Monthly Archives: December 2018

further reflections on Shostakovich’s seventh (and what Virgil Thomson had to say); дальнейшие размышления о седьмом Шостаковиче (и что должен был сказать Вирджил Томсон)

 

 

The following comments of mine were prompted by a recent, rather wishy washy review by New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini of Dmitri Shostakovich’s seventh symphony:

 

“At the Philharmonic, a Screaming Reflection on War”

By Anthony Tommasini

The New York Times

November 30, 2018

 

 

Excerpts from the Tommasini review follow, along with comments of my own that I made in a letter to a friend. (My comments are in boldface.)

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2018

 

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Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony is a sprawling score that heaves, blasts, marches and meanders for nearly 80 minutes. Written in 1941, while Hitler’s forces were devastating Leningrad in a siege that would last 900 days and take at least a million lives, the work practically screams, “This is a big statement!”

And scream it did on Thursday at Geffen Hall, where Jaap van Zweden led the New York Philharmonic in a performance of the “Leningrad” that was intense and powerful — sometimes overly so.

Shostakovich began composing this symphony, his seventh, before the German invasion. Debates continue over whether he intended it as a grim portrait of a historic city under siege, or as a more general cry against tyranny. Are there coded, anti-Stalinist messages in the piece? And are those long stretches of militaristic-sounding marches bitterly ironic?

I am aware of divergence of critics on these points.

Mr. van Zweden seemed to take the piece at face value — in the best sense. He laid out this shifting score clearly, letting it speak for itself. He pushed the orchestra to blaring extremes at times, but the excessiveness of the music may call for that. (Critics who question the symphony’s merits, including Virgil Thomson, have found it obvious and steeped in banality.)

I wonder about this. Thomson is not NECESSARILY wrong, but I know the seventh well and find much to admire in it.

From the Philharmonic strings, Mr. van Zweden drew a dark, deep tone in the opening theme: a stern yet elusive melodic line, played in unison, that is soon goaded by bursts of drums and trumpets. The transition from there into a quizzically lyrical passage was deftly handled.

The most curious section of the nearly half-hour first movement comes when you expect a development section to begin. Instead, a snare drum plays an obsessive march rhythm. Over it, individual instruments, then groups, play what sounds like a jaunty march tune — over and over. Each statement becomes bigger, louder and more elaborately orchestrated. This roughly 10-minute section has aptly been described as Shostakovich’s “Boléro.” Mr. van Zweden and the orchestra played it straight, building inexorably to an assaultive fortissimo climax.

I don’t like Ravel’s “Boléro.” I know this passage in Shostakovich’s seventh well. I am not crazy about it. … Shostakovich often surprises.

The Philharmonic’s high level of the performance continued throughout the symphony: the second movement’s cross between a scherzo and lyrical reminiscence; the restless slow movement; and the often frenzied finale, which drives toward of seemingly triumphant (or bitter?) coda of victory.

 

 

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Composer and critic Virgil Thomson is known for having been highly critical of Shostakovich and composers similar to him, such as Sibelius. His caustic remarks on Shostakovich’s seventh are frequently quoted. The review quoted has, I would suspect, been rarely read in its entirely and it is not available online. I am posting the entire review here.

Whether one is able to listen without mind-wandering to the Seventh Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich probably depends on the rapidity of one’s music perceptions. It seems to have been written for the slow-witted, the not very musical and the distracted. In this respect it differs from nearly all the other symphonies in the world in which abnormal length is part and parcel of the composer’s concept. Beethoven’s Ninth, Mahler’s Ninth and Eighth, Bruckner’s Seventh and the great Brahms “machines” are long because they could not have been made any shorter without eliminating something the author wanted in. Their mater is complex and cannot be expounded briefly.

Its Length Is Arbitrary

The Shostakovich piece on the other hand is merely a stretching out of material that is in no way deep or difficult to understand. The stretching itself is not even a matter of real though possibly unnecessary development. It is for the most part straight banal repetition. The piece seems to be the length it is not because the substance would brook no briefer expression but because for some reason not inherent in the material the composer wishes it that way. Of what the reason could possibly be I have only the vaguest notion. That the reason was clear to its author I have not the slightest doubt, however, because the piece all through bears the marks of complete assurance. It is no pent up outpouring out of personal feelings and still less an encyclopedic display of musical skill. It is interminably straightforward and withal is limited in spiritual scope as a film like “The Great Zigfield” or “Gone With the Wind.” It could have said what it says in fifteen minutes or it could have gone on for two hours more. The proportions of the work seem to this auditor, in short, wholly arbitrary.

Its Content Is Tame

They do not seem, nevertheless, accidental. Nothing seems accidental in this piece. The themes are clearly thought out and their doings are simplified with a master’s hand. The harmonies, the contrapuntal web, the orchestration show no evidence of floundering or of experiment. If the music has no mystery and consequently no real freedom of thought, neither does it obtain any obscurity or any evidence of personal frustration. It is as objective as an editorial, as self-assured as the news report of a public ceremony.

