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No love for Shostakovich?

Postby outtathaway » Wed Jun 12, 2013 6:32 am

Here is a sweeeeeet track and an average essay!



The Year 1905.
Jack 'outtathaway' Haystead


In 1957, Dmitri Shostakovich composed his 11th symphony as a commemoration to the events of the first Russian Revolution in 1905. It is a tribute to the Russian people who lived and died in an unsettling period of the country's history. This essay is a detailed analysis of how the events of the year 1905 resound within Shostakovich's 11th symphony and an observation of the difficulties that are associated with finding political and historical meaning within music.

To understand Shostakovich's 11th symphony, we must understand the events which it based around. After 1900, Russia was hit by a depression that caused prices to rise and wages to drop. By 1902, workers were going on strike and revolutionary groups such as the Social Democratic party and The Union of Liberation were forming. Workers had little trust for these revolutionary groups as they were mostly comprised of students and intellectuals, choosing to give more support to government sponsored schemes instead. One such government sponsored scheme was the Zubatov movement; Zubatov gave workers the ability to protest within the law and even allowed controlled strikes. It is important to note that the Zubatov movement was loyal to the Tzar; Zubatov was against political and revolutionary demands. The Zubatov movement ended up being so successful that it scared the government into shutting it down in 1903. However, a splinter group survived in St Petersburg under a man named George Gapon. Gapon's movement, the Assembly of Russian Working Men, was able to register as a legal organization, giving it considerable freedom. By the end of 1904, the movement had grown beyond the control of the police, and was dominated by a secret committee of Gapon's assistants.

The peaceful protest on what became 'Bloody Sunday', January 9th, 1905, was a response to the sacking of four members of the Assembly by an artillery manufacturer called the Putilov Company. The protesters had a petition to the Tzar asking for the right to elect representatives in their factories who would be able to negotiate with employers and get involved with decision making for the employment and sacking of labourers. Also on the list of demands was increased wages, more suitable working hours, free medical care, protection from harrassment by employers, democratically chosen constituent assembly, and the right to form trade unions. Somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 protesters gathered on Sunday morning, dressed formally and with families at their sides, and began their march to the square in front of the Tzar's Winter Palace. The Russian Minister of Interior had ordered police and troops to prevent the protesters getting to the square at any cost so they opened fire. The death toll is estimated to be between 200 and 1000 with a similar number of wounded (Williams, 2005). Shostakovich was commissioned to write Symphony No.11 by Soviet authorities in 1955 to commemorate the events of 1905. Shostakovich's father was a survivor of the Bloody Sunday massacre and the event had been discussed frequently by his family and as Shostakovich grew older he read much into it. It is perhaps this family connection to Bloody Sunday that caused Shostakovich to delay writing the symphony until 1957. Wigglesworth (2009) postulates that Shostakovich was motivated to work on the symphony by the 1956 Hungarian protest in Budapest where Soviet secret police opened fire on the crowd.

The first movement of the symphony is titled 'The Palace Square'. It begins with a very slow and airy main theme. The key signature is G minor, but there are hints of G Dorian in the mix due to the use of several E natural notes and the peculiar use of G flat, A flat, and B natural give the theme a general feeling of unease. The strings play open fifths to symbolise the square itself, and towards the end of the theme, the timpani beats slowly—perhaps a leitmotif for the gathering crowd of people. This theme is cold and bleak—a suitable representation of the emotions that would cause such a protest, but also of the empty, snow covered square in the hours leading up to the protest. The next theme is a brass fanfare that sounds as if it could be a warning from a military presence—Levinson (1990), as cited by Karl and Robinson (1995), suggests that Shostakovich's use of fourth and fifth interval jumps are a sign of hope or reaching out for something better—it is as if the protesters are aware of the military presence but are unaware of their sinister orders; G flat is put to use again in a way that implies the severity of the actions that the military are going to take. These two themes cycle, taking care not to step on each others toes—the violence hasn't started yet. Following the first two themes are several extraopus intertextual references—the revolutionary songs 'Listen!' and 'The Prisoner'. Both of these songs are about dealing with oppression and would have been very well known to Russian people at the time. Wigglesworth (2009) argues that because Shostakovich chose to use the melodies from these songs without voice or lyrics, any non-Russian listeners will struggle to relate to the context in which they are used. That fact aside, the melodies are moving enough to evoke feelings of optimism against an overwhelming oppressive figure—for exmaple, 'Listen!' shifts the key to A flat major and is distant from the uncertainty of the earlier themes.

