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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had been too subjective, and rescinded 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

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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

Symphony no 7 in C major, opus 60, the “Leningrad”- Dmitri Shostakovich

leningrad-in-blockade-sketch-on-the-theme-of-leningrad-symphony-of-d-d-shostakovich-1943.jpg!Large.jpg

Leningrad in blockade. Sketch on the theme of 
         “Leningrad Symphony” of D. D. Shostakovich. 
                                                                (c.1943) 

     Mstislav Dobuzhinsky

             __________

though I’ve been through the Seventh 
three times already, consecutively, it
doesn’t reach, for me, the heights the 
Fifth did, its first movement is
manifestly imperious, nearly even 
overwhelming, certainly unforgettable, 
I’ve been humming the ostinato in my 
sleep

but the following movements seem to 
me – not being Russian, nor having as
intimately incorporated their culture, 
where rhythms and history are 
inextricably intertwined – muddled 
about the reconstruction of its 
shattered world, melodies might be
lovely but are lost in a blur of musical
directions, there isn’t enough repetition 
of musical motifs to find solid ground, 
angry statements follow lyrical adagios
too often to get our bearings on what 
might be going on 

the first movement, however, remains a 
triumph, note the debt owed to Ravel’s 
Bolero in the rousing ostinato, the 
part where the same musical phrase 
obstinately repeats its peremptory and 
ever more vociferous mantra, its 
headlong incantation, an interesting 
blend in either symphonic work of the 
sinuous, the seductive, the beguiling,
turning into the overtly martial, all to 
do with pulse 

the Symphony no 7, the “Leningrad”,
was first presented in that very city 
during its siege by the Germans
which lasted from 1941 to 1944, 
however unbelievably, Shostakovich, 
already giant, was expected to deliver 
masterpiece by both the people and 
by the regime, imagine Bono doing a
concert for Syria 

Shostakovich doesn’t disappoint

players were culled from what remained 
of instrumentalists among the survivors
of both Stalin’s criminal purges and of 
the German siege itself left in the city, 
those who hadn’t survived the famine
there, Valery Gergiev, an exalted 
Russian conductor, describes them as
walking skeletonsmeagre from 
starvation, we’ve seen these before at 
Auschwitz

the world heard, and was moved, 
imperialism in any form was being 
vociferously condemned, going back 
to Napoleon even and his own failed 
invasion, if not also to Hannibal 
crossing the Alps, Caesar, his 
Rubicon

much of this symphony is about cultural 
resistance, the survival of a proud and 
resilient seed, any proud and resilient 
seed, hence its international standing

see Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for 
comparable fanfare, flourish, and 
circumstance, the only other work of
any such historical political importance
and, appreciably, still unsurpassed,

except for, maybe, Roger Waters
channeling Pink Floyd at the Berlin 
Wall, along with, not incidentally
thereagain Beethoven 


R ! chard

psst: the other great composer of the 
          20th Century, Messiaen, also 
          composed a commemoration of
          an awful moment in our history,
          the Holocaust, his Quartet for 
          the End of Time“, played originally
          in his very concentration camp by 
          similarly “walking skeletons”, does   
          for me everything Shostakovich’s 
          Seventh didn’t 

         

“Symphony no 6 in B minor, opus 54” – Dmitri Shostakovich

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

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

    Veniamin Kremer

       ____________

 “I hope that these few preparatory words 
can give you an insight that may permit 
you to experience this strangely 
heterogeneous work as a single entity, 
flashpoint in musical history”, says
Leonard Bernstein, somewhat, 
admittedly, grandiloquently, in an indeed
thrilling introduction to Shostakovich’s
Sixth Symphony in B minor, opus 54

that he reiterates several of the points 
that I earlier brought up does me no
disservice, coming especially from a
person of such high quality, pedigree, 
in the musical world, I’m abashed, 
bashful, indeed blushing, that my 
humble insights have been so 
eminently corroborated

