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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had been too subjective, and rescinded 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

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

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 

         

“Meditations”, Book 3 – Marcus Aurelius‏

“If thou workest at that which is before thee, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract thee, but keeping thy divine part pure, as if thou shouldst be bound to give it back immediately; if thou holdest to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with thy present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which thou utterest, thou wilt live happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.”

Meditations“, Book 3, 12

Marcus Aurelius

_________

the idea of the virtuous man, or the
interpretation of Marcus Aurelius of
such a person, goes back of course to
Socrates by way of Plato, 427 – 347
B.C., who’s ideal was primarily
political, what to achieve within a
political order, rather than a private
meditation, an advice rather than
a contemplation as in Marcus
Aurelius, 121 – 180 A.D., 550,
not inconsequential, years later

other moral perspectives meanwhile
applied, Epicureanism, for instance,
notably, after which the stranglehold
of Christianity produced not philosophy
but dogma, for a subservient and,
biblically labeled, fallen people,
nearly fifteen hundred years spent
trying to figure out how many angels
fit through the eye of a needle,
essentially, how many irrationalities
could prove the existence, and
authority, of a mandated God

René Descartes inadvertently in this
very quest, but not before 1637, put
an end to that, introduced a new, and
revolutionary, perspective, I think,
therefore I am
“,
which put the individual
instead of the Church in the driver’s seat,
this, if it didn’t bring on the Renaissance,
at least gave it a significant push

but because of his famous scientific
method
, studies afterwards in what
we now know as the humanities
became more empirical than
specifically moral, how do we
perceive rather than how do we live
according to what is right or wrong,
Nietzsche‘s Beyond Good and Evil“,
1886, reoriented that investigation,
as it happened, ominously, in an age
where any kind of god had become
irrelevant, Beethoven would be
transformed into a Hitler, an
uncomfortably fateful Übermensch,
Superman

now philosophy is concerned with
language, what do we mean when
we say what do we mean, and can
anybody understand that

our closest moralist, our modern day
Marcus Aurelius, is at present Miss
Manners
, whom I wholeheartedly
recommend

as well as, of course, Marcus Aurelius

Richard

psst: Miss Manners‘ question and answer
format, incidentally, is not at all unlike
what Plato does in his Socratic dialogues
,
she just has a larger, more flip audience