re the development of musical appreciation, as seen in myself

 

 

I am afraid some people will see this post as boastful. It is not intended to be.

 

 

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I have a good friend whom I share with my wife. He was a former teaching colleague of hers.

He reads all my posts — I am very happy to have him as a regular reader. He tends to admire my writings, which is very welcome, although if he disagrees with something (such as an opinion of mine about an author), he will tell me or my wife. He is a thoughtful person and reads with care and attention. But his criticisms are not harsh.

He has mentioned several times to both of us having enjoyed my writings and thoughts on classical music. He is an accomplished and serious pianist and a lover of music, about which he is knowledgeable.

I said I was glad that he enjoyed my posts about music. “You know,” I said, “with my limited technical knowledge of music, I am surprised to find I can write about it. But it seems I can.”

He said something in response to the effect that my writings on music read like those of a music critic.

Thinking more about this, I wrote my friend a follow up email, the text of which follows.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018

 

 

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Dear _______,

Yesterday we were talking about early influences, namely music and art.

I seem to be able to “think musically.”

Even though I can’t read music or play an instrument.

How is it that I know (or think I do) that Bartók outranks Stravinsky? How and why is it that when I was listening once to folksongs by Bartók, I was reminded of Porgy and Bess? And, then (this was in the past), I happened to read something about Gershwin somewhere and found out that he had used pentatonic scales in Porgy and Bess and realized that Bartók did the same with folksongs that used ancient modalities.

As I said, I seem to have always been able to think musically. My father graduated from Harvard when I was around four or five with a degree in music. I don’t recall it well, but he had 78 RPM records of classical music that he would play when doing assignments. I recall that I loved the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 — if one can do that at a very early age, one is inherently musical. I enjoyed listening to my mother play classical music on the piano around bedtime. I liked some other works I recall such as Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite. Plus kids’ songs such as “Rain, Rain, Go Away (Come Back Again Some Other Day).” I still remember the words and the basic tune. We had a scratchy old record of it which I wanted to hear over and over again.

I seem to have a photographic memory for music. I always recall what the pieces were and remember them exactly, going way back and extending through my lifetime. If I hear a different rendition at some later date, I can tell it’s not the same. (This includes popular music and rock.) How is it that I remember both the music and the actual pieces, including what they were?

For example, on the first day of school I attended in the seventh grade in my new hometown, Canton, our teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, led us from the piano in singing. The songs were “Over the River and Through the Woods, To Grandmother’s House We Go. The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh”; and, “Oh, Those Golden Slippers.” I can hear the songs still. I can hear Mrs. Sullivan playing — can seem to almost remember how that old piano sounded —  remember what the songs were and the melodies.

Music is linear, like mathematics. I think linearly. I always did very well in math. Music and subjects like algebra are left brained.

I never had to develop an interest in music, like, say, someone who says, or thinks, they should take up tennis or golf for some reason, and begins by taking lessons.

It was similar to my love of books and reading in that it was never an interest that was part of academics or coursework. The best interests develop naturally this way.

So that when I was in high school, I began to seriously develop a taste for and knowledge of classical music. It came naturally.

But when it comes to playing and performing, I could never, should I have tried, come close to my siblings’ proficiency.

A footnote: My former therapist, Dr. Colp’s, intellectual development seemed similar, in some respects. He grew up in a very intellectually stimulating atmosphere of books and ideas. He told me that the life of the mind was like breathing for him.

I was very fortunate to have grown up in a home were music was a part of everyday life and where aesthetic enrichment and appreciation came with the territory. Music has always been an important part of my life.

 

Roger

Posted in music (from the point of view of a listener), musings (random daily thoughts), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

an early take by Walt Whitman on his conception of himself as America’s poet

 

 

Walt Whitman began his writing career as a journalist. He was known early on for writing anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass — in other words, reviewing himself, in laudatory terms. A motivation for his doing this was that he clearly felt his poetic endeavor would not be understood by the literati or his countrymen, and indeed his poetry initially baffled most and offended many because of its frankness, or what one might call lack of reticence when it came to topics not discussed in polite society. Even his own family seems not to have for the most part read his poetry or understood it.

Below is an unpublished puff piece by Whitman that was in his papers. It is not un-similar to anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass he actually wrote. His conception of himself as a sort of literary gatecrasher is amusing. It has more than a grain of truth.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018

 

 

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We suppose it will excite the mirth of many of our readers to be told that a man has arisen, who has deliberately and insultingly ignored all the other, the cultivated classes as they are called, and set himself to write “America’s first distinctive Poem,” on the platform of these same New York Roughs, firemen, the ouvrier class, masons and carpenters, stagedrivers, the Dry Dock boys, and so forth; and that furthermore, he either is not aware of the existence of the polite social models, and the imported literary laws, or else he don’t value them two cents for his purposes.

