Beethoven and Shostakovich



(I’m not good with aligning photos)

I was looking at the Cleveland Orchestra’s ’13/’14 season which was recently released. In late October they are doing 3 concerts with a Beethoven symphony (3,4 and 5) on the first half of the program and a Shostakovich symphony on the second half (6,8, and 10). That makes for a series of kick-ass concerts first of all (If I had to pick one to go to I’m not sure I could choose. Shostakovich 6 isn’t played much, but Beethoven 5 and Shostakovich 10? Hard to beat). This interesting pairing made me think of how these two composers are related. I remembered something Herbert Blomstedt said about Bruckner. He said that Bruckner was similar to Beethoven in the way that they wrote about emotions in general, as opposed to Mahler who wrote about his own feelings, which gave the two a sort of universal quality. After a little thought I realized, Shostakovich is the same way. He didn’t write about his own oppression by Stalin, although that certainly gave inspiration, but all oppression. There’s a debate over if the “Leningrad” Symphony was written about  Hitler attacking Russia or if it was about Stalin destroying Russia. While either one may have provided the works impetus, neither is true. It is about all oppression.

Beethoven did not write about his own anguish over his hearing loss, but about anguish in general. Same with all the emotions he expressed in his music. This is why he is so universal, and now I am proposing that Shostakovich is in the same category of universality. Shostakovich admired Beethoven (interesting note: Beethoven was the only pre-1918 revolutionary composer who was allowed to be played in Soviet Russia, because Beethoven has always embodied revolution) and based his 5th after the Beethoven 9th. There are several other comparisons that can be drawn between the two. Both of their biggest legacies lie in either the symphonies or the string quartets (BTW I’m listening to Shostakovich’s 9th right now. Oh my god, so great). Their musical careers can be divided neatly into early middle and late periods (but you can say that about almost any composer). They both were big into developing little motives into big structures. In both of their late periods they used a more complex musical language than they had before. And they both wrote killer music. It now makes so much sense to me. Seriously think about the two and then I think you may agree. Side note: If you can go to see the three CO concerts I mentioned at the top, go. I probably won’t be able to, but man I wish I could.

Final thing, in my perusal of orchestra’s ’13/’14 seasons, I saw the San Fran. Symphony will be doing Shostakovich 15, a sadly underplayed work, with MTT, and the Philadelphia Orchestra will be doing the Beethoven violin concerto with Shostakovich 10, which was a program I think the CO did recently, but whatever.

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So much to do, so little reason to do so much of it...
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