I suppose, at heart, all men are a mystery but the late, and very great, Dimitri Shostakovich was a personal example of Churchill's famous dictum that Russia was "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma". It hasn't helped in understanding him that so many different 'friends' and 'acquaintances' and 'experts' have written so many different, and sometime contrary, opinions about him. Now, apparently, the novelist Julian Barnes has written a fictional book about him entitled "The Noise of Time". It is discussed at length in The New Yorker by Nikil Saval - and no, me neither! Even so, it is an interesting article to read particularly if, like me, you admire, nay, love, an enormous amount of his music.
Almost his entire life was the equivalent of skating up the Moskva river the day before Spring when the ice is visibly cracking! Constantly expecting arrest, not least because so many others 'disappeared' I don't suppose he was too surprised when he was called in for interrogation by an officer called Zakrevsky:
Before long, Zakrevsky is asking Shostakovich to “shake” his memory and “think a little harder,” especially when it comes to “the plot against Comrade Stalin,” of which he was “one of the chief witnesses.” Shostakovich prepares himself for arrest and execution. Then, like something out of Dostoyevsky, he is spared: Zakrevsky himself is taken in. “His interrogator interrogated. His arrester arrested.”
No wonder there are sometimes passages of sardonic 'humour' in some of his music! Twice in his career, Stalin's finger was pointed at him in disapproval because his music had failed to meet with Party requirements. From everything I read his life seems to have been one of unremitting misery and fear and yet ... and yet ... he produced some of the very greatest music of the 20th century. Intensely moving in places even if, like me, you don't know the difference between a crotchet and a quaver! Best to start with his 5th symphony, then perhaps his 10th, but as you gradually get to know him, treat yourself to his String Quartets which encompass most of his working life, the ups as well as the downs. The 8th Quartet is sublime.