 

Notes and Fragments, edited by R. M. Bucke; in Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, vol. IX (New York, 1902), pg. 70

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Ralph Colp, Jr. review of “The Gates of Memory” by Geoffrey Keynes

 
Ralph Colp, Jr. review of ‘The Gates of Memory’ by Geoffrey Keynes

 

 

As shown in my post “tribute to Ralph Colp, Jr., MD”

https://rogersgleanings.com/2016/02/16/tribute-to-ralph-colp-jr-md/

 

My former therapist, the late Ralph Colp, Jr., was an extraordinary man.

Posted here (above) is one of his many book reviews. It shows how well Dr. Colp could write, with great acumen and sensitivity.

We had many discussions about writing and writers. He told me that, like most young writers, he used to obsess at the beginning over style. But he said he soon overcame this and was able to not worry too much about it. His writing is notable for its clarity and straightforwardness.

Note that in this review of Geoffrey Keynes’s autobiography, Dr. Colp reminisces about a visit he had with Keynes. Geoffrey Keynes (brother of John Maynard Keynes), like Dr. Colp, was a physician-scholar. Keynes is well known as a scholar (and lover) of William Blake. Dr. Colp told me about having met Keynes. I had told him about my interest in Blake.

I knew of Keynes before becoming a patient of Dr. Colp and have several beautiful Blake books edited by the former.

 
— Roger W. Smith

    July 2018

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“The Poet”

 

 

In the “Divinity School Address” [given at Harvard Divinity School in 1838, Ralph Waldo] Emerson at times made it sound as though his understanding of Christ had transformed that figure into a type of the artist, a man who … had seen “further” than others with more limited vision–An example is Emerson’s statement of how Christ recognized “that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his World.” … in his later essay “The Poet,” … [Emerson] lambasted contemporary theologians for thinking it “a pretty air-castle to talk of the spiritual meaning of a ship or a cloud, of a city or a contract.” Such men prefer, he noted sardonically, “to come again to the solid ground of historical evidence,” not realizing “the highest minds of the world have never ceased to explore the double meaning, or shall I say the quadruple or centuple or much more manifold meaning, of every sensuous fact.” If his friends were to be faulted for any religious shortcomings, then, it was because they … did not perceive the literal presence of the miraculous in nature’s commonplace facts.

One of Emerson’s most revealing paragraphs in this essay deals specifically with his sense of the poet as a universal Christ-figure. … In “The Poet” Emerson thought it important to suggest how much his contemporaries needed another redeemer, one whose grasp of language and symbol, as well as of divine truth, was comparable to Christ’s, or at least to others among the world’s great prophets. …

Throughout the essay Emerson elaborates the intended equation between Christ and the poet. Like Christ, who stood as ransom before his Father for the entire human race, so, too, the poet is “representative” and “stands among partial men for the complete man.” Further, like the Christ who freed mankind again to the possibility of entering heaven, so the poet is a liberator who “unlocks our chains and admits us to a new thought.” When men are exposed to the truths the poet expresses, they recognize how “the use of his symbols has a certain power of emancipation for all men.” And like the Savior who called all unto him as children, when the poet speaks men “seem to be touched by a wand which makes [them] dance and run about happily, like children.” “Poets,” Emerson brazenly declares, “are thus liberating gods.”

Indeed, throughout the essay Emerson intends to make his readers aware that he means no deception when he equates the work of the Sayer with a process of salvation, for the poet provides a feeling akin to what those of an earlier generation (and, indeed, what some evangelicals of Emerson’s own day) would have called a conversion experience. As he continues in this vein, Emerson sounds as though he were making a narration of the influence of saving grace upon his soul. “With what joy,” he exclaims, “I begin to read a poem which I confide in as an inspiration! And now my chains are to be broken; I shall mount above these clouds and opaque airs in which I live . . . and from the heaven of truth I shall see and comprehend my relations.” The “new birth” is complete, for at such moments, Emerson announces confidently, he becomes “reconcile[d]” to live, while all nature becomes “renovate[d].” “Life will no more be a noise” to him who has experienced the effects of the poet’s vision; and, as self-righteously as any of his seventeenth-century New England ancestors, Emerson claims that then is he able to “see men and women and know the signs by which they may be discerned fools and satans.” The rebirth of his soul is complete, for “this day [when the poet’s message is heard] shall be better than my birthday: then I became an animal; now I am invited into the science of the real.”

