Life Chronicles

Between 18 July and 3 August 1950, Shostakovich was in Berlin and Leipzig. He headed a delegation of Soviet musicians who came to the GDR to participate in concerts dedicated to the 200th anniversary of Bach’s death, as well as in the International Bach Competition in Leipzig.
While still in Leipzig in the summer of 1950, Shostakovich admitted that he thought about continuing the tradition of Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier”. This idea, which began as a modest composition of “technical exercises in the polyphonic genre”, turned, as the work progressed, into a cycle of Twenty-Four Preludes and Fugues, which was finished in February 1951. The first performer of the entire cycle was Tatyana Petrovna Nikolayeva, who won first prize at the Bach competition in Leipzig in 1950. At the beginning of the 1950s, Shostakovich chaired the State Examination Commission at the Institute of Military Conductors several times, where some of his former colleagues from the Moscow Conservatory worked after the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) Central Committee Resolution was published in 1948.

Start of work on the cycle “24 Preludes and Fugues” (ор.87).
Films: “The Fall of Berlin” (op. 82) and “Belinsky” (ор.85).
Two Romances on words by M. Lermontov (ор.84).
Participation in celebrations in Germany for the 200th anniversary of J.S. Bach’s death.

August 28, 1950

“Any prelude and fugue by Bach can be played in any tempo, with any dynamic nuances or without them and it will be beautiful anyway. This is how music should be written, so that no rascal can spoil it.”

September 4, 1950, Moscow

“My birthday is approaching - September 25th, which I want to celebrate with a bang. I have already made up the guest-list (about 30 people !!!)... On that day I need to light 44 candles. Twenty of them I can stick into the four candelabras, 2 girandoles and two candlesticks, which I have...”

Maxim Shostakovich,
son of the composer:

“The grandest of our celebrations were, of course, Papa’s birthday on September 25th and on May 12th, the anniversary of the first performance of Symphony No.1 and New Year as well.
On Father’s birthday we always used to light as many candles as he had years behind him. When his friends were wondering what to bring him as presents, one could always give him candlesticks, as we never had enough.”
“Was he a believer?”
“He did not go to church, but he always took part in festivals like Easter. Then we used to take part in the Easter Procession, came home and broke our fast. If eggs were being painted, or ‘paskha’ was being made, he always joined in. Once I brought him a crucifix from London and it used to stand on the table next to his bed.
I find a great deal in his music that is religious - more and more as time goes on.”

March 22, 1950, Moscow

“Dear Edik, Your compositions took me by surprise. If you did not have any basic musical training, then it is astonishing how you manage to compose relatively well from a professional point of view. At any rate I ask you once again to answer the following questions:
1) What musical training have you had (Knowledge of theory, solfeggio, harmony, instrumentation and so on)?
2) How well do you play the piano?
3) How old are you?
4) What is your name and patronymic?
Many things about your compositions I liked very much. I think that you possess a considerable gift for composition. It would be a great sin, if you bury your talent.”

April 5, 1950, Moscow

“ ask my advice about what to do next. Your undoubted talent obliges me to insist that you should become a composer. But if you have only one year left at the University, then you should complete your studies. The path of a composer is a thorny one (forgive me for the rather banal phrase). I can tell you this from my experience past and present. So, I think, or rather I am certain that you can become a composer and even one ‘with a face of his own’. If you take this step, then don’t curse me in the future. I repeat: the path of a composer is a thorny one. I can tell you this from my own experience past and present.”

April 22, 1950, Moscow

“...the Third Quartet I consider one of my most successful compositions. If you are going to take a look at it, bear in mind that the first part has to be played gently, not with verve. D.S.”

May 10, 1950, Moscow

“...I want to show your compositions to some Moscow musicians...After receiving this letter, please send me a telegram permitting me toshow your works to them. Without your permission, I don’t feel I have the right to show them to anybody. Make sure you complete university...<...>
You definitely have talent. Your shortcomings are as follows: the melodic material is weak. In addition you rein yourself in too much. Slacken the reins and give your feelings more space. Now, I feel, you are ‘damping down’ your ideas too much. Write more boldly, more vividly and with more depth. The main things is to work at your melody. Awaiting your telegram.
Wishing you success, D. Shostakovich.”

June 15, 1950, Komarovo

“You need to pay serious attention to your weakness (melody). Theme-melody is the soul of music. When this soul has something missing, you can be sure there’ll be no composition.
A few words about why you took offence. I advise you to envy Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Yet to envy Koval, Muravlyov and so on is really not worth it, however lucky these wretches may be sometimes.”

September 4, 1950

“I am sending you greetings from Leningrad and my best wishes and I am also turning to you with a request. The thing is that on September 25th it’ll be my birthday and I would be very happy if you and Sviatoslav Teophilovich could come to my home at 8 o’clock in the evening. But that is not everything. I am very keen to ask you and also T.F. and sing my songs, which you have apparently already learnt and sung. If that’s not too much to ask, then please play them. That’s what I should like to ask you for as a present. Please convey my request to them and also the invitation to come on the 25th at eight o’clock.”