Shostakovich Symphony No. 5
This list is about the Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). Composed in 1937, it was premiered in November of that year by the Leningrad Philharmonic led by friend of the composer, Evgeny Mravinsky. The subtitle to the symphony, "A Soviet Artist's Reply [or Response] to Just Criticism," was claimed by Shostakovich to have come from a journalist, but it's possible it came from the composer himself. The symphony is considered by most to be an audacious ironical display, so for the composer to have gone the extra mile by attaching an equally ironic subtitle is not difficult to imagine.
As a young boy, Shostakovich showed a proclivity toward music and began his musical education in earnest at the age of 13. His musical interests, however, were more closely aligned with the progression of art that was happening in other parts of the world instead of the progression of politics that was happening in his home country. Coming of age in the time of Lenin, Shostakovich was expected to compose music that reflected the ideals of socialism and the Communist Party. All art in Russia was to denounce the decadence of the bourgeoisie, which, to Lenin, included all "high art" found in those other parts of the world. To Lenin, art had lost its value and purpose when it became a thing for the wealthy and privileged. The purpose of art in Russia was to be different; the purpose of art in Russia was to be for the proletariat: to bolster the spirit of the working class. The term for this genre of art would come to be known, under Lenin's successor Joseph Stalin, as Socialist Realism.
Despite the composer's predilection for modern compositional techniques, he graduated from conservatory with the submission of his first symphony, a work that was very well received but that, also, fell in line with those compositional confines of his Communist-run education. After his graduation, though, Shostakovich was free to explore and mature. Unfortunately, his new compositions brought scrutiny from the highest level. During the Stalin regime, Shostakovich witnessed fellow artists oppressed, exiled, and even killed and, so, by the time he started rehearsals for his fourth symphony, he was under extreme pressure to abandon his "high art" pursuits and, instead, focus once again on the style of art sanctioned by Communist Russia.
Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 is considered the composer's response to the political climate of the time and, possibly, his salvation from the hands of a dictator. Deserting the line of compositional progression upon which he set after his graduation, he delivered, with The Fifth, a piece of pure propaganda: gone was the atonal, gone was the asymmetrical, gone was the modern...what was left was a work for the people, a work for the soldier, a work for the Communist.
Or not? It's hard to say what the composer's true intention was, but it's impossible to ignore the facts: Shostakovich was one way with symphonies 2-4 and another way with 5. Still very much Shostakovich throughout, The Fifth drips with overt patriotism to the point where one simply has to wonder if it's a little too overt. This, along with the wink-and-a-nod subtitle, brings most listeners to the same conclusion: Shostakovich composed a brilliant work of musical irony that most likely saved his life.
Continue scrolling to listen to other renditions of The Fifth, as well as recordings of The Fourth to hear the differences between the two (authorized users). All user have access to the videos.