One of the very finest of the entire symphonic repertoire
One of the finest of the 20th century but not necessarily of the entire symphonie repertoire
Interesting but not enough to engage me on "many" repeated listening
I have not listened to any or enough to form an opinion
I think the very fact that Shosty's symphonies are uneven is what makes them probably my favorite symphony cycle. There's a little too much consistent Mahlerishness about Mahler's oeuvre, a little too perfect, whereas Shosty is a mess of ideas which I like. They are more like a biography than practically any other composer's works.
I wonder if a previously unknown work of Shostakovich was found and then played to a group of "experts" while claiming it to be a work of some unknown Swedish composer, I wonder would the experts find "opposition to totalitarianism" etc...This case does remind me of a well known classical much TV show in which small teams from Nordic countries, very well versed in classical music, competed with each other in tasks like recognizing a composition. One time a choral piece was to be recognized, and the Swedish team (remember, people with lengthy background in classical music) started by suggesting that the singing in is Russian. It was in Finnish. Ever after that I have had a great mistrust of musical "experts".
The uneven aspect and the biographical nature that quack refers to is quite important for me when putting the cycle (as well as the rest of his output) into historical context - it almost seems that the unevenness could be an analogy for the unpredictable events that formed the backdrop to the cycle itself: the brief promise of a brave new world where the fledgling USSR was ushering in a new golden age (1-3), then the sudden jolt of the official clampdown on artistic freedom which brought about the hounding of Akhmatova, the torture and murder of Meyerhold, the death of Mandelstam while in captivity, the lonely suicide of Tsvetaeva etc etc. followed by Stalin's nerve-shredding carrot and stick policy towards DSCH which, paradoxically, only abated to a degree during the brutal war years (4-10), playing it cute during the Krushchev era (11 and 12), then changing tack and having the courage to face his country's recent grim past head-on (13), the realisation that the candle was beginning to burn low (14) and finally having the last laugh with the ambiguous nature of no. 15 - was he just trying to throw would-be interpreters one final curveball or was it the culmination/encapsulation of all that had gone before? As he was planning a 16th symphony at the time of his death, who knows?
Whatever the cycle's flaws, it's still an incredible body of work from an ordinary man who unwillingly had to lead an extraordinary life. And we haven't even got on to the concertos, songs and chamber music...
The Shostakovich family suffered under the Bolsheviks because they were not of the proper strain of socialism and also because they were of Polish extraction, not pure Russian.
Dmitri at first tried to get along with the authorities. His 2nd and 3rd symphonies were intended to be socialist realist and of the proper political philosophy. The Age of Gold and The Bolt were also intended to be proper political works. They were disliked by the musical authorities. Not ideologically pure enough. His works were popular enough with the audience but not with the authorities.
It was the official denunciation in 1936 that fully opened his eyes regarding his place in Soviet musical circles. Because his music did not please Stalin, he was a marked man. He withdrew his 4th symphony because it could have been deadly not to. This is when his music, particularly his symphonies assume the duality that not only I, but others, including Dmitri himself commented.
The 13th symphony was opposed by the musical authorities from the beginning. Because of his international fame and his party membership, they could not outright forbid the performance, but they made it clear that there would be consequences for the soloist and conductor if they participated. The original conductor was to have been Shostakovichs friend and the conductor who premiered many of Dmitris previous works, Yevgeny Mravinsky. Mravinsky declined to conduct the work. Dmitri accused him of cowardice and their friendship ended rather abruptly. It is quite possible that Mravinsky had been “warned” by the authorities. He also had to replace the original bass soloist who backed out over concerns of the message in the poetry. The new conductor, Kyril Kondrashin, was also pressured to withdraw but he refused. Changes in the text, especially of the first movement were demanded and requests that the first movement be dropped came in. The premier of the work was to have been televised but the cameras were removed at the last moment. The chorus almost walked out before the performance.
This work is the most blatantly critical of the regime of any Shostakovich work. It specifically indicts the government for anti-Semitism and exposes the living conditions of workers in the “Workers Paradise”. It relives the terror of the Stalin purges and implies that they continue under Khrushchev.
It was not the quality of the poetry but it’s content that had the authorities so upset.
From at least 1936 to his death, despite having been compelled to join the Communist Party, Shostakovich never made peace with the Soviet authorities. He consciously used the inherent ambiguity of music to tell two stories in his symphonies. He used whatever power his international prestige gave him to protest as much a possible the repression in the Soviet Union.
Knowing the specifics of the time and place in history are essential to fully understanding the symphonies. Especially 5-12. There is more there than meets the ear.
All composers are equal but some are more equal than others.
Option 3. They're too stressful to listen many times a year.
One of the best cycles EVER. And you can say the same about his string quartets. Do the math and you have an original music genius whose music was profoundly affected by his life and the time in which they were written.
If DSCH was a spoiled, rich American composer born in Hollywood with money to burn, I don't think his music would be worth listening too. There is pain, bitterness, sarcasm, irony, passion, despair, and hope in his music, and like he once said -- "I never lie in music".
One of the best ever to my ears.
Last edited by chalkpie; Oct-21-2012 at 16:17.
I think you missed my point, but never mindI was not being 'quick to arrive at this judgement'; I have known this piece since the mid-1970s and so I think I have become familiar enough with it to have had time to come to an informed conclusion.
There will come a time soon when Youtube won't let us do this...
I love his symphonies, and I love the fact that he still, in his day and age, treated the symphony as a serious matter, a matter of a "personal credo", even if he played with the subject, and perhaps occasionally turned it on its head. His music is weighty, and I feel it addresses personal as well as universal problems. But circumstances turned him paranoid, nervous, twitchy, sceptic... and this is reflected in his music. I seek absolute idealism in classical music and tolerate only a moderate amount of realism and scepticism; that's why there's friction in my relationship with this composer. I love those parts of the symphonies where I can lull myself into thinking about heroism, faith (in the state), leadership, will to prevail, determination etc. But so often, he then pulls the rug from under my feet
"One way or another, the sons of our masters will become masters of our sons"
-A Rumanian woman
Hans Werner Henze (died last week)
Peter Maxwell Davies
I'm not, overall, a Shostakovitch fan:
I think he shone best when he was less self-consciously writing for a friend
Cello Concerto No. 1, Piano Concerto No. 2
or in some works for the stage, where he let just about all his rage and pithy to scathing satire uninhibitedly 'hang out'
Lady Macbeth, The Nose, [and now I will want to check Delicious_Manager's recommendation of "The Execution of."]
The whole symphonic thing, well, I do not adhere to the symphony as some sina qua non format which needs to continue. It may not have died, but could, imho, certainly use more of a rest than is has been given by some :-)
I find that comment Boulez made about Shostakovitch has more than a grain of truth in it. The analogy was to olive oil; Boulez having said that Shostakovich was like a third pressing of Mahler, i.e. weakened watered-down late romantic tea.
In Shostakovitch I too often hear "all that old Brahms stuff" as it were. Very little of it holds my attention through an entire work. Just not feelin' it. His basic harmonic vocabulary and M.O re: form just does not intrigue me enough to want to return after once hearing it. (I think the Nielsen Symphony No.5 has more to offer, is more 'important' than any Shostakovitch Symphony, is in no way less conservative, and that justified more on its first half than the entire work.]
Last edited by PetrB; Nov-07-2012 at 20:18.