Life Chronicles

Twice, in 1965 and in 1967, Shostakovich was in Brest and took a holiday in the Belovezhie Forest. “One of the most amazingly beautiful places on this Earth,” he wrote later in a letter, “I have a terrible need for the company of bison, deer, and boars, with whom I spent a lot of time. The deer and baby boars are very sweet. The boars are very ferocious. And the bison are simply fearsome when they give us their troubled and savage look.”
Once when a correspondent asked if he was planning a trip to Leningrad soon, Shostakovich replied: “…I don’t need to make any plans, I am always in Leningrad. Do you know Repino? And the Guesthouse for Composers? I love to take holidays there. Admittedly, the mosquitoes are bothersome. But all the same, the best holiday for me is in Repino.” Many compositions were written while “on holiday” in Repino. On 18 May 1967, the Second Violin Concerto was finished in Repino.
On 3 February 1967, Shostakovich finished Seven Poems by Alexander Blok. On 12 June, in Zhukovka, Galina Vishnevskaya, David Oistrakh, Mstislav Rostropovich, and the author rehearsed the romances for the first time. On 23 October, the premiere was held in the Grand Hall of the Conservatory, which Dmitri Dmitriyevich could not attend because of illness, he listened to the concert on the radio. The piano part was performed by Moses Weinberg.

October 23rd - Premiere of the vocal-instrumental suite “Seven Poems by Alexander Blok” (ор.127).
September 26th - Premiere of Violin Concerto No. 2 (ор.129).
September 16th - Premiere of “October” - symphonic poem for orchestra (ор.131).
Film “Sofia Perovskaya” (ор.132).

February 3, 1967, Moscow

“I am disappointed in myself. Or rather I have come to the conclusion that I am a very drab and mediocre composer... Yet, the composition of music, - an affliction like a disease - haunts me...”

August 30, 1967, Zhukovka

“It’s a great pity that you did not manage to stay in Belovezhskaya Pushcha...It is an astonishingly beautiful corner of the globe...”

September 30, 1967, Kuntsevo

“Reporting..: So far 75%. (The right leg is broken, the left leg is broken, the right arm is defective. Now I have to damage my left arm, and then 100% of my limbs will be defective).”

June 7, 1967

To the Chairman of the District Executive Committee in Pochinkovo.
“I am sending you an application from my constitutuent A.Bochkaryov, who lives in the village Uch Maidan with a complaint that, despite your instruction to the Maidan Soviet to have the roof of his house repaired, in which he is currently living, nothing has been done so far.
I would ask you personally to check the reason why your instruction has not been complied with yet and let me know the result.
D. Shostakovich.”

February 24, 1967
To the Chairman of the City Executive Committee
Comrade Zotikov I.V.

“Respected Iliodor Vasilievich!
My constitutent N.Sazonov resides in very difficult living conditions. I most earnestly request you to acquaint yourself with his problem and help him to improve his living conditions. Please inform me as to the measures you adopt at the following address: Moscow, K-9, Nezhdanova Street, 8/10, Block 2, Flat 23.
I enclose N. Sazonov’s application together with a 10 page appendix.
D. Shostakovich.”

January 24, 1967, Moscow.

“There are no particular changes in my life. I feel all right. I try to write something every day. Nothing comes of it and so there is no cause for optimism. On the other hand I remember Sibelius’ biography. During many of the last years his life he didn’t compose anything and the only position he had was Pride of the Finnish People. This position was extremely well paid:
a flat, a dacha, a solid subsidy and so on. Sibelius himself threw back the cognac and listened to all kinds of music on records. If only I could have the same.
I have a lot of worries though, very many...and little strength.
<...> Up till now since my illness I don’t drink. Nor do I smoke.
I have lost a great deal because of this. Yet I’m not going to drink again because of some sort of idiotic fear.”

