I sincerely hope that with Mr. Kaikroshit Shapurji Sorabii's letter we have reached the ultimate in nonsense in this excrutiating Edinburgh Festival wrangle. There is a world of difference between saying that Shostakovich is a very unequal composer-which everyone admits including Shostakovich himself -and saying that he is just a "pretentious inflated bore".
One cannot so blithely ignore the consensus of opinion among musicians on the greatness of his 5th and 10th Symphonies and the widespread admiration for his violin concerto, quintet, quartets and piano preludes.
It is quite irrelevant to say by way of argument that he is a "manipulator of the commonplace". since this could well be agreed without reflecting on his greatness. Haydn, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi. Bizet, Rimsky Korsakov, Bruckner, Dvorak, Mahler and Eiger, to name but a few, were all in varying degrees manipulators of the common-place; hut this does not detract from their importance.
For those familiar with music, the capriciousness of Mr. Sorabirs evaluation is confirmed by the comparisons which he draws. Mediner and Scriabin were great pianists; hut Mcdtner was an extremely pedestrian composer and Scriahin succeeded only in producing a handful of distinctive works, even those relying for much of their effect on non-musical associations.
As to Rachmaninov, it is scarcely sensible to call his 2nd and 3rd Symphonies "two of the great est symphonies of modern times", even if one is very fond of No. 2: especially when it is implied that none of Shostakovich's are in the same class. Fortunately one does not have to denigrate Rachmaninov and Prokofiev in order to do justice to Shostakovich, any more than one has to denigrate Dvorak in order to do justice to Brahms.
Unfortunately, even if Mr. Sorabii's view is a purely musical one, it cannot help but encourage those who persist in thinking that out of Communism nothing good can come, or that out of Catholicism no objectivity can come.
John E. Pinnington Oxford.