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Thread: Shostakovich symphonies

  1. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    But did he say this? The problem with the "Shostakovich Wars" is that we are expected to challenge everything he said and was said about him.

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=...20wars&f=false
    It is often said that his "true" and more private voice is more easily found in his quartets. He also suppressed some of his orchestral works for fear of official disapproval - the 1st violin concerto comes to mind. And yet these works are not [I]so[I] different from the public utterances that he was prepared to risk. He does seem to have been fully committed to the composer of these works. He was certainly aware of dangers during his compositional life, most particularly during Stalin's appalling reign, but he must also have enjoyed much of the acclaim (including official acclaim) that he received. He himself, and not some cowed version of himself, was a Soviet icon.

    I am often struck by how many of those who seem most willing to accept the most extreme accounts of his alleged secret beliefs and yet love his music are also those who deplore much of the music composed in freer countries during the same period.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    But did he say this? The problem with the "Shostakovich Wars" is that we are expected to challenge everything he said and was said about him.

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=...20wars&f=false
    And what is your criteria for accepting any statement of his as genuine? Do you need to have him appear on Good Morning America? Perhaps you require an authenticated Twitter Feed #therealShostakovich?
    The governments under which he lived did not embrace the concept of tell all interviews. We thus rely upon comments of close associates.

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    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Triplets View Post
    And what is your criteria for accepting any statement of his as genuine? Do you need to have him appear on Good Morning America? Perhaps you require an authenticated Twitter Feed #therealShostakovich?
    The governments under which he lived did not embrace the concept of tell all interviews. We thus rely upon comments of close associates.
    I'm simply pointing out that, as the publication I linked to illustrates, there are conflicting views about who said what to whom, and whether any of what has been taken as reliable by one side or the other is, in fact, reliable. I am in no position to contest this either way, having not read Taruskin, Fay, Volkov or Ho and Feofanov.
    "I left TC for a hiatus, but since no-one noticed my absence, I came back again."

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  5. #49
    Senior Member CnC Bartok's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heck148 View Post
    #3 is rather interesting up until the party-apparatchik choral bs....2 is no place....and 12 is unfocused, he lost the train of thought??
    I agree about 14 - it is very good [I think], but I have to take it in small doses...really quite depressing...
    Heck, 14 in small doses seems a sensible approach, heavy going throughout. I do find the non-Russian version Haitink does can break the monotony (bad word, sorry!) but that perhaps defeats the point? As a song cycle, I'll be honest and say I prefer the Michaelangelo Suite, and the Lebyadkin Verses.

    I am willing, albeit grudgingly, to admit the Third does have its interesting bits, there are moments where he's being a still youngish Dmitri, rather than the party hack he could have become.

    He didn't, thank God, even if he did produce some sensibly kowtowing pieces throughout his life. The wonderfully vacuous Song of The Forests, the Sun Shines over our Motherland, and No. 12 really do spring to mind. Unfortunately, to suggest he was purely a chronicler of his age, easy to do admittedly, does him no favours. His depiction of tragedy, when it becomes personal, becomes universal, not something to pigeonhole as passe, now Stalin is long dead and peace and happiness reside joyously side by side in modern day Moscow (sic).He seemed to have more affection or respect for the revolution of 1905 than the more famous 1917, hence 11 is streets better than 12. The suffering of the Jews is admirably spotlit in the Jewish Folk Poetry, the Piano Trio, and No.13, hardly issues restricted to mid 20th century Russia. The universal spectre of Death in his later works, the oppression of the soul and the spirit in Lady Macbeth, the indomitable spirit of Symphonies 5, 6 and 10, and the Violin Concerto. These are as pertinent and as relevant today as examples of Humanity, born of oppression under Stalin, but more than capable of speaking anytime, any place, any where.
    Last edited by CnC Bartok; May-28-2018 at 14:05.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SONNET CLV View Post
    With possible exceptions of 2 and 3, each of the Shostakovich symphonies is a gem well worth exploring numerous times. This is not "happy music" or even "optimistic music", certainly, but it is "truthful music" and speaks volumes about the human condition in a particular time and particular place....
    yes, indeed...very excellent, thought-provoking posting, thank you!!

    I have long contended that these 15 music works speak better than anything else about the history of the Soviet Union; that we can experience Communist oppression via this oeuvre, emotionally and feeling-wise, in a way no history book can present.
    Yes, I feel the same way...DS, who remained in Russia throughout its traumatic 20th century experience, was essentially reflecting [consciously and subconsciously] that collective experience in his music, esp the symphonies....dark, powerful, bleak, at times hopeful...heavy duty, for sure...

