Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shostakovich - the great survivor

Igor Toronyi-Lalic, the Telegraph's classical music blogger, posted today under the title "Most overrated/underrated composers of the 20th century ". So far, it's only attracted one comment. But then it's a Sunday. There could be several more in the in-tray, waiting for moderation.

Igor is pretty dismissive of certain recherché composers, notably Dmitri Shostakovich, whom he refers to in less than glowing terms:

"I'm pretty sure Shostakovich will be knocked down a peg or two once the political fascination in him as a resistance composer fizzles out."

The caption under the Telly's obligatory blog graphic is even less flattering. Shostakovich is said to be , among other things, musically "flatulent" whatever that means. A bit OTT, as descriptions go, methinks, but we'll let it pass .....

DS was one of about 10 or so mainly 19/20th century composers who rated a half dozen or so LP records in my collection. There was one particular piece of his that seemed to me to sum up his relations with the Soviet culture-police, but the record is in store in England, and even if it were here, in Antibes, what use would it be ?

Well, it shows the power of the internet, if any were needed, that a quick Google not only brought up the particular piece I had in mind, but also an Amazon selection of audio clips from the same, with exactly the two memorable passages that I had in mind .

The first one, the second movement, is sad, immensely so, whilst the second, the last movement, is a rollicking piece of irreverent mockery (presumably directed at the po-faced commissars who were trying to cramp his style).

So here's what went off to Igor's blog some 2 hours ago, although it may not appear for some time.

"Over-rated maybe, Igor, but you have to hand it to a man who remained musically productive for the best part of 40 years, despite twice having Pravda and Uncle Joe (no less) denounce and humiliate him for straying from the true path of "socialist realism". And what better example is there of the man's courage and wit than to have composed his Concerto in C Minor No 1 (for piano, trumpet and string orchestra , 1933). See link below:

The Wikipedia contributor puts it as follows:

"The trumpet parts frequently take the form of sardonic interjections, leavening the humour and wit of the piano passagework."

Personally, I'd say it was an amazing tragi-comical conjunction within the one work. For the tragedy, you can hear a clip (Windows Media) on:


That has to be one of the saddest few bars of music ever written !

For the nose-thumbing mockery:

(listen especially for the lampooning trumpet in the last few seconds of the clip - shame there's not more) "

PS I've tried several times now to convert those chunky URLs into nice compact links. Everything works fine till I hit the Save as Draft, and all the editing disappears, and cannot be retrieved. Sorry, I give up. It's chunky URLs or nothing.