Learning Log Page 9

Symphony no5 in D minor (A Soviet Artist’s Response to Just Criticism)

🎼 Exercise – Interpreting the final section of Shostakovitch’s 5th Symphony

Versions listened to for this exercise

After listening to these two versions I feel that they differ very much in feel and the listeners’ reaction. I listened to the recordings as shown above. Starting with the faster paced version. I do believe that the “Allegro Non Troppo” does not fit this version. Quick but not too quick. This feels all wrong for what I see as a a very rushed piece. I say rushed but that is how it was sounding to me. The piece was rushing to get somewhere. Knowing a little of Russian history I know this was a very bleak and austere time for Russia and this piece really does not fit this. At one point I thought this could even reflect a sense of trepidation about the future. It sounded scared in parts. Scared of the way in which Stalin was implementing his austerity onto the Russian society. This is trying to be joyful but I wonder if it is just trying too much. It is much more joyful at the end and ends with fantastic percussion.

My own personal preference is for the slower version. Firstly I believe it fits with its “Allegro Non Troppo”. To me it has a more austere feel than the quicker version and more Russian sounding, if there is such a thing. I believe it sounds more optimistic in comparison with a rushed feel in the quicker version. I hear a cleaner and much more refined and dynamic piece. I can hear the instruments much clearer and it feels like it is flowing more. The strings sound more idealistic and almost romantic instead of fraught as before. It altogether sounds more joy but this could be forced. I found that I could hear many more of the Russian Influences I this piece. it altogether sounds more Russian.

I know a little about Russian history and that has shaped some of my thoughts. However in 1928, Stalin put the first of his 5 year plans into action. There were strict rules placed on Soviet culture and music with a certain style demanded. Jazz and Avante garde were banned in 1932 and even Tchaikovsky was out of favour. in 1936 Shostakovich found him at the receiving end of Stalin’s anger after he had seen a performance of “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”. The opera was officially condemned and so was he. Shostakovich was bitterly attacked in the press and his unreformed 4th symphony was withdrawn as well as the opera. This is why the 5th symphony was named “A Soviet Artist’s reply to just criticism”.

In light of the research I believe that the slower tempo is the right fit for the symphony as it fits in with what Stalin was adamant should be included. References to folk melodies and that Russian style, which I automatically assume is Russian when I hear it. The thing is I believe that the slower version would satisfy all the rules in force at the time. I myself was more moved by the slower ending than the fast. The course notes describe that the symphony conforms to Soviet ideas of “heroic realism” and the conformity brought Shostakovich back into favour. If he had rebelled then what would have happened to him. Maybe he saw that communism may not be the good thing it was initially hailed as which leads some people to conclude that the slower version is more forced joyfulness. If there is evidence of the work being interpreted two ways then this is a very clever ploy by Shostakovich. The faster version is less Russian in its feel and feels much more optimistic than its slower version. The piece ends on a very breathtaking percussion part that felt very positive. Its is a more cheery piece too. Whilst I prefer the slower version, and it fits in with the time it was written there is a strong case for the faster version in my opinion.

Reference for research