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View Poll Results: How Well Do You Rate The Symphonies Of Shostakovich?

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  • One of the very finest of the entire symphonic repertoire

    60 37.74%
  • One of the finest of the 20th century but not necessarily of the entire symphonie repertoire

    56 35.22%
  • Interesting but not enough to engage me on "many" repeated listening

    31 19.50%
  • Hack work

    6 3.77%
  • Utter crap

    7 4.40%
  • I have not listened to any or enough to form an opinion

    10 6.29%
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Thread: How Well Do You Rate The Symphonies Of Shostakovich?

  1. #1
    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Default How Well Do You Rate The Symphonies Of Shostakovich?

    Curious to see what fellow members here think of Shostakovich's symphonies. You do not necessarily have to vote but an opinion would be nice.
    All composers are equal but some are more equal than others.

  2. #2
    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    I'm old enough to remember when only his 5th Symphony was at all well-known -- the 7th had by that time disappeared into oblivion. There was quite a bit of cold war prejudice and Shostakovich was widely seen as a commie tool. Some people of my generation still hear him that way!

    But to the question...great stuff. My faves are, in numerical order, 1, 5, 6, 9, 10, and 15. Not so fond of the 4th or the symphonies with voices, but that's probably just me. Overall, and speaking TOTALLY objectively , Shostakovich was the greatest symphonist of the century.

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    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    I'm old enough to remember when only his 5th Symphony was at all well-known -- the 7th had by that time disappeared into oblivion. There was quite a bit of cold war prejudice and Shostakovich was widely seen as a commie tool. Some people of my generation still hear him that way!

    But to the question...great stuff. My faves are, in numerical order, 1, 5, 6, 9, 10, and 15. Not so fond of the 4th or the symphonies with voices, but that's probably just me. Overall, and speaking TOTALLY objectively , Shostakovich was the greatest symphonist of the century.
    Very interesting, thank you for sharing. The reason is the only symphony I find consistently engaging, and it's the only one "at that level" for me, is #4, which you do not find as appealing as the others.
    Last edited by HarpsichordConcerto; Oct-16-2012 at 23:39.
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    I think most of them are cool, especially when performed by Kondrashin. But I think there are better as-a-whole cycles.

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    I paid considerable attention to the symphonies a couple decades back, but never voluntarily listen to them nowadays - except for once-in-a-while the 9th. The angst now strikes me as overdone, or maybe, um, regretably unstoic?
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    Senior Member clavichorder's Avatar
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    The only one I've ever really gotten crazy about is the 6th. Probably because I've had enough repeat listenings, its the only CD I own of his though I've heard others live and on youtube.

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    Senior Member elgars ghost's Avatar
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    Despite doubts raised by even some his more ardent admirers concerning the quality of nos. 2 & 3 I myself think it is one of the great symphonic cycles I've heard so I'll stick my neck out and say it stands a good chance of being one of the greatest ever if ongoing reputation and being well-represented on disc mean anything. Bearing in mind he wrote 15 of the things I think the quality running through the cycle as a whole makes it a candidate for being one of the finest - and the 4th through to the 10th (all apart from the withdrawn 4th were written in often turbulent times not just for him but also for the Soviet Union as a whole) is probably my favourite sequence of symphonies along with Bruckner's 4th through to the 9th and the whole of Beethoven's.

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    I'd go further and suggest that the 4th through to, and including, the 13th is my favourite sequence of symphonies - yes even with the much-maligned 12th. Like KenOC says above, when I first started to listen to music, the 5th was the only one that was ever really heard followed by the 10th and the 1st. Then HMV/Melodiya came along and the world of Russian symphonic music opened up including the rest of the Shostakovich output. I can remember the first performance of the 15th and the amount of time and energy that was spent by music critics into analysing the musical quotes, particularly the Wagner quote at the start of the last movement. Whatever individuals tastes in music, there can be no doubting the importance and significance of Shostakovich as a symphonist of stature.
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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    The angst now strikes me as overdone, or maybe, um, regretably unstoic?
    I'm of a similar opinion. Shostakovich seems to be quite popular among classical fans, but I could never enjoy his music all that much. Too much emotional baggage and bombast for my taste. And much of it sounds affected. I tried listening to the piano quintet yesterday, and I got the same impression. I'll take some Takemitsu as an antidote.
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    I think Shostakovich's symphonies are meaningful and important.

