Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93
Related Artists/CompaniesDmitri Shostakovich
National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America: Valery Gergiev, conductor / Joshua Bell, violin - Sat., Jul. 13, 2013, 8:00 PM
The National Youth Orchestra of the USA conducted by Valery Gergiev is joined by violinist Joshua Bell for Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto on a program also including works by Shepherd and Shostakovich.
About the Work
Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93
Born September 25, 1906 in St. Petersburg
Died August 9, 1975 in Moscow
In 1948, when the Soviet authorities released a notorious missive railing against "formalism" in music, Dmitri Shostakovich topped the list of censured composers. He had bounced back from a similar public humiliation orchestrated by Stalin in 1936, but this renewed crackdown persisted. Shostakovich lost his faculty position at the Moscow Conservatory, and his main public duties in the following years consisted of keeping up appearances at international conferences and writing film scores and patriotic music. He kept up his serious composing in private, stashing major new works-including the First Violin Concerto and Fourth and Fifth String Quartets-for later performances.
Stalin died on March 5, 1953, and the Soviet Union entered a period of "thaw" under Nikita Khrushchev. Within a few months of Stalin's death, Shostakovich began his Symphony No. 10, breaking an eight-year silence in the genre. He composed it between July and October, and the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra performed the premiere that December.
The symphony opens modestly, with a simple theme in the lower strings that uncoils in a relaxed Moderato tempo. A clarinet solo briefly interrupts the cloaked texture of string orchestra, but the full forces of the ensemble do not arise until a long buildup peaks in the fifth minute. A solo flute, in its breathy lower range, introduces a contrasting strain, supported by sparse plucks. This material, with its obsessive ups and downs, has a bit of a smirk to it, and it later develops a tinge of bawdy, dance-hall humor. Still, the overall impact of this opening movement is its sincerity, released from the musical doublespeak and hidden meanings with which Shostakovich had long protected himself.
According to biographer Solomon Volkov, Shostakovich described the second movement as "a musical portrait of Stalin, roughly speaking." The image fits this bumptious scherzo well, with its restless motion and militaristic brass and percussion. The third movement begins with a dry and questioning theme, seemingly harmless but unsettled. The response to this ambiguous character comes from the composer's own musical signature: the notes D - E-flat - C - B, or as they are known in German, DSCH, spelling the beginning of the composer's name as rendered in German, D. Schostakowitsch. A mysterious theme, introduced by a solo horn, represents another name: the pitches E - A - E - D - A, or E - La - Mi - Re - A, combine German and French note names to spell Elmira. A composer and pianist from Azerbaijan, Elmira Nazirova studied with Shostakovich before his ouster from the Moscow Conservatory in 1948. They crossed paths a few times in the following years, and in the spring of 1953 he struck up a correspondence, sending her on average a letter each week during the months he composed the symphony. She later described her involvement with Shostakovich as that of "a muse, a symbol of beauty and musical inspiration," denying any romantic involvement. The Elmira theme, heard 12 times, retains its soaring purity, but DSCH speaks last, spitting out a final staccato call.
The finale's slow introduction returns to the rarified texture of lower strings, providing a base for sinuous oboe lines, with additional phrases from flute and bassoon. The figure of a rising fifth, introduced in isolated exchanges, becomes the start of the ensuing fast material. This sparkling music battles with a burly folk-dance quotation from Georgia (Stalin's homeland), and the DSCH figure returns heroically, bolstering the sunny material in a bright conclusion.