Dmitri Shostakovich’s Memorial Library
Music is a perfect language, an alphabet, that possesses exceptional power...
A significant part of Dmitri Shostakovich’s memorial legacy includes sheet music, as well as books devoted to music. As a unique source of 20th century Russian and world music history, the great composer’s Memorial Library is of immense cultural and historical value. Shostakovich’s large memorial collection of professional music and sheet music reflects, like a mirror, the owner’s personality, his music interests and the history of his life and work.
His sheet music library contains over 2,000 items, not counting the numerous editions of works by the composer himself. Both the sheet music rarities (the earliest ones date from the late 18th century) and the widely circulated musical editions are unique in that Shostakovich put his signature on the first page, the flyleaf and the title page of many items, indicating the year of their appearance or of their inclusion in his catalogue. Furthermore, much of the sheet music and many of the books boast the priceless signatures of prominent musicians, such as Sergey Taneyev, Aleksandr Glazunov, Sergey Prokofiev, Leonid Nikolayev, Benjamin Britten, Yevgeni Mravinsky, Maksimilian Steinberg, Ivan Sollertinsky, Boris Asafyev, Mariya Yudina and others.
The sheet music library is stored in cabinets that were specially equipped for the purpose during the composer’s lifetime in the reception room of the composer’s memorial apartment. Dmitri Dmitriyevich collected sheet music for many years, beginning in his youth and continuing throughout almost his entire life. Pre-revolutionary musical editions that belonged to Shostakovich’s family—the composer’s mother Sofya Vasilyevna and his sisters Zoya and Mariya, who studied piano, were the backbone of the music library. Most of them are two- and four-hand arrangements of popular operas, famous symphonic works, dance music and romances, as well as the main repertoire of professional pianists—piano works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin. During his studies at the Conservatory and at the beginning of his career, Shostakovich often received sheet music as gifts from friends and teachers. It was difficult for a young musician of limited means to buy sheet music, but he could afford the occasional purchase of second-hand sheet music and books about music at bookstores and second-hand bookstalls in Leningrad. In the late 1920s, Shostakovich ordered a circular stamp for marking his personal sheet music collection—“From D.D. Shostakovich’s Sheet Music. No. …” (the number being inserted in ink), which can be seen on copies of the Leningrad part of the composer’s sheet music collection. After returning to Moscow from evacuation in 1944 and moving into an apartment on Kirov Street, Shostakovich had not only transferred his Leningrad library, which had survived the siege, to this new location, but also the sheet music and books of Leningrad Conservatory professor, pianist and composer Leonid Nikolayev (1874-1942), who died during evacuation in Tashkent. The main reason Shostakovich purchased Nikolayev’s music library was to preserve the outstanding Russian musician’s musical collection and financially assist the widow of his favourite teacher. Thus editions with a double owner’s stamp on the title pages appeared in Shostakovich’s sheet music collection—“Leonid Vladimirovich Nikolayev”, his teacher’s personal stamp, and “DShostakovich”, the composer’s signature.
After moving to a larger apartment on Mozhaiskoye Shosse, Shostakovich ordered bookshelves for his music library and began sorting through and arranging the sheet music and books. He filled out the index cards himself (often using blank postcards cut in half) and wrote his signature on the title page of the sheet music. Focusing his attention on systematising the sheet music library helped the composer through the difficult time when he fell from grace and was subjected to severe criticism. It distracted him from gloomy thoughts about the consequences of the serious political accusations of “cosmopolitanism”, “formalism” and writing “anti-popular” music made against him.
Hard times began for Shostakovich in 1948 after he was dismissed from the Moscow and Leningrad Conservatories and his works were banned. Financial difficulties, lack of creative demand, and fear for his family, relatives and friends took a heavy toll on him. In the first days after the infamous Politburo Resolution of the Central Committee of the CPSU(Bolsheviks) regarding Vano Muradeli’s opera The Great Friendship of 10 February 1948, published in Pravda on 11 February, Shostakovich complained to his friends: “I can do nothing now, except some light physical work. When they finish my shelves ... I will put labels on everything and arrange my books ... sheet music...” (Betty Shvarts, Shostakovich As He Is Remembered). When asked on the phone what he was doing, Shostakovich would reply: “I am arranging Blanter to Beethoven” (Yevgeni Makarov, Diary). Many copies of the sheet music have the date 1948 next to the owner’s signature, which was a “black” year for national music. Until the early 1960s, Shostakovich retained the tradition of signing the sheet music editions and writing the year on the title page.
The list of titles in Shostakovich’s sheet music library is extremely extensive and varied. It contains almost all the outstanding names in world and Russian music, from Bach and Bortnyansky to Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff. Contemporary 20th century music is represented by editions of works by Krenek, Ives, Varèse, Berg, Britten and Stravinsky. Many editions of works by Shostakovich’s contemporaries, friends and pupils—Myaskovsky, Kvadri, Krein, Fere, Levitin, Khachaturian, and Weinberg—have survived. Piano literature, which prevailed when the composer began putting together his sheet music, gave way over the years to scores of opera, symphonic and chamber works.
During his numerous trips in the 1950s-1970s, Shostakovich had a rare opportunity, given the book shortage and censorship restrictions in the USSR, to acquire sheet music editions from the leading foreign publishing houses, such as Edition Peters, Breitkopf & Härtel, Boosey & Hawkes, Max Eschig, Universal Edition and others.
Shostakovich’s sheet music anthology and Leonid Nikolayev’s collection together on the shelves of the memorial library present a comprehensive history of Russian music and Russian sheet music publishing—from Askold’s Grave by Aleksey Verstovsky, published by Fedor Stellovsky, and sheet music rarities from the publishing houses of Mitrofan Belyaev, Petr Jurgenson and Aleksandr Gukhteil to publications by Muzgiz, Sovetsky kompozitor and Muzyka publishers.
A quantitative analysis of Shostakovich’s sheet music collection presents a clear picture of the owner’s musical tastes. For example, the memorial collection contains almost the entire works of Bach and Beethoven, whom Shostakovich highly revered. However, the fact that his library shelves contain less sheet music by Haydn, Mahler, Musorgsky and Prokofiev does not exclude these composers from the list of Shostakovich’s musical preferences. In 1956, when asked about his favourite composers, Dmitri Dmitriyevich said: “...I have many favourites. And I am happy that I do. That is why I get so much enjoyment out of listening to music”.