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Akhmatova: Her Tribute to Shostakovich

by John Cobley

Tuesday Sep 1st, 2020






Although the poet and the composer admired each other’s works, they were never friends. Their few encounters over the years were awkward; they were like chalk and cheese. “We were such different people,” Shostakovich told Solomon Volkov (Testimony, p. 274)  And he describes an arranged meeting between the two, where “we sat in silence. I was silent and Akhmatova was silent. We said nothing for a while and then parted.” This bizarre encounter is also documented from Akhmatova’s perspective by Zoya Tomashevskaya: “Anna Andreyevna Akmatova told me about her visit to Shostakovich: ‘Dmitri Dmitriyevich invited me to go to see him at Repino….We sat in silence for twenty minutes. It was wonderful.” (Elizabeth Wilson, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered 321).


Still, Shostakovich did have a habit of sitting in silence with friends. It was said that he would ask Rostropovich to visit him and then sit with him in silence. But he clearly felt uncomfortable with Akhmatova. He didn’t like small talk and he recoiled from showy extrovert behaviour. And perhaps it was Akhmatova’s flamboyant behaviour in her early years that had turned him off.  He never set any of her poetry to music and he avoided her if possible.


Nevertheless, Akhmatova always admired the composer. Zoya Tomashevskaya, a close friend, has written about Akhmatova’s love of Shostakovich’s music: “We went to almost all of of the concerts of Shostakovich’s music. I think we never missed a première…,. Anna Andreyevna Akhmatova almost always came with us to those concerts.” (Wilson, p. 317) In 1958 she sent Shostakovich a copy of her new collection of verse with the dedication “To DDS, in whose epoch I have lived on Earth.” It was in this spirit of admiration that Anna Akhmatova wrote “Music.”






Something miraculous burns within it,

And its facets are cut before my eyes.

It alone speaks with me

When others fear to visit.

When my last friend had looked away,

It alone was with me in my grave of silence,

And it sang like the first thunderstorm

Or as if all the flowers had begun to speak.



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