Symphony no 13 in B-flat minor, opus 113, “Babi Yar” – Dmitri Shostakovich

by richibi

Babi_Jar_ravijn

             the ravine at Baby Yar 

                     ___________

Shostakovich’s Symphony no 13
“Babi Yar”, to me is not a symphony, 
it’s a cantata, a text with accompanying 
orchestra, which is what we have here

does it matter, perhaps not that much, 
but it’s like going to a restaurant where 
you’re looking to enjoy what they’ve 
posted on their website but when you 
get there they tell you they’re out, you 
can only have what they’re serving 

unless it’s sensational, you’re put out 

Shostakovich’s Symphony no 13
“Babi Yar”, is not sensational, not only 
too mired in local history, no matter
how horrid, how very horrid, but too, 
musically, not inspired 

note that with voice to concentrate the
composition, the orchestra becomes
just backdrop, no more of 
Shostakovich’s signature obbligatos, 
that gave distinction and significance 
to individual orchestral players’ lone,
often poignant, complaints

the choice of a bass to anchor the 
enterprise is especially, I think,
unfortunate, like putting all your eggs 
in one basket, that basket lugubrious
and forbidding – I thought of Taras 
Bulba, or Alberich, the gnome in
Wagner’s “Ring”, singing – the jokes in 
the second movement, “Humour”,  
go flat, people wouldn’t laugh, but 
tremble rather before the domineering 
patriarch, oligarch, the composition
needs the grace, the lightness, the 
breath, of a female figure, voice


Bach is famous for cantatas, but what
came up for me was Carl Orff‘s 
incomparable Carmina Burana“,
written in, coincidentally, 1937, from 
medieval texts the composer had 
found, in Latin, describing, in lurid 
lyrics, the spirit of cloistered monks
during the Medieval Era 

you’ll enjoy the translation of the 
Latin into English here, something I 
hadn’t experienced before, giving 
a whole new meaning to the word
“monastery”


R ! chard

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