Symphony No. 12 (Shostakovich)


Symphony No. 12 (Shostakovich)

Dmitri Shostakovich composed his Symphony No. 12 in D minor, Op. 112, subtitled "The Year of 1917", in 1961, dedicating it to the memory of Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Revolution. The symphony was premiered that October by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky. This was also the last Shostakovich symphony which Mravinsky premiered; his refusal to give the first performance of the Thirteenth Symphony, "Babi Yar", caused a permanent strain in their working relationship. [Fay, 230.] [Wilson, 406, 416-17.]

Form

The symphony, scored for a medium-sized orchestra, is approximately 40 minutes long and divided into four movements:
# Revolutionary Petrograd (about 14 minutes)
#:The first movement uses quotations from a revolutionary song with the words 'shame on you tyrants' and the Polish song "The Warsaw March", both of which appear in the finale of "Symphony No. 11".
# Razliv (about 10 minutes)
#:The second movement, an expressive "adagio", further quotes "Symphony No. 11" and the composer's early "Funeral March for the Victims of the Revolution". The movement depicts Lenin's headquarters at Razliv, in the countryside outside Petrograd.
# Aurora (about 4 minutes)
#:The third movement is in "scherzo" form. Aurora was the battleship that fired at the Winter Palace and began the Russian Revolution.
# The Dawn of Humanity (about 10 minutes)
#:The fourth movement, subtitled The Dawn of Humanity, represents Soviet life after the guidance of Lenin. The funeral march quotation is transformed into a jubilant theme in the finale, before a celebratory conclusion.

Overview

Composition

Shostakovich had attempted, or at least announced his intent, to compose a symphony depicting Lenin as far back as the latter 1930's, elaborating on the subject in more than half a dozen interviews over a two-and-a-half-year period. He had planned this symphony as a biographical drama, tracing Lenin from his youth to the new Russian society he had created and using text by such writers as Vladimir Mayakovsky. In December 1940 Shostakovich admitted that he had overreached himself and failed to write a Lenin cantata based on Mayaskovsky's text. Reports of a Lenin symphony continued well into 1941, however, dissipating only with the German invasion that May. [Fay, 119-19.]

By the summer of 1959, Shosatkovich again mentioned that he was at work on a major work commemorating Lenin. "What form my idea my idea will take, whether it will be an oratorio, a cantata, a symphony, or a symphonic poem, I don't want to predict. One thing is clear: the effort to embody the mighty image of the greatest man of our most complex epoch will demand the exertion of all creative resources." [Quoted in Fay, 221.] Though Shostakovich expressed the desire to have this work ready for Lenin's 90th birthday in April 1960, this date came and passed without its completion. Prgress was slowed further when the composer fell and broke his left leg at his son Maxim's wedding in October 1960. He completed the work the following year. [Fay, 221-2]

Analysis

The Twelfth Symphony follows the model of the Eleventh Symphony in being programmatic in intent. Therefore, programmatic rather than symphonic considerations dictate its musical development, the subtitle for the symphony and movement titles commemorating the Russian Revolution. There is a difference from there as to how the music in both symphonies progresses. While the Twelfth is written like the Eleventh in four movements that play from one to the next without break, the Twelfth does not recapture the sense of newsreel commentary that characterized the Eleventh. Instead, the movements of the Twelfth become a series of reflections, as though one is watching a series of tableaux. (For this reason, the Twelth was called a "folk heroic epic", as opposed to the Eleventh as a "folk music drama.") [Quoted in Fay, 224.] The Twelth is also unlike its other direct ancestor, the experimental Second Symphony, in being extremely traditional, with the fast opening movement laid out along academically correct lines that Myaskovsky or his teacher Glazunov would have followed. [Fanning, "Notes", 6.]

Some have commented negatively that the musical treatment in the symphony resembles an overblown film score, forgetting the work is program music above all. A further hindrance to the organic integration of the symphony is the use of revolutionary songs. While this fulfils the programmatic intent of the work, it is also non-symphonic material that does not allow the music to cohere in a traditional symphonic statement. [Layton, 215-216.]

Political considerations?

had been rescinded only in 1958, and there were also still memories of Shostakovich's 1936 denunciation. [Fanning, 5-6.] Nor was the composer totally free to express what he wished, as the political controversy over "Babi Yar" would soon prove. Because of these circumstances, it has been suggested by some critics that the Twelfth represents an unwelcome infiltration of officialdom into Shostakovich's main compositional oeuvre, instead of being limited to patriotic film scores and other commissioned works.Fanning, "New Grove", 23:298.]

It has also been surmised that the naivety of the Twelfth's program, structure and thematic invention indicate that Shostakovich had to write the work quickly after the abandonment of an earlier, possibly rashly satirical composition.Fanning, "New Grove", 23:298.] The source of this story was the composer's friend Lev Lebidinsky, whom the composer contacted a few days before the work's premiere. This theory has two major challenges. First, Shostakovich had only a few days in which to rewrite a 40-minute symphony. Second, the work had already been performed before the Union of Composers on September 8, so any substantial changes would have been attracted considerable attention and comment. Although only a detailed analysis of the manuscript can confirm it, what seems more likely is that Shostakovich recondsidered his conceoption of the symphony radically. This would have taken place between the summer of 1960 and the summer of 1961, when he completed the work. [Fay, 223.]

Reception

The Twelfth Symphony was well received in the Soviet Union, though more coolly than its predecessor. While the Eleventh Symphony was received fairly warmly in the West due in part to its assumed allusion to the Hungarian uprising of 1956 (an allusion Shostakovich reportedly confirmed in "Testimony"), the Twelfth's apparently pro-Communist subject matter led to a poor reception there. [Maes, 359-360.] Western listeners became more receptive after the Cold War but the Twelfth remains in the lower echelon of Shostakovich's symphonies due to its workmanlike nature. [Layton, 217.]

Bibliography

* Fanning, David, ed. Stanley Sadie, "Shostakovich, Dmitry," "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition" (London: Macmillian, 2001), 29 vols. ISBN 0-333-60800-3.
* Fanning, David, Notes for Deutsche Grammophon 431388, "Shostakovich: Symphony No. 12, "The Year 1917"; Hamlet (suite); The Age of Gold (suite)"; Neeme Jarvi conducting the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.
* Fay, Laurel E. "Shostakovich: A Life" (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). ISBN 0-19-518251-0.
* Layton, Robert, ed. Robert Simpson, "The Symphony: Volume 2, Mahler to the Present Day" (New York: Drake Publishing Inc., 1972). ISBN 87749-245-X.
* Maes, Francis, tr. Arnold J. Pomerans and Erica Pomerans, "A History of Russian Music: From "Kamarinskaya "to" Babi Yar (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2002). ISBN 0-520-21815-9.
* Steinberg, William, "The Symphony" (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). ISBN 0-19-506177-2.
* Wilson, Elizabeth, "Shostakovich: A Life, Second Edition" (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006, 1994). ISBN 0-691-12886-3.
* Volkov, Solomon, tr. Antonina W. Bouis, "Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich" (New York: Harper & Row, 1979.). ISBN 0-06-014476-9.

References


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