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This article is taken from PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.

Nuncle Music in the Making Gareth Reeves
For several years now I have been working on a long sequence of poems called Nuncle Music about the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. I first came to Shostakovich via his string quartets, especially the last four (nos. 12-15). Utterly inward, utterly ethereal, utterly out-of-this-world, taut, acerbic, minimal, inscrutable, these final quartets are deathward tending and full of suffering. They got to me powerfully, and I wanted, still want, to get to them, to understand them, or at any rate get behind them, just as I want to get behind the extraordinary mask the composer wears in the frequently reproduced photograph of him in his later years: po-faced, controlled, tight-lipped, opaque, with glinting, impenetrable specs.

I realise now, but I did not when starting the sequence, that I was presented with a problem critical to its very existence: where is it coming from, what is its perspective? Apparently straightforward matters, such as who is the speaker, who the addressee, what is the temporal perspective, indeed the whole business of 'representation', turned out to be up in the air: not just who is doing the representing, but what is being presented or represented? I am not sure that I have resolved these matters, or indeed that they ever will be resolved, even though the sequence is finished. For the jury is still out on Shostakovich, and it may never come in. But at least I learnt one thing while writing the sequence: uncertainties are essential to it. In the attempt to ...


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