LANSDOWNE

SYMPHONY

ORCHESTRA

Shostakovich Symphony No. 9 Program Notes

Beethoven's  monumental  Ninth  Symphony,  with  its  Ode  to  Joy,  was  the  first  in  a  line  of  significant  Ninths  by  major  composers.    By  August  1945,  when  Shostakovich  composed  this  work,  expectations  were  high  that  his  would  be  a  tribute  to  Allied  victory  over  Axis  powers.  Stalin  was  reputed  to  anticipate  such  a  thing,  and  the  official  news  agency  reported  it  as  being  devoted  to  the  Celebration  of  our  Great  Victory. Instead  of  the  paean  expected  by  the  Soviet,  Shostakovich  delivered  a  relatively short,  scherzo-like  work,  reminiscent  of  Prokofiev's  Classical  Symphony:  the  first  movement  follows  classical  allegro-form  quite  strictly.    Leonard  Bernstein  would  later  call  Shostakovich's  Ninth  Dzone  big  series  of  jokes.  Of  course,  they  are  not  all  funny  jokes:  the  laughter  seems  forced  at  times.    Even  the  second  movement  waltz  (a  typically  cheerful  form)  is  gloomy.    The  actual  scherzo  (third  movement)  is  fiery  and  virtuosic,  before  trailing  off  into  the  mausoleum-like  seriousness  of  the  fourth  movement  -  the  lower  brass  pontificate  in  unison,  before  the  bassoons  soulful  response  gives  way  to  a  cartoon-like,  sometimes  frantic  and  comical  last  movement.  Censured  by  critics  and  obviously  not  the  hoped-for  monument,  the  Ninth  was  unofficially  withdrawn  until  after  Stalinǯs  death.    Much  has  been  written  about  the  life  of  artists  and  intellectuals  in  the  USSR,  and  Volkov's  famous  Testimony  (1979)  would  have  neatly  tied  together  Shostakovich's  music  to  the  politics,  were  it  not  so  fraudulently  written.    However,  we  can  assume  Shostakovich  knew  he  was  walking  a  fine  line  in  disappointing  authorities.    Plenty  of  intellectuals  were  shot  for  openly  speaking  out,  but  an  abstract  Symphony  could  obscure  political  messages.    And  as  colleague  of  Shostakovich  recounted  in  his  diary  during  the  Ninths  composition:  [he]  told  me  about  the  uranium  bomb,  of  the  inconceivable,  terrible  catastrophe  of  Hiroshima...  I  started  to  give  voice  to  my  despondency,  but  Dmitri  Dmitriyevich,  his  eyes  fixed  on  some  point  overhead,  quickly  cut  short  my  lamentations:  our  job  is  to  rejoice!