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Category: Johannes Brahms

Dmitri Shostakovich – “Symphony No 4” in C minor, opus 43

portrait-of-joseph-stalin-iosif-vissarionovich-dzhugashvili-1936.jpg!Large

   “Portrait of Joseph Stalin (Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili) (1936)

                   Pavel Filonov

                           _________

if you’ve been waiting for a Shostakovich 
to write home about among his early 
symphonies, here’s the one, his 
Symphony no 4 in C minor, opus 43 will
knock your socks off from its very 
opening gambit, have a seat, settle in, 
and get ready for an explosive hour

the Fourth was written in 1936, some 
years after the death of Lenin, and the 
instalment of Stalin as the supreme, 
and ruthless, authority, after several 
years throughout the Twenties of
maneuvering himself, cold-bloodedly,
into that position 

from Stalin, Death is the solution to 
all problems. No man – no problem.

fearing retribution after Stalin had 
criticized his recent opera, Lady 
Macbeth of Mtsensk“, Shostakovich 
cancelled the first performance of 
this new work, due to take place in 
December, ’36, others had already 
suffered internal exile or execution 
who had displeased the tyrant, a 
prelude to the infamous Great Terror

the Symphony was eventually played
in 1961, 25 years later, conducted by
no less than Kirill Kondrashin, who’d
partnered Van Cliburn a few years 
earlier in Cliburn’s conquest of Russia
but along with this time however the 
long-lived Leningrad Philharmonic 
Orchestra 

to a friend, I said, this is the biggest
thing since verily Beethoven, no one 
has so blown me away symphonically 
since then

he looked forward, he replied, to 
hearing it 

the Fourth Symphony has three distinct 
movements, to fit thus appropriately the 
definition of symphony, though the first 
and third have more than one section, 
something Shostakovich would have 
learned from already Beethoven, it gives 
the opportunity of experiencing a variety 
of emotions within one uninterrupted 
context, add several movements and 
you have a poignant, peripatetic musical 
journey, more intricate, psychologically 
complex, than many other even eminent
composers, Schubert, Chopin, 
Mendelssohn, even Brahms, for instance 

it’s helpful to think of film scores, and 
their multiple narrative incidents,
brimming with impassioned moments,   
however disparate, Shostakovich had 
already written several of them

let me point out that Shostakovich’s 
rhythms are entirely Classical, even 
folkloric in their essential aspects, 
everywhere sounds like a march, 
proud and bombastic, if not a 
veritable dance, peasants carousing,
courtiers waltzing, and repetition is
sufficiently present to not not 
recognize the essential music 
according to our most elementary
preconceptions

but the dissonances clash, as though 
somewhere the tune, despite its rigid 
rhythms, falls apart in execution, as 
though the participants had, I think,  
broken limbs, despite the indomitable 
Russian spirit

this is what Shostakovich is all about, 
you’ll hear him as we move along 
objecting, however surreptitiously,
cautiously, to the Soviet system, like 
Pasternak, like Solzhenitsyn, without 
ever, like them, leaving his country 
despite its manifest oppression, and 
despite the lure of Western accolades,
Nobel prizes, for instance, it was their 
home

and there is so much more to tell, but
first of all, listen

R ! chard 

  

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Dmitri Shostakovich – Symphony no. 1, opus 10, continued

Dmitrij_Dmitrijevič_Šostakovič_(Дми́трий_Дми́триевич_Шостако́вич)

        Shostakovich in 1925

                   __________

                                        for Barbara, who died recently,
                                                 she would’ve loved this 

Shostakovich was just nineteen when
his Symphony No.1, opus 10 was 
first performed – it had been his 
graduation piece the previous year
from the Petrograd Conservatory –  
by, then, which is to say 1926, the 
Leningrad Philharmonicrenamed the 
Saint Petersburg after the fall of the 
U.S.S.R., the name it had held before 
the Bolshevik Revolution, the oldest 
philharmonic orchestra, therefore, 
incidentally, in our Russia, going  
back to 1882 

the work was a complete success, not 
surprisingly, if you’ll consider its scope, 
its power, and its novel musical 
interpolations, I mean a piano as an 
integral orchestral instrument rather 
than as a distinct, however interrelated, 
component, a pas de 40 instead of 
pas de deuxsomething I can’t remember 
anywhere else having seen for piano 

not to mention the drum roll between 
the last two movements, drums making 
splash in an orchestral setting, who’d 
‘a’ thunk it, though Richard Strauss had
done just that in his extraordinary 
Burleske” several decades earlier,  
another youthful work, Strauss only 21

but meanwhile back in Russia, before 
too seriously digress, Shostakovich  
was immediately compared to another 
earlier young prodigy there, Alexander 
Glazunovwho’d himself put out his 
own First Symphony, the Slavonic“,
at age 16, introducing, incidentally, his 
own instrumental novelty then, an oboe 
obbligato, which by very definition is 
lovely
  
