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

Why Testimony is a Fraud

It is difficult to explain in non-technical terms why Solomon Volkov’s account of Testimony‘s creation is so absurd. Perhaps the most compelling argument is visual rather than verbal.

Keep in mind, first of all, that Testimony is allegedly based entirely on personal conversations with Shostakovich, which were transcribed into shorthand notes by Volkov. Volkov has repeated this account to me and to others. These notes were then organized and edited to create an 8-chapter manuscript. Shostakovich signed the first page — and only the first page — of each chapter, in order to “authenticate” its contents.

The illustration below reproduces two pages. (Click on image for full size.) On the left is page 7 from a Soviet collection of essays, Testimonyentitled I.F. Stravinsky: Articles and Materials, edited by B.M. Iarustovskii (Moscow: Sovetskii kompozitor, 1973). On the right is page 040 of the original manuscript of Testimony, which would later be translated into English and become the first page of the book’s second chapter. The scribble on the top of the manuscript page is Shostakovich’s signature, along with the Russian word “chital,” indicating that he had “read” and authenticated it.

Even someone with no working knowledge of Russian can see that the two are identical in every respect. The wording is identical. The punctuation is identical. The page layout is identical. (All 8 manuscript chapters begin with similar previously published material. Shostakovich, in other words, did not authenticate a single word that Volkov claims he uttered to him in his “dozens” of interviews.)

Is it plausible, as Volkov claims to this day, that he had never seen the original source, which Laurel Fay describes as the “first major Soviet collection of materials about Stravinsky”? Is it plausible that Shostakovich uttered the first 186 words of this introduction to Volkov, miraculously conveying to him the precise punctuation and page layout? Is it likely that Shostakovich somehow intuited that these 186 words would fill a single typewritten manuscript page, and abruptly stopped recycling his prose after the 187th word, which begins the next (unsigned) page? Is it plausible that this process happened eight separate times — on the first page of each chapter — and nowhere else, by chance?

To ask these questions is to answer them.