Is your music dangerous?
Dmitri Shostakovich. It’s a name familiar to most all of us. It’s quite easy to get stuck on his Jazz Suites, Ballet Suites, Festive Overture, and Tahiti Trot, and to cherry-pick his film scores and piano pieces.
Unlike Mozart, Beethoven, and some others, it’s very difficult to pull movements from the symphonies of Shostakovich. Without delving into context, studying what he was experiencing, digging into the political climate, it’s tough to understand what he was saying.
Two musical experiences within the last week have prompted these thoughts. The first, which you can read further about in one of my posts from last month, was on Schubert’s birth anniversary. His Trout Quintet happens to be one of those compositions which has movements that can be appreciated separately. However, I began to listen to the opening movement of a performance by Perlman, Zukerman, Barenboim, du Pre, and Mehta. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Then, I began listening to it again. Yes, the movements are great to hear, but it’s easy to forget what it’s like hearing it all in one sitting.
Later in the week came Shostakovitch, specifically, his Symphony No. 4. Since I do mornings, I have had no opportunity to play the complete work on the air, due to it’s length. After reading an article which asked the question Is It Dangerous?, I was compelled to search for dangerous music in the classical world. I ran across descriptions of the climate in which Shostakovich wrote this symphony. Life-threatening might be a better way to put it than dangerous!
Shostakovich read an unsigned editorial on the front page of Pravda condemning him and two of his works, then predicting he would come to a bad end if he didn’t literally change his tune.
He was brave enough to finish the work, but smart enough to withdraw it. Apparently it was music the Soviets couldn’t live with, and Shostakovich couldn’t live without.
Completed in 1936, it would be 25 years before it was heard in public.
In our modern world of instant communication, one has to wonder how a similar regime would react. Seems that, by the time they realized what was happening, the music would be halfway around the globe.
Read more:i-Tunes lists top 30 classical albums (The Telegraph)
Watch a performance of the complete 4th Symphony here