Dmitri Dmitriyevich (Shostakovich) was a Soviet composer and pianist and a prominent figure of 20th century music. Julian Barne’s “Noise of Time” is a chilling fictionalized history of Shostakovich’s life, focusing on the impact of Soviet politics on Shostakovich’s life and music from the time of his birth (1906) to the time of his death (1975).
When we first meet Shostakovich he is 31 year old and spending the evening by the elevator outside his fifth floor apartment, accompanied by a bag packed with three packs of Kazbeki cigarettes, waiting to be arrested for the dissonance of his opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. “They always came for you at night.” His crime at that time was creating an opera that appealed to the “perverted taste of the bourgeois”, because it was not purely melodic. For this, he could be arrested and murdered.
Shostakovich describes Russia’s approach to the arts at this time. “…since all composers were employed by the state, that it was the state’s duty, if they offended, to intervene and draw them back into greater harmony with their audience.”
The book is split into three parts. The first part takes place in the 1930s and that is where we meet Shostakovich waiting for the elevator. In 1937 he finally has his first meeting with “Power”, where he is interviewed about his relationship with other “radical” musicians and his knowledge about the plot to kill Stalin. After the interview he knew that “He was a dead man…He burnt anything that might be incriminating–except that once you had been labelled an enemy of the people and an associate of a known assassin, everything around you became incriminating. He might as well burn the whole apartment.” Somehow he survived the interrogation and instead, his interrogator disappeared.
The second part of the book begins with Shostakovich flying to America to present at the New York Peace Conference in 1949. Shostakovich’s speech was heavily tempered by the politics of his home country and the fear that instilled. Nicolas Nabikov, who was present in the audience, publicly asked him whether he supported the Soviet Union’s denunciation of Stravinsky’s music. Shostakovich, a great fan of Stravinsky, was forced to express support for Soviet positions that he actually found abhorrent. The whole trip to America had been humiliating and frustrating for him.
In the third and final portion of the book, Shostakovich is wealthy, successful and has a chauffeured car. And he is as miserable as ever. After spending his entire life refusing to join the Party, he is finally forced to do so.
The book goes into Shostakovich’s neurotic personality, his unhealthy relationship with his mother, and his constant fears and cravings. It is a difficult although worthwhile read and likely will only appeal to readers with an interest in Soviet politics and its impact on the arts. You can reserve the book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11195795__Snoise%20of%20time__P0%2C1__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold