Thursday 17 January 2019

Shostakovich and Weinberg

That Shostakovich and Weinberg were good friends is well-known. They compared their works-in-progress together, and met regularly, as well as socialising almost every day. What is less well-known, however, is the extent to which Shostakovich supported Weinberg during his most dire time of need. 

The following is from an article by Nataliya Vovsi-Mikhoels, Weinberg's first wife, on his relationship with Shostakovich, and the events of 1953: 

Although Weinberg was not a pupil of Shostakovich's, Dmitri Dmitriyevich always showed great interest in his work. From the very beginning of their acquaintance, they established a law whereby each played his compositions for the other. I remember one day Weinberg telling me of a dream he had had in which Shostakovich invited him to listen to a new work where he heard themes from many of his previous compositions. As he was telling me this story, the telephone rang; it was Shostakovich, who indeed was inviting him to come and listen to a work he had just completed. It turned out to be the Eighth Quartet, which Dmitri Dmitriyevich considered to be his musical autobiography. Weinberg returned home shaken to the very core by the music, and by his prophetic dream.  

In February 1953, Weinberg was arrested. Stalin was still alive. To be arrested in those times meant departure for ever. The families of those arrested were ostracized. I rushed between the Moscow prisons, the Lyubyanka and the Butyrka, and didn't know whom to approach.  

A few days after his arrest, a great friend of ours range me and suggested we meet. While we paced the dark and narrow Moscow lanes, he told me that Shostakovich was writing a letter to Beriya and needed me to come and help him edit it. It was sheer lunacy to go to Shostakovich in my situation! But I went and read the letter in which he, Shostakovich, vouched that Weinberg was an honest citizen and a most talented young composers, whose chief interest in life was music. I understood how dangerous it was for Shostakovich to vouch for an enemy of the people, a Jew, and furthermore, Mikhoels' son-in-law... I expressed these emotions as best as I could to Dmitri Dmitriyevich, but he, shy of being thanked, just continued to repeat, 'Don't worry, don't worry, they won't do anything to me'.  

Apart from this letter, his wife Nina Vasilyevna suggested that I should write a statement, giving her power of attorney, thereby allowing her to take our things and sell them to support my seven-year-old daughter Vitosha [Victoria], when they came to get me and my sister... In fact, as it transpired later, she had decided that they would look after Vitosha.  

But all this was not be. On 5 March Stalin died. A month later, my father was rehabilitated in the press. Soon after this Shostakovich and his wife went to the south on holiday, making me promise to send a telegram as soon as Weinberg was released.  

And shortly we were able to send them this telegram: 'Enjoy your holiday. We embrace you, Tala and Metek'. Two days later the Shostakoviches were back in Moscow. That evening we celebrated. At the table, festively decked out with candles in antique candlesticks, Nina Vasileyna read out the power of attorney that I had written. Then Dmitri Dmitriyevich got up and solemnly pronounced, 'Now I should burn it over the candles'. After the destruction of the 'document', we drank vodka and sat down to supper. I rarely saw Dmitri Dmitriyevich as clam, and even merry, as he was that evening. 

Quoted from Elizabeth Wilson (ed), Shostakovich: A Life Remembered (London: Faber and faber, 2006) 263-264. 

Shostakovich photograph from wikipedia commons. 

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