A letter to Dmitri Shostakovich

Dear Dmitri,

First, I want to say I am an avid fan of your music, finding your voice one that most uniquely captures the broadest range of human emotion, from the depths of despair, to adoration, to unembarrassed silliness. However, on a walk today, I was listening once again to your 15th symphony, and felt obliged to write, hopefully not bothering you too much during your long sleep, to ask about that first movement. I know that you purportedly told someone that you didn’t know yourself why you included all of the musical quotations in this work, but felt nonetheless obliged to include them – but perhaps since then, with so much time available for introspection, you may have discovered your internal motivation.

The 1st movement simply seems so out of place with the rest of the symphony. At the start, as always, I enjoyed following your train of musical thought, beginning with the long flute solo, a melody so characteristically yours. But, then upon the first appearance of the frantically paced repetitions of the theme from William Tell Overture, I could only wonder, what on earth were you thinking? Why this? As the movement concludes and the 2nd movement begins, with its haunting cello solo, you returned to what you, and only you, manage to express in music, the sounds heard by someone whose eyes have seen terrors. The ultimate grief. Yet, throughout, my thoughts kept returning to the 1st movement, wondering what the connection is, as it seems not to remotely belong to the same world as the music that follows it. In your other works, despite the extreme contrasts, the whole somehow always seems connected, to all come together as a unified statement – but with this 15th symphony, that 1st movement stands apart from the rest, as if to say, I don’t know them, and I have nothing to do with the rest of that humanity who is crying out. Your later quotations from Wagner, while attention grabbing, didn’t seem quite so out of place, as the quotation brought to mind the entire mythos that he created and absorbed that into your own world.

Anyway, I’ll await your reply. Perhaps it will come to me in a dream one of these nights, as the sounds and sentiments expressed by your music visit me in my sleep.

With best regards,

Stanley