Heretofore this author’s music, whether theatrical or symphonic, has been animated by an instinct for easy theatrical values. He has put into his works with never-failing effect crowd scenes, barcarolles, burlesques and patriotic finales, holding these all together with a kind of neutral continuity-writing in two-part counterpoint. The most entertaining of these numbers have always been burlesques of bourgeois musical taste, which were the more charming for their being purged, as it were, of bitterness by the optimism of the final patriotic and military passages. One could always feel in them the rambunctious but gifted boy whose heart was really in the right place. In spite of the static and not very significant character of the innocent two-part counterpoint between, his “production numbers,” if one may call them that in symphonic music, have always been bright, full of gusto and genuinely characteristic of their composer. They have put us in contact with a real person.

The Seventh Symphony has the same formal structure as the rest of its author’s work. It is series of production numbers interspersed with neutral matter written chiefly in that same two-part counterpoint. There is a mechanized military march and the usual patriotic ending, neither of them quite as interesting or imaginative as they might be. And the rest of the episodes are tamer. The pastorale and the Protestant chorale are competent routine stuff, no more, and the continuity-counterpoint, though less static than usual, just sort of runs on as if some cinematic narrative were in progress that needed neutral accompaniment. The opening passage, which is said to represent the good Soviet citizen, is bold and buoyant. But nowhere is there any real comedy, which is what Shostakovich does best.

It is no reproach to an author to say that one of his works is the kind of work it is. And this work is certainly of more sober mien than most of its author’s others. It is very long and very serious, and both these qualities are certainly deliberate observances. The facile competence and the assurance of the whole thing, moreover, eliminate the possibility that any auditor find the struggle between the artiest and the material a major subject of interest. It is easy to listen to the piece, equally easy to skip any part of it without missing the sense of the whole. It is excellent journalism, and some of it can be remembered. But it will probably not make much difference to anybody’s inner musical life whether he hears it or doesn’t.

Its Author Is Growing Up and Not Very Prettily

Shostakovich is an abundant musician, a “natural” composer. He is also an experienced and perfectly assured one. Heretofore he has maintained a boyish taste for low comedy (redeemed by sincere patriotic sentiment) that gave gusto to his writing and made listening to it sometimes fun. The present work shows a wish to put boyish things behind him and a complete ability to do so without losing confidence in himself. That it is less amusing than his previous works is not to its discredit. That it is, in spite of its serious air and pretentious proportions, thin of substance, unoriginal and shallow indicates that the mature production of this gifted master is likely to be on the stuffy side. That he has deliberately diluted his matter, adapted it, both by excessive simplification and by excessive repetition to the comprehension of a child of eight indicates that he is willing to write down to a real or fictious psychology of mass-consumption in a way that may eventually disqualify him for consideration as a serious composer.

— Virgil Thomson, “Shostakovich’s Seventh,” New York Herald Tribune, October 18, 1942, pg. E7

 

 

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In an earlier review of a performance of Shostakovich’s Seventh by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, Thomson stated:

The Shostakovich Seventh Symphony is easy to listen to but hard to keep the mind on. It is easy to follow because the tunes are simple, the counterpoint thin and the orchestration very broad and plain. It is experienced work by a man of thoroughly musical mentality; and it is apparently designed for easy listening, perhaps even with a thought to making it possible for the radio listener to miss some of the repetitions without losing anything essential. It is hard to keep one’s attention on it at a concert hall because it repeats itself so much. One gets to thinking about something else while waiting for the next section.

As usual with Shostakovich, the quiet passages are less effective that the noisy ones. [italics added] Even these, with doubled brass and seven men at the battery, are not especially rousing. Like everything else in the work they are a little too simple to be interesting. The symphony seems to need film accompaniment, something to occupy the mind while it goes on and to explain the undue stretching out of all its sections. I do not find the work objectionable in spirit, and it is certainly sincere and competent music-making. I merely find it thin in substance.

— Virgil Thomson, “Imperfect Workmanship,” New York Herald Tribune, October 15, 1942, pg. 18

 

 

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I don’t, in the final analysis, agree with Thomson. I like Thomson’s music. And he writes very well. He was justifiably regarded as a very good critic. I don’t mind incisive criticism like this even when I disagree with it. It makes me think.

With a Shostakovich symphony, you never know what to expect. There are deep thought and great ingenuity in all his works. Somewhat like Beethoven, his symphonies (with the possible exception of the second and third symphonies) tend to hold their own, none “copying” another. Each one is a remarkable work.

Yet, the greatest works of art can be uneven. “Perfect” construction is not necessarily desirable or a virtue. Samuel Johnson said as much in a comment about Milton’s Paradise Lost:

In every work one part must be for the sake of others; a palace must have passages; a poem must have transitions. It is no more to be required that wit should always be blazing, than that the sun should always stand at noon. In a great work there is a vicissitude of luminous and opaque parts, as there is in the world a succession of day and night.

