Fall 2016 CONCERT

September 24, 2016    7:30 PM
Centennial Auditorium
Sterling, Illinois

Mozart: Don Giovanni Overture, KV527

David: Concertino for Trombone
and Orchestra
Samantha Keehn, trombone
Allegro maestoso
Marcia funebre (Andante)
Allegro maestoso.

Mahler: Adagietto from Symphony No 5

Shostakovich: Symphony No 5
in D minor, Op 47

Moderato - Allegro non troppo
Allegro non troppo

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No 5
in D minor, Op 47

Dmitri Shostakovich 1936
Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (1906-1975) was at odds with Soviet authorities for much of his career, and proved to be one of the more tragic figures of Russian arts and letters.

During the years prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917, young Dmitri grew up in modestly prosperous and privileged surroundings. His family had the use of two cars and a dacha, owned a Diderichs piano, and employed a German tutor, several servants, and a nanny. Shostakovich reportedly inherited from his father a liking for clownish behavior and for early rising (habitually around 6 a.m.).

In 1915, he saw his first opera, Rimsky-Korsakov's Tale of Tsar Saltan. The pomp and spectacle of the production struck the boy with such immediacy that he knew for certain what course he must take. As a child, Dmitri had shown an exceptional talent, but he had resisted the idea of musical instruction until that year, and his mother had had to persuade him to take piano lessons. At age nine, then, under his mother's tutelage, he began a formal music education. Such was his talent that at age twelve, he was admitted to the Petrograd Conservatory under the watchful eye of composer Alexander Glazunov.

As a student, he was determined to combine experimentation with discipline as a foundation for his musical style. Russian music was still open to influences from the West, and Shostakovich took pains to study the new works of western composers such as Paul Hindemith and Ernst Krenek, but also the compositions of self-exiled Russians Igor Stravinsky and Serge Prokofiev. These western influences along with the establishment concepts taught at the Conservatory gave the young composer the bases for a musical idiom, capable of rapid modulations of tone and style.

Shostakovich completed the piano score for his First Symphony, a student requirement, by April 1925. By July 2, he had finished the orchestration, but it was not until May 1926 that the first performance was given. The Symphony No 1 in F minor, Op 10, was an immediate success with the public and with critics alike. It was picked up quickly by other Russian orchestras and made its way to the West where conductors Bruno Walter, Arturo Toscanini, Otto Klemperer, and Serge Koussevitzky, among others, featured the symphony as a testament to the new music that would come from the newly-formed Soviet Union.

However, it was another ten years before Shostakovich created a work that won broad popular acceptance. The years between the First Symphony and the Fifth Symphony were years in which the composer continued to write music, it was music that failed to progress from his initial success. He produced two "patriotic" symphonies (No 2 "The First of May" and No 3 "October"), film music, waltzes, etc., but nothing that seemed to possess him to the degree that he expended any notable creative energy on them. He did begin a serious study of the music of Gustav Mahler; the influence of this Mahler study can be heard in almost all of his subsequent compositions. In 1930, he began work on his second opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, (his first opera The Nose failed to gain official approval) which occupied him through 1932. At the time, Shostakovich considered only the Third Symphony and The Nose as true measures of his contribution to Soviet art.

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District premiered in January 1934 in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the critical reactions were overwhelmingly positive. The more conservative Composers Union offered some negative views, but, at this point, Shostakovich could write his own ticket, so to speak, as the spokesman for new Soviet music. His newly found fame lasted only briefly. Within a year strongman Josef Stalin began his infamous mass purge of the military, academic, and social segments of the Soviet Union. Shostakovich and some of his fellow composers were caught up in "The Great Terror" that swept through the arts; he feared that not only his career, but that his life was threatened.

Stalin and a group of high-ranking officials attended a...new Bolshoi production of Lady Macbeth, and the upshot was an unsigned condemnatory article which appeared in Pravda on 28 January [1936]. This now notorious article was headed ‘Muddle instead of music’. It castigated Shostakovich for ‘“leftist” confusion instead of natural, human music’ and warned him plainly of the consequences if he failed to mend his ways...The shock to the cultural establishment was profound and Shostakovich was toppled almost overnight from his position as the leading light of Soviet music. He would eventually recover his position but it would be a long time before he again felt secure in it.

So distraught was Shostakovich that he withdrew a new symphony from publication, recognizing that its sonorities and dissonances would only exacerbate his precarious position. In 1946, he issued a piano reduction of the Symphony No 4; it was not performed in the Soviet Union until 1961.

Soviet cultural authorities took official acts against his relatives and close friends, and Shostakovich, who possessed a fragile constitution, began to seek his 'rehabilitation' amid all the uncertainties that surrounded him. Demoted to minor positions in the cultural establishment, he conceived that a dramatic effort must be made, and he set to work on a new symphony that would embody the elements of the Soviet's "New Music."

The composer worked on the Fifth Symphony between April and June 1937. He took special pains to avoid expressing any extra-musical connotations for the symphony, leaving the impression that he considered the piece to be "abstract" music. He left it to others to offer learned opinions about what this movement or that movement might mean in political or social terms. Some have gone so far as to suggest the whole symphony is a rebuke of the establishment's "New Music" - that Shostakovich is mocking the very ideas and dignitaries who have persecuted him. Be that as it may,

The premiere 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, suggesting a mixture of jubilation at the composer's presumed imminent rehabilitation and recognition of a channel for a mass grieving at the height of the Great Terror, impossible otherwise to express openly. Well versed by now in politically correct jargon and able to use it with masterly ambivalence, Shostakovich approved what he claimed was a journalist's description of the work as ‘a Soviet artist's practical creative reply to just criticism’; since the source of this description has never been located, it is possible that the composer himself coined it, or was advised to, as a subterfuge to assist in his rehabilitation... The overwhelming consensus, however, was positive.

Back among the living, Shostakovich continued to supply "patriotic" Soviet music until after the  Great Patriotic War of the early 1940s. Then ten years after his first denunciation, Dmitri Shostakovich found himself in 1948 once again disfavored by the Soviet cultural police.


Program notes© William H Driver and Clinton Symphony Orchestra