but I cannot second his enthusiasm
for Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony
a failed, to my mind, entity, a long 
introductory lament that lingered 
long after its “best before” date, 
followed by indifferent, though 
perhaps energetic, yet unrelated,
final movements, the instrumentation 
might be, admittedly, brilliant, the 
Shostakovichian precise array of 
sounds, but the sum is less than the 
parts, I think, I took home only 
confusion, as did the crowd, 
apparently, at its first presentation, 
Leningrad, November 21, 1939,
Mravinsky conducting, wow, an
even more convincing argument,
maybe, than Bernstein’s, however 
rousing, interpretation

for your information, I’ve included
Tchaikovsky’s Sixthaccording to
Bernstein intimately related, he 
explains, to Shostakovich’s Sixth

you’ll note how different, however, 
these two symphonies are compared 
to how similar in so many respects 
Beethoven’s and Shostakovich’s 
Fifths are, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth is
manifestly more Romantic than
Revolutionary 

but imagine Tchaikovsky starting and 
ending with an adagio, how audacious, 
daring, though not particularly efficient, 
I think, not especially successful, the 
adagio lamentoso seems to me 
anticlimactic after the vigorous allegro 
molto vivacewhich receives a 
thunderous applause, the last 
movement, the lamentoso, however 
lovely, doesn’t rise to the heights of a 
proper finale for this forerunner’s
contagious ebullience, sounds rather 
like an encore, melodramatic and a bit 
pretentious

or maybe I’m just getting cranky


sooner or later though, the conundrum 
of adagio bookends will be resolved, 
someone inevitably will do it, like
finding the square on the hypotenuse, 
unearthing warped space, discovering 
a way to recapture carbon dioxide and 
make it work for us, as trees would do 
if we let them, someone always exceeds, 
miraculously, our expectations, watch 
for it, dare I say, here

R ! chard

Dmitri Shostakovich – “Symphony No 5” in D minor, opus 47

hi-xvii-congress-of-the-cpsu-b-1934

     “Hi, XVII Congress of the CPSU (B) (1934) 

              Ilya Mashkov

__________

if I thought the Fourth would knock 
your socks of, stockings, the Fifth 
ought to leave you with, dare I say, 
nothing on but your awe, it is 
extraordinary, so settle in, pour 
yourself a glass of wine, or vodka 
if you want to bethnic, for a 
mesmerizing three-quarter hour

days only before the first performance
of Shostakovich’s new symphony, an 
article showed up in a leading Moscow
paper suggesting that it would be
Soviet artist’s creative response to 
justified criticism” in reference, of 
course, to Stalin’s displeasure with 
Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of 
Mtsensk, which had led to the 
cancellation of his Fourth Symphony,
read all about it here

disregard for Stalin’s opinion would
have meant certain execution in an
environment where the leader could
not be contradicted, the ruler wanted
uplifting tunes, the rule was Socialist
Realism, art to celebrate the Party

a similar thing was happening at the
same time in Germany, incidentally, 
with Hitler objecting to entartete 
Kunst“, the degenerate art that 
moderns were producing, Kirchner
KleeDix, for example, who were 
only painting, as Shostakovich was 
only composing, what they heard, 
saw, for which they were all 
persecuted


a few necessary words about the 
Fifth Symphony itself, if 
Shostakovich had been moving

toward dissonance, you’ll find the
Fifth particularly notable for its 
tonal melodies, however sometimes
astringent, more larger intervals, 
sevenths, octaves, than strident 
atonal conjunctions

and since Shostakovich had been 
strictly adhering to the two other
Classical conditions, of tempo and
repetition, this symphony might as
well be a Romantic composition

listen to Beethoven’s Fifth and 
compare, they sound nearly 
identical but for a 130 years
distance, the peremptory opening, 
loud, brash, bracing, followed 
quickly by a lull in intensity, four 
movements eachhorns blare in 
either military salvos, propensity 
toward dance rhythms, short, sweet 
solo moments for several assorted 
instruments, usually contemplative, 
piercingly personal – after a 
comparison, you’ll never see 
Beethoven’s Fifth in the same light 
again

