Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Dmitri Shostakovich lived through a dark and tumultuous period in the history of the former Soviet Union. Because of this, or perhaps, in spite of this, he left us an amazingly diverse and rich body of works that resonate deeply to this day. This week at Pytheas we feature a performance of the thrilling fourth movement from his Symphony No. 5 in D minor, op. 47, written in 1937. According to Geoff Kuenning, "The late 1930's were not a good time for Dmitri Shostakovich. His successful opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, was banned after Stalin saw it in 1936 and was offended by its veiled criticism of the Communist regime. This was no small matter; most who drew the dictator's wrath soon died in a labor camp. Shostakovich was luckier, perhaps because the young composer had already achieved some international recognition, but the attacks in Pravda turned him into a pariah who began keeping a packed suitcase beside his bed in case he were arrested in the night. Meanwhile, Russia was undergoing what would later be called the "Great Terror", a period of repression rarely seen in human history. In such an atmosphere, and with a wife and two young children to worry about, it was only natural that Shostakovich would pull his head back into his shell and try to please the authorities. And so he did, at least on the surface: the Fifth Symphony's subtitle is "A Soviet Artist's Practical Creative Reply to Just Criticism." But throughout history, artists have thumbed their noses at authorities who were too dense to see through their parody and satire, and Shostakovich was no different." Of the fourth movement, Shostakovich wrote in his memoirs: "What exultation could there be? I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat... It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying 'Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing,' and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, 'Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.' What kind of apotheosis is that? You have to be a complete oaf not to hear that."

Shostakovich is also the subject of this week's Featured Thought and Idea: The Fight for Shostakovich by Norman Lebrecht (La Scene Musicale).

This week's Featured Recording - Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music, Volume 1 (Naxos) - brings us music from American composer Leroy Anderson, who has been called "the most famous unknown composer". His most famous works (in particular, the perennial Christmas favorite "Sleighride) have become part of the American musical landscape, bringing joy and pleasure to a wide, wide audience.

FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES brings us music from one of the most famous living composers - John Williams. Not "Star Wars", Indiana Jones", "Gilligan's Island", "Lost in Space", "Jaws", "E.T.", "Schindler's List", "Harry Potter", but ... Soundings written in 2003 for the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Explore, Listen and Enjoy!
Vinny Fuerst

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