Soviet composer Dmitriy Shostakovich

This video is called Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 in C major – Gergiev / Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra.

Review by Alex Miller in Australia:

A complex socialist composer

Shostakovich: A Life
By Laurel E. Fay
Oxford University Press, 2005
458 pages, $47.95 (pb)

Dmitriy Shostakovich (1906 — 1975) is regarded by many as the greatest composer of the 20th Century.

At the time of his death in 1975, Shostakovich was regarded as the “official face” of Soviet music: he frequently represented the Soviet Union abroad, was a member of the Communist Party and deputy to the Supreme Soviet, and had honours such as “Hero of Socialist Labour” and the “Order of Lenin” bestowed on him by the Soviet regime.

Shostakovich: A Life steers a careful course between this official Soviet view of Shostakovich and other accounts released after his death — finding that the truth about this intensely private person is significantly more complex than either of them suggests. …

The early chapters in the book give a vivid picture of the intense creative energy released in Russia by the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Shostakovich’s earliest works — including his popular and acclaimed First Symphony — were produced in the explosion of artistic talent in the decade that followed. …

Following Shostakovich’s partial rehabilitation after the Fifth Symphony, he found himself in besieged Leningrad after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. He applied twice to serve at the front, but was rejected on each occasion.

While beginning the composition of his Seventh Symphony, he worked as a fireman in the starving and bombarded city, until he was evacuated to Kuybishev on the order of the government.

In one of the great propaganda coups of the war, the score of the completed Seventh Symphony was flown into still-besieged Leningrad and performed by the half-starved Leningrad Radio Orchestra in August 1942.

As psychological warfare, the performance was broadcast on loudspeakers to the German troops stalled on the edge of the city, and the Seventh Symphony quickly became an international symbol of resistance to fascism.

Shostakovich dedicated the work “to our struggle with fascism, to our coming victory over the enemy, and to my native city, Leningrad”. The Seventh Symphony is still referred to today as the “Leningrad Symphony”.

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8 thoughts on “Soviet composer Dmitriy Shostakovich

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  7. Tuesday 30th May 2017

    Dmitri Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony is a reminder of the Soviet people’s heroic struggle against fascism in WWII which some would airbrush from history, says JENNY FARRELL

    THE COLD war against Russia — and previously the Soviet Union — continues. This includes the removal from public memory of the many atrocities committed by nazi Germany on the Soviet population and the latter’s heroic role in the defeat of fascism.

    On June 22 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It resulted in a slaughter of Holocaust proportions in which 25 million Russians perished, more than half of the dead of WWII.

    One of the most horrendous acts of barbarity was the German blockade of Leningrad. For almost 900 days, from September 8 1941 to January 27 1944, all supplies were cut off and the people of the city systematically starved to death. Over one million of them died.

    Fast forward to April 2017 and a fatal “terrorist attack” — by groups rather than states — takes place in St Petersburg, formerly Leningrad.

    After similar attacks in Western European cities, the national flag of that country has been projected onto Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate as an expression of solidarity. Not this time. St Petersburg does not have a “special relationship” with Berlin, the West Berlin-born mayor claimed.

    Perhaps the airbrushing of history meant he had never heard of Leningrad.

    The Siege of Leningrad was recorded not only in books but in music. A resident in Leningrad at the time was composer Dmitri Shostakovich. He began work on a symphony immediately the attack began, expressing his thoughts on Soviet life and the ability of his people to defeat the fascists.

    This seventh symphony is known as the Leningrad.

    It has four movements, with the first, War, beginning with lyrical music describing a peaceful life in the USSR before the fascist invasion. A solo violin is interrupted by a distant drum and the “invasion theme,” repeated 12 times with a growing number of instruments. Ever louder and shriller, it creates a profound sense of unease.

    Military drums punctuate this section, which ends in an outcry of pain and horror. A quieter passage follows, with a solo flute and then a bassoon grieving the dead. Accompaniment is fragmented, expressing the broken people it bewails. Dissonances dominate.

    In the second movement, Memories, the mood changes to happier times. There are some dance melodies, although a note of sadness is also present.

    Wide Expanses of Our Land, the third movement, affirms the heroism of the people, their humanism and Russia’s great natural beauty.

    It’s a dialogue between chorale, the solace given by the splendour of the homeland, and the solo voice and violins, expressing the individual in torment. Both the second and third movement express Shostakovich’s conviction that “war doesn’t necessarily destroy cultural values.”

    About the final movement, Victory, Shostakovich commented: “My idea of victory isn’t something brutal; it’s better explained as the victory of light over darkness, of humanity over barbarism, of reason over reaction.”

    It begins by musically describing people at work in peacetime, full of hope and happiness, as the drums and guns of war overcome them. The music marches, fights and resists. Victory does not come easily.

    Shostakovich begins with the timpani roll that concluded the slow third movement and gradually adds other voices. Slowly the music moves towards its conclusion, with brass fanfares and cymbal crashes. It forces its way into bright C major — the upbeat key of victory.

    Yet the final chords in this most magnificent of keys contain a sorrowful sound, in full recognition of the realities, the unimaginable suffering of war. The symphony cannot end in simple triumph.

    Shostakovich composed most of the symphony while under siege in Leningrad. Despite his objections, the Soviet government evacuated the Shostakovich family along with other artists several months into the blockade.

    The Leningrad was performed on August 9 1942 in his besieged home city, with the score airlifted in across nazi lines. The orchestra only had 15 musicians left, with more recalled from the front.

    Clarinet player at this historic performance Galina Lelyukhina recalled rehearsals. “They said on the radio that all living musicians were invited. It was hard to walk. I was sick with scurvy, and my legs were very painful.

    “At first there were nine of us but then more people arrived. The conductor Eliasberg was brought on a sledge, because hunger had made him so weak.”

    On that August day, the hall was packed, with windows and doors open for those outside to hear. The music was broadcast on the streets and to the fronts to inspire the whole nation. The Red Army pre-empted German plans to disrupt the performance by shelling the enemy beforehand to ensure silence for the two hours needed for the concert.

    “This symphony had a huge impact on us,” blockade survivor Irina Skripacheva remembers. “The rhythm incited a feeling of elevation, flight. At the same time we could feel the scary rhythm of the German hordes. It was unforgettable and overwhelming.”

    Seventy-five years later, along Russia’s western border Nato tanks — including German — and troops prepare for war.

    The Leningrad Symphony is available on YouTube.


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