Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93
Related Artists/CompaniesDmitri Shostakovich
About the Work
The Tenth Symphony was composed during the summer and fall of 1953; Stalin had died in March of that year, and the new Symphony was introduced on December 17, by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky. Howard Mitchell conducted the National Symphony Orchestra's first performance of this work, on November 30, 1955; the most recent ones, given in the course of a tour were conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich on April 27, 1994, in Tapipei, following performances in Nagoya four days earlier and in Tokyo on the 24th.
The score specifies 3 flutes and piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 lcarinets, E-flat clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, side drum, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, triangle, xylophone, tam-tam, and strings. Duration, 57 minutes.
The story of Shostakovich's frequent falling out of favor with the political authorities in his homeland is well known. It began on a mild level--even a comical one--over his brilliant orchestration of Vincent Youmans's song"Tea for Two" (under the title Tahiti Trot), when he was only 21 years old. It resumed with terrifying force less than a decade later, and Shostakovich was to know little resembling serenity or peace from that time to the end of his life. The Tenth Symphony, possibly the greatest of his fifteen, is, like so many of his most profound works, a document of a spiritual crisis successfully weathered, and it is one of the most personal of his musical utterances to be made in such large gestures.
Music was regarded very watchfully by Stalin and his associates, particularly when Shostakovich, following the remarkable success of his First Symphony when he was only 20. The Second and Third Symphonies had choral finales with idealized texts on subjects not only approved but overtly encouraged. The still young composer's first serious crisis--and in those days it could have become a fatal one--came in 1936, over Stalin's personal and strongly expressed displeasure with the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which had until then enjoyed successful runs in both Leningrad and Moscow. Following unsigned condemnations in the press, understood to have come from"on high," the Fourth Symphony was withdrawn during rehearsals (it would not be heard until 1961), and Shostakovich accomplished his"rehabilitation" with the Fifth, introduced with enormous success during the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the 1917 Revolution and still the most popular of all his works.
Five years later, in 1942, the Seventh Symphony, dedicated to the composer's native city in the midst of the invaders' furious siege, made him even more of a hero, both at home and abroad. His Eighth and Ninth, however, produced in 1943 and at the end of the"Great Patriotic War" in 1945, respectively, met with cooler receptions, and in 1948 Shostakovich found himself once again the object of official denunciations--kicked off by Zhdanov, as described in the preceding note on the Violin Concerto--this time in the company of Prokofiev and virtually every other creative musician of any consequence in the Soviet Union. While Zhdanov himself died before the year was out, so did the great film director Sergei Eisenstein, who had suffered somewhat similar treatment from"on high." For Prokofiev, who had been Eisenstein's visionary collaborator on Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible, the"thaw" that followed Stalin's death on March 5, 1953, also came too late, for, by the most bizarre twist of fate, he died on the same day himself. Shostakovich survived, but at terrible cost.
His survival was achieved through exceptional inner strength and self-discipline. He kept his thoughts to himself and simply put his Violin Concerto and the other most personally inflected scores he wrote in those years"in the drawer" until such time as he might feel they could be safely presented to the public. What he did offer during those wretched years, apart from the oratorio Song of the Forests (far better music than its Stalian-lauding text deserved), was mainly in the form of film scores. In addition to the Violin Concerto No. 1, composed in 1955 and not performed until 1955, the String Quartet No. 4, composed in 1949, waited till 1953 to be heard, and the song-cycle From Jewish Folk Poetry, composed in 1948, had its premiere in 1955. The Tenth Symphony, which surely gestated during those same dark years (it shares common thematic elements, in fact, with the String Quartet No. 5, written in 1952), was not put on paper till the summer of 1953, but it was performed almost as soon as the score was completed. It was the first major work composed in the Soviet Union after Stalin's death, and it struck nearly everyone as music that could have been written--or in any event actually presented to the public--only after that event.
The Tenth was heard in Moscow just ten days after the Leningrad premiere, and of course it provoked a good deal of discussion. All Shostakovich himself would say about it was that"in this composition I wanted to express human emotions and passions," but its message was in general terms clearly perceived. Boris Schwarz, in his invaluable study Music and Musical Life in Soviet Russia, 1917-1981 (Indiana University Press), described the Tenth Symphony as"the great work that heralded the liberalization of the human spirit" and characterized it, no less significantly, as"a work of inner liberation."
