SHOSTAKOVICH SYMPHONY NO.10
Also presented as part of the Montreal Bach Festival / OSM: the official symphonic partner
|Thursday, November 26, 2015 - 8:00 PM||Done|
|Saturday, November 28, 2015 - 8:00 PM||Done|
Presentation of the concert
J. S. Bach, Suite from orchestral works (arr. G. Mahler) (approx. 21 min.)
“Overture in B minor” (from BWV 1067)
“Rondeau in B minor” (from BWV 1067)
“Badinerie in B minor” (from BWV 1067)
“Air in D major” (from BWV 1068)
“Gavotte in D major” (from BWV 1068)
“Gavotte II in D major” (from BWV 1068)
Stravinsky, Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (approx. 18 min.)
Shostakovich, Symphony no. 10 in E minor, op. 93 (approx. 57 min.)
Before painters began affixing their names to their canvases, they would deftly hide their self-portraits among figures in the paintings – a means of identifying the creator of the work at the same time as becoming part of it. This fusion of authorship within artwork can also be found in music. For example, one can leave one’s mark on the score of another composer by making an arrangement of it, as Mahler did with Bach. Others, like Stravinsky, wrote in a style so personal that their scores are recognizable within seconds of hearing them. A composer’s “signature” might also take the form of a musical acronym, as we find in Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Born in Eisenach, March 31, 1685 ̶ Died in Leipzig, July 28, 1750
Suite of Orchestral Works (arr. G. Mahler)
“My time will come,” declared Gustav Mahler, confident that his music would eventually be appreciated. While waiting for this time to arrive, he worked as a conductor, spreading the glory of composers whose time had already come. Mahler the composer nevertheless cannot be separated from Mahler the conductor. He routinely revised scores by earlier composers, adapting them to the orchestra as it existed at the turn of the century.
It was customary in Mahler’s time to “customize” the music of Bach, who had lived two centuries earlier, in presenting it to audiences of his day. For a “historical concert” (the notion of performing music of the past was still relatively new) in New York in 1909, Mahler put together a concoction of pieces by Bach, specifically three movements each from the Orchestral Suites nos. 2 (BWV 1067) and 3 (BWV 1068) to form a four-movement suite of his own, alternating slow and fast movements: a majestic opening (Overture), a quick movement fusing the Rondeau and Badinerie, the famous Air, and a lively dance-inspired conclusion consisting of a pair of Gavottes.
Mahler also altered Bach’s orchestration and enriched the counterpoint. On the other hand, he preserved the Baroque flavor of the original by playing the continuo (keyboard) part himself on the piano. In Bach’s time, the continuo part was usually played on a harpsichord, but the practice had died out during the 19th century.
Born at Oranienbaum (an estate near St. Petersburg), June 17, 1882 ̶ Died in New York City, April 6, 1971
Capriccio for piano and orchestra
When Stravinsky wrote his Capriccio in 1929, his name had been associated for ten years already with a new style of writing called “neoclassicism.” He looked upon the history of music as a rich reservoir of techniques a composer was free to draw upon for his own work. No longer the romantic genius who suborns everything to inspiration, but rather the artisan who brings intellectual mastery to his material, the composer could now fashion musical objects into montages.
Hence, in the Capriccio’s first movement we find a series of elements belonging to musical eras seemingly long past but arranged in a completely new fashion: the Baroque practice of dividing strings into a concertino (soloists) and ripieno (full ensemble); an opening that could come right out of a romantic symphony; the main subject in the piano – a single chord set to an uneven rhythm in the low register – that brings to mind the barbaric writing in The Rite of Spring or certain works of Bartók; woodwind motifs played in too-high a register and sounding like they might have come from a peasant fair; and finally the piano playing a repeated low note like the sound of a funeral knell.
The piano’s role in the Capriccio is rightly open to question. Is it the soloist as we find in a concerto, or is its function merely to provide harmonic and rhythmic support as did the harpsichord in Baroque music? One might think of it rather as a character with multiple faces and functions, one that at times is in the forefront of the action (as in the second movement) and at others is submerged in the orchestral fabric, alternatively percussively and lyrically. The piano is in disguise her: in the Capriccio, the composer brings together the lyricism he so admired in Tchaikovsky (the final movement is an acknowledged tribute to this composer), Baroque counterpoint, and the rhythmic energy of folk music. The piano even takes on the semblance of the cimbalom, a string instrument from Eastern Europe played with small hammers and capable of rapidly repeating a single note.
Born in St. Petersburg, September 25, 1906 ̶ Died in Moscow, August 9, 1975
Symphony no. 10 in E minor, op. 93
In 1936, the Soviet journal Pravda accused Shostakovich of writing “chaos instead of music.” The anonymous article was probably written by Andrei Zhdanov, the uncompromising guardian of Socialist Realism. For him, dissonance was a “violation of the rules of normal listening,” and any musical work devoid of simple, easy-to-remember folk-like melody was cacophony. Shostakovich was forced to make a formal apology and succeeded in retaining his place among the leading Soviet composers.
In 1948, Zhdanov issued a second attack that further circumscribed the work of the most influential composers, including Shostakovich. It was not until the death of Stalin in 1953 that the tides turned. Shostakovich, who had not produced a major new composition since that second denunciation, turned out two string quartets and a symphony, his Tenth.
Three aspects of this work stand out: (1) the austerity of the opening movement, which can be seen as an evocation of life under the Stalinist regime; (2) the ferocity of the second movement, presumably a musical portrait of the dictator; and (3), the composer’s use of a musical acronym, found throughout the third and fourth movements. This takes the form of a four-note motif derived from letters of his name in the German orthography: D-S-C-H, from Dimitri SCHostakowitsch (S=es, or E-flat in German; H=B natural).
This use of a monogram as a generating force for themes in a symphony surely represents the triumph of the individual over the masses, a triumph proclaimed on numerous occasions in these final two movements, and especially in the symphony’s final pagers. But the “individual” of the symphony is not some new dictator intent on imposing his will on others; it is, on the contrary, a figure with feelings, one prepared to integrate himself into the common cause. There is also some documentary evidence to support the claim that an additional musical acronym informs the third movement, the motif twelve times proclaimed by the solo horn: E-A-E-D-A, whose pitches represent a confusing conflation of letters from different orthographies found in the name Elmira (Elmira Nazirova, one of the composer’s former students with whom he carried on a voluminous correspondence while writing the symphony). Personal, intimate feeling henceforth replaces mass consciousness. And while some members of the Composers’ Union could not come to terms with the symphony, it won Shostakovich the People’s Artist of the USSR award.
© Federico Lazzaro English translation by Robert Markowe
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