Esti Sheinberg uses a multi-disciplinary approach to present a theory for the recognition of musical language that implies irony, satire, parody, and grotesquerie. Her approach includes elements of literary theory and semiology rather than traditional music theory. One should have some familiarity with the Russian Formalist (literary theory) and a basic understanding of semiology prior to reading this book, however, any lacking should not deter you from delving in. Knowledge of traditional music theory is not very important to understand this book, but one should be familiar with the elements of music and musical topics (especially waltzes and marches!)
In each section, Sheinberg uses literary theories to define each type of rhetoric (irony, satire, etc.) Since the subject is Shostakovich's music, the Russian Formalist ideas of these terms are examined. Examples are given in literature and (visual) art before looking at music. Sheinberg then lists the musical elements that point towards ironic/satirical/etc. meaning and provides examples of each. The musical examples are not limited to Shostakovich, demonstrating that Sheinberg's theories can be applied to the hermeneutical analysis of any music.
The theory itself is based on "incongruities," that is, musical elements that are somehow out of place. For example, a waltz played too fast or with a heavy bass, or excessive repetitons of simple patterns. When these types of things are recognized by the listener, the meaning of the original musical topic becomes altered, whether it be for any of the purposes in the title.
With regards to Shostakovich, most of the music the book is concerned with appears in his two operas, and some is in his instrumental music. Though there are some limits to the discussion in terms of volume of material examined, one could go on an apply the theory presented to more. A second weakness is that Sheinberg quotes from "Testimony" frequently, seemingly accepting it as true regardless of its questionable authenticity. To her credit, she does this in a different manner than the "Revisionist Camp" (e.g. MacDonald, Ho, Wilson) who seem to want to impoverish the value of Shostakovich's music by ascribing one purport (anti-Stalin/fascism art). This is clear when she writes: "I believe that Shostakovich is saying much more than that." (See page 318.)
I recommend this book to anyone interested in musical meaning. It is well worth reading!