not incidental characters in the plot of Communist oppression, touches of local colour; they are the story, or at least one story, the story that Sofia Gubaidulina wishes to contribute to. I'm intrigued, therefore, to know why she might have ended the interview so abruptly:
Suddenly, Gubaidulina made it clear my visit had ended. I was kindly but firmly shown the door. Before she shut it, she poked her head out once more to where I stood on the landing: "Goodbye! Compose well and live intensively!"

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