— Samuel Johnson, “Milton,” Lives of the Poets

 

Take Beethoven’s Ninth, for example. An inferior work? Yet, at times the construction seems sort of messy. How does the “Ode to Joy” fit into the work? Is it strident? Too much? An emotional outpouring that amounts to overblown sentiment?

Shostakovich has been accused of writing such music and of being inferior to supposedly more cerebral composers such as Stravinsky. Was Beethoven’s music at times too romantic? Is Shostakovich’s music as times too patriotic? Such questions seem nonsensical to me.

Shostakovich, in my opinion, stands head and shoulders above most twentieth century composers, including those who were trying to show primarily how clever or innovative they were. Shostakovich is a brilliant “musical thinker,” and, on top of that, one continually encounters passages of deep feeling and startling beauty.

Thomson’s assertion that “the quiet passages [in Shostakovich’s works] are less effective that the noisy ones” is flat out wrong. Here are some examples from the symphonies that demonstrate just the opposite:

 

Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47

3rd movement

Largo

 

 

Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 60 (“Leningrad”)

3rd movement

Adagio

 

 

Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 70

2nd movement

Moderato

 

 

Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103 (“The Year 1905”)

3rd movement*

Adagio (Eternal Memory)

 

Only one of Shostakovich’s fifteen string quartets had been published when Shostakovich’s seventh symphony was premiered. Had Thomson been familiar with the quartets and other later works of Shostakovich — such as the 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87, premiered in 1952 — he might have had a deeper and fuller appreciation of the composer’s’ oeuvre.

 

* The third movement of Shostakovich’s eleventh, “Eternal Memory,” starts with a halting motion on pizzicato strings, over which a noble melody (‘You Fell As Victims’, most famous of all the revolutionary songs and whose deployment was by no means limited to Soviet composers) is heard on violas then extended to upper strings. A sombre new theme, heard initially on woodwind and brass before being transformed on violins, begins the ascent to the apex, at the summit of which the climactic motif from the previous movement is sounded out balefully on full orchestra, underpinned by pounding timpani that continue as the intensity subsides. The viola melody, now a distant recessional, is heard again before pizzicato strings arrive at a questioning pause.  [Program notes, recording of the eleventh symphony by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.]

The sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin mentions this revolutionary song and Shostakovich’s eleventh symphony in his autobiography, A Long Journey.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

Shostakovich’s seventh has much in common with his eleventh symphony, another work comprised of program music of great beauty and power. See my previous post:

 

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

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/07/19/shostakovich-symphony-no-11-the-year-1905-%d1%88%d0%be%d1%81%d1%82%d0%b0%d0%ba%d0%be%d0%b2%d0%b8%d1%87-%d1%81%d0%b8%d0%bc%d1%84%d0%be%d0%bd%d0%b8%d1%8f-%e2%84%96-11-1905/

New Yorkers

 

 

 

I was on a bus in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago.

My eyes strayed to a seat across from me, and I saw that a young woman was smiling at me.

Beaming.

She had a five or six or year old boy in her lap. It was a bit different than holding a toddler in one’s lap. The boy was restless. But the mother and her son and seemed to be totally in sync.

“Is he going to school. Or he is too young for that?” I asked.

“No, he’s going to school,” she said, still smiling.

Then, I got off the bus. She waved at me and wished me a good day. It was as if we had been glad to meet.

This little encounter — unanticipated, most would say totally inconsequential — set me up for the rest of the day. It was as if somehow I had made her morning pleasurable. She certainly did that for me.

A reason I am writing about this is because this sort of thing happens to me very often in New York. I doubt such encounters would be as likely in the suburbs. (Certainly not if one were driving to work or an appointment.) Rubbing shoulders with others as a matter of course is something I love about living in NYC.

When I first moved to New York as a young man, everyone seemed to in a hurry, and the City seemed cold and impersonal.

It’s exactly the opposite. Many New Yorkers have told me that their experience has been the same.

 

 

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In his poem “Mannahatta,” Walt Whitman said something very similar:

 

Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and
steamships, an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender,
strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies, …
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d,
beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the
shops and shows,
A million people–manners free and superb–open voices–
hospitality–the most courageous and friendly young
men,

 

 

Roger W. Smith

December 2018

“The Song of the Forests” – post updated

 

 

I have updated my post

 
Shostakovich, Песнь о лесах (The Song of the Forests)

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/12/02/shostakovich-%d0%bf%d0%b5%d1%81%d0%bd%d1%8c-%d0%be-%d0%bb%d0%b5%d1%81%d0%b0%d1%85-the-song-of-the-forests/

 

yet again.

 

The sections of the oratorio have been posted separately, which should make it easier to get a sense of the piece.

