Igor Levit deserved his standing ovation; Shostakovich, even more so

Music and politics don’t mix, runs the platitude. Looks a bit tattered now, doesn’t it? For Soviet musicians, of course, it wasn’t a question of whether you were interested in politics. Politics was unambiguously interested in you. Shostakovich wrote his 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano between 1950 and 1951, in the teeth of Stalin’s postwar crackdown, and in adopting the model of Bach, he seems to have been looking for a safe path forward: music that was politically neutral. He dedicated the Preludes and Fugues to the pianist Tatyana Nikolayeva, whose surprise victory at the 1950 Bach competition in Leipzig had been exploited by state propagandists. Bach himself was