This past week I spent a good bit of time with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Opus 43 (1935-36). For me, this wild ride of a symphony holds special appeal, so it’s been a pleasure to come back to it. In the process, I collected and augmented material I used when the symphony was first discussed in these pages. That, along with two of the myriad of open questions I have about the symphony, form the raison d’être for this post. Continue reading
Some kind of spring has broken in my brain. I have not written a note since the Fifteenth Symphony. That is a terrible state of affairs for me.
Letter to Isaak Glikman,
January 16, 1973
In the summer of 1974, not long after claiming he hadn’t “a single musical thought in his head,” Dmitri Shostakovich wrote to Isaak Glikman, “I have been composing quite a lot recently.” [Story of a Friendship: The Letters of Dmitry Shostakovich to Isaak Glikman, 1941–1975 323, no. 56 and 196] In 1971, Shostakovich had completed Symphony No. 15, his last. At the time, his final string quartets, the 14th (1973) and 15th (1974), and his last work, the Sonata for Viola and Piano (1975, the year he died), were yet to come, as were three works for voice, including the Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, first written for bass and piano (op. 145, 1974) and subsequently orchestrated (op. 145a, 1975). Continue reading
In 1975, Arnold Schoenberg wrote of both Sibelius and Shostakovich, “I feel they have the breath of symphonists.” [Fanning 1] That “symphonic breath,” as I perceive it when I listen to Shostakovich’s symphonies, is built out of the simplest of elements: small cells of notes that, together with subtle shifts in rhythm, timbre, harmony, dynamics, and controlled mastery of orchestration, create resonant contrasts in mood and, in the best of his symphonies, including the Tenth, a compelling—and thoroughly human—whole. Continue reading
Shostakovich usually composed at white-hot speed, and the Tenth Symphony was no exception. While he may have started mulling over ideas that became part of the Tenth Symphony some years before [Wilson 302], “the preponderance of both external and internal evidence” indicates that he started work on it in June, 1953—three months after Stalin died—and completed it in October of the same year [Fay 2673]. Continue reading