06 Apr 2011

On «Moods of Shostakovich» and dull performance

Reading the book “Devoted to Shostakovich” (articles Y.Kholopov "Moods of Shostakovich", E.Nazaikinsky "Piano and forte in the symphonies of Shostakovich")

Reading the book “Devoted to Shostakovich” I noticed a couple of misunderstandings. One author, a thoughtful scholar, in fact, wrote in his article "Moods of Shostakovich”: "... consecutive application of keys and sound structures described and systematized by Shostakovich confirms the correctness of their theory as of special "moods of Shostakovich" (despite the skepticism of the composer himself) ... " – in this case it is insignificant for us what follows next, but the phrase quoted by me, is very important for me. Surprising is the fact how couldn’t this, I will repeat, masterly researcher Yuriy Kholopov, manage to understand the psychological and emotional context of this tirade by Dmitry Shostakovich, voiced in a conversation with a musicologist and theorist Elizaveta Mnatsakanova. She reported that Dmitriy Shostakovich "in private chuckled at theorists, who had found some "moods of Shostakovich" in his music, and commented the way that all his life he, a naïve person, had been thinking that he composed only in major and minor mode." It was this very circumstance, which incidentally served the basis for Yuriy Kholopov in writing his article. However, one simple idea escaped the author’s attention: more or less thinking author understands what he says and writes, but speaking about a genius like Shostakovich it is absolutely pointless. In any case, it would be frivolous to think otherwise. And yet…

Perhaps, this misunderstanding arouse because this revealed problem was the problem rather psychological than musical and theoretical. This problem is also very delicate: you should hear these "half-tone intonations” in the speech of such subtle personalities as Shostakovich, realizing that such persons cannot express themselves "straightforward" and therefore more accessible, and that their spoken language, as well as musical one, can be characterized by a fine play and plasticity. It can no way be different, and according to the subject matter, the language, devoid of this quality would have been primitive.

But what is the meaning of my statement? That it was no point in writing an article, which was in fact an excellent study only as a response to the words of Dmitriy Shostakovich, dropped by him at home. OK. Let’s assume the "incident" exhausted and the "moods of Shostakovich" really existing.


But it's not all. In the same book, the article "Piano and forte in the symphonies of Shostakovich" by Nazaikinsky, quotes the book “Conductor’s fingering" by Gennadiy Rozhdestvenskiy, written by the outstanding conductor forty years ago, in the early 70's. Here's how the quote sounds. "In the final (it concerns the final of the Fifteenth Symphony by Shostakovich, - A.T.) ... it is extremely important not to go beyond the quiet, and due to this, significant narration. Mezzo-forte is destructive to the very spirit of this music, which immediately becomes boring”. Frankly speaking (not taking into account the stylistic crudeness and shortage of smoothness in this phrase), you must possess considerable self-control in order to dare perform such a passage!

I am now interested, of course, not in "weird" sense of these words: "not to go beyond the significant narrative”; I’m seriously interested in the "final" of this phrase. The fact is that chamber music, music of symphonies (all of them!) and vocal cycles created by Dmitriy Shostakovich cannot be boring - under no circumstances, especially under no dynamics. Generally speaking, this "performing" problem cannot be any harm to the music, and especially to inspired music. The problem of dynamics in the process of playing music will always remain the problem of performance - it would be strange to think otherwise! And in this case, only performance, fortunately, is going to be "boring", but not the music itself. As for the music of Shostakovich, this "problem" acquires a more individual sound. The bibliography of printed music by Dmitriy Dmitrievich is as lapidary as far as the conditions required by the modernism style made it possible: Dmitriy Dmitrievich wrote out as little dynamic, agogic and other directions as possible, staying within the scope of modernist environment that allowed to write very little: it was simply impossible to write less in the mid-twentieth century. But the fact is that Shostakovich himself wanted and tried to write less. That's what the great composer wrote in a letter of 1955 (he was almost 50 years). "Beautiful music can be played in any way, it will be good. Any prelude and fugue by Bach can be played at any tempo with any dynamic shades or without them, and it will still be fine. Here's how to write music that no rascal could spoil it."

Let’s be smarter. There’s no need to get a fairly vulnerable position and understand these words straight, roughly and primitively, because the meaning of the utterance is already clear. Is it worth deciphering when it does not need to? Of course, any prelude and fugue by Bach can be disfigured by performing, including the wrong dynamics, but the music of preludes and fugues itself cannot be damaged this way. The essence of Bach's music will not change at the same time, and therefore we can talk only about the ugly performance, but never about the ugly music.

No! In composing by Shostakovich - in those genres that I mentioned, there is no boring music, but boring performance I did happen to hear. But, fortunately, Gennadiy Rozhdestvenskiy is absent in the list of "boring" artists created by Shostakovich. (As a matter of fact, that person is a "rascal" whose work brought to life Shostakovich’s remark, and due to whose performance of the Ninth Symphony, he "was as sick, as if he had swallowed a fly" - Gauk, the professor of Moscow Conservatory and Principal Conductor of the Radio Orchestra in the 50-es, Alexandr Vasilyevich Gauk.)

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