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Shostakovich 24 Preludes Op. 87 No. VIII (Noten, sheet music)

Shostakovich 24 Preludes Op. 87 No. VIII (Noten, sheet music)

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Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich (Russian: Дми́трий Дми́триевич Шостако́вич) (Saint Petersburg, September 25, 1906 – August 9, 1975) was a Russian composer who lived during the Soviet period. He had difficult relations with the Communist Party of the USSR (CPSU), which publicly denounced his music in 1936 and 1948.

Publicly, however, he was loyal to the Soviet regime, accepting a CPSU card in 1960 and becoming a member. of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. His attitude toward the communist regime and the Soviet state has been the subject of bitter political and musical controversies, and it has been hotly debated whether Shostakovich was a clandestine dissident against the regime.

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After an initial period of musical avant-garde, Shostakovich’s style drifted towards a late musical romanticism in which the influence of Mahler is combined with that of the Russian musical tradition, with Mussorgsky and Stravinsky as important references.

Shostakovich integrated all these influences, creating a very personal style that even evolved towards atonality in some works. Shostakovich’s music often includes sharp contrasts and grotesque elements, with a prominent rhythmic component. In his work, his cycles of fifteen symphonies and fifteen string quartets stand out; Furthermore, he composed a lot of chamber music, several operas, six concertos and film music.

Today Shostakovich is considered by many critics to be the most outstanding composer of the 20th century.

– His early years:

Born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Shostakovich was a child prodigy as a pianist and as a composer. From an intellectual family in which political influences were not lacking, in his teenage years he witnessed the 1917 revolutions and wrote some commemorative works for the victims of the revolution.

In 1922, he was admitted to the Petrograd Conservatory, where he was taught by Alexander Glazunov. There he suffered the consequences of his lack of interest in politics, and in 1926 he failed his test on Marxist methodology. The first musical work to achieve international fame was composed at the age of 19: Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10 (1925), which he presented as a graduation work and which would win first prize for composition.

When the work was premiered by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra on May 12 of the following year, jubilation seized the artistic circles of the young Soviet Republic. The success of the symphony in Europe and America corroborated the relief of a new talent and, what was even more decisive, of the first great composer of the “new Russia”.

Upon graduation, he embarked on a dual career as a composer and pianist, but his cold playing style was not widely appreciated. He would soon limit his performances basically to those in which he presented his own works. In 1927 he composed his second symphony (called Dedication to October).

While composing this symphony, he began writing his satirical opera The Nose, based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol. In 1929, his opera was branded “formalist” by the Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians, one of the musicians’ associations in the USSR.

In 1927 he also began his relationship with Iván Sollertinsky, who would be his best friend until his death in 1944. Sollertinsky introduced Shostakovich to the work of Gustav Mahler, who was to have a great influence on his music starting with his Fourth Symphony.

Towards the end of the 1920s Shostakovich collaborated with the TRAM, a proletarian youth theater in Leningrad.

Although he developed little activity, the position protected him from ideological attacks. During this time he devoted himself intensely to composing his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which premiered in 1934 and was immediately successful, although it was later banned in his country for twenty-six years.

In 1932, he married his first wife, Nina Varzar. Although early difficulties led to their divorce in 1935, the couple reconciled shortly thereafter.

– First complaint:

In 1936 Shostakovich’s bliss ended when Pravda published a series of attacks on his music. In a famous article entitled Chaos Instead of Music, which has been attributed to Stalin, Lady Macbeth was condemned in drastic terms, accusing her of anti-popular snobbery, pornophony and formalism.

The performances of the opera, which were taking place simultaneously in several theaters, were suspended and the composer saw his income and his prestige plummet, in a context in which political repression was wreaking havoc. It was the time of the great purges, in which friends and acquaintances of the composer were sent to prison or executed. The only consolation for him in this period was the birth of his daughter Galina in 1936; His son Maxim was born two years later.

After some rehearsals in December 1936, Shostakovich withdrew his Fourth Symphony, without actually premiering it, probably for fear of the reaction it might provoke. The symphony, one of Shostakovich’s most tragic, could have fallen like a bomb in the climate of terror that the Soviet authorities sought to cover up with bright and optimistic works of art. Requiring a huge orchestra, the work was not premiered until 1961 and sadly remains to this day one of Shostakovich’s lesser-known symphonies.

His Fifth Symphony, premiered in 1937, is musically conservative. In it the tragic emotion of the slow movements is combined with an electrifying dynamism. The final apotheosis of the work has been interpreted as optimistic by some, as a mockery of a forced joy by others.

