David’s choice – Shostakovich Symphony No. 5

Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Op. 47

Monday 21st November 2016 marks 69 years since the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yevgeny Mravinsky, gave the world premiere of Symphony no. 5, op. 47 by Dmitry Shostakovich.

‘Shos 5’ (as it’s often referred to) is one of my all time favourite pieces of music. I feel like I know it very well (and not just the cello part!), having rehearsed it at length and having performed it several times over the years. The first time I performed it, and probably the most memorable for me, was with my youth orchestra, the Lancashire Students Symphony Orchestra (LSSO for short), as it was known then, under the baton of Malcolm Doley. What an amazing experience. Aged 15, we went on tour to Tuscany in Italy and performed this incredible symphony several times over the 10 days that we were away, in some amazing places. Also in the programme was another one of my favourite pieces, Elgar’s concert overture ‘Cockaigne’.

Concerts in Italy didn’t start till 9.30pm and Shostakovich symphony no. 5 is around 50 minutes long and was always in the 2nd half of the concert. Therefore, concerts didn’t finish till very late indeed! I do remember closing my eyes briefly one evening, during the 16 minute ‘Largo’,  letting the still, calm yet desolate sounds wash over me…….and then struggling to open them again! (I think anyone who has been on any sort of residential youth orchestra course/tour will empathize with this!) There was no danger of dozing however in the fierce and powerful fourth movement, using full bows on each fortississimo quaver for a whole of the last page or so of music! (See image of score below). Referring to this ending, Erik Levi explains in the CD sleeve notes to Vol. 22, No. 8 of the BBC Music Magazine CD, “Whether this resolution is genuinely optimistic remains an open question given the music’s lugubrious tempo”.

Dmitry Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5, op. 47 Edition Eulenburg No. 579 (minature score) London, (Ernst Eulenburg, 1967)

Dmitry Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5, op. 47 Edition Eulenburg No. 579 (miniature score) London, (Ernst Eulenburg, 1967)

It is interesting to listen to various and vastly different interpretations of the end of the fourth movement and hear the massively contrasting speeds this passage is taken at and how this affects the whole mood of the final movement. Personally, I prefer the slower tempo for the end of the symphony, closer to the actual metronome mark of ‘quaver = 184’ as shown in the example above. This is expertly demonstrated on a live recording, with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the LSO in 2005, (shelved at ORC: SHO in the library). This contrasts considerably with the 1969 LP recording of the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy, (LP no. 167d in the library)

Prior to the composition of his 5th Symphony, it was a difficult time for Shostakovich. He’d had a couple of unfavourable editorials, one of which was entitled, ‘Muddle instead of Music’, and subsequently decided to pull his 4th Symphony on the morning of the premiere. There was a lot resting on the 5th Symphony, which Shostakovich composed in a short space of time, between April and July 1937. He went back to the conventional 4 movement structure for the first time since his 1st Symphony and reduced the orchestra to a more conventional size, only adding celesta and piano, rather than the huge additional forces which were needed for the 4th Symphony.

It is interesting to note how well received the 5th symphony actually was. As Roy Blokker puts it in his book, ‘The Music of Dimitri Shostakovich – The Symphonies’, (shelved at 789 SHO), “In 1937 they did not want tragedy in art, yet the Fifth is tragic…..The Soviet leaders wanted folk music and nationalistic ideas; the Fifth contains none. The second movement is a grotesque dance based upon themes from the still unperformed Fourth Symphony that had parodied the very critics who had ostracised the composer in 1936. Yet the score was such a massive tour de force that it melted away all the opposition”

“The première of the Fifth Symphony on 21 November 1937 was the scene of extraordinary public acclamation. There was open weeping in the slow movement and a half-hour ovation at the end”. Grove Music Online.

It was clear that the audience at the premiere had identified the ‘tragic struggle’ in the music and how this paralleled their own daily struggles at the time.

november-item-of-the-month-2016-shostakovich-cabinet-photo

Library display cabinet showing – ‘David’s choice’ –  Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Op. 47

For students and staff who want to find out more, why not start with Quicksearch, for articles, recordings, reviews and much more. Why not have a read of ‘Testimony: the memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov’ which you can find at 789 SHO or check out the DVD of ‘Testimony : the story of Dmitri Shostakovich’ shelved at DVD / FILM : TES

 

Roy Blokker with Robert Dearing, The Music of Dimitri Shostakovich, The Symphonies London : Tantivy Press, (Rutherford : Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1979)

Dmitry Shostakovich, Symphony no. 5, op. 47 Edition Eulenburg No. 579 (minature score) London, (Ernst Eulenburg, 1967)

David Fanning and Laurel Fay. “Shostakovich, Dmitry.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, (accessed November 9, 2016) http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/52560pg3.

 

 

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Library item of the month, Oct 2015: Shostakovich Symphony no. 11

Subtitled “the year 1905”, the work is, along with the second, third and twelfth symphonies, based on a programme of “revolution” subjects. Composed in 1956/57 to mark the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution, it sought to graphically depict the “Bloody Sunday” massacre, when thousands of unarmed protesters were gunned down in front of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. Parallels however have been drawn with contemporary themes such as the Hungarian revolt of 1956, supressed by Soviet troops at a cost of some 20,000 lives.

ShostakovichThe four movements of the symphony run into each other. The first, Palace Square, sets an oppressively calm atmosphere and incorporates the first of several revolutionary songs that feature in the work. The second movement entitled Ninth of January incorporates the theme from the second of Shostakovich’s Choral Poems and graphically depicts the atrocities of the event. The third movement In Memoriam incorporates a funeral march written in tribute to the lives lost in Bloody Sunday, whilst the final movement The Tocsin quotes songs of revolutionary struggle.

The Symphony was premièred on 30 October 1957 and received a mixed reception. On the one hand it was lauded by the Union of Composers, and earned Shostakovich a Lenin Prize from the Soviet authorities. This contrasts with a review in the Musical Times in March 1958 of a performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargent, which concluded “I find it hard to believe that this Symphony will bear repeated hearings”.

Why not decide for yourself?! Come to hear the Trinity Laban Symphony Orchestra performing this work as part of Diego Masson’s 80th birthday celebration concert on 29th October at Blackheath Halls.

Shostakovich CDs

Listen to the recordings here!

The following recordings can be listened to at the wall-mounted listening station at the north end of the Jerwood Library:

  • Shostakovich Symphony No. 11 “The Year 1905”. Mstislav Rostropovich, National Symphony Orchestra. Elatus, 2003.
  • Shostakovich Symphony No. 11. Mstislav Rostropovich, London Symphony Orchestra. ELSO Live, 2002.
  • Shostakovich Symphony No. 11. Kirill Karabits, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. BBC Music, 2009.

Trinity Laban staff and students can also listen to streamed versions accessible via Quicksearch (limit the source type to audio).