    I cherish the fifteen string quartets in much the same way. I hear them as private statements, and hear the symphonies are public statements from the composer. I fantasize that someday I will parallel the symphonies and quartets in an extended (marathon) listening session, the public symphony number one followed by a hearing of the private quartet number one, and so on through to the fifteenth work.
    interesting idea - or you could listen to them concurrently, but chronologically, in order of composition...

    it seems that Shostakovich's stature as a composer is on the rise, I'm glad to say...we are seeing his works performed on concerts, [not just Sym #5] with greater frequency, or so it seems...definitely a major figure of 20th century composition...

  7. #51
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Triplets View Post
    And what is your criteria for accepting any statement of his as genuine? Do you need to have him appear on Good Morning America? Perhaps you require an authenticated Twitter Feed #therealShostakovich?
    The governments under which he lived did not embrace the concept of tell all interviews. We thus rely upon comments of close associates.
    The criterion is whether or not the quotation appears in a reliable source or from a reliable associate. If, for example, it appears in Testimony, it cannot be accepted at face value since it has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that that book is not what Volkov claimed it to be. A very clear fraud was perpetrated by Volkov in the way he attempted to authenticate it and in the sources of some of the text. It is possible that many quotations in Testimony were the words of the composer. Unfortunately, Volkov's blatant fraud and lies make it impossible to be sure any of it can be trusted.

    Thus, it is improper to attribute any passage from Testimony to Shostakovich without noting the source and its dubious status.

    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    It's hard to believe the warmed-over accounts of Shostakovich's life under Stalin being posted on this forum. Some of you just have no idea, and when you read some of the quotes attributed to him, you think every word is a lie. You can hear the bitterness and sarcasm in some of his music. You might well consider the counter political forces in the Soviet Union that would seek to discredit him rather than own up to the horrors of what life under Stalin was actually like. Sheesh. I suppose some of you who can't believe a word of what the composer was saying would have been quite happy to trade places with him as he genuinely feared for his life and the life of his friends. And of course, some of you would still like to believe that his Leningrad Symphony had nothing to do with the War. Jesus. You know why? Probably because you don't care for the Symphony.
    One can have a clear idea of what life in the USSR was like for Shostakovich and be perfectly cognizant of the propagandists seeking to discredit alleged quotations of the composer while still recognizing the daunting problems with source material. Unfortunately, the principal source for subversive thinking by Shostakovich was tainted by fraud. Testimony was not conclusively discredited by Soviet propagandists, but by astute American musicologists with no political agenda. Those same musicologists demonstrated that the 7th symphony was indeed composed in the midst of the siege of Leningrad and is likely a strong reflection of Shostakovich's state of mind during that time.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; May-28-2018 at 15:42.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    I’m very hesitant to tie Shostakovich’s music to his political experience in the Soviet Union. After all, our ideas of what his life was like are based mostly on those garish comic books we carry around in our heads. He definitely had two periods where he had good reason to be worried, but otherwise he served in the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR from 1947 to 1962 and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union from 1962 until his death. And he was invited to join the Party (considered an honor) in 1960 and he accepted. You will search in vain for any negative comment he made about the Party or his nation aside from informal comments to friends, and I’m sure there were plenty of those from just about everybody (as there are, today, in my own country).

    Better to take his music on its own account.
    Yes, but friends reported he berated himself for having joined the party, calling himself a cowardly worm for doing so. He seems not to have regarded it as a proud moment. And it is good to remember Richard Taruskin's words to the effect that there were no dissidents in Stalin's USSR, no living ones anyway.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Pickett View Post
    Unfortunately, to suggest he was purely a chronicler of his age, easy to do admittedly, does him no favours.
    Agreed, I do not mean to dismiss him as purely a chronicler of current events in Russia - more like the experience of living in Russia during those times was indelibly imprinted upon him, and was bound to come out in his music.
    Even the titled pieces can stand alone on their musical merits.

    These are as pertinent and as relevant today as examples of Humanity, born of oppression under Stalin, but more than capable of speaking anytime, any place, any where.
    yes, for sure...Shostakovich is not merely a composer of program music....far from it...

    I really enjoy his big ballet scores - "The Age of Gold", "The Bolt" and his early film scores "Alone", "New Babylon" - these are pre- Lady Macbeth and Sym #4 - very colorfully and flamboyantly orchestrated...starting with Sym #5, after he'd gotten into trouble with the Great Leader and Teacher JS, his orchestral palette takes on a darker hue, a more somber sonority all told...still a brilliant orchestrator, of course...

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  11. #54
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    I’m very hesitant to tie Shostakovich’s music to his political experience in the Soviet Union.
    ...
    Better to take his music on its own account.