 

— Roger W.  Smith

  December 8, 2018

“the business of the biographer”

 

His domestick habits, so far as they are known, were those of a severe student. He drank little strong drink of any kind, and fed without excess in quantity, and in his earlier years without delicacy of choice. In his youth he studied late at night; but afterwards changed his hours, and rested in bed from nine to four in the summer, and five in winter. The course of his day was best known after he was blind. When he first rose he heard a chapter in the Hebrew Bible, and then studied till twelve; then took some exercise for an hour; then dined; then plaid on the organ, and sung, or heard another sing; then studied to six; then entertained his visiters, till eight; then supped, and, after a pipe of tobacco and a glass of water, went to bed.

 

— Samuel Johnson, “Milton,” The Lives of the Poets

 

 

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Samuel Johnson, in a famous essay on biography, shows the importance of minute particulars: how they bring a person to life and create reader interest:

It is frequently objected to relations of particular lives, that they are not distinguished by any striking or wonderful vicissitudes. The scholar who passed his life among his books, the merchant who conducted only his own affairs, the priest whose sphere of action was not extended beyond that of his duty, are considered as no proper objects of public regard, however they might have excelled in their several stations, whatever might have been their learning, integrity, and piety. But this notion arises from false measures of excellence and dignity, and must be eradicated by considering that, in the esteem of uncorrupted reason, what is of most use is of most value.

It is, indeed, not improper to take honest advantages of prejudice, and to gain attention by a celebrated name; but the business of the biographer is often to pass slightly over those performances and incidents which produce vulgar greatness, to lead the thoughts into domestic privacies, and display the minute details of daily life, where exterior appendages are cast aside, and men excel each other only by prudence and by virtue. The account of Thuanus is, with great propriety, said by its author to have been written that it might lay open to posterity the private and familiar character of that man, cujus ingenium et candorem ex ipsius scriptis sunt olim semper miraturi, whose candour and genius will to the end of time be by his writings preserved in admiration.

There are many invisible circumstances which, whether we read as inquirers after natural or moral knowledge, whether we intend to enlarge our science or increase our virtue, are more important than public occurrences. Thus Salust, the great master of nature, has not forgot, in his account of Catiline, to remark that his walk has now gone quick, and again slow, as an indication of a mind revolving something with violent commotion. Thus the story of Melancthon affords a striking lecture on the value of time, by informing us that, when he made an appointment, he expected not only the hour but the minute to be fixed, that the day might not run out in the idleness of suspense; and all the plans and enterprises of De Wit are now of less importance to the world than that part of his personal character which represents him as careful of his health, and negligent of his life.

But biography has often been allotted to writers who seem very little acquainted with the nature of their task, or very negligent about the performance. They rarely afford any other account than might be collected from public papers, but imagine themselves writing a life when they exhibit a chronological series of actions or preferments; and so little regard the manners or behaviour of their heroes that more knowledge may be gained of a man’s real character, by a short conversation with one of his servants, than from a formal and studied narrative, begun with his pedigree and ended with his funeral.

— Samuel Johnson, Rambler #60, October 13, 1750

 

 

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In his preface to Letters of Theodore Dreiser (1959), edited by Dressier scholar Robert H. Elias, Elias, who knew Dreiser personally, noted that letters “that simply record data, biographical or bibliographical, or that are primarily love letters” had been excluded. My former therapist, Ralph Colp, Jr., said up front, without hesitation, that this was a mistake, a serious omission. I agreed.

I happened once to mention to Dr. Colp the Penguin series of biographies: Brief Lives. I had purchased one of them. Dr. Colp said that a brief life leaving out most or many important details amounted to an insufficient biography. I realized that he was right.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2018

Shostakovich’s fifth in concert

 

 

On Saturday evening, December 1, I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall given by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sergey Smbatyan, a very young conductor.

What great seats I had! Box 15 in the first tier. A seat near the front of the first tier which overlooked the stage. I prefer not to sit in the so called Parquet section (the lowest, orchestra level). The acoustics, I have been told by other concertgoers, are better higher up, and one has a view of the whole orchestra.

 

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The program included a very recent work: Travel Notebook Suite for Piano and Orchestra (2017) composed by Alexey Shor, a young Ukrainian composer. It was an engaging piece that “worked” and that kept one’s interest sustained with variety of content from movement to movement. (Shows the advantage of being willing to listen to new music.) The pianist, Ingolf Wunder, a young Austrian, was outstanding. He drew applause that led to his performing a Chopin piece as an encore.

 

 

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The second half of the concert was comprised of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47. I have posted about the Shostakovich fifth before.

To hear it or any favorite work live is a revelation. With my great seating, I was able to “see” the entrances of the different players and sections of the orchestra — the two flutes (especially important in this work); the trumpets, trombones, and bassoons; the timpani and cymbals; and, yes, the two harps – occurring. One sees as well as hears them (as one might not on a rerecording, not being quite sure what instrument one is hearing).

