Salute to Spain, op. 44 (1936)
CD: Various soloists, Camerata Silesia, The Katowice City Singers’ Ensemble, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mark Fitz-Gerald (Naxos 8.572138)
Salute to Spain is another of Shostakovich’s insubstantial incidental scores, about ten minutes long, including two revolutionary songs that were incorporated alongside it into the production (arranged for chorus by Mark Fitz-Gerald on the Naxos disc). In the context of Shostakovich’s career it’s mainly notable, and deserving of some generosity, as one of the first works he produced as a persona non grata of the Soviet state, as he worked to reestablish a very much uncertain career.
His music for the play, a rapid theatrical response to the Spanish Civil War, has very little flavor of Spain in it (save perhaps for a couple of vaguely “Spanish” chords), although there is no doubt that the USSR is doing the saluting. Shostakovich’s contribution consists largely of brassy fanfares and suitably tragic/optimistic songs, more in line with his plain-faced cinema scores than his theater works to this point; the light puckishness of, for example, Rule, Brittania! is shelved, and I fear that the zanier style of The Bedbug is gone for good after this point in his output.
Salute to Spain‘s final funeral march does have a little bit of weight, plus a faint leering quality that seems to point back to Mahler’s first symphony, via Shostakovich’s own (then suppressed) fourth. You can also hear in it, if you want, a trace of the grotesque bombast that the composer twists around on itself in the finale of his soon-to-be-written fifth symphony.
David Fanning’s album note draws a connection to Elena Konstantinovskaya, whose marriage-threatening affair with Shostakovich had just ended when she moved to Spain with the filmmaker Roman Karmen, adding personal misery to his professional and political trouble and perhaps creating an unhappy association with that nation. The music remains pretty flimsy but there is something expressive in that final march, as though the occassion of theatrical tragedy gives Shostakovich an opening to express a little bit of more private darkness.