With nothing to say about the no longer extant Eight Preludes, I’ll describe what I’ll be writing about at this site and why.
For about half of my life now, starting at age fifteen, I’ve been a more or less rabid fan of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. This enthusiasm ebbs and flows, and peaks every several months, usually just with me listening through a number of pieces that I’m already familiar with, though occasionally I’m driven to get familiar with parts of his output that I don’t know as well. Earlier this summer I got excited about listening through Shostakovich’s earliest work and decided, rather than following my usual pattern of CD purchasing glut and listening binge, that I’d like to try to focus that excitement into writing down my thoughts about the material. So I settled on the idea, gimmicky as it feels, of listening to recordings of as many of Shostakovich’s works as I can get ahold of and describing my thoughts about each, one at a time, more or less in chronological order.
Largely I’d like to see whether or not I can say anything interesting about my reaction to the music. I feel like I have my own understanding of what I like in Shostakovich, what I don’t like, and how that has changed over the years, but I want to clarify those ideas and make them expressible to others. Hopefully the results won’t be too boring or banal — plenty of deep-feeling ideas come out rather shallow once you put them on paper, or onscreen — but that can be judged empirically over time. As a more general goal I want to practice getting a first draft of my ideas onto the page without fussing over the words too much, which the blog format and a high volume of stuff to write about should both encourage.
In terms of process: The list of works I’m working from is based on that in Laurel Fay’s excellent biography, Shostakovich: A Life, supplemented by what’s on Wikipedia, although the latter includes some duplications and never-executed projects. I’ll listen through them in order of when they were completed, based on the information available, although I don’t intend to be overly strict about that, especially in cases where the chronology is unclear.
For stage music I’ll prefer watching DVDs of full performances when available. Likewise for Shostakovich’s film music I’ll watch the original film when I reasonably can (although the availability of a lot of stuff is dicey here). In the absence of a DVD, I’ll prefer recordings of the complete score, then concert suites. For any work if the whole or a suite isn’t available I’ll go with any extracts I can find. I expect for the most part to stick to commercial recordings where I can get ahold of the original media. I’m not envisioning an overly strict process; I’ll figure out the details as I go.
Initially I’ll be aiming to listen to, and write up, one piece per day, four or five days per week. From there I’ll see what kind of rate I can comfortably settle into. Other than the work per day to write about I won’t listen to any other Shostakovich (unless a live performance comes up), in part to give me a clearer sense of how his style evolves over time but mostly to keep me from burning out on his music.