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On Becoming Gloomy, or not....

October 30, 2006 at 11:05 PM

been a while between blogs. mostly this month I find myself being drawn deeper and deeper into the works of Shostakovich. I’ve suffered through enough performances of no 5 in Japan which seems to be a staple here at the expense of everything else he ever wrote for orchestra. Finally got around to listening to no4 which just blew me away. One of the most viscerally scary pieces of music ever written. Had to play no 10 a few times recently and it is that I think which triggered my spiraling into the murky depths. It took some time to find my way into that work. I think one of the first problems is that , without mentioning any names (especially beginning with K) there are just too many big name, best selling conductors out there who put their ideas before the music itself. Sometimes it is necessary but on the whole Shostakovich knew exactly what he wanted and it is there, in black and white on the page. Yet the majority of performances I have now listened to exaggerate tempos and dynamics ignore them or whatever expletives I can’t write here.
For me there I a strong sense of continuity and connection between Beethoven and Shostakovich. One link is the way there life evolves through paradigm shifts rather than incremental change or even stagnation that typifies lesser composers. The other oddly enough is the quartet of one kind or another. Beethoven, in his quartets sometimes seems to be grappling with whether he was writing for orchestra or four individual lines. In the Shosty symphony the composer plays with this problem by switching back and forth between chamber music , be it four ww parts or only strings, and although I haven’t done a count, the percentage of time in which the orchestra is actually broken into such mini sub cultures is pretty close to the amount of time one spends blasting out fanfares of abrasive chords in punchy rhythms which is the stereotype Shostakovich seems to have been awarded to some extent in peoples` minds in my experience. It’s a fantastic wrenching experience to be sitting in an orchestra and suddenly be playing a clarinet quintet.
Have had to play the e minor trio twice this month too. Another perspective on the great man although the Oistrakh Trio is a hard act to follow. The discussion about composers writing things for the `wrong` instruments reminded me of the opening cello passage. Couldn’t help wondering if it would have been easier all round if done on the violin? Oh well, variety is the spic of life and its nice to see a cellist sweat every now and again.

From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on October 30, 2006 at 11:25 PM
I love your paralell between Beethoven and Shostakovich. I wanted to do a thesis paper on the 5th Symphonies of Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Mahler. But I didn't have to do a thesis paper for my Masters, instead oral and written exams. I didn't consider the quartets, except that in my oral exam I was asked about the progression of string quartets starting with Haydn and their development according to each composer. Beethoven and Shostakovich were major in my answer to that.

I find it interesting that the Mahler 5, in its revised version, is less thick, and tries to open the space for more chamber-like passages, that in the first version were just too massive to decipher. Beethoven and Shostakovich were both so adept at voicing in the orchestral literature. Maybe it was BECAUSE they wrote for solo instruments, small ensembles, and different venues of part-writing. Mahler doesn't seem to explore the smaller ensembles as much (I don't recall, at least, a large collection of Mahler chamber works), thus, his symphonies are just SO BIG.

There are many similarities, however, between the three. The evolution of symphonies throughout a composers' career might be chartable, though we might not want to do that. Some of the string players in the orchestra really do not like the Mahler.

I find it breathtaking and, though dense at times, faboulous writing. The comment "it is all development" doesn't agree with me, personally. It is intensely organized, and adheres to form in a rather old fashioned way with his own stylistic stamp. Too bad he always felt so "misunderstood". He still is, in many ways.... As are Beethoven and Shostakovich. We try so hard to understand their lives, as a culture. But it is easy to dismiss their music as players, because of undesireable sounds.

Sometimes, that was the point, no? There is a lot of beauty behind the statements and personalities.



From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 31, 2006 at 3:04 AM
I think it was Furtwangler who referred to that conductor as "That man...K!".
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 31, 2006 at 5:16 AM
Jennifer , one of the most interesitng things I have heard anyone say about the Beethoven is that inorder to understand one you have to play them all. That is a kind of mind boggling truth and I suspect it is somewhat true of Shostakovitch, too. I have loved and played the opus 18 quartets more times than I would care to name. In my wild days of yore i was dumb enough to think the opus 18 were, by dint of being the first, the easist and that by infiantile extension number one wa sas good a place to start as any. Now I know a) where the latter comes and b) this is a -real- tricky set to pull off. If a quartet is strating Beethoven with me these day I offer them the opus 59 stuff at entry level, as it were. I have heard more cycles of these quartets by more groups than I would care to name and at their best one of the most interesting has always been the Lidnsay`s who I think are not so well known in the USA. You might consider putting them in your listening diary. I did a master class with the leader, one of the most penetrating and looney musicians on the planet. He did a Zuckerman on me and threw my shoulde rrets across the hall. I shoudl have been smart enough to leave it there but thats the way the cookie crumbles.
A violinsit who doesn`t like Mahler??? Probably not into nookie either. Sad case.
PS why the profound silence from the digestive regions?
PPS How`s the hand?
From Andrew Koenig
Posted on October 31, 2006 at 1:26 PM
I just heard the last in a series of concerts encompassing all of the Shostakovich symphonies, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre.


He has recorded #4-9; you might try to find the recordings.

From D Wright
Posted on October 31, 2006 at 3:04 PM
ah, the 4th did it for you too. dmitri shostakovitch is unquestionably the greatest composer of the 20th century, and it's disconcerting to realize he would have been even greater if it weren't for government censorship in the soviet union.
From benny atkinson
Posted on October 31, 2006 at 4:31 PM
'Shostakovich Season' is on every Saturday on BBC4 television, all the 15 Symphonies (one or two each week) with Gergiev conducting. Definitely worth recording !
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on November 1, 2006 at 3:56 AM
Gosh, I wish I could egt the BBC
From Bart Meijer
Posted on November 3, 2006 at 11:16 AM
You can, via .

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