Additional Book Information

Series: Notting Hill Editions
ISBN: 9781910749456
Pages: 176
Publication Date: May 14, 2019

From Notting Hill Editions

How Shostakovich Changed My Mind

by Stephen Johnson


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BBC music broadcaster Stephen Johnson explores the power of Shostakovich’s music during Stalin’s reign of terror, and writes of the extraordinary healing effect of music on sufferers of mental illness. Johnson looks at neurological, psychotherapeutic and philosophical findings, and reflects on his own experience, where he believes Shostakovich’s music helped him survive the trials and assaults of bipolar disorder.

There is no escapism, no false consolation in Shostakovich’s greatest music: this is some of the darkest, saddest, at times bitterest music ever composed. So why do so many feel grateful to Shostakovich for having created it—not just Russians, but westerners like Stephen Johnson, brought up in a very different, far safer kind of society? The book includes interviews with the members of the orchestra who per- formed Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony during the siege of that city.


How Shostakovich Changed My Mind is one of the most powerful, honest, and profound revelations that exists on what it is that music means and does: it's just an essential document.
—Tom Service, Music Matters (BBC)

Stephen Johnson is one of our most sensitive and thoughtful music critics, and this book, written from the heart about a composer whom he loves and admires, will prove be a landmark in the understanding of its subject.
—Sir Roger Scruton

I started reading and was hooked. Within a few pages I knew I had fallen into the company of the most wonderful interlocutor. Stephen Johnson take the reader from the most profound meditations on music, to delicious anecdotes about Shostakovich, to penetrating observations about the nature of art and the way it may rescue us from despair. I finished it inspired by a sense of human possibility.
—Raymond Tallis

The book ranges well beyond Shostakovich's work, and explores—with reference to current theories of anthropology and psychology—how we perceive music, the distorting effects of depression and how music can reconnect us to emotions and fellow humanity...Johnson argues that Shostakovich, contrary to the usual notion of composers writing predominantly about themselves, testified on behalf of fellow humanity, his music concerned with 'we' rather than 'I'. Part of Shostakovich's attraction is that while he suffers he knows--and reminds his fellow sufferers--that we do not suffer alone.
BBC Music Magazine