Fortunately for Shostakovich, the regime understood the former and praised the play, which was a great success in his country. Although it received appalling reviews in the West, Symphony No. 5 remains one of the most popular symphonies of the 20th century. It was at this time that Shostakovich began writing string quartets. His chamber work allowed him to experiment and express ideas that would have been unacceptable in his more popular symphonic pieces.

In September 1937, he began teaching composition at the conservatory, which brought him some financial stability but also interfered with his own creative work.

– The war:

When Germany attacked Russia in 1941, Shostakovich initially remained in Leningrad during the siege and began his Seventh Symphony, known precisely as Leningrad. In October 1941, the composer and his family were evacuated to Kuybyshev (now Samara), where he finished his work, which was adopted as a symbol of Russian resistance both in the USSR and in the West.

In the spring of 1943 the whole family moved to Moscow. From that time is the Eighth Symphony, an extensive and obscure work that was not approved by the authorities. The work was rarely interpreted, despite its exceptional quality in the opinion of much of today’s critics.

From the Ninth Symphony (1945) the authorities expected music appropriate to the historical resonances of the symphonic number 9 and the victorious march of the war against Germany.

Those expectations were frustrated by the composer with a strange symphony, with allusions to Rossini and moments that seem pure circus music. In 1948 Shostakovich and other composers were convicted of Zhdanovian formalism, their compositions were banned, and the privileges enjoyed by the composer’s family were withdrawn. Only in 1958, after Stalin’s death, did the CPSU find the criticism unfair and lift the bans on the compositions condemned in the 1948 resolutions.

– The last years of Stalin and the thaw:

In the years following his 1948 conviction, Shostakovich composed official papers to secure his official vindication, while also working on serious “desk drawer” work. Among these were the Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, dedicated to David Óistrakh and which would not be released until seven years after it was written, and the song cycle From Jewish popular poetry (Op. 79), a work that has caused controversy. for its undoubted political connotations.

Some have seen in this song cycle a heroic act of critical affirmation against Russian anti-Semitism, then promoted by the Soviet authorities. Laurel Fay says instead that Shostakovich was trying to conform to official policy by taking popular song as his inspirational theme. The last three songs of the cycle, in which the situation of the Jews “in the new Russia” is glorified, seem to abound in Fay’s interpretation.

The restrictions placed on Shostakovich’s music and his living conditions improved in 1949, when Shostakovich was sent with a delegation of Soviet personalities to the United States. That same year, he wrote his cantata Song of the Woods, which praised Stalin as the “Great Gardener.” In 1951 the composer became a deputy of the Supreme Soviet.

Stalin’s death in 1953 was followed by the Tenth Symphony, one of his most popular compositions, often described as an optimistic tragedy. The symphony contains the famous “Shostakovich theme”, which derives from the initials of the composer’s first and last name, transliterated into German, that is, “D. Sch.”.

In German music notation, the series D–Es–C–H represents the sounds D natural, E flat, C natural, B natural. In the third movement of his Tenth Symphony, Shostakovich uses that DSCH motif together with another representing the name “Elmira”, in homage to his student Elmira Nazirova. Centuries before, Johann Sebastian Bach had used the same resource with the letters B–A–C–H which, also in German notation, represent the sounds B flat, A natural, C natural, B natural.

During the forties and fifties, Shostakóvich had a very close relationship with two of his students: Galina Ustvólskaya and the aforementioned Elmira Nazirova. Ustvolskaya was a student of the composer from 1937 to 1947.

The nature of their relationship is unclear: while Rostropovich describes her as “tender,” Ustvolskaya said in a 1995 interview that she had declined a marriage proposal from him in the 1950s. The relationship with Nazirova seems to have been one-sided, according to the letters he wrote to her, and can be dated between 1953 and 1956. In the background was Shostakovich’s open marriage to Nina Varzar, who died in 1954. Shostakovich married his second wife Margarita Kainova in 1956; three years later they divorced.

The Eleventh Symphony of 1956-1957 is titled 1905 in explicit reference to the revolutionary events that occurred that year in Russia Russian Revolution of 1905. Some have also wanted to see in this work a reference to the Hungarian Revolution.

– Shostakovich connection to the party:

The year 1960 marked another turning point in Shostakovich’s life: he joined the Communist Party. This event has been interpreted as a show of compromise or cowardice, or as a result of pressure.

In this period he was also affected by poliomyelitis that he began to suffer in 1958.

Shostakovich’s musical response to these personal crises was his Eighth String Quartet, which like his Tenth Symphony incorporates various codes and quotations.

In 1962, the composer married for the third time. The bride, Irina Supinskaya, was only 27 years old. That same year Shostakovich returned to the theme of anti-Semitism in his Symphony No. 13, Babi Yar.

