Shostakovich's 5th Symphony

A brief background / context and summary of 1st and 2nd Movement of Shotakovich's 5th Syphony


  •  1937
  •  Accessible melody&harmony = popular
  •  Ambiguous ending = joyful/triumphant?
  •  1917 - Russian Revolution - Storming of Winter Palace
  •  Non-Russian music ONLY Beethoven approved
  •  E.g His 5th Symphony = easily understandable
  •  Shows heroic struggle -
  •  Parody not allowed - seen as offensive to those in charge.
  •  1930 - Artistic Freedom came to an END.
  •  Great Terror began = social realism
  •  Only accepted art = Simple & Patriotic
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First Movement

  •  Opening 'Ta-Da' rhythm = link to Beethoven's 9th (Also in D Minor)
  •  Constant dead-ends to melodic ideas leading to simple motive of of note repeated 3  times. 
  •  Fate knocking at door - more terrifying than Beethoven's 5th Symphony. 
  •  S often flattens second degree of scale (E-Eb
  •  Haunting, twisted quality changing from what audience knows to what S is feeling.
  •  Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture = one source for military music.
  •  Unison at recap could be that all are suffering the same.
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Second Movement

  •  Influences by Mahler - use of parody. Comedy film music.
  •  Trying to dance, illustrating heavy footed peasants, laghter, ballet & military.
  •  Laughter theme crushed by using diminution.
  •  1924 death of Lenin, Stalin takes over. 
  •  Leaves Shostakovich alone, seeing him as composer of tuneful film music &  had sentinmental attachment to one song he wrote.
  •  Lady Macbeth described - Cacophoy - not music and not Social Realism.
  •  Too steamy, trombone glissandi were censored.

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Third Movement

  •  Requiem for suffering of all victims. 
  •  Uses traditions of Russian Orthodox church - e.g Old Russian national anthem (1812)
  •  Repeated note like intoning.
  •  Unison passages like people praying.
  •  Highest point of lamentation - double basses shriek.
  •  Music fades - using celeste as in 1st Movement.
  •  Final major chord is a benediction.
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Fourth Movement

  • 1937 - Height of Great Terror - Many friends been arrested.
  • S's last chance of survival - depended on the last movement. 
  • If symphony has ended with the 3rd, would have killed S.
  • BUT the rejoicing can feel as is someone is beating you with a stick and telling you to enjoy it. 
  • Movement starts with A-D (dominant to tonic) note - Familiar from the 1st movement. 
  • Music like newsreel - constantly shifting pictures, felings and views.
  • In recap - march stays slow, not regaining original tempo as if forced to celebrate.
  • Similar to a passage in Boris Godunov, crowds forced to praise the Tsar. 
  • Final - home key of D major reached by very painful process. 
  • D major section should be secure , as Mahler's 3rd symphony
  • BUT minor inflections in harmony, dead end knocking rhythm present with heavy percussion
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