    There are three reasons, however, why one might see it differently:

    1. Political ideology. After all, it was music at least partly approved or tolerated by a totalitarian dictatorship.

    2. Stylistic conservatism. Compared to the western avant-garde, that is.

    3. Lastness. Perhaps the worst of the three. Shostakovich was among the last generation of great composers who not only wrote symphonies the way Beethoven or Mahler or Sibelius wrote them (i.e. as the undisputed heavyweight genre of music) but also whose symphonies have become part of the standard repertoire and concert programmes. There is always something dead-endish about lasts of any kind.
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  11. #11
    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andreas View Post
    There is always something dead-endish about lasts of any kind.
    J. S. Bach?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andreas View Post
    I think Shostakovich's symphonies are meaningful and important.

    There are three reasons, however, why one might see it differently:

    1. Political ideology. After all, it was music at least partly approved or tolerated by a totalitarian dictatorship.

    2. Stylistic conservatism. Compared to the western avant-garde, that is.

    3. Lastness. Perhaps the worst of the three. Shostakovich was among the last generation of great composers who not only wrote symphonies the way Beethoven or Mahler or Sibelius wrote them (i.e. as the undisputed heavyweight genre of music) but also whose symphonies have become part of the standard repertoire and concert programmes. There is always something dead-endish about lasts of any kind.
    You hit no. 3 on the button.
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  13. #13
    Senior Member StlukesguildOhio's Avatar
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    I quite like a good many of Shostakovitch' symphonies... although I probably prefer his cello concerto, the preludes and fugues (HC... have you heard that work? Quite intriguing for the Baroque lover... clearly inspired by Bach's WTC) and even some of the quartets more. I don't honestly find myself as passionate about Shosty's symphonies as I am about symphonies of Mahler, Schubert, Beethoven, etc... but then I could say the same of most Russian symphonies. I'm honestly just not as fluent with regard to Shostakovitch as I am with some others... but he is slowly growing on me... and I would surely place him easily among the greatest of the 20th century.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member drpraetorus's Avatar
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    I found the Symphonies to be a deep and profound shout of resistance to an inhuman and crushing society. Artistic boors and their toady lickspittles running the arts like a factory. Friends disappearing, who he later found to have been killed of exiled to the gulag. And all the while the threat that it could happen to him or his family. In this situation, each person had to choose what role they were going to play. Shostakovich chose the Holy Fool. He went as far as he dared in challenging the regime but covered himself enough to get away with it. Kabalevsy became a toady.

    There are some thing to remember when going over the symphonies. Shostakovich had a taste for what some would call vulgar music. Common, coarse sometimes crude. His rape scene music from “Lady MacBeth” is almost pornographic music. The trombones are particularly graphic with their glissandi. So, expect some broad uncouthness. But it is not just coarse for the sake of being coarse. It is often a dig at the tastes of the ruling class. Stalin in particular. He, like Hitler, thought he was the final and best judge of art and music. However, he had the tastes of a poorly educated Georgian priest, which is what he was after all.

    Stalin and his cronies were of the opinion that all art must be made to serve the Communist party and the State, which were the same thing. That meant that it must be gloriously socialistic and open to the common man, like them. If they didn’t like it or couldn’t understand it, it was therefore bad and should be banned. Along with the artist if necessary. One of the things these people wanted to hear was loud, blatantly heroic, bombastic music. Soft ending in particular were deemed anti socialistic. That is one of the reasons Shostakovich withdrew his 4th. It has that ever so sad long diminuendo right after the grand fortissimo. This could be interpreted as a slap at the party and communism. That would have been far to dangerous considering that he had already been denounced, under Stalin’s direction, for “Lady MacBeth”. His musicians were uneasy even rehearsing the 4th. It was especially bad when unknown men with dour faces appeared at the rehearsals.

