Life Chronicles

In May 1937, Shostakovich was on holiday on the Crimean coast in Gaspra; he spent the summer in the village of Daimishche near Leningrad.
At this time, he had already begun composing the Fifth Symphony.

Commencement of teaching at the Leningrad Conservatory.
April 5th - writing of the “Autobiography”.
November 21st - premiere of Symphony No.5 (op. 47) conducted by Y. Mravinsky.
Film - “Maxim’s Return” (ор.45).

“He said: ‘Too many notes... Keep the essential notes, the necessary sounds, nothing superfluous, no pile-ups...’”

Irina Shostakovich,
the composer’s widow:

“He used to recall various moments from his pre-war life, which, as you know, was not an easy one. <...> It seemed idyllic, but at that very time a meeting of composers expressed its distrust of Shostakovich, Tukhachevsky was arrested and Shostakovich himself was expecting to be arrested at any moment.
Nowadays not many people remember this.”

Sergei Prokofiev:

“At last I have heard your Fifth Symphony, admittedly in rather gloomy surroundings. It was in Sokolniki Park, you could hear trains whistling, an accordion was playing in the park and the mosquitoes were merciless... Many parts of the symphony I liked very much but it is clear that it is being praised not for what really deserves praise: what really needs to be praised is probably not being noticed. It’s a good thing, in any case, that it is being praised.”

Yevgenii Mravinsky:

“What place would you attribute to Shostakovich in contemporary art? - You are standing under a tree. How can you determine how tall it is? That is not something I would ever dare to do. <...> During work on the music of any composer you have to do some re-touching. From a performer’s point of view there is hardly anything that needs correcting. During my long association with Dmitrii Shostakovich starting from 1937 (I conducted almost all his symphonies), as far as I remember I only made minor comments on two or three occasions. Some he accepted and others not. His capacity for listening to his own music and taking into account the minute detail was amazing.”

December 28, 1937, Leningrad

“Life is very busy. I have completed two works for the cinema (‘Volochayevka Days’ and ‘The Great Citizen’).”

Dmitri Shostakovich:

“We met in 1925. I was a starting out as a musician and he was a famous military commander. That and the difference in our ages did not get in the way of our friendship, which lasted for more than ten years and only came to an end because of Tukhachevsky’s tragic death.
From the first day of our friendship I used to play all my compositions to Tukhachevsky. He was a sensitive and demanding listener.
Starting from 1928 when M. Tukhachevsky was put in command of the troops of the Leningrad military district, our friendship became even closer. We saw each other whenever we could and wanted to.
When Tukhachevsky learnt about my financial difficulties, he asked for help to be provided straightaway. The help came and I got work. Every free moment - and Tukhachevsky did not have many of those - he tried to spend in the country, in the woods. Sometimes we used to set out together and during our walks we used to talk most of all about music.”

student of D. Shostakovich:

“He said: ’All this is very nice, but too many notes. You should write as the Classics did. Only the essential notes, the necessary sounds, nothing superfluous, no pile-ups... Find your own style. Find a face of your own. To start with - imitate! Take note of a technique and reproduce it. It’ll turn out differently with you anyway. But only select the best models for imitation, learn to choose the very best. Don’t imitate Rakhmaninov. He has striking, astonishing talent, but his imitators have never and will never produce anything worthwhile. Pay attention as you play Bach, imitate Beethoven. Imitate Stravinsky, but not Prokofiev. Nowadays, however, he is the only one with a piano style free of any superfluous notes. Work on polypohony, write Inventions and Fugues. Note how the Old Masters used to write. Pay attention, for example, to the bass notes in Haydn, how they are always logical and ‘independent’, with a line all of their own. When you have singled out a technique, make sure you understand it and capture its essence Then try to use it in practice and decide whether it is has worked. The key thing is to say and express what you want to in a single-minded, laconic way using appropriate and true images. Music should neverbe empty.”

Dmitri Shostakovich:

“I was also engaged in teaching: from 1937 to 1941 I was teaching at the Leningrad Conservatoire. I taught composition and instrumentation. I had a number of remarkable pupils there. They were Georgii Sviridov, Orest Yevlakhov, Yuri Levitin, Venyamin Fleishman. I ought perhaps to say rather more about the latter. He was a very talented young man, who wrote the opera ‘Rothschild’s Violin’ based on Chekhov’s story. He volunteered for the front in the first days of the war and was very soon killed. I deeply revere his memory.
My personal view is that everything depends on the talent of each so-called ‘student’. If someone is totally devoid of a gift for music, even if he were to have Beethoven as a teacher, I’m afraid nothing would come of it. Yet when people are talented and really sensitive then of course it is very pleasant... It is easy and enjoyable teaching them... I enjoyed teaching... I have the most pleasant memories of my time as a teacher.”