The symphony is a choral work based on poems by Yevgeny Evtushenko, the first of which commemorates a massacre of Jews during World War II. There are conflicting opinions regarding the risk assumed by the composer when premiering this work. Evtushenko’s poem had been published and had not been censored, although it was controversial. After the symphony’s premiere, Evtushenko was pressured to add a stanza to his poem saying that Russians and Ukrainians had died alongside the Jews at Babi Yar.

Shostakovich last years:

In the last years of his life, Shostakovich suffered from a chronic illness: his meliitis continued to worsen, and he began to suffer from heart problems in the mid-1960s. Most of his later work—his Fourteenth and Fifteenth Symphonies, and later quartets—are dark and introspective. They attracted much favorable criticism from the West, as they did not have the performance problems that his earlier works, which were more public pieces, had.

Shostakovich, who had been a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer on August 9, 1975. He was buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, Russia. His son, the pianist and conductor Maxim Shostakovich, was the dedicatee and first performer of several of his works.

* His work:

Among his best-known works are the Fifth and Tenth symphonies, and the Eighth and Fifteenth quartets. His music shows the influence of several of the composers he most admired: Johann Sebastian Bach in his fugues and his passacaglias; Beethoven in his last quartets; Gustav Mahler in his and Berg’s symphonies in the use of musical codes and quotations.

His works are largely tonal in the Romantic tradition, but with elements of atonality, polytonality, and chromaticism. In some of his later works (for example the Twelfth Quartet) he used twelve-tone series. Many commentators have noted a differentiation between his work before the 1936 criticism and the more conservative subsequent work.

Volkov commented that Shostakovich took on the role of the yurodivy, or enlightened one. The yurodivy plays an important role in Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov, which Shostakovich admired and for which he produced a new orchestration.

– Shostakovich character:

Shostakovich was in many ways an obsessive man: according to his daughter, he was “obsessed with cleanliness” (Árdov p. 139); he synchronized the clocks in his apartment; he regularly sent letters to himself to test how well the postal service was doing.

In Wilson’s book Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, 26 references to his nervousness are listed. Yuri Lyubimov comments that “the fact that he was more vulnerable and receptive than other people was undoubtedly an important component of his genius” (Wilson p. 183). In the last years of his life, Krzysztof Meyer recalled, “his face was a bag of tics and gestures” (Wilson p. 462).

When he was in a good mood, sport was one of his main distractions, although he preferred to stay as a spectator or referee to participate (he was a qualified soccer referee). He also liked card games, particularly solitaire, and chess.

Both dark and light sides of his personality were made evident by his fondness for satirical writers such as Gogol, Chekhov, and Mikhail Zoshchenko (Wilson p. 41). The influence of the former can be seen in his letters, in which he makes perverse parodies of Soviet officials.

Shostakovich was shy by nature: Flora Litvinova said that he “was incapable of saying ‘no’ to anyone” (Wilson p. 162). This meant that he was easily persuaded to sign official statements, including a public denunciation of Andrei Sakharov in 1973.

– Orthodoxy and revisionism:

Shostakovich’s response to official criticism is debatable. It is clear that he was apparently part of the State. He made speeches, or at least read them, and signed articles expressing the government’s line of thought. It is also generally accepted that he disliked the regime, a view confirmed by his family, his letters to Isaak Glikman, and the satirical cantata “Rayok,” which ridicules the anti-formalist campaign and was kept hidden even after death. of the.

What is uncertain is the extent to which Shostakovich was trying to show his opposition to the regime through his other music. The revisionist point of view was expounded by Solomon Volkov in the book Testimony of him in 1979, which Volkov presented as if they were Shostakovich’s memoirs. The book argues that several of the composer’s works have coded anti-government messages.

That Shostakovich incorporated quotes and allusions into his work is evident, as is his musical signature DSCH. His longtime collaborator, Yevgeny Mravinsky, said that “Shostakovich frequently explained his intentions with images and connotations” (Wilson p. 139). The revisionist perspective has been supported by the composer’s children, Maxim and Galina, and by several Russian musicians. Widow Irina generally supports this thesis, but claims that Testimony is a forgery by Volkov.

A prominent revisionist was the late Ian MacDonald, an expert on The Beatles and Shostakovich. His book The New Shostakovich interprets Shostakovich’s music in a conspiratorial key, almost every eighth note having a meaning. Anti-revisionists deny the authenticity of Testimony and allege that Volkov compiled various articles, gossip, and possibly some information obtained directly from the composer.

More generally, they argue that Shostakovich’s significance lies more in his music than in his life, and that seeking political messages does not enhance but rather detract from the artistic value of the composer’s music. Among the anti-revisionists stand out Laurel Fay and Richard Taruskin.

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