Symphony No. 4 (Shostakovich)
Dmitri Shostakovich composed his Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Opus 43, between September 1935 and May 1936, after abandoning some preliminary sketch material. In January 1936, halfway through this period, Pravda—under direct orders from Joseph Stalin—published an editorial "Muddle Instead of Music" that denounced the composer and targeted his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Despite this attack, and despite the oppressive political climate of the time, Shostakovich completed the symphony and planned its premiere for December 1936 in Leningrad. After rehearsals began, the orchestra's management cancelled the performance, offering a statement that Shostakovich had withdrawn the work. He may have agreed to withdraw it to relieve orchestra officials of responsibility. The symphony was premiered on 30 December 1961 by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra led by Kirill Kondrashin.
Shostakovich uses an immense orchestra in this work, requiring well over one hundred musicians. This, combined with the extreme technical and emotional demands placed on the performers, makes the Symphony No. 4 among his least-performed scores, yet it ranks as one of his most important and personal works.
It is scored for the following instruments:
Shostakovich began the Fourth Symphony in September 1935. His second and third symphonies, completed in 1927 and 1929, had been patriotic works with choral finales, but the new score was different. Toward the end of 1935 he told an interviewer, "I am not afraid of difficulties. It is perhaps easier, and certainly safer, to follow a beaten path, but it is also dull, uninteresting and futile."
Shostakovich abandoned sketches for the symphony some months earlier and began anew. On 28 January 1936, when he was about halfway through work on the symphony, Pravda printed an unsigned editorial entitled "Muddle Instead of Music," which singled out his internationally successful opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk for particularly savage condemnation. The fact that the editorial was unsigned indicated that it represented the official Party position. Rumors circulated for a long time that Stalin had directly ordered this attack after he attended a performance of the opera and stormed out after the first act.
Pravda published two more articles in the same vein in the next two and a half weeks. On 3 February, "Ballet Falsehood" assailed his ballet The Limpid Stream, and "Clear and Simple Language in Art" appeared on 13 February. Although this last article was technically an editorial attacking Shostakovich for "formalism", it appeared in the "Press Review" section. Stalin, under cover of the Central Committee, may have singled out Shostakovich because the plot and music of Lady Macbeth infuriated him, the opera contradicted Stalin's intended social and cultural direction for the nation at that period, or he resented the recognition Shostakovich was receiving both in the Soviet Union and in the West.
Despite these criticisms, Shostakovich continued work on the symphony—though he simultaneously refused to allow a concert performance of the last act of Lady Macbeth. He explained to a friend, "The audience, of course, will applaud—it's considered bon ton to be in the opposition, and then there'll be another article with a headline like 'Incorrigible Formalist.'"
Once he completed the score, Shostakovich was apparently uncertain how to proceed. His new symphony did not emulate the style of Nikolai Myaskovsky's socialist realist Sixteenth Symphony, The Aviators, or Vissarion Shebalin's song-symphony The Heroes of Perekop, and contained nothing placatory at all in it, having been conceived before the Pravda attacks. Showing the new symphony to friends did not help. One asked, frightened, what Shostakovich thought the reaction from Pravda would be. Shostakovich jumped up from the piano, scowling, replying sharply, "I don't write for Pravda, but for myself."
Despite the increasingly repressive political atmosphere, Shostakovich continued to plan for the symphony's premiere, scheduled by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra for 11 December 1936 under the orchestra's music director, Fritz Stiedry, a Viennese musician active in the Soviet Union since 1933. The composer also played the score on piano for Otto Klemperer, who responded enthusiastically and planned to conduct the symphony's first performance outside the USSR.
After a number of rehearsals that left both the conductor and musicians unenthusiastic, Shostakovich met with several officials of the Composers Union and the Communist Party, along with I.M. Renzin, the Philharmonic's director, in the latter's office. He was informed that the 11 December performance was being cancelled and that he was expected to make the announcement and provide an explanation. The composer's direct participation is unknown, but the newspaper Soviet Art (Sovetskoe iskusstvo) published a notice that Shostakovich had asked for the symphony's premiere to be cancelled "on the grounds that it in no way corresponds to his current creative convictions and represents for him a long-outdated creative phase", that it suffered from "grandiosomania" and he planned to revise it.
Decades later, Isaak Glikman, who was Shostakovich's personal secretary in the 1930s and a close friend, provided a different account. He wrote that party officials exerted pressure on Renzin to cancel the scheduled performance, and Renzin, reluctant to take responsibility for the programming decision himself, instead privately persuaded Shostakovich to withdraw the symphony.