This remarkable reworking of the morphology of conversion into an aesthetic experience takes on more significance when the reader is aware of how closely the older forms of religious vocabulary have been melded with terms from the idealistic philosophy to which Emerson had been exposed: He details this dream-vision of transcendence with reference to an explicitly Coleridgean term. “This insight,” Emerson declares, “expresses itself by what is called Imagination” and is best understood not by reference to any religious terminology but as “a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees . . . by sharing the path or circuit of things through forms … ” In the presence of the poet wielding his liberating symbols, man stands, Emerson mystically suggests, “before the secret of the world, there where Being passes into Appearance and Unity into Variety.”

But it is imperative that the poet also become the “Sayer or Namer” and openly declare what has been hidden from his contemporaries because of their imperfect nature and limited vision. “The world being thus put under the mind for verb and noun, the poet is he who can articulate it.” The secret of the universe, to paraphrase Robert Frost, literally sits in the middle of men, and the poet must do all in his power to make the secret apparent.

For through that better perception he stands one step nearer to things, and sees the flowing or metamorphosis; perceives that … within the form of every creature is a force impelling it to ascend into a higher form; and following with his eyes the life, uses the form which expresses that life, and so his speech flows with the flowings of nature.

For the poet the world becomes “a temple whose walls are covered with emblems, pictures and commandments of the Deity,” and it becomes his job to convey the meaning behind those emblems as evocatively as he can. … Emerson indeed believed that “Nothing walks, or creeps, or grows, or exists, which must not in tum arise and walk before him [the poet] as an exponent of his meaning.” Thus, the lessons from men like [the American Swedenborgian Sampson] Reed and {Guillaume] Oegger were assimilated, but along with the important corollary that man must not, like the self-centered mystic, “nail a symbol to one sense, which was a true sense for a moment, but soon becomes old and false.” The poet is he who knows that “all symbols are fluxional; all language is vehicular and transitive, and is good, as ferries and horses are, for conveyance, not as farms and houses are, for homestead.” When man reads the true poet’s works, Emerson believes, he finds himself on a version of Jacob’s ladder, the rungs of which are assembled from the world’s natural facts and by which he is to climb to view the world of spirit.

— Philip F. Gura, The Wisdom of Words: Language, Theology, and Literature in the American Renaissance

 
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I have been reading a fascinating and enlightening monograph: The Wisdom of Words: Language, Theology, and Literature in the American Renaissance by Philip F. Gura (Wesleyan University Press, 1981), from which the above passages are quoted.

Who is the poet whom Emerson foresaw and spoke of? Walt Whitman, as has often been noted.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018

Posted in general interest, literature, Walt Whitman | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 in D minor; Шостакович, Симфония № 5 ре минор

 

 

 

 

 

Posted here is the Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47, by Dmitri Shostakovich — in two different recordings.

The first performance posted here is by Bernard Haitink, an outstanding Shostakovich interpreter. The second is by the Czecho-Slovak Radio Orchestra. You tell me which one is best. I couldn’t decide.

 

 

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The Symphony No. 5 was composed between April and July 1937. Its first performance was on November 21, 1937, in Leningrad by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky.

The symphony has four movements:

1. Moderato—Allegro non troppo

2. Allegretto

3. Largo

4. Allegro non troppo

The work is scored for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets and E-flat clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three B trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, glockenspiel, xylophone, two harps (one part), piano, celesta and strings. Regarding the typical ingenuity of Shostakovich in this respect, note, for example, the brief piano passage (in which the piano’s percussive qualities resonate) in the first movement and a passage for a celesta at the end of the first movement.

 
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I became acquainted with this symphony during my teenage years, when I was first getting into classical music. I had not had much exposure to modern classical music then.

I consider it not only an outstanding work among Shostakovich’s ample and varied (astonishingly so) oeuvre, but one of the truly great symphonies of all time. I would be inclined to go out on a limb and say that it is exceeded by few symphonies since Beethoven’s Fifth, perhaps only by Schubert’s ninth and Brahms’s first symphony.

