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Category: Dmitri Shostakovich

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

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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

Symphony no 11 in G minor, opus 103 (The Year 1905) – Dmitri Shostakovich

bloody-sunday-shooting-workers-near-the-winter-palace-january-9-1905-1  Bloody Sunday. Shooting workers near the Winter Palace January 9, 1905” 

       Ivan Vladimirov

            ________

if you don’t find a lot to hang on to in
Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony, as I
didn’t, apart from his everywhere
ravishing instrumentation, it’s that 
the piece is a commemoration of a 
particular event in Russian history, 
Bloody Sunday, when the Tsar’s 
Imperial Guard opened fire on a 
crowd of unarmed protestors who 
had come to petition Nicolas ll for 
better work conditions, akinindeed, 
to slavery then, there, January 22, 
1905, the first stirrings, thus, of the 
1917 Russian Revolution, which 
installed the Bolsheviks, Leninism, 
then Stalinism, and so forth

Bloody Sunday can be compared to 
China’s Tiananmen Square, June 4, 
1989it seems totalitarian states will 
blithely resort to such dire measures

Shostakovich had been commissioned 
to write a symphony for the 50th 
anniversary of the event, January 22, 
1955

he’d been reinstated by Khrushchev  
after the death of Stalin, who’d 
excused the tyrant’s condemnation 
of Shostakovich by saying the despot 
had been too subjective, and rescinded 
the law which that earlier ruler had 
imposed requiring all artists to  
conform to party ideology, see Hitler 
again on that one, his proscribed
entartete Kunsthis interdicted
degenerate art

but for personal reasons, Shostakovich 
was unable to compose this new work 
until 1957, the year after the Soviets had 
quashed the Hungarian uprising of 1956
with tanks and ammunition, an event 
too reminiscent of, to the composer, the
earlier tsarist massacre, and horrifying

furthermore, his father had been there,
and spoke of children having been shot 
out of the trees as they merely watched
the proceedings, felled too suddenly, 
apparently, to wipe the smiles off their 
innocent still faces 

the Symphony is called The Year 1905“,
it is mighty, but is too local to effect any
universal understanding, I think, the 
program is too specifically Russian to 
evoke more than historical attention to
an unacquainted observer, listener

I’d visited a church in Rome, Sant’Agnese
fuori le mura, St Agnes Outside the Walls,
once, a place I would not miss were I ever
to return to that illustrious city, before even 
the Vatican, the Coliseum, et cetera, the 
church was built in the 4th Century and 
has weathered the ages, the vicissitudes 
of time, with all their impositions 

the mass was in Italian, however, not the 
Latin that had once united all Catholics
in a common set of sounds that had been
internalized to represent the message of 
the service

but now I could only recognize the form,
no longer the content, something like the 
response a person without the history
of Russia would have here, I would 
contend

this is the dilemma of this, however 
significant, composition, I find

you might also imagine that a tribute to
Canadian soldiers who’d died at, say,
Vimy Ridge, or Passchendaele, might 
not be as moving to someone who    
wasn’t Canadian 


Shostakovich received the Lenin Prize
for his achievement, one of the Soviet 
Union’s most prestigious accolades


R ! chard

Symphony no 10 in E minor, op 93 – Dmitri Shostakovich

self-portrait-with-stalin-1954.jpg!Large.jpg

     “Self Portrait with Stalin (1954) 

             Frida Kahlo

                 ______

Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony was a
success from the moment I heard it, 
it resolved issues for me I found 
difficult in his earlier showpieces, for
that’s what symphonies are, indeed
blockbusters

from the very beginning, Shostakovich
gives a musical theme, a few notes 
played by a solo oboe, an obbligato
that is then repeated with variations by
other instruments, if not by the entire
orchestra, this is an old trick of 
Beethoven

later movements do the same thing 
with flute, piccolo, or bassoon
obbligati, a particular device of
Shostakovich to indicate a lone,
individual voice amidst the clamour 
of military brass and proletarian
violins

but the tactic of repeating a theme, 
like rhyming in poetry, gives one a 
sense of position, which is lost if 
there’s no reiteration, no reference 
point, it’s like wandering off into a 
forest instead of into a park you 
could safely be enjoying, that had 
trails at least to let you know you 
weren’t far from civilization, 
signposts pointing out directions, 
whereas a forest could be a tundra, 
vast for miles, one could walk for 
days without being found, that’s 
the role of repetition, rhyme, a 
refrain, in music, getting one’s 
bearings

and incidentally, one could be 
walking around in circles in that 
forest and atonality wouldn’t be 
any help at all 


the Tenth has, however, all the 
guideposts throughout, one can 
tell where the music ‘s going at 
each and every movement, it was 
like finding my way home, the, long  
even at nearly an hour, soundscape 
whipped by leaving me breathless, 
awestruck, Shostakovich has hit 
here, I thought, my big time, it took 
him long enough


