Seven years separate the composition of Shostakovich’s 3rd (1929) and 4th symphonies (1936), and drastic change had taken place in the Soviet Union during this time. Stalin was consolidating his power and was implementing a new revolution in Soviet society which was to have severe and long-lasting impacts. In the field of culture, Stalin took a firm hand, he understood music and culture could be very powerful tools of propaganda and social control, all artistic fields were brought under the direction of various governmental agencies. In music, the Union of Soviet Composers was created, and all composers had to belong. The government promoted the style of socialist realism in all arts. This meant arts should be promoting Soviet values, in primarily optimistic and simplified forms which would be accessible to the masses. The antithesis of socialist realism was "formalism", "art that was complicated and incomprehensible to the masses, and therefore useless in the construction of soviet culture." In the early 1930's Shostakovich was mostly involved in theatrical music, and his most important composition was his opera "Lady MacBeth of the Mtsensk District" from 1932. Shostakovich called his opera a tragedy-satire, with the tragedy belonging to the heroine Katerina, and the satire for everything else. It is a brilliant and bold mix of musical styles, dramatic action and violence, and very graphic (particularly for Russian culture) erotic scenes. Between 1934-1936 Lady MacBeth was a huge success in Leningrad and Moscow, performed hundreds of times selling out with standing room only, unanimously glowing reviews from Soviet critics, and much international attention with performances in Europe and the US (where it was also considered a bit too risqué, a review in New York called it "pornophony"). Shostakovich, not yet 30, was frequently being called a genius and assumed to become the Soviet Union's greatest composer. This all unexpectedly came to a sudden end in January 1936. Stalin, who enjoyed opera, went to see it for the first time at a performance in Moscow, left disgusted by it. 2 days after this, an article appeared in the State paper Pravda titled "Muddle Instead of Music", it is a specific and searing attack on Shostakovich and "Lady MacBeth". It was an unsigned editorial, implying this was the view of the State, and it was, inasmuch, as Stalin was the State by 1936. A couple of excerpts from the article read: "The power of good music to infect the masses has been sacrificed to a petty-bourgeois, 'formalist' attempt to create originality through cheap clowning. It is a game of clever ingenuity that may end very badly," "The composer apparently never considered the problem of what the Soviet audience looks for and expects in music...He ignored the demand of Soviet culture that all coarseness and savagery be abolished from every corner of Soviet life." This was not just merely a bad review, this was a threat from Stalin himself. Shostakovich had every reason to believe his life was in danger. By 1936, Stalin had already killed millions of Soviet citizens and sent hundreds of thousands to Gulags in Siberia. As Timothy Snyder wrote "Stalin's suggestions were transformed into orders, the orders into quotas, the quotas into corpses, the corpses into numbers." In the next two weeks two more articles attacking Shostakovich appeared in Pravda, and the rest of Soviet media suddenly reversed and began echoing the official line. At this time, Shostakovich was in the middle of composing his 4th symphony, he was newly married and expecting his first child, and he suddenly has a very real death threat hanging over him. He continued composing the 4th symphony and completed it in May (alongside the birth of his daughter), the premiere was being planned for December in Leningrad, however, during rehearsals, he withdrew the work. Ultimately, it was not premiered until 1961, 8 years after the death of Stalin. What of the music itself? An instrumental symphony is obviously less explicit than an opera. Shostakovich had barely considered his 2nd and 3rd symphonies to be worthy of being called "symphonies", and it had been a decade since his first, Shostakovich was striving for something new "Everything in it--concept, language, dimension--was revolutionary for the Russian symphonic literature" (Volkov). Shostakovich had immersed himself in the study of Mahler's symphonies, and the 4th definitely shows its debt to Mahler in the enormous orchestral forces, huge dimensions, use of "trite" melodies and the finale built on a funeral march. Shostakovich knew it to be a tragic work, unsurprisingly considering the world Shostakovich lived in, but its complexity and pessimism would be completely unacceptable for socialist realism expectations. Friends of Shostakovich who were shown the the score of the symphony thought it was an act of suicide. If he had persisted in the premiere the work would inevitably had been condemned as unapologetically formalist, and Shostakovich's life, like the lives of all public artists and intellectuals rested in Stalin's personal attitude towards them. Shostakovich retreated into composing music for films, a relatively safer enterprise politically. You can hear part II, symphonies 2 and 3: http://cod.ckcufm.com/programs/105/31205.html Part I, symphony no. 1: http://cod.ckcufm.com/programs/105/30605.html We will also hear Lubomyr Melnyk's Concert Requiem for violin and piano from 1985, a work of impossible beauty and sadness. This work was composed in memory of the victims of the Holodomor, Stalin's great mass murder of 1932-33 which set off more than a decade of unbelievable bloodshed in central Europe. Stalin's 5 year plan of 1928 was intended to spur massive industrialization in a largely agrarian society. Part of this plan was enforced collectivization of farms, and most of the grain produced by collective farms was to be exported to finance this industrialization. When a combination of poor harvest and the much greater inefficiency of the collective harvest meant grain quotas were not being reached, Stalin imposed malicious policies that turned bad economics into mass murder. An inability to meet quotas was proof for Stalin of sabotage and counter-revolutionary action, he believed the peasants going hungry was an attack by the peasants against the Soviet state(!). Collective farms were ordered to turn over all their seed grain, to turn over all their animals, and collective farms when failing to meet a monthly target, were punished by immediately having to surrender 15x that target. This meant collective farms were raided again and again by police and party activists, confiscating every last scrap of food. Stalin also closed off the borders of Soviet Ukraine and sealed off the cities, starving peasants were not able to flee to the cities or cross borders. Stalin knew this meant the horrible death of millions, but he considered these millions of peasants as enemies of the state, and completely superfluous lives. At least 3.3 million Soviet peasants (mostly Ukrainians, but also Russians and about 1 million Kazakhs) starved to death in 1932 and 1933, and hundreds of thousands were deported to the vastly expanding Gulags in the East. All while the Soviet Union was exporting Ukrainian grain abroad for hard currency.
|Symphony No. 4 in c minor, Op. 43|
Dmitri Shostakovich/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko - Symphony no. 4 - Naxos
|Concert Requiem for violin and piano|
Lubomyr Melnyk/Lubomyr Melnyk, Marc Sabat - Concert Requiem - Bandura Records
Charlie Haden, Carla Bley et al. - The Ballad of the Fallen - ECM