As the northern hemisphere is plunged into darkness on the Winter Solstice, humanity has always cried out, sung, played instruments, banged drums to chase away the darkness from Neolithic times to today. It is no accident the date for Christmas was chosen in the 3rd century to coincide with the Roman Winter Solstice. As we do every year, we trace that ancient heritage with music that progresses from darkness to light. This year, the darkness comes from Shostakovich's 14th symphony composed in 1969. Even for Shostakovich, this work is almost excessively bleak. This work explicitly takes death as its subject matter, and particularly unjust, violent, and early death. Shostakovich did this by setting poems by 4 different poets in 11 movements, sung by either a soprano or bass soloist. All four poets died fairly young violently or by sickness, they are Federico Garcia Lorca, Guillaume Apollinaire, Wilhelm Kuchelbeker, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Scored for soprano, bass, and small orchestra albeit with four percussionists, it is deeply moving and profound, one of my favourite works by Shostakovich. But there is no consolation, no comfort, no transcendence. The 11th movement, a brief poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, is a sombre epilogue to the work followed by a quiet ending with wood knocks: Death is great. We are his when our mouths are filled with laughter. When we think we are in the midst of life, he dares to weep in our midst. Do no despair though! On my solstice show, the light will come! We hear a recording by Russian-Canadian conductor Yuli Turovsky with his famed chamber orchestra I Musici de Montréal which he founded in 1983 a few years after immigrating to Canada. Turovsky has a close connection to Shostakovich's 14th symphony, he was principal cellist for the Moscow Chamber Orchestra under Rudolph Barshai who gave the world premiere.
|You can view or download the text to the 11 poems here:
|Symphony No. 14 Op. 135|
Dmitri Shostakovich/Elizabeth Holleque, Nikita Storojev, I Musici de Montreal, Yuli Turovsky - Shostakovich Symphony no. 14 - Chandos
|And let there be light!|
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