The Symphony "astounded listeners and critics at the premiere," according to Schwarz, who added,"Its role in Soviet music is comparable to [that of Ilya] Ehrenburg's The Thaw in literature, and it caused almost as much discussion. But ultimately [it] was accepted on its own terms."
Indeed, following three days of intense discussion of the Tenth Symphony, during the Eighth All-Union Plenum of the Union of Composers in the summer of 1954--sessions involving strong opinions and fierce clashes--Shostakovich was given the highest honor the Soviet Union bestowed upon its artists: the title"People's Artist of the U.S.S.R." In the fall of the same yeart the first foreign performances and recording of the Tenth Symphony, by Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic, accompmlished the composer's"rehabilitation" in the West, where he had been castigated for such banalities as the aforementioned Song of the Forest, and confirmed his status as the major European symphonist of his time. (Mitropoulos and the Philharmonic followed up early in 1956 with their recording of the Violin Concerto No. 1, with Oistrakh as soloist.)
Still, Shostakovich said nothing more about any personal or programmatic significance in this work, and would not do so until his last years. In Testimony "The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as Related to and Edited by So9lomon Volkov), published in English in 1979, the composer is quoted as stating that his Tenth Symphony"is about Stalin and the Stalin years"--with little, though, in the way of elaboration.
The music of Mussorgsky and that of Mahler were profoundly influential for Shostakovich throughout his creative life. Those two earlier composers, despite their different backgrounds and levels of training, shared several characteristics and techniques which Shostakovich found sympathetic to his own expressive goals. One of these is the principle of"metamorphosis," which is, in contradistinction to that of theme-and-variations, the transformation of a theme by means of repetition and modifications through which it is always clearly recognizable. The American music critic Alfred Frankenstein, who was especially knowledgeable in the area of Russian music, pointed out that this also happens to be"a peculiarly Russian technique," manifest in Russian folk songs and the way they are sung. This principle informs the entire Tenth Symphony, and even gives it a certain"cyclical" cohesiveness. This is particularly evident in the long first movement, which contains, in Shostakovich's words,"more slow tempi and lyric moments than dramatic, heroic and tragic." Its length is sustained without a single gratuitous gesture, episodes succeeding one another with a Sophoclean sense of inevitability.
According to the Volkov book (and other sources as well), Shostakovich described the second movement as"a portrait of Stalin, roughly speaking." This scherzo is so extremely fierce and driving that its concise dimentions might have been determined by the effort the composer felt it would take to exhaust itself. Its brevity and breathlessness provide a splendid foil for the expansiveness of the preceding movement, and for the introspection of the one that follows.
The Allegretto is not a conventional slow movement. The brooding opening theme is succeeded by one of almost primitive urgency, based on Shostakovich's"musical signature," the four-note sequence D, E-flat, C, B. In German usage, the note E-flat is called"Es" and our B-natural is"H" (the Germans use"B" for the note we call B-flat); thus these four notes--D, S, C, H--represent the composer's two initials transliterated from the Cyrillic into German orthography as"D. Sch." Shostakovich had made use of this device in his Fifth String Quartet, composed just before the Tenth Symphony, and he would return to it in several subsequent works. He labeled the middle part of this movement "Nocturne"; far less expansive but no less deeply felt than the similarly headed opening movement of the Violin Concerto No. 1, it is of a tender, melancholy character, built largely on materials from the first movement's introduction. The various component themes are subjected to metamorphosis, leading to a fortissimo proclamation of the Nocturne theme by the four horns. In the quiet, other-worldly coda this theme is restated by the solo horn, and the opening theme is heard from the solo violin.
An extended Andante, overtly nostalgic, serves as introduction to the final movement Allegro, which takes on an almost boisterous character with the appearance of a dancelike figure whose attempt at lightheartedness betrays a nervous edge. The remaining material is nevertheless relatively sunny, stressing a specifically Russian character by means of numerous patterns derived largely from the rhythms of folk songs and dances. In the concluding section, however, a more personal note returns with the reiteration of the"D.Sch." motto (given out by bassoons, tuba and timpani), as if the composer wanted to leave no doubt as to the significance of this symphony as his own testimony--not so much on the horrors of the Stalin years, perhaps, as in the resiliency of the creative impulse.