My task for this week is to reestablish my listening and blogging habit after a month of deeply uncooperative work schedules and general laxity. But I recently finished reading Galina Vishnevskaya’s 1984 memoir in full and I want to share a passage, one of many in which she justifiably grinds an ax against the Soviet regime that had exiled her a decade previously:
In your youth, you can find the strength to laugh off the raps on the knuckles and the boxes on the ear. But with time, as your inner vision becomes mercilessly sharp, life reveals itself to you in both its ugliness and its beauty. And you inevitably realize that your best years have been stolen from you, that you haven’t done half of what you wanted to do and were capable of. You become tortured with shame for permitting the criminal abasement of what was most precious to you: your art. And it becomes impossible to remain a marionette eternally dancing at the will of a stupid puppeteer, to endure the endless interdictions and those degrading words “You can’t!”
Vishnevskaya is speaking directly about her own treatment and that of her husband, Mstislav Rostropovich, due to their increasing political outspokenness and defense of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. But — to look past Shostakovich’s early works of the 1920s and ’30s, written up until his own first box on the ear — Vishnevskaya’s words also suggests better than most the bitterness at the core of the composer’s later works. They point, too, toward what I hear as a rage against social and state persecution entwined with a deeper, more universal rage against illness and death, particularly in Shostakovich’s music from the mid-1960s onwards as his health seriously declined: Mortality, too, wastes potential, steals time.