20 November 2011

Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No.4

And once again it's been quite a while since I've posted in here. It's not really for lack of inspiration but rather that most of my inspiration is Shostakovich-related and this isn't supposed to be a Shostakovich blog (I also don't know how to make a post about how there are too many old people/not enough young people at concerts without being offensive...). But I've decided not to care that much and instead to post another one of my favourite Shostakovich symphonies: Symphony No.4.

This is the first Shostakovich piece I ever heard and it completely changed my life (it really, really did). A couple of years ago, I think 2005, my parents and I went to a Zondagochtendconcert at the Concertgebouw, where the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra were playing this piece, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth. I hadn't heard it but the description said something about how it was louder than Mahler so I figured it would be my cup of tea. And oh boy was it my cup of tea. The amount of different emotions running through me for that hour was astonishing, at times I burst out laughing because well, some parts are kind of silly, at other times I wanted to cry my eyes out, at other times I wanted to jump up and down from excitement etc etc etc. What I experienced when I first heard this Fourth Symphony is something I only get when I see (some of) Shostakovich's symphonies live. I don't know what it is, but there's something about them that makes them so much more extraordinary than any other piece of music ever written. And the Fourth is perhaps the most extraordinary of them all.

It's difficult to post here because it's so long. My favourite movement is the first - I think it has absolutely everything I would ever want a piece of music to have, but as such, it's half an hour long. And even if I would only post the first movement I would feel bad, because the Fourth Symphony is such a complete work of music. So I'm going to ask all you readers for a favour, and that is to take one hour of your time and listen to this symphony in its entirety (and yes, this will include a lot of clicking on youtube links, sorry). Don't think about the music too much, just let it affect you however it will, let it sweep you away, let it make the world dissapear for one hour (headphones are recommended).

Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No.4.Played by the London Symphony Orchestra, conductor Bernard Haitink.

Movement I: Allegretto poco moderato, part 1.

Movement I, part 2.

Movement I, part 3.

Movement I, part 4.

Movement II: Moderato con moto

Movement III: Largo - allegro, part 1.

Movement III, part 2.

Movement III, part 3.

Movement III, part 4.

Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Fourth Symphony when he was still in his twenties, in 1935-1936. Unfortunately this wasn't a great time for him, his fantastic opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk was denounced by Stalin (dude had no taste) early in 1936, but Shostakovich kept on writing. The premiere was planned and rehearsals had begun, but at the last minute Shostakovich withdrew the symphony - we can only guess why, but a good guess would be that Stalin was an ass and Shostakovich feared for his life and knew this symphony wasn't to everyone's taste. And so, it only had its premiere in 1961 (Kondrashin conducted it, which must've been fantastic - he's my favourite Shostakovich conductor). There's been much talk about what Shostakovich's career and music would've been like if this Fourth Symphony would actually have had its premiere in 1936 - because the 5th Symphony is certainly very different from the 4th, in scope and approach. I'm just glad he wrote this symphony and didn't destroy it - it certainly makes my life better.

Other YPGTCM on Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet No.8, 24 Preludes and Fugues, Violin Concerto No.1, Symphony No.10, The Execution of Stepan Razin.


  1. Hey Renee, There is a complete live CSO recording of this symphony on youtube (71 minutes) recorded 2008 in the Royal albert hall. Majestic and blazing intensity although slower than usual.Never heard the earlier version with the LSO, so thanks for posting it!



  2. Yeah, I heard that recording as well! It's pretty wonderful. My favourites are Kondrashin with the Moscow Philharmonic and Rostropovich with the National Symphony Orchestra, both those recordings are so so incredibly exciting.

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