Symphony No. 6 (Shostakovich)
Symphony No. 6 is in three movements and is approximately 30 minutes in length:
The Sixth Symphony is unusual in structure, beginning with a long and introspective slow movement, followed by two short movements: a scherzo and a "full-blooded and debauched music-hall galop". The third movement galop is the movement Shostakovich himself thought was most successful. On average, the first movement is 15–20 minutes long, the second movement is 4–6 minutes long, and the third movement is 5–7 minutes long.
This symphony is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 3 oboes (3rd doubling cor anglais), 4 clarinets (3rd doubling Eb clarinet, 4th doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tam-tam, xylophone, harp, celesta and strings.
The Sixth Symphony was originally said to be a large-scale "Lenin Symphony" - a project which was often announced, but never materialised. Shostakovich had announced once in September 1938 that he was anxious to work on his Sixth Symphony, which would be a monumental composition for soloists, chorus and orchestra employing the poem Vladimir Ilyich Lenin by Vladimir Mayakovsky, but the declamatory nature of the poem made it difficult to set. He later tried to incorporate other literature about Lenin in his new symphony, but without success. In January 1939, he spoke about the Sixth Symphony in a radio address, with no mention of Lenin or any extramusical associations.
The purely instrumental Symphony No. 6 was completed in September 1939. Shostakovich commented on it in the press:
The musical character of the Sixth Symphony will differ from the mood and emotional tone of the Fifth Symphony, in which moments of tragedy and tension were characteristic. In my latest symphony, music of a contemplative and lyrical order predominates. I wanted to convey in it the moods of spring, joy, youth.
On 21 November 1939, exactly two years after the premiere of the Symphony No. 5, the premiere of the Symphony No. 6 took place in the Large Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic in Leningrad by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky—the same location and performers. In the same programme was the Romantic Poem for violin and orchestra of Zhelobinsky. The symphony had a successful premiere, and the finale was encored. However, although a local critic lauded Shostakovich for further freeing himself from formalistic tendencies in his new symphony, the work was later criticised for its ungainly structure and the jarring juxtaposition of moods. The fact that the symphony was performed during a 10-day festival of Soviet music which included patriotic works by Prokofiev (excerpts from Alexander Nevsky) and Shaporin (On the Field of Kulikovo) probably did not help.
Notable recordings of this symphony include:
* = Mono recording
(1) = recorded live in Birmingham
Source: arkivmusic.com (recommended recordings selected based on critics' reviews)
- Fay, 115.
- Quoted in Fay, 115.
- Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Zhelobinsky, Valery Viktorovich
- Fay, 115-16.
- Fay, Laurel (1999). Shostakovich: A Life. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513438-9.