it was first performed just after the 
death of Stalin, March, 1953, was 
thus probably composed somewhat 
earlier, belying the supposition that 
Stalin‘s demise had affected the 
spirit of his composition, which is 
uncharacteristically cheery for him, 
to my mind, seems to have unleashed 
in him the dogs not of war and 
disillusion, but of fun, something that 
was happening to the entire 20th 
Century, for that matter, especially 
after the Second World War, even, it 
appears, however grimly, in Russia, 
oops, in the U.S.S.R


an aside – Mrs Premise had said of 
Jean-Paul Sartre, the expositor of 
Existentialism in the Twentieth Century, 
implications of which he related to us,
of living in world without God, in his
magnum opusBeing and Nothingness“,
to her Monty Python counterpart, Mrs 
Conclusion, in a hilarious skit of theirs, 
that Sartre wasn’t receiving that day, he 
was, according to his housekeeper, 
especially moody

is he free, asks Mrs Premise, he’s been 
investigating that one for years, the 
woman at the door replies, the kind of 
joke – in musical terminology, a scherzo – 
utterly cherishwitty, pithy, trenchant, 
if you’ll pardon my giddy digression

but I sense Russian counterpart in the
dour Shostakovich

 
it should be noted here, that the 
orchestra in the link I provide, is
the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra
of Venezuela, a country with its 
own political history of oppression, 
under the direction of the deservedly 
celebrated conductor, Gustavo 
Dudamelhimself a Venezuelan 

the struggle doesn’t stop, the oracular 
hits must keep on coming, go, Gustavo
Dudamel, go, Simon Bolivar Youth
Orchestra, go, Shostakovich


 R ! chard

Symphony no 9 in E flat major, Op. 70 – Dmitri Shostakovich

great-expectations-ussr-pavilion-on-1939-new-york-world-s-fair-1947.jpg!Large 

Great Expectations. USSR pavilion at 1939 New York World’s Fair (1947) 

       Veniamin Kremer

             ________

it’s become evident that Shostakovich’s 
symphonies require context, a backstory, 
it’s otherwise like listening to a film score
without the movie, though often even 
pleasant, it lacks the poignancy that a 
story would deliver to the music 
accompanying it

not that that’s impossible, John Williams  
has delivered, irrespective of if you’ve 
seen the relevant film, his Shindler’s
List for example, listen 

and I used to fall asleep to Alex North‘s
soundtrack for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf”a film that changed, or rather 
defined, my life, much as Somerset 
Maugham’s Of Human Bondage“, the
book, had done a decade earlier,
these 
would be, I’d intuited,
my destiny  

but for specifically political reasons, 
the symphonies of Shostakovich
apart from a few exceptions, the 
Fifth, the Eighth, though only 
somewhat that one, for instance, 
without the accompanying history, 
don’t hold, the emotional connection 
is too abstruse, foreign, to catch


the Ninth was written in 1945, World
War ll had been won, by the Soviet 
Union as well as the Western Allies

Stalin was still in command, Russians 
were returning to their oppressive, 
indeed murderous, regime 

Shostakovich had been expected to 
bring glory to the Soviet system, he 
delivered instead a joke, in musical
terms, a scherzo, if you can listen to 
the language, a wry joke, instead of 
a paean to the glory of Stalin, he
delivered not at all a full on hour-long
special as he’d been doing before,
but a short, his shortest, symphony, 
full of exaggerated, which is to say,
hypocritical, fanfare

piccolos and flutes cheer, mimicking
flags and banners, trombones boast 
an only uncertain victory, deflating 
even, in the third movement 
decisively, though, I found, 
prolongedly, with winds sounding 
exhausted, but not succumbing to 
standing down, while violins portray 
the population in a frenzy, their 
military industrial complex having 
whipped them into feverish 
servitude

Stalin was not amused, the piece 
was banned until after the autocrat’s 
demise, for its “ideological weakness”

nor was the world then, for that matter,
impressed, who thought the Soviet
superstar’s response to victory was 
unusually trivial

but Shostakovich had been unable 
to applaud the tyrant, a politically 
required duty, if not even officially
commissioned, he could only put 
up surreptitiously pantomime, if  
he was to remain true to his 
principles

which he did

his work was a call to arms for the 
beleaguered denizens of his 
oppressed society, spoken in a
locally decipherable musicacode

as such it is a historical document 


listen to Leonard Bernstein give 
further invaluable information on
the subject


R ! chard 

Symphony no 8 in C minor, opus 65, “Stalingrad”- Dmitri Shostakovich

sky-and-water-ii.jpg!Large.jpg

     “Sky and Water II (1938) 

