One for the drawer

It's hard to know what was going through Dmitri Shostakovich's mind.  

As with any prominent Soviet citizen who survived the 20th century, Shostakovich spent many years living in fear, and toadied to authority in order to keep himself safe.  At times in his life he found himself out of favor, and his struggle to get back into favor involved what seem to most observers to be a fair amount of artistic compromise.  There were the pieces that he wrote for the Soviets, and the pieces he wrote for the drawer.

The 24 preludes and fugues he wrote for the piano (as with a lot of the chamber music he wrote in the 40s and 50s) were probably written for the drawer.  He played them as he wrote them for the promising young pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva, to whom he dedicated the piece after seeing her perform Bach's preludes and fugues, and she premiered it in Leningrad in 1951.

This is a lot of music.  The complete cycle of all 48 pieces takes about two and a half hours to perform.  If you haven't heard it before, that's a pretty big ask, because a lot of the pieces are pretty opaque the first time you hear them.  But the first prelude and fugue are gorgeous, so even if you don't know this work at all the video's worth watching.  (And this is only the first half!)

I was very, very happy to discover that this video exists.  It was made in 1992.  It's kind of cool looking at this staunch Russian grandma playing this ferocious piece as though she owns it, which in a way she did.  

It's also the last piece she ever played.  About a year after making this video, Nikolayeva was in San Francisco, performing the piece at the Herbst Theatre, when she stopped playing, walked off stage, and collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage.  She was immediately hospitalized, and died nine days later.


Popular Posts