Shostakovich, it is well known and has been frequently noted, was a master of tone color. This is fully recognizable in a live performance.

And, the way the instruments play off one another is brilliant. I had a similar feeling while watching a performance of a Mozart symphony recently. (I forget if it was Mozart’s 40th or the Jupiter Symphony.)

Shostakovich is a master of the ironic, the sardonic, and the unexpected. Not adverse to clashing sounds and dissonance (along with beautiful, elegiac melodies). Sort of reminds one of Stravinsky. But the framework, the overall construction of the piece, is worthy of a Haydn or a Beethoven.

The instruments seem to be having a conversation (notably in the first movement, Moderato), and the piece has an undeniable, irresistible sense of logic and forward movement that never flags. As is invariably true of the greatest symphonies.

I was riveted.

 

 

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The first movement of Shostakovich’s fifth. Note the interplay and “handoffs” between the instruments. The thematic variations. Note how carefully, and with such artistry, Shostakovich builds an aura and a sense of suspense.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   December 2018

 

 

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See also my post:

 

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

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/07/22/shostakovich-symphony-no-5-in-d-minor-%d1%88%d0%be%d1%81%d1%82%d0%b0%d0%ba%d0%be%d0%b2%d0%b8%d1%87-%d1%81%d0%b8%d0%bc%d1%84%d0%be%d0%bd%d0%b8%d1%8f-%e2%84%96-5-%d1%80%d0%b5-%d0%bc%d0%b8%d0%bd/

“I knew a man”

 

 

 

 

 

I knew a man . . . . he was a common farmer . . . . he was the father of five sons . . .
and in them were the fathers of sons . . . and in them were the fathers of sons.

This man was of wonderful vigor and calmness and beauty of person;
The shape of his head, the richness and breadth of his manners, the pale yellow
and white of his hair and beard, the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes,
These I used to go and visit him to see . . . . He was wise also,
He was six feet tall . . . . he was over eighty years old . . . . his sons were massive
clean bearded tanfaced and handsome,

They and his daughters loved him . . . all who saw him loved him . . . they did not
love him by allowance . . . they loved him with personal love;
He drank water only . . . . the blood showed like scarlet through the clear brown
skin of his face;
He was a frequent gunner and fisher . . . he sailed his boat himself . . . he had a fine
one presented to him by a shipjoiner . . . . he had fowling-pieces, presented to
him by men that loved him;
When he went with his five sons and many grandsons to hunt or fish you would pick
him out as the most beautiful and vigorous of the gang,
You would wish long and long to be with him . . . . you would wish to sit by him in
the boat that you and he might touch each other.

 

 

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Written in free verse, “I knew a man,” by Walt Whitman, is part of “I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC.,” a poem with nine short subsections included in the original (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass.

It is a great example of the utter simplicity and non-literary character of Whitman’s poetry. (This aspect of Whitman’s poetry is analyzed and explained definitively in C. Carroll Hollis’s monograph Language and Style in Leaves of Grass [Louisiana State University Press, 1983]).

The poem is read here by the actor Ed Begley (1901-1970). Begley is, without question, the greatest reader, the greatest vocal interpreter, of Whitman’s poetry ever.
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Reflecting upon this poem, it occurs to me that I know, and have known (beginning with my parents), people eliciting such thoughts, such admiration from me.

People seemingly ordinary. Meaning not famous, or great as we commonly take great to mean when we speak of a great statesman, a great author, or any other person of such stature.

Ordinary people.

Yet remarkable people.

Men and women whose character, integrity, sincerity, kindness, thoughtfulness, unselfishness, fortitude, and so forth one is struck by over and over, almost daily. Of whom one finds oneself reminding oneself constantly what a privilege it is to know such persons. And of what they have to offer. To you or me.

Whitman stopped to admire a blade of grass. I often find myself, as did Whitman in this poem, “stopping to admire” ordinary people whom I meet and reflecting upon their wonderful qualities and, by extension, upon our common humanity.

 
— Roger W. Smith

  December 2018

 

Shostakovich, “Песнь о лесах” (The Song of the Forests)

 

 

 

 

 

Когда окончилась война

Kogda Okonchilas Voina (“When the War Ended”)

 

 

Оденем Родину в лес

Odyenem Rodinu v Lesa (“We Will Clothe Our Homeland with Forests”)

 

 

Воспоминание о прошлом

 Vospominaniye o Proshlom (“Memories of the Past”)

 

Пионеры сажают леса

Pionyery Sazhayut Lesa (“The Pioneers Plant the Forests”)

 

 

 

 

Комсомольцы выходят вперед

 Komsomoitsy Vykhodyat Vperyod (“The Young Communists Go Forth”)

 

 

Будущая прогулка

Budushchaya Progulka (“A Walk in the Future”)

 

 

Слава

Slava (“Glory”)

 

 

 

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The Song of the Forests (Песнь о лесах), Op. 81, is an oratorio by Dmitri Shostakovich composed in the summer of 1949. It was written to celebrate the forestation of the Russian steppes following the end of World War II. Premiered by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Yevgeny Mravinsky on 15 November 1949, the work was well received by the government, earning the composer a Stalin Prize the following year.

