Christmastime is here, just about. Shostakovich, however, didn’t write much seasonally appropriate music, being an atheist in an atheist state. Yet connections between his work and the holiday can be found! For one — a very tenuous one — the opening lick of the D-flat major prelude from his Preludes and Fugues, opus 87 bears an abstract sort of resemblance to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”:
That excerpt comes from an album of sharp opus-87 wind arrangements played by the Calefax Reed Quintet.
Closer still to a carol is a piece in Act I of The Limpid Stream, which, as noted previously, starts out sounding quite a bit like “O Come All Ye Faithful”. As a sort of Christmas bonus the quasi-hymn is followed immediately by a few repetitions of the short-short-long “Jingle Bells” pattern, although it reads less as “cheerful holiday tidings” than as “lazy attempt at rhythmic propulsion”:
“Jingle Bells” brings us to the most direct instance of Christmas music that I’m aware of in Shostakovich’s output, possibly the only deliberate one and probably the weirdest: In his music for Grigori Kozintsev’s 1941 production of King Lear, he sets some of the Fool’s songs to variations on “Jingle Bells”:
This recording is by David Wilson-Johnson and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Mark Elder. Gerard McBurney back-translates Samuil Marshak’s translation of Shakespeare:
He who decides to give away his country in pieces,
let him consort with fools –
he’ll replace me.
He and I will stand arm in arm, two fat fools,
one in a fool’s cap, the other without a cap.
A warning worth heeding, no doubt, during the holidays as in any other season.
This is going to conclude my Shostakovich blogging for the year, as I push to wrap up some work tasks and prepare to fly back East for the holidays. In the first week of 2011 I’ll hit the ground running with Shostakovich’s towering, decidedly un-Christmassy fourth symphony.