Symphony/Composer Bravely Condemns Evil

It was while I was enjoying a quiet pint at work when I happened upon this lively article about the Symphony No. 7, by Shostakovich.

Music Review: BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Peter Collins, South Wales Echo, July 21, 2010

IT was while I was enjoying a quiet pint during the interval of this gripping Welsh Prom concert that I eavesdropped on a lively conversation about the Symphony No 7, by Shostakovich.

Beer is about the only way I know to prepare for that symphony, too.

The symphony, known as Leningrad, occupied the whole of the second half of the concert.

As symphonies tend to do from time to time.

So, what of their lively conversation.

The thrust of the tete-a-tete was whether the massive work was Shostakovich’s nationalistic symbol of Russian resistance and defiance to Nazi totalitarianism, or a more general depiction and condemnation of totalitarianism, with the brutality of Stalin as its driving force. As always with Shostakovich it is an interesting but ultimately futile debate.

God, how incredibly fascinating. Did his music actively hate Nazis, or just passively hate them?

figure argument: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.

Also, futile? Really? Let's ask wikipedia, they know everything.

In its time, the symphony was extremely popular in both Russia and the West as a symbol of resistance and defiance to Nazi totalitarianism and militarism. As a condemnation of the German invasion...

Okay, so in its time, it was a "symbol of...resistance and defiance to Nazi totalitarianism".

Hmmm...that seems strangely familiar. Hey, wait a minute!

...[rereads article...then wikipedia entry...then article again...then takes a shot of whiskey]...

Wikipedia seems to suggest that the symphony both condemns AND resists Nazi totalitarianism!

How can that be? Don't keep us in suspense...which is it? Who won the argument?

Nevertheless, it was fascinating to see which view conductor Thierry Fischer would take as he picked up his baton to lead BBC NOW.

Good call...let the conductor decide. So, which is it: resistance or condemnation?

It seemed to me that Fischer, who was in command of the music and the orchestra from start to finish, was inclined to view the opus as more of a general condemnation of evil.

Really? The symphony condemns evil in general? Not just Nazi totalitarianism, but all evil?


Maybe the Eighth symphony is a statement that the children are our future.


Also, copying from wikipedia is lazy, and such.

figure copying: Thank you, Al Gore, for the internets.


Danny Liss said...

My favorite part of the article is the phrasing of "the piece occupied the entire second half of the program," just like Stalin occupied all of Eastern Europe after the war.

AnthonyS said...

Things like this I always seem to meet with some suspicion; I'm not sure by what means the conductor's assumptions about Shostakovich's extra-musical political intentions would be obviated.

"Cellos, less vibrato at Letter E; too much vibrato and we are clearly ONLY condemning fascism and not all totalitarianism".

I mean, too much vibrato can be oppressive, but you get my point. I think it's hard to locate the extra-musical in purely musical decisions for the most part. I guess it's not impossible, I'm just really skeptical.

Sator Arepo said...

Danny: Yes. That is awesome.

Anthony: Yes, I'm skeptical, too. If the recap is extra-triumphant, say, can't we read that more than one way? Literally or ironically, for starters.