FFor Richard Taruskin, composer Dmitriy Shostakovich was nothing but an opponent of Stalinism. His opera “Lady Macbeth von Mzensk” was defamed in the daily “Pravda” on behalf of Stalin in 1936 as “chaos instead of music”, but that must have been somewhat a misunderstanding of the composer’s motives. Because, according to Taruskin, if you look at the texts of operas and study the musical drawing of the characters of Shostakovich, you must understand the work as “a defense of the lawless extermination of the kulaks, that is, the great peasants, which Stalin in the 1930s was against brutality so fiercely that he also encouraged Holodomor, where a large part of the Ukrainian population was wiped out by deliberate starvation.Taroskin wrote Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” a “deeply inhumane work of art.” His horrific treatment of victims amounts to a justification of genocide.
Taruskin’s arguments against the image of opponents still depicted in films, program brochures, and books about Shostakovich were ongoing. Taruskin described the fact that Solomon Volkov’s Testimony, Shostakovich’s purported authentic “life confession,” was taken at face value as the greatest critical scandal of the century. When Julian Barnes Shostakovich’s novel The Noise of Time was published, Taruskin prominently cautioned against viewing fiction as reality. His judgment was heavy. Born on April 2, 1945 to a Jewish family in New York, Richard Taruskin was one of the world’s most important musicologists and, as a regular contributor to the New York Times and The New Republic, was one of the most prominent music critics in the United States.
As a young man, he played Viola da Gamba in group and edited Renaissance music. It was this intimate knowledge of business and playing technique that gave him legitimacy to publicly attack advocates of historical performance practice such as conductor Roger Norrington and Nicholas Harnoncourt, claiming that their methods of interpretation must represent increasing historical “authenticity”. It arose out of contemporary flair in the late twentieth century. Harnoncourt, at least, was disciplined to this kind of criticism and emphasized more and more the contemporaneity of his search for the linguistic power of music.
But Taruskin became famous as an expert in Russian music. His studies of Igor Stravinsky revealed that the composer’s association with Russian folklore was deeper and lasted longer than previously thought. His close knowledge of Modest Mussorgsky’s music made him realize that Claude Debussy had stolen Mussorgsky’s “Ohne Sonne” at the beginning of the orchestra’s “Nocturnes”.
Taruskin formulated Bonot’s idea that Russian music is a feast for semiotics and a hell for critics. Because everything in it, the choice of material, the processing technique, the form, the cadence mark, the key, can be an indication that something lies outside the work: a subjective, historical, political message. But unlike the German Karl Dahlhaus, who claimed in his book Fundamentals of Music History that biography and social history were “unimportant” for the artistic character of the works, Taruskin was convinced that Bach’s cantata and Beethoven’s symphonies were not combined into one politically and symphonically. A clean room that is socially free from toxins, but only achieves its completeness and depth through its connection with all other areas of human life.
Richard Taruskin combined analytical sharpness for detail with a broad interest in cultural and social history, scholarly rigor with a desire for polemic, and academic discipline with the ability to write, which was also available to laypeople. He died in Auckland on the morning of July 1 of complications from cancer. He was 77 years old.