October! Herald of the longed-for sun.
October! Will behind the rebellious years.
October! Work, joy and song.
October! Happiness in the fields and the hum of machines.
— Alexander Bezymensky, trans. Richard Bannerman
A happy Monday, and a happy first full week of October, to one and all. The revolutionary spirit of Bezymensky’s lines above (from the choral finale of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 2) is perhaps not an ideologically appropriate accompaniment to the advancing fall season in this our darkening northern hemisphere. Nonetheless I hope it reflects a certain optimism felt in each of us as the summer recedes into history.
This week in Shostakovich: I intend to break up my pattern so far for Shostakovich’s last completed opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Despite the absurdity of giving roughly as much mental space to a four-minute student work as to a two-plus-hour ballet score, I’ve been happy with writing one post per opus, both for my listening experience and for my efforts to get my thoughts, such as they are, onto the screen and move along. For just a couple of works, though, I can’t contemplate writing about them without thinking of several aspects of them that I’d like to try to cover, and I want to give myself time and room to try to do so. The opera is one; the Symphony No. 10, composed in a still distant 1953, is another. The Symphony No. 13 might be a third but it’s way off in the triple-digit opus-number range so I can work that out in a few months.
Lady Macbeth looms at opus 29, though, and I’m going to drag my heels on it and give it all of next week. For this week that leaves another ballet, The Bolt, op. 27, and the incidental music for Rule, Britannia!, op. 28. To fill that out, I’d like to pick an early work of Sergei Prokofiev’s and give it a similar treatment to the Shostakovich works: Early in planning this project I came across this article by Stephen Walsh about a recent retrospective of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s music in Bregenz, which helps make a case that more Soviet music ought to see the light of day, rather than being written off as tedious, stylistically backwards, overly propagandistic music while Shostakovich is taken as the be-all-end-all of the USSR’s classical music culture. In that spirit I want to touch on a few of Shostakovich’s contemporaries as I go. Prokofiev feels a bit like an obvious and unnecessary choice — unlike Weinberg and some others I’d like to cover over time, he’s famous enough in the West already — but his early work is a clear influence on the young Shostakovich and, as a composer who left Russia at the time of the 1917 revolution and returned in time for the terror of the 1930s his career certainly plays into non-Shostakovich goings-on in Soviet music.
Beyond that I plan to take a day to get the working list of Shostakovich works onto the blog.