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
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.