Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47

by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 -1975)

Dmitri Shostakovich

Sponsored by NV Energy

About The Composer

(Born in St. Petersburg, September 25, 1906; died in Moscow, August 9, 1975) Ironically, Shostakovich grew up in a household that firmly supported the ideals of the 1917 Russian Revolution. However, he suffered insults, both great and minor, in the hand of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet bureaucracy. During his lifetime, his music was labeled as too tame by Western music critics and as too modern by the Soviet establishment. The result: throughout his career he was regarded by the Western press as meekly seeking official Soviet approval (when he was more likely simply seeking to stay alive); whereas Stalin and others viewed him as trying to bring a “dangerous” Western, bourgeois influence into Soviet society.


Allegro non troppo

About This Piece

1937 was a bad year for Shostakovich: Stalin criticized and then banned the composer’s new opera, Lady Macbeth of the Masen District; the composer cancelled the performance of his Fourth Symphony fearing more government criticism; and his Stalinist colleagues declared that Shostakovich needed serious help to “straighten himself out.” On top of that, friends were disappearing in the night.

Shostakovich needed a rehabilitation, yet couldn’t bring himself to compose the sunny, saccharin music desired by Stalin. Shostakovich’s solution: a work of such genius that it can be heard by some listeners (Stalin) as a heroic triumph of human spirit, yet heard by other listeners (everyone else) as sarcastic parody.

The composer subtitled the symphony “A Soviet Artist’s Practical and Creative Response to Just Criticism,” and the Soviet bureaucracy bought it, leveraging the same state-owned media (the newspaper Pravda, et al) to declare Shostakovich a reformed composer.
The public, however, got it. They understood the symphony to be a parody of compliance; a clear protest heard by the masses attuned to the undertones of public disobedience. Some wept at the premiere and their applause at the end, as the conductor Yevgeny Mravinksy held the score above his bowed head, was for an entirely different reason than the approval by the Soviet apparatchiks in the same concert hall.

Years later, in a memoir believed to be written by Shostakovich, he wrote: “I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat… It’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying “Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing,” and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, “Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.” What kind of apotheosis is that?”