Music Born Of Fear Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5

Opinions

Following its premiere there was widespread speculation—from an ‘official’ review by Alexei Tolstoy to Shostakovich’s son Maxim’s remarks many years later—about just what Shostakovich was saying. Reading how others interpreted the music may help you decide what you think this controversial symphony means.

All in all, it was the reactions to the Finale that were the most disparate. Even Shostakovich, who could probably never speak freely, gave widely conflicting reports of just what he meant by the ending. So, what do you think? If you had been a friend of Shostakovich’s, sitting in the audience at the Symphony’s premiere, would you have been acutely relieved or mortally terrified?

Alexei Tolstoy

“With the finale comes an enormous optimistic lift.”
—Alexei Tolstoy

FPO

“It finished with victorious fanfares whose ‘outspoken’ nature could not be called into doubt.”
—The ‘official’ reaction, as quoted by Mickhail Chulaki, one time director of the Leningrad Philharmonic

Maxim Shostakovich

“Conclusion: it is not military, then it is something evil threatening Shostakovich personally. Rehearsal 128 to the end. It says again and again: ‘No. You will not be able to do anything to me.’ It is not happiness. It is not victory. It is the determination of a strong man to BE.”
—Maxim Shostakovich

Shostakovich

“I wanted to convey optimism asserting itself as a world outlook through a series of tragic conflicts in a great inner, mental struggle ... The finale resolves the tragedy and tension of the earlier movements on a joyous, optimistic note.”
—Shostakovich in 1938

Shostakovich

“I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat, as in Boris Godunov. It’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, ‘Your business is rejoicing, 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.’”
—May have been said by Shostakovich in the early 1970s to Solomon Volkov

 


What's Your Reaction?

Anonymous
January 28, 2010
But just to add to that point, Shostakovich's comment about how it would differ if it ended "pianissimo and minor" is somewhat reflected in this quartet - the final resolve is major, but a lot of minor occurs just beforehand, and the dynamic is clearly very quiet.
Anonymous
January 28, 2010
And sorry that got posted twice, wasn't sure if it had worked or not.
Anonymous
January 28, 2010
Could there be a relationship between the upward scale (5 notes in strings) into D major at the end of the symphony and Shostakovich's 4th movement of the 4th string quartet? They are both in D and there is a motif in the quartet that sounds very similar, but it repeats much more frequently and with a different connotation. The quartet was also written 12 years later or so, so it could have been Shostakovich's comment on his own symphony.
Anonymous
January 28, 2010
Could there be a relationship between the upward scale (5 strings notes) going into D major at the end of this movement to one of the motifs in his 4th string quartet, 4th movement? The string quartet was premiered 12 years later or so, so it could possibly have been a mockery of his final symphony movement.
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