Beethoven, however, though 
forceful, indeed thunderous, is 
more centred on the actual music, 
which is jubilant, celebratory, an
exultation, while Shostakovich by 
contrast, however equally martial, 
sounds the implacability, the 
ruthlessness of the fanfare, the 
parade, you can feel the iron step 
of the guard, their advance 
inexorable, this is unquestionably 
political statement, then again 
Beethoven didn’t live in France

 

it’s to be noted that both works
are products of a recent revolution,
the French, the Russian, and the 
imminence of a Terror, as well of
the return of an autocratic leader,
the Emperor Napoleon in the first 
instance, in the second, of course 
Stalin

it’s helpful to view the bombastic 
portions in Shostakovich, as the 
unassailable positions of the Party, 
the more melting moments and 
single voices as those of the 
oppressed proletariat, people up 
against the stringent requirements 
of an unforgiving state growing up 
all around them 

a return to strict Classical 
conditions, by the way, which is 
to say tunes”, might’ve been 
Shostakovich’s way of placating, 
however risky still, a dictator’s 
fearful edicts regarding 
permissible taste, that’s what 
you can do when you can speak  
the language


incidentally, the symphonies are  
either composer’s Fifth, perhaps 
not incidentally


R ! chard

psst: the applause at the first 
          performance, November 21, 
          1937, lasted over half an hour,
          people were crying, they’d 
          found a prophet  

          

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 

  

Symphony No 3 in Eb major, op. 20, “The First of May”

the-1st-may-demonstration-on-the-red-square-at-1929-1930.jpg!Large

   “The 1st May Demonstration on The Red Square, 1929 (1930) 

            Konstantin Yuon

__________

let me correct something I wrote in my 
last comment, inadvertently, misleading
you somewhat with my inappropriate 
use of the word “movement”, that the
Symphony no 2 had only one, I stated, 
by which I meant that there were no 
pauses throughout, there are, however, 
indeed four movements in the Second
four distinct sections that have been 
joined together, such an uninterrupted 
piece would usually have been given 
an appropriate title, or an opus number, 
to identify it, but would not have been 
called a symphony, a symphony is by  
very definition a clearly segmented 
composition, like chapters in a book, 
they might follow a theme, though not
necessarily, see Mozart, but the breaks
are integral, where you get a chance to
cough, or to get up and replenish your 
glass of wine 

the Second could have been, should 
have been, called simply, October“, 
and, ergo, left at that 

but it wasn’t

the very same must be said about the
Third Symphony, “The First of May”,
you can already probably hear the 
jubilation and fanfare in just the title,
another milestone of the Revolution, 
the anniversary of Lenin’s death, the 
final chorus sings a lyric of a poet of
the Revolution, Semyon Kirsanov, a
sure nod to the symphony‘s political, 
however peripheral, intent 

what you’ll note, however, is the 
sensuality of the music, above
whatever weight of a, perhaps 
more fitting, dirge, or the bombast 
even of a commemorative, an exalting 
tribute – though these are determinedly 
there – going back to the orchestral 
triumphs of the Romantic Era, with 
its lush rallentandos and its voluptuous
ritardandos, the better to seduce
 
Shostakovich is getting ready for the 
real thing, a piece with any partisan 
message, he must sense, can never 
work


by the way, should you disagree 
with any of my evaluations, this 
would not at all be offensive, but
even wonderful, I have been 
wrong, I can prove it, I have the 
dates, they are listed somewhere 
in my papers, but it would mean 
you’re paying attention, listening, 
which is the entire purpose, more
than anything else, of this 
exploratory exercise, should you
wish to participate 

R ! chard