 

 

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The Fifth Symphony quotes Shostakovich’s song “Vozrozhdenije” (Op. 46 No. 1, composed in 1936–37), most notably in the last movement, which uses a poem by Alexander Pushkin that deals with the matter of rebirth. This song is by some considered to be a vital clue to the interpretation and understanding of the whole symphony. In addition, commentators have noted that Shostakovich incorporated a motif from the “Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen into the first movement, a reference to Shostakovich’s earlier infatuation with a woman who refused his offer of marriage; she subsequently moved to Spain and married a man named Roman Carmen.

With the Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich gained an unprecedented triumph, with the music appealing equally—and remarkably—to both the public and official critics, though the overwhelming public response to the work initially aroused suspicions among certain officials. The then-head of the Leningrad Philharmonic, Mikhail Chulaki, recalls that certain authorities bristled at Mravinsky’s gesture of lifting the score above his head to the cheering audience, and a subsequent performance was attended by two plainly hostile officials, V.N. Surin and Boris M. Yarustovsky, who tried to claim in the face of the vociferous ovation given the symphony that the audience was made up of “hand-picked” Shostakovich supporters. Yet the authorities in due course claimed that they found everything they had demanded of Shostakovich restored in the symphony. Meanwhile, the public heard it as an expression of the suffering to which it had been subjected by Stalin. The same work was essentially received two different ways.

An article reportedly written by the composer appeared in the Moscow newspaper Vechernyaya Moskva a few days before the premiere of the Fifth Symphony. There, he reportedly states that the work “is a Soviet artist’s creative response to justified criticism.” Whether Shostakovich or someone more closely connected with the Party actually wrote the article is open to question, but the phrase “justified criticism”—a reference to the denunciation of the composer in 1936—is especially telling.

Official critics treated the work as a turnaround in its composer’s career, a personal perestroika, or “restructuring,” by the composer, with the Party engineering Shostakovich’s rehabilitation as carefully as it had his fall a couple of years earlier. Like the Pravda attack at that time on the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the political basis for extolling the Fifth Symphony was to show how the Party could make artists bow to its demands. It had to show that it could reward as easily and fully as it could punish.

The official tone toward the Fifth Symphony was further set by a review by Alexei Tolstoy, who likened the symphony to the literary model of the Soviet Bildungsroman describing “the formation of a personality”—in other words, of a Soviet personality. In the first movement, the composer-hero suffers a psychological crisis giving rise to a burst of energy. The second movement provides respite. In the third movement, the personality begins to form: “Here the personality submerges itself in the great epoch that surrounds it, and begins to resonate with the epoch.” With the finale, Tolstoy wrote, came victory, “an enormous optimistic lift.” As for the ecstatic reaction of the audience to the work, Tolstoy claimed it showed Shostakovich’s perestroika to be sincere. “Our audience is organically incapable of accepting decadent, gloomy, pessimistic art. Our audience responds enthusiastically to all that is bright, clear, joyous, optimistic, life-affirming.”

Not everyone agreed with Tolstoy, even after another article reportedly by the composer echoed Tolstoy’s views. Asafiev, for one, wrote, “This unsettled, sensitive, evocative music which inspires such gigantic conflict comes across as a true account of the problems facing modern man-—not one individual or several, but mankind.” The composer himself seemed to second this view long after the fact, in a conversation with author Chinghiz Aitmatov in the late 1960s. “There are far more openings for new Shakespeares in today’s world,” he said, “for never before in its development has mankind achieved such unanimity of spirit: so when another such artist appears, he will be able to express the whole world in himself, like a musician.”

During the first performance of the symphony, people were reported to have wept during the Largo movement. The music, steeped in an atmosphere of mourning, contained echoes of the panikhida, the Russian Orthodox requiem. It also recalled a genre of Russian symphonic works written in memory of the dead, including pieces by Glazunov, Steinberg, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky. Typical of these works is the use of the tremolo in the strings as a reference to the hallowed ambience of the requiem.

After the symphony had been performed in Moscow, Heinrich Neuhaus called the work “deep, meaningful, gripping music, classical in the integrity of its conception, perfect in form and the mastery of orchestral writing-—music striking for its novelty and originality, but at the same time somehow hauntingly familiar, so truly and sincerely does it recount human feelings.”

Shostakovich returned to the traditional four-movement form and a normal-sized orchestra. More tellingly, he organized each movement along clear lines, having concluded that a symphony cannot be a viable work without firm architecture. The harmonic idiom in the Fifth is less astringent, more tonal than previously, and the thematic material is more accessible. Nevertheless, every bar bears its composer’s personal imprint. It has been said that, in the Fifth Symphony, the best qualities of Shostakovich’s music, such as meditation, humor and grandeur, blend in perfect balance and self-fulfillment

The final movement, often being criticized for sounding shrill, is declared in Testimony * to be a parody of shrillness, representing “forced rejoicing.” In the words attributed to the composer in Testimony (a work, although attributed to Shostakovich himself, that has been shown to have serious flaws in its credibility):

The rejoicing is forced, created under threat, as in Boris Godunov. 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.”

