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Thread: Shostakovich 12??

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    Default Shostakovich 12??

    Apart from his 2nd and 3rd symphonies, Shostakovich's 12 is the least liked by most of his fans. It is often singled out for its crudeness and for being Soviet propaganda. It commemorates the 1917 revolution and praises world that Lenin delivered to the Russian people. But quite a lot of Shostakovich is relatively crude and bombastic and it is not unique in picturing and commemorating revolutionary history or using revolutionary songs. Indeed the 11th Symphony does all of this but is generally well liked. Further, the 12th was written at a time when Soviet restraints on creativity were relaxing and when Shostakovich was enjoying a particularly fruitful period (1st Cello Concerto, 8th Quartet etc). It lacks the expansiveness of the 11th and presents quite a taught and dramatic picture (it often seems like film music or perhaps even as music that paints pictures of dramatic and violent scenes) - and it's relative tautness could be said to represent (along with other works of the period) a step forward by Shostakovich. I do not doubt that it is a work of propaganda - whether its approach to history and Lenin is sincere or merely aimed at pleasing the authorities - but so were several of his symphonies.

    So my question to Shostakovich fans is: do you dislike this symphony or feel it is particularly weak? And, if so, why? Or perhaps you like it? What in particular do you like about it?

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    The 12th is not a great symphony by the composer's own standards. He knew it, too. It was written at the time he became a member of the communist party and in a bombastic style that his overlords would hopefully like. But when I give it a listen, I forget all the politics and don't bother with anything like symphonic logic: I listen as if it's film music and marvel at DSCH's orchestral wizardry which is on full display. Yes, it's loud, vulgar, and 2nd, or 3rd, rate. So what? There's a lot of worse music that is in the repertoire. I just hope I get to play in a performance some day....and bring the earplugs.

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    It would be good if you could put that in perspective - like how does it compare with his other symphonies?

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    I listen to a lot of Shostakovich and have to admit the 12th symphony is played less than most of the others; the reasons being it is not what you'd call a subtle work, rather programmatic and without a lot of depth. It does however have brilliant orchestration and moves right along. I just relistened to Haitink's recording and enjoyed it quite a lot.

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    It's not top-draw Shosters by any stretch but I don't mind the 12th at all, and I've never thought of it as being weaker than the 11th. As the 11th depicted an uprising which failed I suppose it was almost expected of Shostakovich to compose a follow-up to commemorate the one which succeeded. Favourite performance - out of the three I have I would choose Mravinsky (on Erato).
    '...a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without a single claim on the gratitude of his country or the respect of posterity...' - Leigh Hunt on the Prince Regent (later George IV).

    ὃν οἱ θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος [Those whom the gods love die young] - Menander

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    David Hurwitz, in his Shostakovich's Owner's Manual, where he is a cheerleader for the symphonies and concertos, admits of the 12th, "The Twelfth Symphony has the distinction of being widely regarded as Shostakovich's worst." He calls it as a "safe work that avoids extremes of comedy and tragedy, but that doesn't make it bad music." Nevertheless, he adds, "His subsequent three symphonies are about as subversive as he could make them." So maybe some good came from it after all.

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    I've never understood the vitriol towards the 12th. Even if it isn't "top-drawer", it's certainly far from the absolute travesty many people make it out to be.
    "I like to think that oysters transcend national barriers" - Roger Waters

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    The ubiquitous unifying theme reminds me too much of the slow movement of Myaskovsky 24.

    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.
    Basil Valentine

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I'm fairly neutral on the 12th. It's OK for me (I don't feel it goes anywhere really but it's not unpleasant either). My least favourite Shosty symphony is the 13th by a long chalk but I have no love for most Choral symphonies, anyway.

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    According to Volkov "Testimony" (I know, a rather dubious source) Shostakovich lost his way with #12...started out with one idea, switched horses in midstream, so to speak, to something else, lost the flow...that kind of makes sense to me.

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    When I remember listening to it I remember being pretty bored. Maybe I should listen again. It's not the "soviet propoganda" thing that keeps me from liking it either cause I actually like #2 a lot.

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    I listened to the 11th again yesterday and I must admit , I don't really like the twelfth too but I might not have listened to it enough ...
    Anyone who can recommend me a recording of it ? I have a box (EMI) with all the symphonies recorded by Mariss Janssons. Very good , but maybe I should try another recording?
    Last edited by HerbertNorman; Jan-24-2020 at 11:53.

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    No. 12 always sounds to me as though written on auto-pilot as well as under possible duress. I do find it to be his weakest symphony, although No. 3 runs it fairly close. Film music? Well, yes, to a point, but there's plenty of better film music than this, not least Shostakovch's 11th symphony! Of the three final symphonies that followed it, Nos. 13 & 15 are on a very much higher plane of inspiration and No. 14, written for Britten, is one with which I struggled for years until I realised that the key to it proper appreciation is to regard it as a song-cycle rather than a symphony.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HerbertNorman View Post
    I listened to the 11th again yesterday and I must admit , I don't really like the twelfth too but I might not have listened to it enough ...
    Anyone who can recommend me a recording of it ? I have a box (EMI) with all the symphonies recorded by Mariss Janssons. Very good , but maybe I should try another recording?
    Like most people in this thread, I agree that the 12th isn't top-form Shostakovich, but also like most, I rather like it. The first recording I heard was Georges Pretre / Philharmonia on Classics for Pleasure vinyl; elderly but good.
    Personally I'd pass on Jansons with Shostakovich and instead try either Petrenko on Naxos or (if you can find it) Michael Gielen with the SWR Symphony on Arte Nova.
    There may come a time when Youtube won't let us do this...

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    I've attented two concerts with this work and I was blown away both occasions. I don't care if it's Soviet propaganda or not. It's thrilling and a real treat to hear in concert halls!

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