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Publisher's Summary

Dmitri Shostakovich is without a doubt one of the central composers of the 20th century. His symphonies and string quartets are mainstays of the repertoire. But Shostakovich is also a figure whose story raises challenging and exciting issues that go far beyond music: they touch on questions of conscience, the moral role of the artist, the plight of humanity in the face of total war and mass oppression, and the inner life of history's bloodiest century. And though he was not without flaws, he was a faithful witness to the survival of the human spirit under totalitarianism.

And now you can discover the extraordinary life, times, and music of Shostakovich in a probing series of eight lectures from an acclaimed conductor, teacher, and music historian. Drawing on both the flood of declassified documents from the Soviet Union that began in 1991 and Shostakovich's own extraordinarily frank posthumous reminiscences, Professor Greenberg shows how Shostakovich, who, in the words of a friend, "did not want to rot in a prison or a graveyard" was still unwilling to become a docile instrument of the Soviet regime.

You'll learn how what he would not say publicly in words, he instead said through his music - messages from a buried life of his experiences during the terror of Stalin, the Nazi destruction of his country, postwar reconstruction, and the arms race.

In work after work, often composed under crushing difficulty and anxiety, you'll hear how he used a brilliant arsenal of ironic conceits, musical quotes from un-Soviet sources such as American jazz or Jewish klezmer tunes, and other techniques to assert the integrity of his art in the face of totalitarian oppression, and to pay, as he said, "homage to the dead."

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2002 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2002 The Great Courses

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  • Cookie
  • Anacortes, WA, United States
  • 08-14-13

Living the Great Terror

Prof Greenberg brings us through the life of this great composer against the backdrop of Stalin's regime during the purges before and after WW2. It is an unforgettable tour de force of music and history that makes you cringe and maybe even cry. Set in context, this body of work is a microcosm of the horror, and yet beautiful too. We stand in awe of what it took to bring art out of this turmoil that was the USSR when just surviving was a risk. Listening to this series is will bring it to life, amazing!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Superb Course: Greenberg on Speed

I have had a very hit-and-miss experience with Greenberg's courses. His opera appreciation course is excellent. His Wagner course abysmal. This course is very good and packed with exactly what I want from a course like this.

I have listened to and seen live performances of Shostakovich's music but never much cared for his modernist style. His music seemed confused and convoluted to me. Of course, discordance was all the rage after the turn of the century so I have for years just taken Shostakovich as "not for me".

This set of lectures does what great teaching ought to do. It opened my mind to a new experience and instilled an enthusiasm to go deeper. That's what I like about the really great courses. They encourage me to go well beyond what is presented.

Dr. Greenberg perfectly balances biography with explanation of the music through stories and music samples. What opened the door for me was knowing what was happening in the composer's life blended with a taste of the music he wrote during that time and completed with some analysis of the music itself. I could see, for the first time, how wonderful and terrible that discordance was that I previously hated. By terrible, I mean the horror that the "circus" sound was expressing.

I actually raced through this course in a week all the while spending like the proverbial drunken sailor. This is fantastic, I must have the MP3 now! And I'll need a CD version as well. Wow! I must hear the rest of this. I want more of that. I bought DVDs of the operas, MP3s and CDs of the symphonies and the quartets, CDs of the piano pieces and the cello concerto. Amazon is very pleased that I took this course.

The new understanding made the music so enjoyable I just had to have some complete piece IMMEDIATELY. That's good teaching.

I do have some criticism of the course. Before I criticize, I want to say again that I absolutely hated Greenberg's Wagner course. That course is packed with awful puns and bad jokes. It's a slap-schtick production. In this course, the corn is scaled back considerably. Greenberg would do well to eliminate his humor completely but at least in this course his poor puns do not detract too much from the course.

His pace is at times manic. He literally talks like someone coked up. It's beyond enthusiasm; it's just too fast.

The other thing I find grating is the pompous use of the words "please" and "we". "Please! We quote,....." Is Greenberg glad to have us listen or is that a composer in his pocket? We wonder. Amusingly, he starts the entire series with an anecdote about someone complaining about the anti-Stalinist content of one of his lectures. The critic says something about others in the audience having the same reaction. Greenberg goes on to say that he immediately dismisses anyone who makes assertions referring to those "others agree with me too" people.

He might benefit from listening to some of that criticism. The pompous use of "we" is annoying. Preceding points or quotes with "Please!" is an affectation that I accept as just a bit of artistic flamboyance. Interestingly, about half way, Greenberg simply starts quotes with, "I quote" and it comes off better than when he later reverts back to royal "we".
Fewer jokes and a scaling back of the pompous presentation and the course would be perfect. As is, it is still a 5 star, highly recommended course.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Utterly fascinating!

