To the Editors:

In his review of Ian MacDonald’s book The New Shostakovich (February 1991), Samuel Lipman ends by examining what he rightly considers a very important problem: “What are we to make of art created under totalitarianism?” He considers this with particular reference to the great works of Prokofiev and Shostakovich that were composed under high Stalinism. He writes, however, as though such works were written despite Stalinist tyranny and does not consider the possibility which I am strongly inclined to believe is true: these works could be written precisely because of Stalinism. These two composers, whose youthful works are in comparison emotionally very thin stuff, were able to reach the emotional depth that their later great works exhibit precisely because of the suffering which they themselves had to undergo and which they saw all around thetn. The same is true in literature: the best works of the Russian dissidents make most of...

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