Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Testimony is the story of Dmitri Shostakovich’s life from his childhood to just before his death in 1975. The autobiography was written in 1974 and 1975, with the assistance of the music critic Solomon Volkov, Shostakovich’s friend, who transcribed his conversations with the composer, edited them, and wrote the introduction. Shostakovich undertook the project on the condition that Volkov would not publish the book until after his death.

Shostakovich asserts (not entirely convincingly) that his own life is not interesting, but he suggests that there is value in revealing the truth about those whom he has known. In the course of relating a series of vignettes about these diverse people and his relations with them, he provides a vivid history of Soviet culture, particularly its music and theater. The people whom Shostakovich discusses are chiefly Soviet figures, but some foreigners are included as well.

In the English translation Shostakovich’s memoirs comprise 291 pages, with an additional forty-two pages of introductory material. The book also contains thirty-nine photographs, a listing of Shostakovich’s major compositions, titles, and awards, an index, and detailed notes about most of the persons Shostakovich mentions. Although originally written in Russian, the work was first published in English, translated by Antonina W. Bouis. In his preface, Volkov recounts the origin of the book. Shostakovich, whom Volkov first met in...

(The entire section is 525 words.)