<<< << -- 3 -- Howard Smith HAUNTING IMAGERY -- >> >>>
'He (Stalin) doesn't belive in rockets. He needs me to be
wrong', General Tukhachevsky had confided in the composer.
'You are the one voice by which the truth might be heard, and
the people know. You must stay alive for that. When Leningrad is naked
to bombardment from the air thank Stalin -- and remember me.'
As the siege of Leningrad rages the composer is pressured to a
photoshoot wearing a defender's fire helmet -- newsreels
trumpet -- 'Music from the flames to set America aflame
with the sounds of liberty' and the incongruous image appears on
a Time magazine cover.
At times the music is juxtaposed with symbolic images of Soviet
military-economic planning; steam locomotive wheels and pistons propel
the action while Shostakovich is pictured fleeing, caught up in the
wartime maelstrom -- as if pursued -- through steel foundries and vast
Stalin's capricious purges multiply and the denunciations by
both him and his successors bedevil Russia's foremost composer,
consequently key images, scraps of earlier conversations, and
Shostakovich's own troubled inner musings recur adding to the
unsettling impact of Palmer's graphic biodoc.
A scene from 'Testimony'. Screenshot © 1987 Isolde Films
Hard on the heels of war in Europe and Russia the March 1949
International Peace Congress (New York) culminated in a painful American
press conference. One after another the American universities canceled
the composer's engagements -- his minders'
concluded -- 'Stravinsky is behind the snubs.
He has the universities "sewn up"'. Prior to the
Soviets' departure for the USA Stalin stood logic on its head;
'No works are banned in Russia', he demurred,
'but there are contexts in which performances are
Copyright © 26 August 2007
Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand