The Columbus Symphony plans performances of the Symphony no. 10 and the Piano Concerto no. 2 by Shostakovich this weekend. Gunter Herbig conducts and Jutta Czapski is the piano soloist.
It’s been exciting in recent days to listen to a lot of Shostakovich’s music, much of it new to me, in preparation for these concerts.
Shostakovich wrote his Tenth Symphony (there were to be fifteen in all) in 1953, just after the death of Stalin. The composer had found himself vilified by Stalin’s government twice. First in the 1930s following the successful premiere of his opera, “Lady Macbeth of Mtensk”. The story of the wanton Katerina Ismailova, who murders both her father in law and her lover’s mistress, enticed the public but enraged the dictator. Stalin was particularly incensed, so it was reported, by the cacophony of the trombones describing Katerina and Sergei very much in flagrante delicto.
The opera was banned. Music was declared useless unless it served to “lift up” the people. Big choruses in praise of the worker and a lot of jingoistic junk were what was wanted, not abstract symphonic music which could mean whatever the public needed it to mean, without any possibility of outside control.
Shostakovich described the 10th Symphony as a biography of Stalin, especially the second movement. Listen and you’ll hear exactly what Shostakovich thought of the ruler of the Soviet Union and his government. The third movement is a tribute to the composer himself and to the young pianist Elmira Nazirova, who for a time served as Shostakovich’s muse.
I hope this broadcast will whet your appetite for more music by this fantastic, often tormented, composer.