Arc Publications logo

50 years at the cutting edge of poetry publishing

“A meeting point for poets of all latitudes”
— VĂ­ctor Rodríguez Núñez

Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues on Dmitri Shostakovich

Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues on Dmitri Shostakovich

by Joanna Boulter

The author writes:

In 1994 I read a review by Peter Conrad, in The Observer, of Elizabeth Wilson's Shostakovich: A Life Remembered. As its title suggests, this is a compendium of personal reminiscences by relatives, friends and acquaintances of the composer. The glimpses of Shostakovich's life which the review quoted caught my imagination as a possible subject for poetry, and I began what quickly became a lengthy project. Conrad's reference to Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues Op.87 for piano gave me my format. I decided to write a set of 24 preludes and fugues myself, in words — the preludes in free or invented forms, in the third person, and the fugues in any strict poetic form, in the first person, as the voice of Shostakovich himself. In practice, this plan relaxed somewhat as the work progressed.

I have been asked how closely these poems echo Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues. The answer is, only in the most general terms. It proved too difficult to make each pair of poems shadow the mood and, still more, the musical content of a corresponding pair of piano pieces, and in the end I didn't try. Since music, after all, functions as a representation rather than a precise description, to align the poetry strictly with the music would have left me without much narrative possibility. I needed to be able to refer to other works of his, and other periods of the composer's life.

Read 'Lament' on the Guardian website.

I want to be an honest man in all respects, Shostakovich said to Solomon Volkov, but now the person who knows the truth is the one who lives in fear. Yet his instrumental music was still a critique, even if it did not take the form of words. Joanna Boulter's superb new book, a novella in an impressive variety of verse forms, translates the composer's life and fears into a musical language which, in all its respects, brings illumination to Shostakovich's gifts for honesty and truth under pressure.

David Morley

Joanna Boulter's long sequence raises many interesting questions about the relationship between an artist's life experience and his work, between individual creativity and the seat of political power, and between one art and another. These poems have been deeply considered and researched, and their effect is cumulative. They make an original contribution to the assessment and celebration of the life and work of Dmitri Shostakovich.

Meg Peacocke

76 pages
ISBN 978-1904614-34-0
Published October 2006

» About Joanna Boulter