           M.C. Escher

              _______

stepping into Shostakovich’s Eighth 
Symphony was to me like knocking 
at someone’s apartment in the same 
building but on the wrong floor, 
everything was the same but 
different

that had happened to me once before 
when I‘d moved from the third floor  
of my building, facing the laneway, 
overlooking the dumpsters and the 
derelicts, I used to say, cause I liked 
the alliteration, just above the parking 
lot, too few levels up, that spewed 
exhaust from caridling there, 
interminablyespecially early 
mornings in winter

to the twelfth floor, with a view of the 
mountains from my living room and
of the ocean from my bedroom, where
I’ve always said I see God/dess every
morning, every day

the floor plan was identical but for 
being reversed, the living room on 
the left, and the kitchen, in the first, 
the bedroom straight ahead of you
as you entered, the living room on 
the right, and the kitchen, the 
bedroom straight ahead of you as 
you entered, in the second

I called it going through the looking 
glass, where indeed dumpsters and 
derelicts had turned to daily sightings 
of God/dess, a truly transcendental 
experience

this had happened as well when I 
went from atheism, crossedI said, 
the bridge of faith, but that’s 
another story


Shostakovich’s Eighth is indeed a 
reiteration of previous statements,
patterns are becoming familiar, the 
strident opening subsiding into 
plaintive laments is recognizable, 
links to the Fifth and the Seventh 
are evident, so are some of the, 
eventually, longueurs, as we say 
in French, excessive histrionics, 
to my mind

but the third movement here is 
nevertheless a stunner, worth 
the price of admission, I’ve been 
humming that one since in my, 
though interrupted, sleep  

here‘s a counterpart, however, 
a piece I found serendipitously 
as I pondered a response to a 
cousin who’d asked about 
Classical guitar, a piece written 
in 1939, the time Shostakovich
was writing his Fourth, though
protectively then retracted, by 
a Spanish composer, in another 
part of the world, but equally 
constricted, by Franco, a 
contemporary autocrat, who 
demanded art supportive of his 
particular political apparatus

Joaquín Rodrigo – but he’s 
another story – wrote his 
magisterialConcerto de 
Aranjuez“, an utter triumph, a 
strictly Classical composition, 
three movements, with all the 
tempi in the right order,
celebrating a palace, Aranjuez,
historically significant to the 
Spanish, like Versailles is to 
the French, thereby sidestepping 
the local tyrant’s official censure 
by skirting that ruler’s autocratic
political proscriptions

but Spain wasn’t massively 
obliterating its people either, 
as Stalin and Hitler were 
theirs then, a crucial 
consideration

in either case, these poets are  
witnesses to history, and have 
survived through their particular
statements, to tell individually,
and idiosyncratically, each his 
redoubtable story, each of 
which is forcefully telling, and 
amazing

listen


R ! chard

Shostakovich – intermission

five-angels-playing-musical-instruments-left-hand-panel-from-a-triptych-from-the-church-of-1490.jpg!Large

  Five Angels Playing Musical Instruments (c.1487 – 1490) 

         Hans Memling

            __________

the Quartet for the End of Time by 
Messiaen, which I lauded in my last
transmission, is perhaps a wonderful 
place to take a break, an intermission,
from the central Shostakovich, mighty
and imperial as he is, perhaps even 
overbearing, compared to the more 
introspective meanderings of Messiaen, 
bird calls, philosophical, if more organic 
explorations, a radically different musical 
reaction to the tyrannical tribulations of 
Shostakovich, but not in the least less 
viable, convincing, you can decide 

Beethoven’s 14th String Quartet in
C# minor, here, seems an apposite
musical counterpart also, a model 
for the tortured movements, implicit 
in either other incendiary work

note how the several movements in
either quartet hold together neatly, like
a bespoke suit, made to order, you can 
follow the line of the cut in all of its 
detail, and the suit fits everywhere like, 
well, a glove

there are too many extra, unnecessary 
ruffles, flounces, frills, excess material
to distract from the essential garment 
up until now, to my mind, in Shostakovich, 
one gets lost in the kerfuffle, one drifts
away, all except for his Fifth Symphony

neither do the ebb and flow of the 
movements, from largo to prestissimo 
and throughout the tempo ledger, lead
to distinct, personal, statements from 
the individual parts in Shostakovich
as they do in MessiaenBeethoven
when they slip from one chapter to
the next

Shostakovich seems to return to, rely
on, the same, however magisterial  
technique – the guy ‘s an obvious 
symphonist, an orchestrator of 
instruments of the very highest order
– but with the same melodic matter
variations on a single complaint, too 
often reiterated to maintain rapt 
attention from start to finish, one
wanders 

it might be noted that comparing 
string quartets and symphonies is
like comparing apples and oranges 

but listen to any Beethoven symphony
for an array of unforgettable musical 
airs, dances, dirges, marches, lyrical 
romps through Elysian fields, you’re 
transfixed through to the very end,
always, everywhere


nevertheless there is indeed the 
splendid, and thoroughly 
successful Shostakovich Fifth  

and alone, the first movement of his 
Seventh, which I’m still singing in 
the streets 

to eternally validate Shostakovich as
the greatest composer of the Twentieth
Century, along with Messiaen


R ! chard