The oratorio is notorious for lines praising Joseph Stalin as the “great gardener”, although its later performances have normally omitted them.

— Wikiedia entry

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_of_the_Forests

 

 

 

 

Shostakovich and wife at premier of 'Song of the Forests'.jpg

 

 

 

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Political considerations aside, I have always liked this work and find the music inspiring.

By the way, creative artists (used in the broad sense of the word) not infrequently find themselves on the wrong side of history,. I am not inclined to hold that against them.

Yes, the piece is kind of,  sort of bombastic (another 1812 Overture?).  Yet, it contains brilliant choral and instrumental music — re the latter, a good example is the opening bars of the section Пионеры сажают леса (Pionyery Sazhayut Lesa; The Pioneers Plant the Forests) — and haunting, unforgettable themes.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   January 2016; updated December 2018

 

 

 

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Когда окончилась война

Kogda Okonchilas Voina (“When the War Ended”)

Kogda okonchilas voina, When the war ended
vzdokhnula radostno strana. the land breathed joyfully,
Nastali solnechniye dni. sunny days began.
Moi drug, tovarishch, My friend, comrade,
posle boya domoi vernulis my s toboyu, we returned home after the battle,
na kartu Rodini vzglyani: consulting the map of our homeland:
tam ot Volgi i do Buga there, from the Volga to the Bug,
i ot sevyera do yuga, and from north to south,
gdye proshli wherever our victorious regiments
pobyedniye polki, had passed,
vstali krasniye flazhki. were placed red flags.
Rodniye stepi i polya, Our native steppes and fields,
mnogostradalnaya zemlya our long-suffering land.
My zdyes voyevali, here we fought
svobodu svoyu otstoyali, and defended our freedom,
nas k podvigam novim these clear horizons summon

zovut eti yasniye dali, to new feats of valor,

i, vnov oshchutiv, and our senses,
like our broad fields, kak nashi polya shiroki,
snova ozhiv, coming live again,
my krasniye s karti we remove the red flags
snimayem flazhki. from our map,
Snimayem krasniye flazhki, we remove the red flags,
voinoyu oplanyonniye, scorched by war,
i stavim noviye flazhki, and in their place we put new flags,
kak tsvyet lesov, zelyoniye. green, the color of the forests.
Ot reki i do reki, From river to river,
ot Volgi i do Buga, from the Volga to the Bug,
proidyot lesnaya polosa The forests spread
ot sevyera do yuga. from north to south.

 

Оденем Родину в лес

Odyenem Rodinu v Lesa (“We Will Clothe Our Homeland with Forests”)

Zvuchit priziv na vsyu stranu, The call rings out through all the land,
raznosit vyeter golosa the voices are carried by the winds:
obyavim zasukhye voinu, we will declare war on drought,
odyenem rodinu we will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests.
Kovaren byl iyulski znoi, The intense heat of July was ominous,
polyam grozili nyebesa. the heavens threatened the fields.
Shtob novi mir So that a new world
dyshal vesnoi, might breathe in spring,
odyenem rodinu we will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests.
Svetla, kak pervaya lyubov, Pure and radiant, like first love,
beryozok yunaya krasa. is the youthful beauty of the birches.
Poseyem rozh We will sow rye
pod syen dubov, in the shade of the oaks.
odyenem rodinu We will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests!
My zashchitim svoi polya, We will protect our fields,
yavlyaya miru chudesa. and show the world great wonders.
Shtob krugli god So that the earth should bloom
tsvela zemlya, the whole year round,
odyenem rodinu we will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests.
Po vsyem stepyam, Over the whole steppe,
vdol russkikh ryek along the banks of the Russian rivers,
proidyot lesnaya polosa. the forest spreads.
Priblizim kommunizma vyek, We are nearing the age of Communism,
odyenem rodinu we will clothe our homeland
v lesa! with forests.