    I must wonder why the man's music would be banned in the Soviet Union if that music did not tie to political experiences! On what "account" did Soviet officials take the music that led certain works, such as Lady Macbeth, the 4th Symphony, and the Babi Yar to be banned? And why would a composer have to create an apology symphony (No. 5) if there was nothing to apologize for?

    The Soviet poet Daniil Kharms, primarily a writer of childrens' books, has long proven a favorite of mine. He was an avant garde poet. Kharms once wrote: “I am interested only in 'nonsense'; only in that which makes no practical sense. I am interested in life only in its absurd manifestations.” Indeed, reading Kharms's poetry is like reading total nonsense. It is usually befuddling, often humorous, generally innocent seeming and even meaningless. Yet, the Soviet government officials feared something about his writings enough to see that he was arrested, again, in August 1941 on a charge of spreading "libellous and defeatist mood", and arrest which occurred after, I suspect, a knock on the door, sort of like those knocking sounds one finds frequently in Shostakovich's music. Kharms starved to death in a prison insane asylum several months after this final arrest.

    I struggle to read Kharms's poetry simply "on its own account".

  12. #55
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    Quote Originally Posted by SONNET CLV View Post
    I must wonder why the man's music would be banned in the Soviet Union if that music did not tie to political experiences! On what "account" did Soviet officials take the music that led certain works, such as Lady Macbeth, the 4th Symphony, and the Babi Yar to be banned? And why would a composer have to create an apology symphony (No. 5) if there was nothing to apologize for?
    None of the works you mention was ever banned, although the first two came to be viewed as somewhat poisonous. The authorities required changes in Yevtushenko's poem as used in DSCH's Symphony No. 13, but that had nothing to do with the music.

    Several of Shostakovich's works, including the Symphony No. 9, were effectively banned following his 1948 criticism, although Stalin (supposedly) eased the ban in short order so that Shostakovich could represent the USSR in an artistic conference in New York without undue embarrassment. The ban was based on accusations of "formalism," which seemed to mean writing music appealing to intellectual circles rather than the broad masses of the people.

    He was not totally rehabilitated until two or three years after Stalin's death, but by then he was releasing works written earlier "for the desk drawer" and writing new and important works freely.
    Last edited by KenOC; May-29-2018 at 06:11.


  13. #56
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Yes, but friends reported he berated himself for having joined the party, calling himself a cowardly worm for doing so. He seems not to have regarded it as a proud moment. And it is good to remember Richard Taruskin's words to the effect that there were no dissidents in Stalin's USSR, no living ones anyway.
    Of course DSCH joined the Party some years after Stalin’s death, at a time when he was universally praised and had little to worry about politically. It is hard to image a gun that somebody could hold to his head. And as always there are several versions of the “truth” that we can cling to if we choose.

    One version I have read was that some of Dmitri’s friends, party members, simply showed up and plied him with vodka and inveigled him into signing the party application papers while thoroughly drunk.

    Another is the explanation offered by Wiki: “The government wanted to appoint him General Secretary of the Composers' Union, but in order to hold that position he was required to attain Party membership. It was understood that Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party from 1958 to 1964, was looking for support from the leading ranks of the intelligentsia in an effort to create a better relationship with the Soviet Union’s artists.”

    Of course, the problem with this is that Shostakovich was never appointed to that position, which remained filled by Tikhon Khrennikov until the final dissolution of the USSR in 1991.

    Where's the truth? I admit to being less certain of this than some others.
    Last edited by KenOC; May-29-2018 at 06:23.


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    Getting back to the music, my own opinion is that only the 3rd is truly awful; the other 14 having merits whether I personally like them or not.
    I don't like No.14 as, to me, it's not a symphony - solo voices and a chamber band do not make for a symphony in my musical world.
    I feel that no.13 is underated; a lot of time is spent discussing the content of the Yevtushenko poems, especially 'Babi Yar', but I think in doing this, so often the impact of the music gets lost. The superb way that the poems have been set to the voices, and the outstanding orchestral writing, not to mention the power of the music as a whole (and I don't just mean 'power' in terms of the loud bits, but in the overall impact - some of the quiet passages are extremely powerful, particularly in 'At the Store').
    Needless to say, No.13 is among my favourites, along with 1,4,7,8,9,11,12 (yes, I know...) and 15.
    There may come a time when Youtube won't let us do this...