This is symbolized by the repeated A’s at the end of the final movement in the string and upper woodwind sections. It includes a quotation from the composer’s song “Rebirth,” accompanying the words “A barbarian painter” who “blackens the genius’s painting.” In the song, the barbarian’s paint falls away and the original painting is reborn. It has been suggested that the barbarian and the genius are Stalin and Shostakovich respectively. The work is largely sombre despite the composer’s official claim that he wished to write a positive work.

 

— Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._5_(Shostakovich)

 

 

* Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, As Related to and edited by Solomon Volkov (1979), was supposedly based on interviews Volkov had with the composer. I have read the book in part and always doubted its accuracy.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I attended a performance of Shostakovich’s fifth at Carnegie Hall on July 24, 2018. The conductor was Carlos Miguel Prieto. He was outstanding.

I jotted down the following notes on my way home that evening.

To say Shostakovich’s Fifth is his best symphony, which I think it is, is saying something, because he wrote (among a total of fifteen) so many outstanding symphonies.

I have never heard Shostakovich’s fifth live before…. to hear it live is a revelation.

There is a sort of mishmash or “mushy” affect with almost all recorded music — you don’t hear the individual instruments clearly enough. It’s sort of like a Jackson Pollack effect (I never had a taste for his works) of various colors oozing together.

In the Fifth Symphony, the instruments each “hold their own” and maintain their separate identities, yet they talk with the other instruments … there is a beautiful interplay among them. Yet, the overall architecture of the piece is never “lost in the shuffle.” Shostakovich, like Beethoven, is admirably clear. There is such clarity and such a sense of being propelled forward by an irresistible musical logic which recalls Beethoven’s Fifth.

To be able to visually see which instrument(s) are playing. The piano in the middle of the first movement (Moderato). Shostakovich uses instruments, orchestral color, brilliantly, but with restraint. The celesta at the very end of the same. At the end of the fourth movement (Allegro non troppo), I heard — could it be? — yes indeed, two harps playing, not one — interacting, so to speak, and sharing a melody — listening to a recording, one does not get this. To see ITALICS how important to the overall piece the flute and other woodwind passages are. To see and hear the cymbals and timpani drums in the rousing finale. To see and hear how important the brass instruments are to the piece …. the trumpets held aloft blaring.

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“Shostakovich’s Fifth–the Russian composer’s most popular symphony–was written during the darkest period of Stalinist oppression, and has set off an endless controversy about his ideological intentions and musical codes. The music is powerful, emotionally varied, and exceptionally lyrical. Like many Shostakovich symphonies, it is indebted to Mahler, especially in its juxtaposition of the sublime with the banal, its fondness for marches, the garish folk tunes in the scherzo, and the hymn-like lyricism in the slow movement.”

— program notes

 

The Fifth can stand on its own without extra-musical discussions or associations, and I think it’s better heard this way.

 
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Addendum:

 

There is a performance of Shostakovich’s Fifth by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein on YouTube at:

 

 

 
Enabling you to “visualize” the work.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 22, 2018; updated July 26

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Shostakovich, symphony no. 11 (“The Year 1905”); Шостакович, Симфония № 11 («1905-й год»)

 

 

 

Posted here (above) is a recording of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Opus 103 (subtitled The Year 1905), conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

It is a marvelous symphony. Extremely moving. Program music that works and is entirely compelling from beginning to end. A powerful work. Like practically all — if not all — of Shostakovich’s works, it is very “Russian.” Meaning, could it have been composed anywhere else? Belong to any other musical tradition? In this respect, Shostakovich reminds me (as I have remarked elsewhere) of Aaron Copland.

I first heard the work when I was in college. My uncle Roger Handy gave me an LP of the world premiere recording (by Andre Clutyens) as a Christmas gift.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018

 

 

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From a Wikipedia entry:

 

Symphony No. 11 in G minor (Opus 103; subtitled The Year 1905) by Dmitri Shostakovich was written in 1957 and premiered, by the USSR Symphony Orchestra under Natan Rakhlin, on 30 October 1957. The subtitle of the symphony refers to the events of the Russian Revolution of 1905. The first performance given outside the Soviet Union took place in London’s Royal Festival Hall on 22 January 1958 when Sir Malcolm Sargent conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The US Premiere was given by Leopold Stokowski and the Houston Symphony Orchestra on 7 April 1958.