 

Воспоминание о прошлом

 Vospominaniye o Proshlom (“Memories of the Past”)

My nye zabyli We have not forgotten
gorkoi doli the cruel fate
lyubimykh myest zemli svoyei: of our beloved land:
stoit odna beryozka v polye, the birch tree stands alone in the field,
i nyet zashchity u polyei! and the fields have no protection!
Iz pustyni pyeschanoi The cursed wind blows
vyetyer lyetit okayanny, from the sandy wasteland,
iz-za Volgi lyetit sukhovyei. the dry wind blows from the Volga.
Molodiye vzoidut zelenya — The young green shoots are sprouting,
on sozhyot ikh bystryeye ognya … they are consumed quicker than fire …
Podnimayetsya The glorious ears of rye push up
slavnaya rozh — through the earth,
koloski on podryezhet, kak nosh … they are cut down as by a knife …
God urozhaya A good harvest one year,
i god nyedoroda, a poor one the next,
kak vas uznat naperyod? how can you know in advance?
Posle molyebna Despite prayers
i krestnovo khoda and religious processions,
dozhd na Russi nye idyot. no rain falls on Russia.
Yesli uzh vydalsya god nyevyesyoli, In one bad year,
dozhd probezhit storonoi. the rain passes by and misses the land.
Zasukha, sgorbivshis, brodit po syolam Drought stalks the villages
s nishchenskoi rvanoi sumoi. like a stooped, wretched beggar.
Stonut polya The fields languish
na zharye bezotradnoi, in the relentless heat,
znoinomu vetru the tracks are open
otkryty puti. to the burning wind:
Dai nam khot kapelku tyeni prokhladnoi, oh, for a small spot of cool shade

nas, chelovyek, zashchitil! oh, man, protect us!
Kak ty stradala kogdato, how you once suffered,
milaya nasha zemlya! our dear land!
Khlyeba prosili rebyata, The children begged for bread,
vlagi prosili polya … the fields begged for rain.
Dyeti moi rodniye, dyeti moi, My children, my own children,
nye plachtye: do not weep:
vyrastitye bolshimi, you will grow up,
zemlyu pereinachtye! you will alter the land!

 

Пионеры сажают леса

Pionyery Sazhayut Lesa (“The Pioneers Plant the Forests”)

Topoli, topoli, The poplars, the poplars,
skoryei iditye vo polye! hurry into the field!
Pionyer vsyem primyer The pioneer, an example to us all,
tam uzhe s rassvyeta! has been there since dawn!
Yaseni, yaseni, Ash trees, ash trees
rodnuyu step ukrasili, have adorned our native steppe,
i beryoz nash kolkhoz and our collective farm
posadil nyemalo. has planted many birch trees.
Zholudi, zholudi, Acorns, acorns,
kak zoloto tyazholiye, heavy as gold,
dubdubok, nash druzhok, little oak tree, our little friend,
vyrastai skoreye! grow quickly!
Yabloni, yabloni, Apple trees, apple trees,
vyrastaitye khrabrymi! grow bravely!
Vas ni lyod nye vozmyot, Neither ice nor hard frost
ni moroz treskuchi! shall harm you!
S klyonami, klyonami, With the maples, the maples,
stoinymi, zelyonymi, slender and green,
nam rasti i tsvesti, grow and blossom for us,
zemlyu ukrashaya, and adorn the land,
nam rasti i tsvesti, grow and blossom for us
slavya urozhai! and celebrate the harvest!

 

 

Комсомольцы выходят вперед

 Komsomoitsy Vykhodyat Vperyod (“The Young Communists Go Forth”)

Vstavaitye na podvig, Arise, people of the great Soviet land,
narody velikoi sovyetskoi strany! and do great deeds!
Milostyei zhdat u prirody We must not now wait
lyudi tepyer nye dolzhny. for nature’s bounties.
Schastye vozmyom my svoimi rukami Let us grasp good fortune in our hands,

zemlyu rodnuyu let us adorn our native land
ukrasim sadami. with gardens.
My prostiye sovyetskiye lyudi, We are simple Soviet people,
kommunizm nasha slava i chest. Communism is our glory and honor.
Kol narod govorit: As soon as the people say,
“Eto budet!” “This will be,”
my otvetim yemu: “Eto yest!” we reply, “It already is!”
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher,
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher!
Komsomolskiye The regiments of Young Communists
vyshli polki, have gone forth
shtob derevyev so that the trees should rise up
zelyonoye plamya podnyalos in a blaze of green
vozlye Volgiryeki. along the River Volga.
Budet nashei pshenitsye ograda The Young Communists’ forests
komsomolskykh lesov polosa will fence round our wheat
ot Kamyshina do Volgograda, from Kamyshin to Volgograd,
i na yug and southwards
do Cherkesska lesa. to the forests of Cherkessk.
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher,
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher!
Komsomolskiye The regiments of Young Communists

