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Category: Dmitri Shostakovich

String Quartet no 15, Opus 144 – Dmitri Shostakovich

title-page-and-key-monogram-of-the-mountain-lover.jpg!Large

     Title page and key monogram of “The Mountain Lover” (c. 1895)

                                         

          Aubrey Beardsley

 

               ___________

 

 

after John passed away, I read, at a

gathering we had for him, something 

that I’d written in his honour, it began,

adagios always remind me of John,

John was a dancer, he walked like

one

  

a few days later, immersed as I

was in memories of him while 

mechanically washing some 

dishes, I heard, from symphony 

I’d put on in the background to

keep me company in my reverie,

its adagio

 

I dried my hands, put my arms

around myself, and we danced

to the end of the movement, I’d  

found, I understood, utterly, I

believed, miraculously, a key to

the very hereafter, adagios

would henceforth always

remind me of John

 

some time later, flipping aimlessly

through string quartets, of

Shostakovich among others, I  

happened upon this one, his 15th

String Quartet, Opus 144, which

had, to my astonishment, not one,

not two, not three, not even four

nor five, but six whole adagios,

this was John talking, I knew,

I’ve loved it ever since

 

listen

 

 

R ! chard

 

psst:

 

   String Quartet no 15, Opus 144

 

        l – Elegy: Adagio  

      ll – Serenade: Adagio  

     lll – Intermezzo: Adagio

     lV – Nocturne: Adagio

      V – Funeral March: Adagio molto

    Vl – Epilogue: Adagio

 

                              Dmitri Shostakovich

on a personal note

roses.jpg!Large

    Roses (c.1886)

 

          John Singer Sargent


                     ____________

 


on a personal note, since I prefer longer 

pieces, something I can sink my teeth 

into – I like them when they’re long, I 

always say – which led me into spending 

33 years with Proustfor instance, page 

by page, so that I could breathe it in, him, 

tend to veer towards music with several 

movements, be they serial, as in sonatas, 

symphonies, concertos, Classically 

speaking, of course, or haphazard, as 

in the more loosely associated suites

 

rather than smelling merely the rose,

as in a simple waltz, nocturne, étude,

I want to revel in the aroma of an

entire garden

 

therefore the three hours of Liszt‘s

Années de pèlerinage“, for example, 

even Wagner‘s daunting five hour 

operas, individual portions of his 

towering, indeed epic, four-part 

“Ring” cycle, enthral me 


these are high masses, and if you 

subscribe to the faith, the experience 

they allow can be transformational,

however such may still be, 

nevertheless, a mere rose, a mere, 

but epiphanic, rose, as is, for 

instance, the exquisite Opus 10, no 3

of Chopin, “Tristesse”, or Sadness, 

inveterately, for me 

 

a rose, a creation as unique as we 

are, in our shared, however unevenly

apportioned, mortality, proud, sturdy,

protected by thorns, even, meanwhile, 

as we are, in our own manner, against 

our own existential vicissitudes 

 

but vibrant, also, ever, drenched in 

any of its several arresting colours, 

fragrant, poised, full of perfect grace, 

as we should be ourselves, I’ve told 

myself, not only with regard to their 

beauty, but to their inspiration, 

whether a deity exists that we 

might be beholden toincidentally, 

or not

 

Shostakovich has something poignant

to say about that, also Beethoven, but 

that’s another story, for later, maybe, 

however, either, powerfully 

consequential

 

until then, l’important, as we sing in

French, c’est la rose

 

or heed, it says, in other, but 

nevertheless ever instructive words,

the wisdom of very nature

 

I live by it

 


R ! chard

why I believe in music, or “I Was Born For This” – Austin Wintory

joan-of-arc-on-corronation-of-charles-vii-in-the-cathedral-of-reims.jpg!Large

  “Joan of Arc upon Coronation of Charles VII in the Cathedral of Reims (1854) 

        Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

                ____________________

many years ago, while I was volunteering 
at our hospital’s palliative care unit, nearby, 
recently installed as a response to, among 
other pressing preoccupations, but most 
urgently then, the AIDS crisis, I was asked 
to sit by a lady in profound distress, her 
family, Western Buddhists, would go to 
lunch while I would sit by her to comfort 
her as much as I could

she was dishevelled, of course, completely 
disconcerted, all ajitter, lost, and evidently
confused, in her profound isolation, not to 
mention in the crumpled state of her 
harried bedunable to communicate, or
reason

I found a chair, sat by her with earnest 
concentration, my partner had died 
there, only recently, on that very unit, 
and I was expressing, to all of those 
concerned in his unparalleled care, 
my unlimited appreciation