    Because of this experience Shostakovich learned to hide his actual intent in approved, or barely approved, socialist realism. He gave them the biggest, most blatant, loud endings possible. But if you listen to them with something like the ears of his audience, the Russian people, they sound vulgar, harsh and empty. Which was his opinion of the Communist leadership. You can really hear it in the finale of the 7th and 12th It is worth checking out the subtext of the symphonies, especially the major ones like the 5th, 7th, 11th 12th.

    The 5th is an excellent example of the dual meanings in the music. The first movement is fairly harsh and dark. There is a strong militaristic feeling. This is relived at the end with a pastoral horn and flute duet. The party apparatchiks would have seen this on the same lines the first movement of Beethoven’s 5th, all storm and strife. The people would have seen a portrait of their lives under their Communist masters. Remember, this is the period of the show trials, disappearances and forced collectivization. At least ten million dead from Stalin’s manufactured famine.

    The second movement is a scherzo. It can be seen as a rollicking good time or as a satyr of the Soviet beaureacracy.

    The third movement is an intensely had and poignant picture of the suffering of Shostakovich and the Russian people. It is an elegy for all those lost at the time. Many had been close friends of Shostakovich. He, himself had become aware that he was being watched and could disappear at any time. Again, his audience was well aware of this. The party would hear a beautiful slow movement commenting on the hard state of mankind. This is after all, a C minor symphony.

    The fourth movement is all struggle and defiance. It is written so that the party members listening would hear a triumph of the new soviet man. It is also written so that Shostakovich could say that we are down but not out. The final major key restatement of the main theme is harsh, loud, vulgar and ultimately hollow and devoid of true triumph. Shostakovich said it is the forced rejoicing of the people. A cry for freedom from oppression.

    At the premiere, Shostakovich was given a 45 minute standing ovation that only ended as the audience was forced from the hall. To the audience it was a triumph. Shostakovich had succeeded in producing a potent protest that the government could not criticize as being anti-Soviet or formalistic. He had saved himself from oblivion at the very least. The party critics and musical functionaries new that there was more to this symphony than first meets the ear. But Shostakovich had given them all the proper musical points in the proper place. It was not morally objectionable, it was everything a proper Soviet work should be. What could they say?

    By the time of the 13th, Shostakovich was a well enough known figure internationally that he could be more open in his criticism in his symphonies. However, he still had a hard time getting his 13th performed because of it’s strong criticism of contemporary Soviet life and it’s dig at Soviet anti-Semitism. 14 and 15 are more introspective and a little quirky.

    Another thing to listen for is his musical quotations. He will often use folk songs or political songs to make his point, often in an ironic way. Sometimes he uses quotations from his own works to make a point or simply because he like the piece quoted. One of the more interesting of these, to me at least, is in the 15th symphony. There are several obvious quotations in that work, but towards the end he goes all the way back to his 4th and repeats the wood block and castanet ticking. It’s a little like a musical raspberry to the Soviet government. “I beat you at your own game”.

    With all the political subtexts and protests etc. in the music, it would be easy for it to become crap. Kind of like Beethoven’s “Wellingtons Victory” or Wagner’s “American Jubilee”. Shostakovich is always an excellent musical craftsman and composer. The quality of the music let him say what he did without being to harshly criticized.

  15. #15
    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    "I found the Symphonies to be a deep and profound shout of resistance to an inhuman and crushing society."

    I can't agree with this post at all. Shostakovich was an adherent of Communist philosophy all his life. In fact, he joined the Party in 1960, two years before his 13th Symphony. And that symphony was criticized only for some of Yevtushenko's poetry, certainly not for the music.

    A hidden and subversive critic of the regime? Well, he certainly had no love for Stalin, but he was a loyal Communist. When he was criticized in 1936, I believe it was a real crisis of concience for him. Just what was his correct role as a Soviet composer? 1948 was, of course, a different matter.

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