Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shostakovich's 5th

Here is a great symphony conducted by a great man--Leonard Bernstein.

Shostakovich was admonished by Soviet 'authorities' to write a symphony that was not 'formalist.' They wanted something easy to understand. They ordered Shostakovich to produce such a work. Here it is.

This came after Shostakovich wrote what was perhaps his greatest symphony--his 4th. It epitomized the emptiness and heartlessness of forced Soviet collectivization, industrialization and police state of the 1930s. The 4th was written around 1936, but the premiere was cancelled. It was not performed until nearly 30 years later. Shostakovich heard it performed live for the first time when he was an old man. The 4th is like a great novel. It is filled with interesting characters and unexpected plot twists. It ends at first monumentally and then mysteriously and quietly. It is not easily understood at first, but gets better with each hearing. The Soviets detested such work and made it clear to Shostakovich that he must produce something simpler and instantly understandable--or else.

Shostakovich delivered the goods. It is perhaps his most popular symphony. The third movement was an elegy to the suffering of the people under the Soviet regime. People listening knew that and many were moved to tears. It is pure Russian poetry.

The last movement is also very Russian and easy to like. The finale in particular was especially easy to understand. After all, Shostakovich was under orders. Listen for the string section at the end. They repeat the same note over and over and over again as if to say, "There. Is THIS simple enough for you?" It was Shostakovich's way of showing contempt for the Soviets and yet the ending is still marvelous.


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