The symphony was conceived as a popular piece and proved an instant success in Russia — his greatest, in fact, since the Leningrad Symphony fifteen years earlier. The work’s popular success, as well as its earning him a Lenin Prize in April 1958, marked the composer’s formal rehabilitation from the Zhdanov Doctrine of 1948.

A month after the composer had received the Lenin Prize, a Central Committee resolution “correcting the errors” of the 1948 decree restored all those affected by it to official favor, blaming their treatment on “J. V. Stalin’s subjective attitude to certain works of art and the very adverse influence exercised on Stalin by Molotov, Malenkov and Beria.”

The symphony is scored for 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling cor anglais), 3 clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, orchestral bass drum, tam-tam, xylophone, tubular bells, 2 harps (preferably doubled), celesta and strings. [Typical of Shoskakovich’s supreme gift for orchestral color.]

The symphony has four movements played without break, and lasts approximately one hour.

1. Adagio (The Palace Square)

The first movement is cold, quiet, and somewhat menacing, with transparent strings and distant though ominous timpani motifs. This is underscored with brass calls, also as though from a great distance.

2. Allegro (The 9th of January)

The second movement, referring to the events of the Bloody Sunday, consists of two major sections. The first section probably depicts the petitioners of 22 January 1905 [O.S. 9 January], in the city of Saint Petersburg, in which crowds descended on the Winter Palace to complain about the government’s increased inefficiency, corruption, and harsh ways. This first section is busy and constantly moves forward. It builds to two steep climaxes, then recedes into a deep, frozen calm in the prolonged piccolo and flute melodies, underscored again with distant brass.

Another full orchestra build-up launches into a pounding march, in a burst from the snare drum like gunfire and fugal strings, as the troops descend on the crowd. This breaks out into an intense section of relentless strings, and trombone and tuba glissandos procure a nauseating sound underneath the panic and the troops’ advance on the crowd. Then comes a section of mechanical, heavily repetitive snare drum, bass drum, timpani, and tam-tam solo before the entire percussion sections breaks off at once. Numbness sets in with a section reminiscent of the first movement.

3. Adagio (Eternal Memory)

The third movement is a lament on the violence, based on the revolutionary funeral march “You Fell as Victims”. Toward the end, there is one more outbreak, where material from the second movement is represented.

4. Allegro non troppo (Tocsin)

The finale begins with a march, (again repeating material from the climax of the second movement), which reaches a violent climax, followed by a return to the quietness of the opening of the symphony, introducing a haunting cor anglais melody. After the extended solo, the bass clarinet returns to the earlier violence, and the orchestra launches into a march once again. The march builds to a climax with snare drum and chimes in which the tocsin (alarm bell or warning bell) rings out in a resilient G minor, while the orchestra insists a G major. In the end, neither party wins, as the last full orchestra measure is a sustained G natural, anticipating the future events of 1917.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._11_(Shostakovich)

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Saul Bellow on writing

 

 

“I think … that the insistence on neatness and correctness [in writing] is one of the signs of a modern nervousness and irritability. When has clumsiness in composition been felt as so annoying, so enraging? The “good” writing of the New Yorker is such that one experiences a furious anxiety, in reading it, about errors and lapses from taste; finally, what emerges is a terrible hunger for conformity and uniformity. The smoothness of the surface and its high polish must not be marred. One has a similar anxiety in reading a novelist like Hemingway and comes to feel in the end that Hemingway wants to be praised for the offenses he does not commit. He is dependable; he never names certain emotions or ideas, and he takes pride in that—it is a form of honor. In it, really, there is submissiveness, acceptance of restriction.”

 

— Saul Bellow, “Dreiser and the Triumph of Art,” Commentary, May 1951

 

 

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I agree with Bellow. I admire good writing, never cease trying to study and learn from it, deplore lapses including those caused by ignorance of style and grammar points. And, yet, a writer must dare to write and be guided by the subject and fidelity to the truth of experience. I have always felt that The New Yorker was overrated, for precisely the reasons Bellow states. Writers writing well, often about not much of anything, with an archness that leaves the reader feeling unfulfilled.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    July 2018

Posted in writing (the craft of writing; good vs. bad writing; my training, experience, and lessons re same) | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment