Archive for February 28th, 2009


Shotakovich – Symphony No. 5

Saturday, February 28, 2009
Symphony No. 5 (1937)

Symphony No. 5 (1937)

I’m not a huge fan of classical. Not that I don’t like it, I just don’t know that much, outside Bach, Beethoven, Mozart…you know, the standard stuff.

Shostakovich though is probably my favorite classical composer. He is Russian and therefore dark (yes, therefore). He wrote during the communist era (mostly) when there were strict limits on what Soviet music could express.

Though he wrote to the state’s specifications, underneath was obvious criticism and discontent with life in the Soviet Union. Instead of being allowed to freely express himself, he was censored.

Symphony No. 5 was Shostakovich’s compromise with the state – he wrote what he personally wanted as far as the state would allow. The symphony itself was redeemed s by the “positive” fourth movement, played in F Major, but it’s probably more accurate to say it sounds more like its in d minor, a very sad key.

Shotstakovich’s 5th is among the most powerful music ever written. I particularly love the 1st, 3rd, and 4th movements. The tension built up in the first, when it is finally released around minute ten or so, almost never fails to give me chills.  The 3rd movement is perhaps one the saddest pieces of music ever composed – true despair without any hope. Shostakovich masterfully conjures this nightmare. I’ve heard that during the premier the entire audience was moved to tears.

The fourth movement, “Allegro non troppo,” is considered to be Shotakovich’s magnus opus by many. For good reason – it’s just downright amazing. Conductor Larry Livingston once said that Shotakovich was the rock and roll of the classical world. Nowhere is this more evident than this movement.

Anyone looking for something classical, but not the cliche kind that’s really happy and relaxing sounding, something heavy and brooding, darker and colder than a Russian winter, with plenty of bass and dissonant chords while retaining eerie melodies, you couldn’t find a better place to start than here.