The fourth symphony
(Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43)
The composition of this symphony began in 1935, and Shostakovich was
still working on it when in January 1936 his opera Lady Macbeth
of Mtensk came under attack in Pravda. This attack, possibly coming from as
high a source within the government as Stalin himself, threatened
Shostakovich's career in a way that is difficult to appreciate without
an understanding of the Great Terror that Stalin instigated at this
Though Shostakovich finished the composition, rehearsals did not
go very well (possibly as a result of perception of him as condemned),
and he withdrew it from circulation later in 1936. Instead he worked
on the fifth symphony, achieving a
remarkable public relations success with this piece and probably
managing to save his career.
The symphony has three movements, the outer two much longer than the
short middle one:
- Allegretto poco moderato
- Moderato con moto
- Largo - Allegretto
The fourth symphony was first performed in December 1960 by the
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra under Kyril Kondrashin.
The first movement
This is music to scare the living daylights out of you. Even the
quieter passages are disturbing; the fury of the loud passages is not
present, but instead the music murmurs disquieteningly, just waiting
to erupt once more. I'd love to hear it live; it would be the sort of
thing to really push you back into your chair. Without getting into
what some might see as excessive musicological theorising, it's hard
to see this as anything other than a terrifying depiction of
Shostakovich's environment as he wrote.
The movement does eventually wear itself out, with muted notes
from what I think must be a cor anglais.
More movements to come
Yeah, so I haven't finished this yet.
Michael Norrish <Michael.Norrish@cl.cam.ac.uk>
Last modified: Mon Oct 7 11:46:24 1996