vyshli polki, have gone forth,
shtob derevyev so that the trees should flourish
zelyonoye plamya rastsvyelo in a blaze of green
vozlye Volgiryeki. along the River Volga.
Slovno armiyu mirnuyu nashu, Just like our peaceful army,
kol deryevya when the trees are lined up,
vsye vystroit v ryad, as if on parade,
to oni shar zemnoi opoyashut, they will encircle the earth,
svetloi vlagoi yevo orosyat. and irrigate it with pure moisture.
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher,
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher!
Komsomolskiye The regiments of Young Communists
vyshli polki, have gone forth
shtob derevyev so that the trees should rise up
zelyonoye plamya podnyalos in a blaze of green
vozlye Volgiryeki. along the River Volga.
Ekh, nye trogaitye sad etot divny, Ah, do not disturb this glorious garden.
vy pred nim, Compared to it you are small,
kak pigmyei, maly. like a pigmy.
Krepche vashikh stvolov orudinykh Stronger than the barrels of your guns
nashikh yunykh beryozok stvoly. are the trunks of our young birches.
Gorodsoldat, nash geroi lyubimy, Soldier-city, our beloved hero,
gordost i slava zemli rodimoi, pride and glory of our native land,
nyeutomimy, nyepobyedimy, tireless, invincible,
stroisya i slavsya grow and be famous,
nash gorod geroi! our hero-city!
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher,
Vyshe znamya! Raise the banner higher!
Slovno orden, Like a military decoration,
listok u drevka! a leaf raised on a staff!
Razlivaisya Overflow your banks
i raduisya s nami, and rejoice with us,
nyeobyatnaya Volgareka. boundless River Volga.

 

Будущая прогулка

Budushchaya Progulka (“A Walk in the Future”)

A … Ah …
Solovi poyut schastliviye, The silence is filled with the joyous
oglashaya tishinu, song of the nightingales,
nad polyami nad nivami above the cornfields
slavyat yunost i vesnu. they celebrate youth and the spring.
V stepi lesok zelyony vyros, On the steppe has sprung up
lyubov moya, lyubov moya! a little green wood, my love, my love!
A ranshe nam nye prikhodilos But here in the past,
zdyes slishat we could not hear
penye solovya. the song of the nightingale.
Nashi lyudi bespokoiniye Our tireless people
prevratili zemlyu v sad, have turned the earth into a garden:
v tri ryada deryevya stroiniye, in rows of three, our slender trees
vzyavshis za ruki, stoyat. join hands and stand straight.
I nad shirokimi polyami — And above the broad fields —
maya mechta, tvoya mechta — my dream and yours —
listva zelyonaya nad nami, the green leaves above us,
strany sovyetskoi krasota. the beauty of our Soviet land.

Shir stepyei The transformed wide expanse
preobrazhonnaya — of the steppes —
eto vsyo tvoi trudy. all this is the result of your work.
Pust idut gulyat vlyublyonniye Go out and walk lovingly
v nashi noviye sady. in our new gardens.

 

Слава

Slava (“Glory”)

Na polyakh kolkhozov Planted in squares
vstali pa kvadratam on the fields of the collective farm
stroiniye beryozy, grew the slender birches,
rodiny soldaty, soldiers of our homeland,
nashi klyony i beryozy. our maples and birches.
Polya shirokiye, lesa zelyoniye, The broad fields and green forests,
lesniye polosy — zashchita rodiny. the protective forests of our native land.
Yasen, buk i grab The ash tree and beech,
da iva — ivushka. hornbeam and willow.
Mily krai russki, Our dear Russian land,
stanesh yeshcho krashe, you will become still more beautiful.
krai nash russki, krai nash slavny! Our Russian land, our glorious land!
Nye strashitsya polye The field is not afraid
grozovovo nyebo. of the threatening storm in the sky.
Budet khleba v volyu, We will have bread in plenty,
budut gory khleba. there will be mountains of bread.
Sily nyet na svetye, There is no force on earth
shtoby nas slomila. that can break us.
Otstupayet vetyer pered nashei siloi. The wind abates before our strength.
Polya shirokiye, lesa zelyoniye, The broad fields and green forests,
lesniye polosy, nash russki krai! the tracts of forests, our Russian land!
Slava komandiram Glory to the commanders
bitvy za prirodu, of the battle for nature!
slava brigadiru, slave polyevodu! Glory to the field cultivation teams!
Slava agronomu, Glory to the agriculturalist,
slava sadovodu! glory to the gardener!
Parti nashei slava! Glory to our party!
I vsemu narodu slava! Glory to all the people!
Slava! Glory!
Voskhodit zarya kommunizma! The day of Communism is dawning!
Pravda s nami i schastiye u nas. Truth is with us, and good fortune.
Yesli b nashu svyatuyu otchiznu If only Lenin could see
mog Lenin uvidet seichas! our holy motherland now!
Vedyot nashei Parti geni Our party is led by the genius
nyepreklonnykh i vernykh synov. of loyal and indomitable sons.
My za solntsye, We are for the sun,
za schastye, za mir! for happiness and peace!
My s prirodoi Together with nature,
vstupayem v srazhenya we will march into battle
vo imya qryadushchikh sedov. in the name of our gardens of the future.
Deryevya vstayut velichavo The trees rise up majestically

vozlye russkikh torzhestvennykh ryek. beside the solemn Russian rivers.
Leninskoi parti slava! Glory to Lenin’s Party!
Slava narodu navek! Glory to the people forever!
Parti mudroi slava! Glory to our wise Party!
Slava! Glory!