The second movement is titled 'The Ninth of January'. This movement is in two distinct sections—the first is symbolic of the protest itself; you can hear the crowds passionate pleas for help from the Tzar over the top of the chaotic bustling of the immense group people. This section feels as if it constantly driving or pushing forwards, perhaps to show the nature of the protest as a petition for change as well as the physical movement of a huge crowd towards the Palace Square. There are several powerful climaxes to emphasise the resolve and passion of the protesters who are marching through snow. As the marching crowd arrives at the Palace Square, the Palace Square theme from the first movement returns briefly before being interupted by the crackle of a snare drum. This snare drum attack signals the start of the second section and is an isomorphic representation of the unexpected gunfire from the military and following it is a flurry orchestral glissando as people panic and others are killed. As the movement reaches it's true climax, the Palace Square theme returns but in a more aggressive form—driving triplets show the military pushing the crowd back and the blaring horn section combined with booming timpani and military marching snare roll show the Tzar's forces flexing their muscles. As the protest is put to an end, the Palace Square theme and the revolutionary song 'Listen!' return once again, but this time feeble and defeated—they seems barely audible after the massacre—a suitable musical image to match the pile of corpses that now covers the square.

The third movement is called 'In Memoriam'. As the title suggests, this movement laments those who died in the massacre. The main theme of this movement is slow and drawn out; it is based on a revolutionary funeral march called 'You Fell As Victims', but has enough minor alterations to it's melody and underlying chord progression to make it sound even more miserable. As we move past this idea, themes from the second movement are reintroduced, this time without the chaos—this time there is no fear, only sadness at the memory of the dead, and as the string section crescendos there are even hints at anger that can be heard in the beating of the timpani.

The fourth and final movement is called 'The Tocsin'. Three more revolutionary songs are used in this movement; 'Rage, you Tyrants', 'Boldly, Comrades, Keep in Step!', and 'Enemy Whirlwinds Blow Against Us'. There are cyclic references to the previous movements scattered about 'The Tocsin'. This movement seems to represent the defiance and anger of those who survived Bloody Sunday. It starts off turbulently with a barrage of staccato notes jumping up and down—this could represent the survivor's restlessness at the lack of justice. Glissandos and frantically climbing bass lines repeatedly lead into huge orchestral stabs of anger. The revolutionary songs in this movement are about staying strong against 'the tyrants'. Their use, particulary that of 'Whirlwinds', whose text reaches it's climax demanding that we stand up united to conquer our foe, suggests that Shostakovich is hinting toward victory for the revolution; possibly in anticipation of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution (Wigglesworth, 2009). Once the movement has reached it's peak, the Palace Square theme returns once again with some slight variation—at first it sounds a little more optimistic than the version in the first movement, but it gradually moves towards a very sad sound and becomes somewhat feeble. Out of nowhere, the chaotic theme and booming timpani from the second movement burst into play just as we thought the symphony was over. This chaotic theme develops into a very sinister idea with shrieks from the string section and blasts from the horns. An ominous bell chimes and shifts the music between a G major feel and a G minor feel, giving a sense of uncertainty as the symphony comes to its true ending.

To conclude, it appears as if Shostakovich is trying to get a sad message across about history repeating itself. The ending of the symphony effectively returns us to the start—it is as if the first listening will tell you the story of 1905's Bloody Sunday massacre and a second listen through will take you to the 1956 massacre in Budapest. This idea is further reinforced by the cyclic use of thematic material throughout the symphony—the idea that in spite of revolutionary action, history will continue to repeat. Despite this negative context, the symphony also repeats musical ideas that inspire hope and optimism such as the revolutionary songs; perhaps Shostakovich is willing us to keep fighting for liberty even though the tyrants will eventually come back. The lack of a positive ending to the symphony also highlights the fact that even if victorious, revolution usually comes at the cost of lives. While it isn't completely obvious whether this symphony is about 1905, 1956, or both, it is very obvious that Shostakovich is empathetic towards those who stand against oppression and cold towards those who cause it.



Karl, G. & Robinson, J. (1995) Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony and the Musical Expression of Cognitevly Complex Emotions. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 53(4), 401-415.

Levinson, J. (1990) Music, Art, & Metaphysics. New York, Cornell University Press.

Wigglesworth, M. (2009) Mark's notes on Shostakovich Symphony No.11. [Online] Available from: www.markwigglesworth.com/notes/marks-no ... ony-no-11/ [Accessed 15th October 2012].

Williams, B. (2005) Russia 1905. History Today, 55(5), 44-51.

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Lucien
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Re: No love for Shostakovich?

Postby Lucien » Mon Apr 07, 2014 12:16 am

I LOOOOOOVVVVEEE Shostakovich. He's probably my favorite or second-favorite composer. Symphony 5, Symphony 4, String Quartet 8, and many other of his pieces are simply amazing.
Don't let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. - Martin Luther King Jr.

A creative artist works on his next composition because he was not satisfied with his previous one. -Dmitri Shostakovich

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Re: No love for Shostakovich?

Postby RobStorm » Sun Apr 20, 2014 7:32 am

I should go on a Shosta-spree

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montresor
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Re: No love for Shostakovich?

Postby montresor » Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:20 pm

Shostakovich is great!

Also that must’ve been the longest forum post ever :D

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Re: No love for Shostakovich?

Postby montresor » Tue Jan 02, 2018 7:21 pm

Also what is the best Shostakovich piece in your opinion?


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