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Can you hear the music in this?

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I greatly appreciate the return of the discussion to the issue named in the thread title:


"The Most Beautiful Symphony in Recent History."


I thought Fredrick's remarks were very nicely written, and I found myself agreeing with much of what he was saying about Prokofiev and Shostakovich, for the most part.


He said,


Shostakovich #10. Too long for its content. Of course the allegro 2nd movement is IMHO pure genius and part of the reason the allegro works is that it is tight, compact, and very well organized. Shostakovich at his formal best is seen in his symphony #5 and at his most outrageously imaginative in #4. #10 exhibits monumental technical skill but has neither the powerful structure of #5 nor the bravura of #4.


[The 10th is long, in comparison to most other Shostakovich symphonies, but not too long, in my view.  A performance lasts about 50 minutes or so. 


Kiril Kondrashin conducting:



What Fredrick says about the 2nd movement of the Tenth Symphony, I fully agree with.  I think the reputation of the Fifth Symphony as a whole is a bit inflated.  Other symphonies, such as the 10th and the 4th, I consider to be far superior in most respects.  (The 10th, admittedly does not have "the bravura" of the 4th symphony.  But what does?  Perhaps not even Shostakovich's opera "The Nose" is as daring as the Fourth.) But regarding the symphonies:  Even the 8th, 11th, 12th and 13th could be considered better than the Fifth, in many respects.  The 7th still has its fans {though it is quite bloated, and strives, somewhat unsuccessfully to become a Mahlerian symphony in scope and power}. 


The first two movements of the 5th symphony are, I would admit, amongst the most outstanding he has written. Perhaps what Fredrick says about the "structure" of the Fifth Symphony is true, but the melodic content of the last two movements seems somewhat uninteresting (almost trite), compared to what is offered in some of the other symphonies I mentioned above.  Lets us recall that the subtitle of the Fifth Symphony was something like, "A reply to just criticism," which meant that Shostakovich had deliberately lowered his standard, and curtailed some of his creativity, in light of the terrible browbeating he got for his innovative writing in "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk." That work apparently scared people, and even invited the wrath of Stalin himself, who was "too close to the trombones" during one performance, I believe. The supremely outstanding and inspired Fourth Symphony (written at about the same time, in a similarly avant-garde style) he was advised not to perform, so he withdrew that from rehearsals.  Unfortunately, for Russia and for the world, it was not heard in public until thirty years or so later, after Stalin died, and during the period of the "thaw."  ].


The Fourth was first widely heard in the West, through this recording, I believe, which is a superb interpretation by Eugene Ormandy:



Prokofiev #6. One of the many overlooked masterpieces of the 20th century being permanently in the shadow of #5.  Some complain the bloom was off the rose when this composition was completed, and while it is true that Prokoviev's health had declined his technical skill in composition and orchestration had not. Neither had his ability spin a compelling orchestral tale.


I totally agree. Yes, and if you like "late Prokofiev," and you haven't seen or heard his complete ballet, "The Stone Flower," see these links below.  It's written in a style resembling that of the Seventh Symphony.  What I find compelling in the Stone Flower is not only the immense technical skill and outstanding orchestration, but the sheer wealth of melodic content, as well as an overwhelmingly positive mood. 


There are several good performances available on line now of the full ballet.


The Bolshoi:



And the Kirov Ballet


The above are videos of the actual ballet performances.


Below is a link simply to the music itself, here, a performance conducted by Rozhdestvensky.


But Prokofiev's Seventh Symphony is, I believe, somewhat underrated and under performed.  It has nothing like the grandeur of the Fifth or the Sixth symphonies, but it does have the virtue of being thoroughly enjoyable, without being a mere sop to the ear.  The moods are pleasing and the concluding movement is totally joyous, almost in a magical or "fairy-tale" sense, which is unusual for music of that time period in the classical world as a whole.


Here's a concert version by Gergiev of the Seventh.


[This has the virtue of containing the "good ending," the quiet and thoughtful coda, and not the show-biz, bang and a boom, ending that was tacked on for some performances.]





"In fact, Lady MacBeth was wildly popular with audiences."


Well said, Fredrick.  Let's make it wildly popular here, too, if it isn't already.  Here's a link for those who have not heard it, or those who want to hear it again.  Perhaps it's the greatest opera of the Twentieth Century!  This a good (and fairly erotic) version.



Regarding the "happiest day of his life," I thought I read it was the day when the Limpid Brook premiered, in 1935.


As he wrote to his best friend: "After hearing Stalin I completely lost any sense of moderation and shouted 'Hurrah!' along with the whole hall and applauded endlessly...Certainly, this is the happiest day of my life: I saw and heard Stalin."


That seems well documented, and many people who write about Shostakovich quote that letter.   Of course, Shostakovich grew less "happy" with Stalin, especially after the purges and show trials of 1936-1937. Still, I don't find any concrete evidence to indicate that Shostakovich said the day Stalin died was "the happiest day of his life."  It might be true he was happy that day. He might have been sad and conflicted. He might have been drunk and depressed.  Personally, I don't know.


Perhaps you could say where that information comes from.  Is it from Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich ?  Some people have questioned the authenticity and accuracy of many parts of the book.  I do love the movie based on it though, with Ben Kingsley playing Shostakovich.   





Hello Peter,

Well, if you want the original spirit of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, without the music, you can read the novella.

It's by Nikolai Leskov.

Hi Peter.

You had said,

"I would have liked to see the film without the operatic melody lines and just the spoken word dialog."

I simply thought the best way to see (or read) "just the spoken word dialogue," would be to consult the novel, which is rather short.   If I knew of a dramatic version, a play or television performance of the text, I would have recommended that.  Unfortunately, I don't think there is one (though there are a few other versions of this opera online).

If you don't have the time to read the novella, that's fine, no problem.  

(I simply happen to be a great admirer of Russian literature, and Russian opera, symphonic music, art and culture in general).



Excellent !!!

I love that play, and it's perhaps only second in my mind to The Three Sisters.


Peter Brown said:


I played Ivan Petrovitch Voynitski in 'Uncle Vanya'. The play by Anton Chekhov at the Hole In The Wall theater in New Britain CT.

And yes, as you might presume, I can have a very heavy Russian accent when I want to wear one. Ivanov and Chekhov are my favorite Russian authors. :-)

Yes, Peter.


Please do!

Thanks for offering.

Why not post it right here?  

This thread is a kind of "grab bag" for all sorts of interesting things.

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