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How Shostakovich Changed My Mind
Autobiography: arts & entertainment
, Philosophy of mind
, 20th century & contemporary classical music
, Individual composers & musicians, specific bands & groups
, Abnormal psychology
, Creative therapy (eg art, music, drama)
BBC music broadcaster Stephen Johnson explores the power of Shostakovich's music during Stalin's reign of terror, and writes of the extraordinary healing effect of music on sufferers of mental illness. Johnson looks at neurological, psychotherapeutic and philosophical findings, and reflects on his own experience, where he believes Shostakovich's music helped him survive the trials and assaults of bipolar disorder.'There's something about hearing your most painful emotions transformed into something beautiful...' The old Russian who uttered those words spoke for countless fellow survivors of Stalin's reign of terror. And the 'something beautiful' he had in mind was the music of Dmitri Shostakovich.Yet there is no escapism, no false consolation in Shostakovich's greatest music: this is some of the darkest, saddest, at times bitterest music ever composed. So why do so many feel grateful to Shostakovich for having created it - not just Russians, but westerners like Stephen Johnson, brought up in a very different, far safer kind of society?
How is it that music that reflects pain, fear and desolation can help sufferers find - if not a way out, then a way to bear these feelings and ultimately rediscover pleasure in existence? Johnson draws on interviews with the members of the orchestra who performed Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony during the siege of Leningrad, during which almost a third of the population starved to death. In the end, this book is a reaffirmation of a kind of humanist miracle: that hope could be reborn in a time when, to quote the writer Nadezhda Mandelstam, there was only 'Hope against Hope'.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"... an intensely readable, highly personal analysis of the major works of a composer, who, Mr. Johnson decides, has recorded a collective experience for an all-inclusive listenership ... All great music teeters the edge of madness. This troubled writer makes a convincing case that the music of Dmitri Shostakovich helped to save his mind. In life's crises, he suggests, each of us comes up against an internal siege of Leningrad, and music comes to your relief." --Norman Lebrecht, The Wall Street Journal "... palpably humane, sensitive, and breathably erudite ... How Shostakovich Changed My Mind is ... a deeply felt and well-considered work -- and anyone who cares about music, the mind, or personal struggle can learn from its depths." --Nicholas Cannariato, NPR
"How Shostakovich Changed My Mind is one of the most powerful, honest, and profound revelations that exists on what it is that music means and does: it's just an essential document." --Tom Service, Music Matters (BBC)
"The book ranges well beyond Shostakovich's work, and explores how we perceive music, the distorting effects of depression and how music can reconnect us to emotions and fellow humanity... Johnson argues that Shostakovich...testified on behalf of fellow humanity, his music concerned with 'we' rather than 'I'. Part of Shostakovich's attraction is that while he suffers he knows--and reminds his fellow sufferers--that we do not suffer alone." --BBC Music Magazine
"Strangely, anguished music can be the most comforting: using a delicate, self-deprecating style and references encompassing everything from Greek drama to the Moomins, Johnson explores the way Shostakovich provides catharsis, transforming the personal 'I' into the collective 'we.' Profoundly moving." --The Sunday Times, "The Best Classical Music Books of 2018"
"How Shostakovich Changed my Mind is short enough and eloquent enough to read comfortably at a single two-hour stretch, without skipping over a single word ... Many readers will surely find ideas in it that resonate with their own experience of Shostakovich's music, and be grateful for having so many of them gathered so tightly together." --Gramophone
"Stephen Johnson is one of our most sensitive and thoughtful music critics, and this book, written from the heart about a composer whom he loves and admires, will prove to be a landmark in the understanding of its subject." --Sir Roger Scruton
"I started reading and was hooked. Within a few pages I knew I had fallen into the company of the most wonderful interlocutor. Stephen Johnson take the reader from the most profound meditations on music, to delicious anecdotes about Shostakovich, to penetrating observations about the nature of art and the way it may rescue us from despair. I finished it inspired by a sense of human possibility." --Raymond Tallis