From Gerard McBurney’s article Guardian Unlimited | Arts features | In from the cold:
Any western European like myself, brought up within the highbrow aesthetic consensus of the cold war period, will remember their teachers and mentors dismissing Shostakovich as more or less worthless. His music was “undercomposed”, we were told, and he was as at best second rate, a kapellmeister in the wake of, but not as good as, the likes of Hindemith and Prokofiev. He was not to be considered in the same breath as the great and glorious gods of modernism like Schoenberg, Bartók and Stravinsky. Many thought him far worse than mediocre, angrily deriding him as a dreary and bombastic court-bard to Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, a time-server, a purveyor of cheap and diluted film-music masquerading as art.
This article made me think about the concept that much of musical criticism is driven by extra-musical factors. In the case of Shostakovich it may have been his politics. The knock on him that his music was really just film music posing as a symphony reminds me of the way some jazz snobs put down certain electric or rock influenced music.
Recently on The Bob Edwards Show, the guest was a writer whose name I am spacing at the moment. They were discussing literary criticism, and the point was made that critics end up having to write lots of words, when all they really want to say is, “I liked this. Read it.”
The day arts criticism is based on taste instead of agenda, the world will be a better place. I like Shostakovich. His music moves me. That doesn’t make me lowbrow, any more than the fact that you like the LCJO version of “A Love Supreme” makes you hip.