Glazunov also mentored, by the way, 
Shostakovich at the Petrograd, proved
to be instrumental indeed in his 
progress

it’s interesting to put these last two 
together, to compare, the Glazunov, 1881,
follows the traditional Romantic 
imperatives, tempo, tonality and 
repetition, but with more bombast, to my
mind, than its European counterparts,
its fields are the Russian steppes with 
troikas, horse-drawn carriages, flying 
across vast unhampered vistas of the 
Russian snow-covered, therefore 
pristine, tundra, to whet the unbridled 
Russian spirit, the Europeans, Brahms,
MendelssohnMahler, conversely, 
are confined to the hunt, however ever
glorious, but with shrubs, copses,   
thickets, if not veritable forests, to blur
the sonic arena, inspire dreams, 
consequently, less far-reaching than  
those of Johnny Appleseed even, of 
the North American Prairies poets,    
their own far-flung, boundless  
imaginations, inspiration, you can 
hear it all, blatantly, in the resonance
of the horns

you’ll note the movements follow 
essentially the same rhythmic order 
in either symphony, the first two fast 
enough, then a third that’s somewhat 
slower, a variation from the strictly 
Classical order of fast, slow, fast, then
a last, eclectic, movement 

but Shostakovich is more atonal, 
melodically divergent, an eccentricity 
he’ll later polish to a degree of 
politically subversive brilliance

for not submitting, however, to the rule 
of repetition, which is manifest, though,  
in GlazunovShostakovichI find, leaves
us trying to find our bearings as his music 
rolls along, kind of like in biographical 
movies, when you start looking at your 
watch to determine how many life 
incidents remain in this particular, 
however significant, existential drama

as spectacle – and it must be noted that 
symphonic displays were at the time 
indeed spectacles – there was no 
phonographic, photographic 
equipment to transmit such 
experiences, the symphony itself was 
the show, it had, right there, itself, to 
wow the audience

in all of these cases, all of them did 

Shostakovich, however, of all of them 
remained eventually potently 
pertinent, powerfully paramount, 
watch

R ! chard

on art, its purpose

poet-with-flower-2008-jpgblog

                                Poet With Flower (2008)

                                          Stefan Caltia

                                                 _____

wherefore art, I’ve long and often wondered,
with only a wink to Juliet’s Romeo, for my
question dug deeper, why, indeed, itself art

we build our souls on the stories we’ve 
heard, the impressions we’ve received
from voices that spoke directly to our 
senses, painters with paint, musicians
with music, writers with words, poets 
with poems

it started with fairy tales, which told of
right and wrong, good and bad, courage,
kindness, responsibility, and dire 
consequences for discord

Biblical stories also took up a lot of my own
childhood, Jesus, Adam and Eve, Moses
and the Ten Commandments, this last 
reinforced by Cecil B. DeMille’s epic

but soon enough it was Oliver TwistLittle
Nell, and by an inescapable authorial leap, 
since these were all by an irresistible 
Charles Dickens for a guy my age, Sydney
Carton, who valiantly stands in for his
friend, Charles Darnay, at the guillotine, a 
quantum, even existential, leap from 
Peter Pan and Mary Poppins 

though I had the good fortune to learn to 
read and write music as a boy, play music, 
learn about Bach, Brahms and Beethoven, 
it didn’t take anyone else much more than
their enthusiasm to see what the Beatles
were similarly doing, the Rolling Stones, 
the Supremes, they were not only singing, 
but making history, shaping it, and us, we 
followed the questions they rose, their 
responses, the effects upon ourselves
for nothing is considered until it’s 
mentioned, spoken, made clear, and they
were those prophets

the same goes for art, we see as we see
cause Monet, Picasso, Warhol showed 
us how to see, what to look at

and of course poets, Shakespeare, 
RostandDanteGoethe, to inform, each,
their individual language, and culture

I have been Philip CareyScarlett O’Hara, 
Blanche DuboisGary Cooper in High
Noon“, both Martha and George in 
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf“, lately 
I’ve been even Hank Williams

as Babette would say, a French doll who 
gets abducted in Raggedy Ann and Andy:
A Musical Misadventure“, an animated 
movie from the Seventies, – oo aahrr yoo 

Richard

psst: all of them have been me too,
      incidentally

Steven Lin


we’ve reached the finals at the Arthur
Rubinstein International Piano Master
Competition
, the 6 remaining of the 16
contestants, after a second piano solo
round, were, none of them, ones I
would’ve selected, to my profound
irritation

a friend expressed such disgust after
Germany beat her favoured Brazil in
a recent soccer match

will you keep on watching, I asked,
she’d already been watching

I opted to also do the same

it‘s like soccer, I suggested, but for
nerds, for her to get my picture

with his second performance, of
Beethoven’s exhilarating 1st Piano
Concerto
, after a rousing Brahms
Piano and Strings Quartet, his opus
25
, during the first of the Finals
round, Steven Lin knocks the ball,
I think, right out of the ballpark

and into the very ages, watch, I
predict, this guy outright fly

Richard