In this a revised edition, published to coincide with the composer’s centenary, Elizabeth Wilson’s portrait of Shostakovich abandons traditional biographical techniques in favour of a collage of reminiscences by his colleagues and contemporaries. The result is an unparalleled picture of a creative and artistic life lived under often near-impossible conditions. New to this edition is an extensive selection from Shostakovich’s letters and other writing, revealing a seldom seen aspect of the composer: his affectionate and sardonic sense of humour.
Stephen Walsh writes:
It seems to me precisely because of [Wilson’s] light editorial touch that a picture gradually takes shape of a far more socially complex and psychologically intricate world than normally emerges from books about Shostakovich. As with any large-scale portrait, the truth of the image is independent of the smudging or misrepresentation of small details, which the mind, like the eye, corrects instinctively; such surface features are no hindrance to the perception of deeper and perhaps richer truths. Of all books on Shostakovich, this is the one that best depicts the horrors and triumphs of his life and work, and it does so without bias or special pleading but with unfailing sympathy.