Stalin and Shostakovich, by Solomon Volkov

This account of the perilous, unremitting battles between Stalin and Shostakovich charts an engrossing history which extends well beyond the book’s protagonists. Lacking incisive political perspective, Volkov nonetheless unearths a wealth of detail on the whole structure of state-regulated cultural production during the Stalin era. With disaster an ever-present threat, figures such as Shostakovich, Eisenstein and Pasternak engaged in a compex set of cat-and-mouse relations: often barely surviving through a combination of guile and Stalin’s uncertain desire for international recognition. Incorporating fascinating analysis of Shostakovich’s key works, Volkov’s readable fusion of the musicological and the social is a clear success. AB

Little, Brown and Company; 2004; 384 pages

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Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers. George Orwell

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