Shostakovich Symphony No. 9

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Shostakovich Symphony No. 9 Program Notes

By August 1945, when Shostakovich composed this work, expectations were high that his would be a tribute to Allied victory over Axis powers. Stalin was reputed to anticipate such a thing, and the official news agency reported it as being devoted to the Celebration of our Great Victory. Instead of the paean expected by the Soviet, Shostakovich delivered a relatively short, scherzo-like work, reminiscent of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony: the first movement follows classical allegro-form quite strictly. Leonard Bernstein would later call Shostakovich’s Ninth Dzone big series of jokes. Of course, they are not all funny jokes: the laughter seems forced at times. Even the second movement waltz (a typically cheerful form) is gloomy. The actual scherzo (third movement) is fiery and virtuosic, before trailing off into the mausoleum-like seriousness of the fourth movement – the lower brass pontificate in unison, before the bassoons soulful response gives way to a cartoon-like, sometimes frantic and comical last movement. Censured by critics and obviously not the hoped-for monument, the Ninth was unofficially withdrawn until after Stalinǯs death. Much has been written about the life of artists and intellectuals in the USSR, and Volkov’s famous Testimony (1979) would have neatly tied together Shostakovich’s music to the politics, were it not so fraudulently written. However, we can assume Shostakovich knew he was walking a fine line in disappointing authorities. Plenty of intellectuals were shot for openly speaking out, but an abstract Symphony could obscure political messages. And as colleague of Shostakovich recounted in his diary during the Ninths composition: [he] told me about the uranium bomb, of the inconceivable, terrible catastrophe of Hiroshima… I started to give voice to my despondency, but Dmitri Dmitriyevich, his eyes fixed on some point overhead, quickly cut short my lamentations: our job is to rejoice!

Categories: Program Notes