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SONNET CLV View Post
    I must wonder why the man's music would be banned in the Soviet Union if that music did not tie to political experiences! … And why would a composer have to create an apology symphony (No. 5) if there was nothing to apologize for?
    Adding to Ken's apt remarks on this issue: I think it was mostly about asserting control in an area where discerning specific meaning of any kind, let alone political meaning, is an obscure science at best. What Shostakovich had to atone for was offending Stalin, who didn't like Lady MacBeth. Shostakovich's rehabilitation was foreordained before the Fifth Symphony was premiered, otherwise it wouldn't have been premiered. It wasn't like his fate depended on it being taken as an apology; Anything accessible and ending with plausible optimism would have served.

    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    Of course DSCH joined the Party some years after Stalin’s death, at a time when he was universally praised and had little to worry about politically. It is hard to image a gun that somebody could hold to his head. And as always there are several versions of the “truth” that we can cling to if we choose.
    Just my personal intuition here, but: I think the gun was not "to his head," but in it. After years of fear, no one needs to hold the gun any more. It's been internalized. And perhaps with years of relative relief after Stalin's death, the bare hint of returning pressure was enough to bring the fear back. He might have just felt: "I can't go through this again." He probably had something like PTSD over the earlier experiences, and even knowing the potential threat might be toothless, he could still have felt powerless to resist it — which would explain his self-loathing at succumbing. Anyway, that's my guess.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; May-29-2018 at 14:13.

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    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

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    This business of Shostakovich and the political situations he wrote in is very messy. Firstly, there are conflicting accounts of how he felt about the situations and it is easy to see motives both ways for misrepresenting these. And then there is the fact that the political situation and its impact on art changed many times during Shostakovich's life. For a while after the Bolshevik revolution the avant garde was very acceptable, indeed it chimed with the "revolutionary" times, but then official policy changed towards wanting music that the masses would understand and could relate to. Then came Stalin and a period of extraordinary repression which affected most aspects of public and private life, including the arts. Although music was the least affected of the arts this was a scary time for composers. Mostly, the threat concerned losing the right to an audience and a livelihood but, of course, worse things could happen, too. Then, after Stalin, there was a slow thaw but restrictions remained. So it wasn't always the same: there were bad times and somewhat better times. And, then, you need to consider the pride that the Soviet regimes could gain from having a great composer active - and often thriving - in the USSR. This was important to them. Shostakovich was a privileged person.

    Another angle is the feelings and attitudes that Shostakovich might have had about things - including non-artistic things - that were happening in his country through all these different times. We do not know very much about these - the sources are very contradictory - but it is easy to imagine that the neighbour-spaying-upon-neighbour culture that typified much of Stalin's period was something he (along with many much more vulnerable intellectuals) deplored. And it is also easy to imagine that he would have hated the bureaucratic nature of state institutions for guiding and promoting music, the talentless ruling over the talented. Of course, this sort of thing happens in other places and not only police states, and is often a great source of irritation (to say the least) to the creative artists who might depend upon it. Combine it with Stalinist terror, though, and it must have become much more than an irritation. But we do need to remember that music was one of the most honoured and least oppressed areas of intellectual activity in the USSR.

    Through all of this Shostakovich wrote both public and more private music. There is a distinctive voice and a clear evolution running through it all. You can see the impact of the time when the arts became more controlled and oppressed and the time when things became more free in his art, but the overwhelming feel of his output (both private and public) suggests one artist who experienced the odd disappointment but did not find it too difficult to adapt with his artistic integrity intact.

    It is also worth remembering that Shostakovich was not the only composer who worked in a politically difficult environment. Schubert's Vienna, to give one example, was also politically difficult for someone who moved in the circles that Schubert moved in. He was beaten up by the secret police, an indignity that was never visited upon Shostakovich, on at least one occasion. And, so many great composers saw around them appalling situations - poverty, oppression, terrible wars - and, yes, these experiences will have found their ways into their music, music that speaks of the human condition and not just a particular instance of it.

    So, I do agree that it is the music that matters and that speaks to us - in my opinion - of something much bigger than the mere political environment in which he lived. And I suggest that the coherence of his vision throughout his life, a life that saw many changes in his own circumstances, is the strongest argument we have that we must not reduce his art to mere politics.

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    Senior Member CnC Bartok's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heck148 View Post
    Agreed, I do not mean to dismiss him as purely a chronicler of current events in Russia - more like the experience of living in Russia during those times was indelibly imprinted upon him, and was bound to come out in his music.
    Never thought you did or indeed would!

    I have suites from films like Alone, good stuff, and ditto Age of Gold. He was a fabulous orchestrator no doubt, but I sometimes wish he'd kept some of the sparkle heard in earlier works. First Symphony? 'Nuff said! Incidentally, have you heard any of his really early orchestral pieces, the Scherzo Op.1 And Op.7? The Theme and Variations Op.3? Astonishingly assured stuff!
    Last edited by CnC Bartok; May-29-2018 at 17:17.

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