Read an extract from Music for Silenced Voices on Yale's blog" /> Read an extract from Music for Silenced Voices on Yale's blog" />

Music for Silenced Voices Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets Wendy Lesser

Publication date:
20 Mar 2012
Yale University Press
368 pages: 210 x 140mm
1 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

Buy this eBook

You can purchase this title from a number of online retailers:

Most previous books about Dmitri Shostakovich have focused on either his symphonies and operas, or his relationship to the regime under which he lived, or both, since these large-scale works were the ones that attracted the interest and sometimes the condemnation of the Soviet authorities.

Music for Silenced Voices looks at Shostakovich through the back door, as it were, of his fifteen quartets, the works which his widow characterized as a 'diary, the story of his soul'. The silences and the voices were of many kinds, including the political silencing of adventurous writers, artists, and musicians during the Stalin era; the lost voices of Shostakovich's operas (a form he abandoned just before turning to string quartets); and, the death-silenced voices of his close friends, to whom he dedicated many of these chamber works. Wendy Lesser has constructed a fascinating narrative in which the fifteen quartets, considered one at a time in chronological order, lead the reader through the personal, political, and professional events that shaped Shostakovich's singular, emblematic twentieth-century life. Weaving together interviews with the composer's friends, family, and colleagues, as well as conversations with present-day musicians who have played the quartets, Lesser sheds new light on the man and the musician.

One of the very few books about Shostakovich that is aimed at a general rather than an academic audience, Music for Silenced Voices is a pleasure to read; at the same time, it is rigorously faithful to the known facts in this notoriously complicated life. It will fill readers with the desire to hear the quartets, which are among the most compelling and emotionally powerful monuments of the past century's music.


Read an extract from Music for Silenced Voices on Yale's blog

Wendy Lesser, the editor of The Threepenny Review, is the author of seven previous nonfiction books and one novel. She divides her year between Berkeley and New York.

"The book does not disappoint…The cumulative effect of the book is to send us back to the music with renewed enthusiasm and enhanced insight; and the impression of Shostakovich and his world as conveyed in its pages lingers in the mind long after the cover is closed."—Jessica Duchen, Standpoint

"Written with the general reader in mind, it is an altogether remarkable book; a deeply serious and scholarly yet astutely accessible and rewarding portrait of a man caught and confined within a murderous maelstrom whose response was music in which the personal and the political are indelibly, and perhaps intractably, intertwined."—Michael Quinn, Classical Music

"The book proceeds as a biographical sketch, punctuated by discussion of the quartets as they occur in the story. And its main strength lies in Lesser’s descriptions of the quartets themselves: this book is an essential companion for anyone planning to hear from them."—Ed Vulliamy, The Guardian

"It is hard not to be swept up in the stories behind the Shostakovich cycle and by the zeal of Wendy Lesser’s advocacy. The cumulative impact of Music for Silenced Voices is considerable."—John Greening, Times Literary Supplement

"This is certainly a book to read with a recording on standby, to appreciate the full emotional impact of Shostakovich’s quartets, and thanks to Lesser’s sensitive handling, of his life aswell."—Lucy Weir, Scotland Russia Forum Review

"This is a study that has much to offer to all who know and love Shostakovich’s quartets, and there should be few performers, critics or musicologists who would read it without profit."—David Fanning, Gramophone

"Lesser’s elegant prose brings the music and the man vividly to life."—Katie Owen, The Sunday Telegraph

"An enriching read." Helen Wallace, Financial Times

"An enormously gripping read… [Wendy Lesser] has that rare capacity to illuminate the music through the written word… Her absorbing reflections stimulate you to think afresh about some of the most profound and disturbing music written in the last hundred years… skilful interweaving of the music against a narrative that explores Shostakovich’s tortured personality and his troubled relationship with the Soviet regime." Erik Levi, BBC Music Magazine