Symphony no. 15 in a major, opus 141 – Dmitri Shostakovich

contrasting-sounds-1924.jpg!Large.jpg

        “Contrasting Sounds (1924) 

                Wassily Kandinsky

                       __________

Shostakovich can be difficult, he speaks a
foreign language, discordant notes leave 
you wondering where you’re going

the disruption of the three conditions of
Classical music, tonality, tempo and 
repetition, has given us here, the 
equivalent of derivatives of Latin, you 
don’t understand Italian if you speak 
only French, despite the profound
interconnections, roots

or think of trying even to read 
Shakespeare

also Shostakovich is more literal than 
other composers, his works are intimately
connected with the history and trials 
of his homeland, wrapped in folkloric 
references later cultures and generations 
would not be aware of

one can detect a composer of great 
consequence, like reading Homer in
translation, but never be able to feel 
their local, tribal, force

only a French Canadian could truly 
understand French Canadian, say,  
in hir very atoms, and that, everywhere


there are many references to personal
influences in Shostakovich’s 15th
Symphony, which he viewed, apparently,
as a kind of autobiography – the initial
revolutionary ardour, his profound 
disillusion, the day to day struggles to 
endure the murderous tribulations of his 
political masters, the moral ambiguities  
that would have gone with them, the  
existential crosses to bear – with   
appropriately pertinent quotations from   
other foundational composers

you’ll surely not miss Rossini’s Overture” 
to his opera, William Tell“, which Russians 
would’ve been entirely familiar with, though 
we’re more likely to have known it in North 
America as the theme from the TV show, 
The Lone Ranger

much as we got our Shostakovich, however 
circuitously, from Walt DisneyHanna-Barbera,
if you’ll remember them

and if you think you’ve heard in this symphony 
something you might’ve heard already
Shostakovich quotes himself from his earlier 
symphonies 

and if you’re good, you might even catch 
some WagnerMahler, some, however 
esoteric, Glinka, even

much of it, I’m afraid, now lost to us, in 
this new century, unless we’re total 
nerds

which is where, of course, I take a bow


the first movement was conceived as a 
toy box, it’s disorganized in the manner
of a child discovering

I heard, as well, a drunken degenerate
dancing, or trying to, a bull in a china 
shop 

but in the next movement, a dirge, an
“adagio – largo – adagio – largo”, if 
you’ve ever heard one, the drunken 
lout, in my mind, the next morning 
wakes up, broken but nevertheless
patient, and resilient

with one shoulder to the pillow, he 
props himself up, having understood 
that he must face the day, if only to do
his morning business, with a hand on 
the night table, he braces himself for 
the effort of heaving himself up from
the side of the bed, hears every bone
crack, every muscle stir as he lifts
himself up to a stable posture, tests 
his balance, then turns to move 
forward, crouched under the weight 
of all of his days, towards the basin 
and the mirror, where the picture 
could be better, but could also be 
worse

a blemish there takes up less than
a minute, a residual sense of duty, 
much more than of pride

his business done, the coffee, the 
grinder, the beans, the warmed cup
and then the hour or two to read 
poetry and find the inspiration, to 
undertake the day that’s been 
thrust upon him

he writes his Symphony no 15


the following movements are 
excessive to me, we drown in a sea 
of adagios and allegrettos, a not
unpleasant fate, but more confusing
than entertaining

though I’ll return

I think I might even get to really like
this symphonyit took me years to 
adjust to Kandinsky’s paintings


R ! chard

psst: thanks for listening