The manuscript score for the Fourth Symphony was lost during World War II. Using the orchestral parts that survived from the 1936 rehearsals, Shostakovich had a four-hand piano version published in a limited edition in 1946. Shostakovich began considering a performance only after Stalin's death in 1953 changed the cultural climate in the Soviet Union. He undertook no revisions. Conductor Kirill Kondrashin led the premiere of the orchestral version on 30 December 1961 with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. The first performance outside the USSR took place at the 1962 Edinburgh Festival with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Gennady Rozhdestvensky.
Soviet critics were excited at the prospect of finding a major missing link in Shostakovich's creative output, yet refrained from value-laden comparisons. They generally placed the Fourth Symphony firmly in its chronological context and explored its significance as a way-station on the road to the more conventional Fifth Symphony. Western critics were more overtly judgmental, especially since the Fourth was premiered back-to-back with the Twelfth Symphony in Edinburgh. The critical success of the Fourth juxtaposed with the critical disdain for the Twelfth led to speculation that Shostakovich's creative powers were on the wane.
Influence of Mahler
The symphony is strongly influenced by Gustav Mahler, whose music Shostakovich had been closely studying with Ivan Sollertinsky during the preceding ten years. (Friends remembered seeing Mahler's Seventh Symphony on Shostakovich's piano at that time.) The duration, the size of the orchestra, the style and range of orchestration, and the recurrent use of "banal" melodic material juxtaposed with more high-minded, even "intellectual," material, all come from Mahler.
Aside from the entire second movement, one of the most Mahlerian moments appears at the outset of the third movement—a funeral march reminiscent of many similar passages in the Austrian's output. Another such point occurs near the beginning of the deeply brooding coda that follows the last full-orchestra outburst, with the descending half-step idea in the woodwinds clearly pointing to the A Major-to-A minor chord progression that characterizes much of Mahler's Sixth Symphony.
* = the first recording, made by the performers who gave the premiere
(1) = aircheck of the western premiere, 1962 Edinburgh Festival
(2) = the first and second of two recordings made by the composer's close friend and colleague
(3) = the only recording made by the composer's son
(4) = the first Western studio recording
Source: arkivmusic.com (recommended recordings selected based on critics reviews)
- Rustem Hayroudinoff and Colin Stone (Chandos; first recording of the 1940s two-piano reduction)
- Steinberg, 541.
- Shostakovich, Dmitri. Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 43. New York: Kalmus.
- Freed, 3.
- Schwarz, Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, pp. ??
- Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 110.
- Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 121.
- Muzykal'naia akademiia, 4 (1997), 72.
- Muzykal'naia akademiia, 4 (1997), 74.
- Robinson, Harlow. "Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Opus 43" (PDF). Boston Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- Isaak Glikman, Story of a Friendship, xxii-xxiv. Glikman wrote elsewhere that "a mythology has grown up around the withdrawal of the Fourth Symphony, a mythology to which writings about Shostakovich have unfortunately lent quasi-scriptural status." Glikman, Isaak (2001) Story of a Friendship (trans. Anthony Phillips), p. xxii, Faber
- MacDonald, 108, 108n1
- Fay, 226.
- Volkov, Shostakovich and Stalin, 136.
- Fairclough, Pauline, A Soviet Credo: Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2006) ISBN 978-0-7546-5016-4.
- Fay, Laurel E. Shostakovich: A Life (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). ISBN 978-0-19-518251-4.
- Freed, Richard, Notes for RCA/BMG 60887: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 4; St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin.
- Glikman, Isaak D., tr. Anthony Phillips, Story of a Friendship (London: Faber & Faber, 2001). ISBN 978-0-571-20982-8.
- Layton, Robert, ed. Robert Simpson, The Symphony: Volume 2, Mahler to the Present Day (New York: Drake Publishing, Inc., 1972).
- Leonard, James, All Music Guide to Classical Music (San Francisco: Backbeat books, 2005). ISBN 978-0-87930-865-0.
- Maes, Francis, tr. Arnold J. Pomerans and Erica Pomerans, A History of Russian Music: From Kamarinskaya to Babi Yar (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2002). ISBN 978-0-520-21815-4.
- Schwarz, Boris, Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia: Enlarged Edition, 1917-1981 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983). ISBN 978-0-253-33956-0.
- Spencer, William (1985). The Fourth Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich: an analysis (M.M. thesis). Boston: Boston University.
- Steinberg, Michael, The Symphony (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). ISBN 978-0-19-506177-2.
- Volkov, Solomon, tr. Antonina W. Bouis, Shostakovich and Stalin: The Extraordinary Relationship Between the Great Composer and the Brutal Dictator (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004). ISBN 978-0-375-41082-6.
- Wilson, Elizabeth, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered, Second Edition (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994, 2006). ISBN 978-0-691-12886-3.