I lay a hand gently upon her arm, to let
her feel, at least, the safety that my 
touch could allow, to let it settle on 
her, however removed might be her 
remaining consciousness, began to 
sing quietly a chant I’d been intoning   
from a creed I’d turned to for comfort 
in my own personal anguish, at the 
loss of my own friend, a call, an 
invocation, the continuous iteration 
of a line that brought solace, Om Nama
Shivaya, I prayed, over and over again, 
with the greatest intention, whatever
that phrase might’ve, I’ve forgotten, 
meant

she relented, found her space, little by
little she became, as though grace had 
descended upon her, calm, by however  
infinitesimal degrees, while I continued, 
now, my hopeful, helpful, it appeared,
manifestly mystical, intervention

she had become restful, I’d 
accomplished essentially, I gathered, 
my primary mission, though I 
continued, with some sense, perhaps
even a glow, of personal pridemy 
soulful incantation

then in a voice not much louder than a 
whisper, but much less distraught than 
a moan, she began to join in with row, 
row, row your boat, tunefully, over and 
over again, accommodating herself,
though, naturally, exceedingly weakly,   
to my rhythm, I felt I was experiencing,  
right there, and then, through the    
power of cadence, a miracle

when I looked back, upon hearing 
behind me a rustle, standing at the 
door was her family, wrapped in 
equal consternation 


here’s something with someone singing 
in several inscrutable languages for 
most of us, mostly, words from historical 
texts, in Greek, Latin, Olde English, 
Japanese, and French, I Was Born For 
This

that title, of one of the segments of 
longer work, Journey“, by a contemporary 
composer, Austin Wintoryis indeed a 
translation of Joan of Arc‘s words on the 
cross, “Ne me plaignez pas. C’est pour cela 
que je suis née.”, do not pity me, she says, 
I was born for this, Joan of Arc, my own 
personal Jesus

Shostakovich has an entire symphony,
his 14thcomposed of music to 
accompany classic poems, all in a 
variety of foreign, to him, tongues, but
translated back into Russian for his 
purpose in this particular, and not 
uncommon, instance, nevertheless 
pointed reference to music as superior
more direct, communication – note, here, 
the word, communication – it, the 14th,
is profound, extraordinary, read here 
first, then listen


R ! chard

“Mother with Children” – Gustav Klimt

mother-with-children.jpg!Large     
     “Mother with Children (c.1909 – 1910)

             Gustav Klimt

                 _______

Gustav Klimt has long been one of 
my very favourite painters, a large 
reproduction of a detail of his 
masterpiece, Music“, hangs even 
on one of my walls

how much is that Klimt in the 
window, I’d asked the merchant 
when I saw it from the street in 
his shop’s display

later, I invited people over, to see
my Klimt, I’ve got a very large 
Klimt, I’d say – this is before 
anyone even knew of him, I was, 
I’ll admit, a bad boy

around all that, I’ve had the good 
fortune to see many of his works
during the several times I’ve been 
to Vienna, where most of his 
wonders reside, where they grace  
that immortal city, the great hall of
the Kunsthistorisches Museum,
the Art History Museum in English, 
for instance, the Beethoven Frieze 
at the Vienna Secession Building 
and, of course, at Belvedere, the 
summer palace, where among 
other paintings of his, you can 
still see the iconic The Kiss
their national treasure

but the painting above, part of a 
private, apparently, collection, is 
utterly new to me, and therefore 
striking,

note how stark the background is
here, above, compared to Klimt’s 
usually more ornamented 
constructions, how the subject is
starkly the gentleness, the 
intimation of peace, even serenity,
in the rosy cheeks of not only the 
children, but of also the mother,
the slumber and surrendermidst 
the imprecations of the 
surrounding, and portentous,
darkness, note the paradoxical, 
genetically determined even, trust 
and love, in the consonant colours, 
cherry blossoms blooming in all 
three sleeping faces, despite the 
threatening miasma of encroaching 
and engulfing primordial earth

Shostakovich also said something 
like that in his 15th String Quartet
a fundamental harmony develops, 
despite even strident distortions, 
disturbances, in otherwise 
unbearable situations, to provide 
some solace, redemption
 
listen, I urge you, if you dare

compare the crook in the mother’s 
neck, above, a nearly Baroque angle, 
to the same docile, though resilient,
bent in Klimt‘s lover in The Kiss 
for his provocative, maybe even 
enlightening, perspective on 
women


happy Mother’s Day, mothers, for all 
your invaluable attention


R ! chard

“The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross”, opus 51 – Joseph Haydn

crucified-christ-1780.jpg!Large.jpg

                  “Crucified Christ (1780) 

