Paul Mitchinson is a part-time writer and a full-time father of two. He writes when he can. » more about me

Rumour has it that Allan Ho and Dmitri Feofanov have written a 200-page rebuttal of Laurel Fay’s decisive debunking of Solomon Volkov’s Testimony. Some might suggest this is further evidence of their graphomaniac tendencies. The facts show otherwise. Ho and Feofanov’s first riposte to Fay’s 10-page article took up some 270 pages. Their forthcoming salvo is in response to Fay’s 44-page piece in A Shostakovich Casebook. In other words, they have reduced their “rebuttal ratio” down from an initial 27:1 to lower than 5:1. That’s called restraint, folks.

(Fay’s graphomaniac tendencies are embarrassingly small by comparison. Her initial challenge of Volkov’s Testimony yields a rebuttal ratio of about 1:27. Her later article comes in at about 1:6. Neat symmetry, eh? I, however, have got problems. Since I’m commenting on an article that doesn’t even exist yet, my rebuttal ratio is something like ∞:1.)

Still, in the spirit of collegiality, I thought I’d point out that there is really only one issue that needs addressing in those 200 pages: Is the manuscript of Testimony used by Fay genuine? Ho and Feofanov are presumably in an excellent position to tell us, since they have had what they call “unprecedented” access to Volkov, and have claimed that they “examined pages of the manuscript signed by Shostakovich.”

This is a pivotal claim in their book. On the basis of it, they made an argument that had never previously been explicitly advanced, and which convinced some critics that Testimony was genuine.

In focusing her attention on these ‘borrowed reminiscences,’ ‘none [… of which] could be considered controversial or inflammatory,’ Fay fails to mention that the controversial ‘new’ Shostakovich is evident on the first signed page of chapter 1: ‘Others will write about us. And naturally they’ll lie through their teeth — but that’s their business. […] Looking back, I see nothing but ruins, only mountains of corpses. And I do not want to build new Potemkin villages on these ruins.’ The ‘new’ Shostakovich also appears on the first signed page of chapter 3, where he notes that the plaque that reads ‘In this house lived Meyerhold’ should also say ‘And in this house his wife was brutally murdered.’

Together, these two flagrantly ‘inflammatory,’ yet signed, pages completely demolish still another of Fay’s ‘conclusive’ arguments. (Italics in original)

This claim is emphatic. It is based on Ho and Feofanov’s privileged eyewitness claim. And, oh, by the way, it is wrong.

In fact, as Fay discovered, Shostakovich did not endorse either of these inflammatory statements. The dramatic opening of chapter 1 consists of two unsigned pages slotted in before the original manuscript begins. Shostakovich’s signature appears only on the third page, which consists entirely of, yes, previously published Soviet material, none of which “could be considered controversial or inflammatory.” The Meyerhold sentences, which originally appeared on a different, unsigned page, were cut and pasted in by hand.

This was an extraordinary discovery for one main reason. If genuine, the manuscript demonstrates that Volkov or his editor altered the manuscript of Testimonyafter Shostakovich had “authenticated” it. Shostakovich’s signatures are worthless. Back in 1981, the composer’s son Maxim Shostakovich publicly speculated that Volkov had “probably slotted numerous pages” into the manuscript that Shostakovich had neither seen nor endorsed. We now have evidence showing that this is precisely what happened.

So … is the manuscript genuine? A simple “yes” or “no” will do.

(There are subsidiary questions, of course. Did Volkov really allow them to view the signed manuscript pages, as they claimed? If so, why is all their analysis of these pages based on the English translation of Testimony, instead of the original Russian text? And one final question — why should we believe anything they write now? Of course, the answers to these questions have nothing to do with Shostakovich, and including them in Shostakovich Reconsidered might tax the strength of even the sturdiest bookstore shelves. And then there’s that damned rebuttal ratio, which might skyrocket into the double-digits again. Still, we’re curious.)

One Response to “Testimony: The Defense Never Rests”

  1. The issue of the original manuscript and a myriad others are indeed addressed in The Shostakovich Wars, now available online.


    A mere 220 pages, for the curious. Read it, it’s free.

    Dmitry Feofanov