What made the experience of listening to Great Masters: Shostakovich - His Life and Music the most enjoyable?

Shostakovich was a musical genius working during very difficult times. Because his life was always at risk during the Stalin and post-Stalin eras, he had to walk a very fine line to survive. What makes his music particularly fascinating is the way he wove irony and dissonance into the melodic lines. Stalin and his henchmen perceived the music as heroic, a tribute to the triumph of their reign, but anyone with ears and a clear head would perceive in the same sounds a scathing indictment of the Soviet leaders' crimes against humanity. Robert Greenberg is as entertaining as he is brilliant. I particularly enjoyed his send-up of the American academic elite, who discounted Shostakovich's condemnation of the Soviet Union because it didn't conform to their preferred narrative about the virtues of Communism.Greenberg points out that in the years from the revolution to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 61 million civilians were slaughtered--nearly three times Hitler's bodycount--a number that is recently being discredited for being too low (!) Shostakovich would be the first to say he wasn't a hero--but he was a survivor and a witness. His music is the ultimate refutation of totalitarianism and testament to the importance of artistic and personal freedom. Don't miss it!

What other book might you compare Great Masters: Shostakovich - His Life and Music to and why?

Greenberg's course on Beethoven is completely amazing. I'll be listening to more of his courses soon.

What does Professor Robert Greenberg bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Insight, expertise, personality, and a wonderfully entertaining delivery. Greenberg doesn't read: he performs!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Talk about the red scare

Dr. Greenberg does it again. I have finished all of his great masters and have enjoyed every one of them. You will find this lecture fascinating especially how Russian politics affected how he was able to write music and what he was able to compose. I found this music and lecture fascinating.
Another book that was published recently on this subject is Leningrad: Siege and Symphony: The Story of the Great City Terrorized by Stalin, Starved by Hitler, Immortalized by Shostakovich

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • William
  • Winston Salem, NC, United States
  • 04-14-14

Highly recommended

This is my second of the Great Courses and they have both been great. Though I was familiar with USSR history in the 20th century, and with Shostakovich's music, these lectures put it all together for me by showing how the music connected with the horrible history. I quite enjoyed the reader. Some might think him over-dramatic -- and I must say, he reminds me a bit of the guys on "Car Talk" on NPR -- but I enjoyed his enthusiastic take on things, in spite of some ouchy French and German pronunciations. This series is highly recommended and I will listen to it again.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent in almost all respects...

Would you listen to Great Masters: Shostakovich - His Life and Music again? Why?

Yes. It's fascinating! Robert Greenberg is quite knowledgeable and opens up a number of the secrets of Shostakovich's music.

Any additional comments?

The excellent content and delivery of this work is marred by the atrocious pronunciation of Russian names. Greenberg even mutilates Shostakovich's middle name (patronymic), which he unfortunately repeats numerous times over the course of the lectures. This is why Americans need to learn foreign languages - or at least become basically acquainted with them! Here we have a distinguished scholar whose pronunciation of words directly related to his specialty is worse than that of college students in a first-year Russian class.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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I believe his best

I have listened to most of Greenberg's lectures and this is the most fascinating. Delivery remains over dramatic, but this is not as snarky as some.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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An Amazing Course

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

After I listenened to the sample and read the reviews I had to buy this course. I am dazzled by the history and the music. I was never a great Shostakovich fan but now I am. Bob Greenberg is a constant source of learning pleasure. I have many of his classes through both Audible and the Teaching Company. This is one of the best. I'm glad Audible is carrying so many courses. I put them on my iPod and listen when I walk.

Have you listened to any of Professor Robert Greenberg’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have many of Prof Greenberg's courses. They are all wonderful. Shostakovich was a composer I avoided in the past but not now!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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a bit over enthusiastic

I love Prof Greenberg and his passion and hate dictators like Stalin but still ...Prof Greenberg sounded a bit too angry for a lecture series on a composer (as opposed to trying to demolish communist regimes of the past). Still pretty good though.

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  • Carol
  • Oakland, CA, United States
  • 08-02-17

Prof Greenberg gets a 40 out of 10

Best professor I've ever had and I have a lot of degrees. He brings light, even enlightenment, into the dark corners. A genius with communication skills that break through my denseness and propel me up, up to the deep blue sky of appreciation and understanding. I am so grateful.

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  • David
  • 09-12-17

Shostakovich in the raw

Shostakovich is one of the great composers. The lectures put his works in perspective.
Controversy about the composers life has been contentious over the last years of the 20th century. Whether you agree with the lecturer or not this is an important work Well worth the listen .