A Resu­mé of the 20th Century – 2000 Back to the Future

Dmitrij Schostakowitsch

Born September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg Died August 9, 1975, in Moscow

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was the first major Russian composer to receive his entire musical education under the Soviet regime. He first achieved international recognition, and governmental approval, with his First Symphony; written as a graduation piece, it was acclaimed at its premiere in May of 1926 in Leningrad, as well as in its first Western performance in May of 1927 in Berlin (conducted by Bruno Walter) and its American premiere in November of 1928 in Philadelphia (led by Leopold Stokowski). Throughout his lifetime, however, Shostakovich went in and out of favor with the authorities, even if his loyalties were unquestioned. Even after his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District had been internationally recognized as a masterpiece, in a 1936 editorial entitled "Chaos Instead of Music," Pravda denounced the score as "fidgety, screaming, neurotic," and as "coarse, primitive and vulgar;" this assault - to which many fellow composers contributed - was meant as a warning against "modernism," "formalism" (or music which seemingly was comprehensible only to the composer’s inner vision) and other perceived transgressions against "socialist realism." One year later he was declared "rehabilitated" upon the premiere of the Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47, which was deservedly hailed as a masterpiece and described by the authorities as "the creative reply of a Soviet artist to justified criticism." In 1948, he was named a People’s Artist of the Republic of Russia, only to be again denounced that same year. He was eventually named Composer Laureate of the Soviet Union.

Shostakovich’s fame rests largely upon a number of his fifteen symphonies; it should be noted, however, that he also devoted considerable attention to chamber music. Among his chamber works, which share many features in common with his symphonic music, there are no less than fifteen string quartets. Of his two Piano Trios, the first one, written in 1923 and in one continuous movement with contrasting sections, remains unpublished.

Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 The Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 was written during the summer of 1944 as a memorial to the composer’s close friend, Ivan Sollertinsky, an eminent musicologist, who had died the previous February in a Nazi concentration camp. Officially the E minor Trio is not programmatic in nature, but as with seemingly most Soviet music written at the same approximate time, this work is certainly and inexorably concerned with the devastation of World War II. This Trio is introspective and melancholy, with occasional flourishes of the brilliance and playfulness shown in many of Shostakovich’s other works.

The plaintive Andante introduction to the first movement features the striking effect of a theme in high cello harmonics to a counterpoint in the low- lying violin. The Moderato main body of the movement is in fairly clear-cut sonata form and continues the polyphonic texture typical of the work as a whole. Here there are kinships to the music of Mahler, in which outwardly commonplace material is given weight by the emotional context in which it is delivered.

The second movement is a whirlwind of a Scherzo, wherein the gaiety has a rather forced, almost drunken quality, that is nonetheless compelling. The Largo third movement is an elegiac passacaglia, in which a dramatic succession of chords in the piano are repeated six times as the basis for deeply moving contrapuntal lines in the string instruments.

The third movement proceeds into the fourth without a pause. The Finale contains a theme of Hebrew origin as a tribute to Sollertinsky’s heritage; this theme has been likened to a dance of death. The rhythm here is steady, relentlessly driving to an impassioned climax. In this section, a subject derived from the opening first movement theme makes an appearance. The music gradually becomes more and more ethereal, and there is a poignant reference to the third movement before the work reaches its quiet conclusion.

Courtesy of Columbia Artists Management Inc.

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