from Testimony, The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich
You must try to work always, under any circumstances. It can sometimes save you.
It's so unfair. People suffered, worked, thought. So much wisdom, so much talent. And they're forgotten as soon as they die. We must do everything possible to keep their memories alive, because we will be treated in the same way ourselves. How we treat the memory of others is how our memory will be treated. We must remember, no matter how hard it is.
And one more Meyerhold rule helped me to be calmer in the face of criticism of my work. This is Meyerhold's third lesson, and it is useful for others, not just me. Meyerhold stated it more than once: If the production pleases everyone, then consider it a total failure. If, on the other hand, everyone criticizes your work, then perhaps there's something worthwhile in it. Real success comes when people argue about your work, when half the audience is in raptures and the other half is ready to tear you apart.
The majority of my symphonies are tombstones. Too many of our people died and were buried in places unknown to anyone, not even their relatives. It happened to many of my friends. Where do you put the tombstones for Meyerhold and Tukhachevsky? Only music can do that for them. I'm willing to write a composition for each of the victims, but that's impossible, and that's why I dedicate my music to them all.
In one of Rimsky-Korsakov's letters I found words to which I have returned many times. They make one think. The words are: "Many things have aged and faded before our eyes and much that seems obsolete I think will eventually seem fresh and strong and eternal, if anything can be."
When I listen to orchestral music, I transcribe it for piano in my mind. I listen, while my fingers try it out to see if it fits the hand. And when I listen to piano music, mentally I run it through in an orchestral version. It's a disease, but a pleasant one. It's like scratching when you itch.
You can't rush through an encounter with a work of art, it won't itself in your soul then or have a real effect. Otherwise why was the work created? To tickle the artist's ego? Satisfy his own pride? To make him a bright figure on a dark background?
No, that I don't understand; if a work isn't created for your people, then for whom? As they say, love us when we're dirty, anyone will love us when we're clean -- and even that is a moot point. But when I think about the people, all of them ... But why all of them? You don't have to, just picture the lives of two or three real people, just two or three. Naturally, not politicians or artists but true workers, hard working, honest people. There are hundreds of occupations that people never think about, a guard, for instance, or a train conductor, or a roofer.
I write music, it's performed. It can be heard, and whoever wants to hear it will. After all, my music says it all. It doesn't need historical and hysterical commentaries. In the long run, any words about music are less important than the music. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not worth talking to.
I am horrified by people who think the commentaries to a symphony are more important than the symphony. What counts with them is a large number of brave words -- and the music itself can be pathetic and woebegone. This is real peversion. I don't need brave words on music and I don't think anyone does. We need brave music. I don't mean brave in the sense that there will be charts instead of notes, I mean brave because it is truthful. Music in which the composer expresses his thoughts truthfully, and does it in such a way that the greatest possible number of decent citizens in his country and other countries will recognize and accept that music, thereby understanding his country and people. That is the meaning of composing music, as I see it.
There's no point in talking to the deaf, and I'm addressing only those who can hear and it's only with them that I plan to converse, only with those people for whom music is more important than words.
Music illuminates a person through and through, and it is also his last hope and final refuge.
Meaning in music -- that must sound very strange for most people. Particularly in the West. It's here in Russia that the question is usually posed: What was the composer trying to say, after all, with this musical work? What was he trying to make clear? The questions are naive, of course, but despite their naivete and crudity, they definitely merit being asked. And I would add to them, for instance: Can music attack evil? Can it make man stop and think? Can it cry out and thereby draw man's attention to various vile acts to which he has grown accustomed? To the things he passes without any interest?