                          Francisco Goya

                                 _______

Haydn’s Opus 51 was commissioned 
for the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, the 
Holy Cave Oratoryin Cádiz, Spain,
church, as the name suggests, built 
partially underground, it would be
performed, the Opus 51, for the Good 
Friday service of 1787, Haydn therefore 
put his Opus 50 on hold, six string 
quartets, to finish this ecclesiastical 
work on time

what had been required was a work for 
small orchestra to inform the Seven 
Last Words of our Saviour on the 
Cross, it would therefore have at least
segments, movements, and would be 
divided by the elaboration of the 
bishop upon the significance of these 
individual “Words”, or, in fact,
statements, see this example 

Haydn added an introduction, and a 
finale in the form of an earthquake,
quite, I think, wittily and ever so 
appropriately

nearly simultaneously, Haydn 
composed the orchestral 
arrangement for string quartet, and 
later for orchestra and voice, for, in
other words, an oratorio

to my mind “The Seven Last Words 
of Our Saviour on the Cross” is 
Haydn’s crowning achievement, in 
all of its iterations

you’ll note that there is even first of 
all a title, and the title asks for 
something quite specific, indeed 
words, which the composer would
have to render musically, somehow, 
he’d need drama, something of a 
musical narrative, no minuets

all of the movements, apart from 
the end ones, are variations on 
slow – adagio, lento, largo, even 
grave – and how do you keep an 
audience, or in this case a 
congregation, happy, or even 
interested, with seven potentially 
lugubrious adagios in a row, all 
profoundly melancholy

only Shostakovich has managed 
to do that since, which I’ll talk 
about at some point later

Haydn also undoubtedly inspired 
Beethoven here with the 
consequences of so many 
movements, the possibility of 
extending a musical intention
into something resembling,
indeed, a book, a story, the 
introduction of narrative, 
essentially, into our musical 
history, which is to say, music
as literature 

the orchestral version of “The 
Seven Last Words” is performed 
here at the very Oratorio de la
Santa Cueva, the string quartet
version, played not only better 
than I’ve ever heard it played
before, but better even than any 
other quartet I’ve ever heard, 
period, includes the commentaries 
in German by an attendant prelate,
as intended in the original 
composition 

the movements’ “Seven Words” are 
indicated in Latin, not, incidentally, 
the  language of “Our Saviour”, and 
move from “Lord, why have you 
forsaken me” to “If it is Your will, 
then let it be done”

the last version presented here is 
the oratorio, for orchestra and
voice  

all of them, utterly inspiring

listen


R ! chard 

        (to be, incontrovertibly, continued,
         this piece is too loaded with 
         substance, it is transformational)

on string quartets – Opus 76, no 1 – Joseph Haydn

joseph-haydn-1791.jpg!Large.jpg

                                   “Joseph Haydn (1791) 

                                          Thomas Hardy

                                                 ______

to not consider other musical forms of
Shostakovich would be unfair, his
symphonies are mostly propaganda,
however often, though somewhat 
culturally specific, riveting

my favourite works of his, works I 
consider iconic, are mostly chamber 
pieces, piano solos, string quartets

a string quartet, after a symphony, is
like sitting down to dinner with four,
at the very least, acquaintances, 
rather than being a guest at a party,  
the conversation is more intimate,
every person plays hir part, everyone
is heeded, if even only with courtesy,
a social, a Classical, an aristocratic,
prerequisite 

movements can be compared to 
courses, distinct and identifiable for
their particular culinary, musical, 
propriety

later variations on this reflect the 
variations in social mores, where 
restaurants, the modern way of
socializing, allow for disparate 
choices, often superimposed, 
throughout the meal for any,
every, occasion

dim sum, tapas, celebrate this, not
unhappily 


but string quartets can be tricky, I 
thought I’d start from the beginning,
with some Haydn, their recognized 
Father, you’ll understand when you
hear this, his Opus 76, no 1, an 
outstanding string quartet to live 
up to

Haydn set the standard for string 
quartets when the norms of Western 
music were being established, Bach
had given us the alphabet, the
well-tempered clavier, Mozart, the 
grammar, the structure of music,
tempo, tonality, repetition, Beethoven 
gave us the literature, the poetry, the 
philosophical, the transcendent

Haydn is somewhere between these 
last two, but decidedly, still, the king  
of the string quartet, though Beethoven  
does a good job of trying to best him,  
and so does Shostakovich, you’ll have 
to pick

but first, let’s start with Haydn, that’ll
be already, you’ll see, or hear, enough

later, I’ll get into it


R ! chard

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

Symphony no 14, opus 135 – Dmitri Shostakovich

portrait-of-shostakovich-1976-2.jpg!Large

      “Portrait of Shostakovich (1976)

