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Stephen Johnson has written a truly brilliant book, one that I wish I could give my father who was a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. My father passed away in 2009 and when I read "How Shostakovich Changed My Mind," I knew Dad would've loved and appreciated this book even more than I did. The slender, beautifully designed volume of 152 pages contains so much within its covers. Johnson presents a rich historical account of the composer Shostakovich's life and times during dictator Joseph Stalin's horrifying rule. The author also shares his personal experience with mental illness and poignantly relates how Shostakovich's compositions helped him during very difficult times in his life. Johnson's writing is magnificent and lyrical which is quite fitting given his gifts in composition, his BBC broadcasting experience, and most significantly, his love for classical music. "How Shostakovich Changed My Mind" a testament to the power of music for helping one survive mental illness. I highly recommend this unique, fascinating, and powerful work.
This is a wonderful book. The author moves amongst music to earn his daily bread, and he also carries the burden of a damaging childhood and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He also has a penetrating intelligence, a wonderful way with words, and a deep and informed love of Shostakovich and his music (he loves the man as well as his music). As he works through his own feelings of anger and despair and worthlessness, he's maintained by a sense that if music can move him this much he must be a real and worthwhile person; he's maintained by a loving wife whose wisdom he touches on in this account; and by the way that although Shostakovich was sometimes in fear for his life or his reputation he nonetheless stayed true to his inspiration. (Dear Reader: in the event that you came to this book through a strange route and don't know Shostakovich, go find some. It'll make you laugh and cry and see visions).
He spends a long time with his favourites - symphonies 4 and 10, string quartet 8 - and I really admire his skill in analysing what's so heart-stopping about them without reducing them to their component parts. I'll not be giving my copy of this book away - it's beautifully produced, by the way, by an old-fashioned publisher intent on keeping to the old values. It'll stay with me forever. Thank you, Mr Johnson, and go well.
A remarkable book which is both moving and informative. Scholarly knowledge delivered lucidly and accessible to the non-musically educated reader combines with the author's personal story. The latter is delivered succinctly and without self-indulgence and the whole delivers an intelligent and sensitive insight into both the mind and music of Shostakovich and Stephen Johnson
The combination of personal reflection and detailed analysis makes for a unique and satisfying read. The author’s love for and empathy with Shostakovich - and indeed for the rest of us struggling through life - is completely clear. Anyone who listens to the author on the radio will know how gifted he is as a musical commentator, thinker and communicator. He is a treasure and I hope he has the opportunity to write extensively about other composers soon.
One of the most interesting and worthwhile books I have ever read. If you have any interest in any of the subjects touched upon, music, Russian culture, philosophy, mental health, dont hesitate. Written by a masterly communicator, it can be profound without ever being difficult. A very humane, civilising and thought provoking read.
Se lee muy fácilmente y es corto. No se trata de la vida de Shostakovich, sino de cómo éste conseguía comunicarse a través de sus composiciones, a pesar de la estrecha vigilancia soviética a la que estaba sujeto. Muy recomendable