Klaus Mäkelä conducts Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5.
Dmitri Shostakovich's (1906−1975) ambivalent relationship with the regime was to colour everything he produced as a composer, especially following Stalin’s rise to power. Shostakovich received death threats and his music was criticised in the party newspaper Pravda (Truth) in 1936 for being formalistic, chaotic and irreconcilable with party political ideals. Out of fear for his own life − many of Shostakovich’s artist friends had simply “disappeared” − he withdrew his modern and challenging Symphony No. 4 before its world premiere. Instead he composed a new symphony − his fifth − to which he added the caption “a Soviet artist’s answer to a well-deserved critique”. The work would prove to be Shostakovich’s salvation − a masterpiece where he achieved the perfect balance between artistic creation and respect for the Stalinists’ unreasonable demands for the form, content and purpose of art.
The work opens with a violently energetic movement, which, after an intense battle, ends in an odd, monstrous march − possibly a satirical stab at the party leader. Satire, irony and humour can also be found in the distorted waltz of the mocking second movement. The real emotional core of the symphony is nevertheless to be found in the third movement. Trumpets, marches, machine gun percussion and satire are gone, and what remains is a rich tapestry of strings, divided into nine groups, and solistic woodwinds who play long, elegiac melodies − as beautiful as Tchaikovsky’s, but devoid of Romantic beautification. This is realism at its most bitterly beautiful. There is little reason to doubt the stories from the world premiere in Leningrad in 1937, where an oppressed and hungry Russian audience cried itself through the movement. The work ends with yet another Stalinistic march, but the triumph here is assumed, and much is written between the lines. It is said that after the premiere in Leningrad, the audience applauded for 40 minutes − for Stalin, but arguably mostly for the composer.
(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa; In photo: Klaus Mäkelä: Photo: Charlotte Wiig)
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