            Tahir Salahov

                   _______

though I’d feared undertaking Shostakovich’s
14th Symphony – it would be a set of eleven
movements, each setting its own poem to
music, poems by Federico García Lorca,
Guillaume Apollinaire, Rainer Maria Rilke,
and one Wilhelm Küchelbecher, translated 
from their respective languages into Russian,
compounded by once again the fact that this
wasn’t either a symphony, but strictly speaking
a song cycle – I found the 14th Symphony to be,
counterintuitively, a triumph, all the issues I’d
earlier listed as compositional misadventures 
– the play of voice and instruments, the dangers 
of using a single singer, one pitch, to anchor an 
orchestral work – had been dealt with expertly, 
all the obbligatos, even, were back, I couldn’t 
wait to hear it again

Schubert had done several song cycles, 
Die Schöne Müllerin“, “Schwanengesang“,
Winterreise“, for instance, sad stories, 
steeped in Romantic torment, not unlike, 
still in 1969, Shostakovich the 14th  

Schubert, though, accompanies with just a 
piano


but a music cycle, without voice this one, 
no poems, just musical ones, of Liszt, his 
Années de pèlerinage“, his Years as a 
Pilgrim, three years, one, two, three,  
1835 through to 1838, travelling through 
Switzerland and Italy, is consummate, 
ethereal, exquisite, and goes on for a  
few utterly enchanting hours 

one New Year’s Eve, I sat before a cozy fire,  
comfortable on my fluffy sofa, cuddled up 
in the several picturesque melodies along 
the musical way, like station stops on a 
train

did the entire trip with him, nearly three 
hours, the music like a sonic looking glass
a hearing glass, a hearing film, not only 
transparent, but transcendental, into  
very wonderland, beyond even its mere 
incidental geography

that’s what art does, and music, when 
you look, listen

enjoy


R ! chard

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

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

Symphony no 12 in D minor, opus 112 (The Year of 1917) – Dmitri Shostakovich

assault-on-the-kremlin-in-1917-1951.jpg!Large

 Assault on the Kremlin in 1917 (1951)

               Konstantin Yuon

                    __________

the Twelfth Symphony of Shostakovich, 
“The Year of 1917”, is a lot more of the 
Eleventh, “The Year 1905”, both 
commissioned, both celebrating 
significant events of the Russian 
Revolution, both therefore steeped in 
references that now elude many who 
aren’t Russian, and certainly those who
generations elsewhere later never lived 
through these particularly local events 

but the Twelfth is shorter by nearly 
half, thankfully, I also found it to be 
unconvincing, plastic, formulaic, 
neither original, nor enthusiastic, 
tedious and uninspired, musically 
speaking, of course

or maybe I’m just getting cranky

also a music honouring a system that 
is now defunct, debunked, discredited, 
couldn’t long survive but historically
among the works of an otherwise 
extraordinary composer, think of 
Confederate monuments still standing 
in the Southern United States, or of 
those of oppressors of First Nations, 
for instance, in our very own Canada, 
though these might’ve been  
sculpted by even Michelangelos,   
an irresolvable cultural confusion,
predicament


the works are programmatic, both 
have titles to indicate a particular
referent, and should be evocative 
of, therefore, those situations, 
music, in other words, for the 
movies, but in these instances, 
without the movie, I’ve talked 
about that before 

all the movements also have titles,
apart from the time signatures, 
adagio, presto, allegro, the like,
the Eleventh, “The Palace Square”, 
“The 9th of January”, “Eternal
Memory”, and “Tocsin”, a warning 
bell

the Twelfth, “Revolutionary Petrograd”,
“Razliv”, “Aurora”, and “The Dawn of 
Humanity”

I couldn’t help but refer to Beethoven’s
Sixth Symphony, the “Pastoral”, to
compare identical musical intentions,
his five movements are “Awakening of 
cheerful feelings upon arrival in the 
countryside“, “Scene by the brook“, 
Merry gathering of country folk“,
Thunder, Storm“, and “Shepherd’s 
song; cheerful and thankful feelings 
after the storm

compare the use of the flute, the 
oboe, the bassoon, Beethoven isn’t 
using any obbligatos yet, solos for 
particular instruments, but you still 
get the feeling of country folk 
dancing, spring taking hold


let me point out that you’ll have to be
patient with the link to the Sixth
Symphony, it’s Japanese, I think, and
will require you to push the arrow in 
the middle of the screen, then wait 
out a few movie ads, which’ll nearly
confound you, but then you’ll get the
best ever Sixth Symphony I’ve ever 
heard, Herbert von Karajan at the 
helm of the Berliner Philharmoniker,
proving why he is still Zeus among
conductors

and his thumbs, goodness, anyone 
with thumbs like that is bound to 
change history


R ! chard

psst: incidentally, Yevgeny Mravinsky 
          was the conductor, equally 
          illustrious, who premiered 
          Shostakovich’s Twelfth in 1961, 
          the same conductor as in the 
          presentation here