Thursday, November 6, 2014

That Pesky Issue of Context

I just finished reading two of Virgil Thomson's reviews of two of Dmitri Shostakovich's symphonies (the seventh and the eighth), which originally appeared on October 18, 1942 and April 3, 1944, respectively. I have every reason to believe that all that mattered to Thomson was what was printed on the score pages. That seems like the best explanation for his dissatisfaction with both of these symphonies. The idea that both these pieces of music were tightly coupled to Shostakovich's experiences of the Second World War do not seem to figure into Thomson's calculus. I appreciate that such abstract detachment was popular in the United States at this time. Nevertheless, I get the impression that the fact that the Americans were also fighting the Nazis at the same time just never occurred to Thomson as a context that might have some impact on the listening experience. By the same count, however, I suspect that Thomson would have nothing but scorn for anyone who would dare to suggest that social theory might have an impact on how we listen to music!

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