February 3, 1967, Moscow

“I think a good deal about, life, death and my career. When I think back over the life of certain well-known (I don’t say great) people, I come to the conclusion that they died at the right time. Mussorgsky, for example, died prematurely and the same can be said of Pushkin, Lermontov and several others. Tchaikovsky on the other hand should have died earlier. He rather outstayed his time and that was why his death, or rather the last days of his life were so terrible.
The same applies to Gogol, Rossini and, perhaps, Beethoven. They and also many other both well-known (great) and also unknown people went beyond that point in life, after which it (life) can no longer be a source of happiness, but only one of disappointments and terrible events. You probably think as you read these lines: why’s he writing this? It’s because I, beyond any doubt, have outstayed my time.
I have suffered many disappointments and am expecting many terrible events. I am disappointed in myself. Or rather I have come to realize that I am a very drab and mediocre composer. When I look down from the height of my 60 years at the ‘Road behind Me’ I would say that only on two occasions has my work hit the headlines (‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District’ and my Thirteenth Symphony). The headlines hit home hard. Yet, when everything had calmed down and things had got back to normal, it turned out that both ‘Lady Macbeth’ and the Thirteenth Symphony went splat! as they say in ‘The Nose’.
Yet the thought that I have just outlined is a terrible one. I still have 10 years left to live, but to drag that idea along with me throughout those years is...No! I should not want to be in my shoes.
Yet, the composition of music - an affliction like a disease - haunts me.
Today I completed the Seven Romances on Poems of Blok.”

April 12, 1967, Zhukovka

“I recently composed seven romances on poems of A. Blok. A soprano sings them accompanied by cello and piano. <...> The piano part is easy and I can play it myself.<...>
Apart from this I have composed a Violin Concerto, my second.
I have all kinds of plans for the future, but little strength or energy. I have begun to find it harder to write and I do so more slowly.”
(From a letter to M. Shaginyan).
May 20, 1967, Zhukovka
“I have finished a new Violin Concerto. I wrote it with you in mind.
I have telephoned you many times, but no-one ever answered.
When you return home, please ring me...I should very much like to show you this Concerto, although it will be terribly difficult for me to do so.
If the Concerto does not arouse objections on your part, I shall be tremendously happy. If you would also play it, then my happiness would be so great, that ‘you cannot tell it in a tale, nor describe it with a pen’.
If you do not object, I should like very much to dedicate the Concerto to you.
My best wishes. Please telephone me.Yours D. Shostakovich.”

June 15, 1967, Zhukovka

“I have just listened to your symphony. I had listened to it many times already. I probably know it very well by now. Thank you so much for the dedication. For me that was a great honour and happiness. Every time that I put on the recording, I pick up the score, firmly intending to correct mistakes and make some editorial corrections.
Yet very soon I become absorbed and then forget to do so.
Next time I shall definitely write to you about all the ‘misprints’ I have noticed. There are not many, but I have found about ten.
Sometimes you forget that man is a breathing animal and you write for woodwind instruments, as if you were not prepared to let the players breathe. Then you remember and give them pauses which sound rather artificial. These places I shall point out to you, but next time.
I love beautiful harmonies and I’m terribly pleased by Bar 479 and others like it. I feel that people take a sceptical view of harmonies. This upsets me.
Don’t forget me. Send me news about yourself and about your family.<...>

August 2, 1967

“My son Maxim is very keen to conduct the premiere of the Concerto. I told him that the decision on this should be yours.
If you agree to play this Concerto with him, so be it. If you don’t want to do this, so be it. In any case I would beg you to have a serious talk with Maxim on this subject, if of course you will have time. In any case it is important to explain to Maxim that the premiere of a new composition is a very responsible undertaking.”
(From a letter to D. Oistrakh).
August 30, 1967, Zhukovka
“It is a great pity that you didn’t manage to stay in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. It is to be hoped that you will be able to do this in the future.
It is an astonishingly beautiful corner of the globe.
On my return home, I realized how much better it had been there.
In addition I am really missing the society of the bison, deer and wild boar, with whom I spent a lot of time.
The deer and the piglets are very sweet. The wild boars are very fierce. As for bison, they are very frightening when they fix you with their bleary, ferocious stare.”