gennady Rozhdestvensky conductorlondon philhaRmonic oRchestRa
shostakovichsymphony no. 8 in c minoR
a BBc recording
1 Adagio Allegro non troppo2 Allegretto3 Allegro non troppo 4 Largo 5 Allegretto
Of the three war symphonies that Shostakovich wrote between 1941 and 1945, it was the first, No. 7, the inspirational Leningrad, that drew most attention at the time. Partly composed in Leningrad during the siege by German forces in 1941, it came to symbolise Russian resistance to the terrors and deprivations of the Great Patriotic War, especially after a copy was smuggled to the USA, where numerous enthusiastically received performances of it were seen as emblematic of Russian-American solidarity in the face of the Nazi threat.
The next symphony, No. 8, composed in the space of just two months at an artists retreat in the summer of 1943, caused less excitement; reaction to its premiere in Moscow later in the year was muted, and none of the major papers reviewed it. This was despite the fact that Shostakovich had declared in a recent interview that it reflects my thoughts, feelings and elevated creative mood, which could not help being influenced
by the joyful news of the Red Armys victories ... [It] contains many tragic and dramatic inner conflicts. But on the whole it is an optimistic, life-asserting work. If that led people to expect another Leningrad, a second stirring celebration of Russian heroism, no wonder they were puzzled by No. 8, a work of Mahlerian emotional complexity and violent power whose message is far from being so clear-cut, and in which optimism in particular seems for the most part to struggle just to survive.
Perhaps the people of influence sensed something of the alternative interpretation suggested in 1979 by Solomon Volkovs controversial book Testimony, claiming to present Shostakovichs true thoughts as related to the author, in which we are told that the war brought much new sorrow and much new destruction, but I havent forgotten the terrible pre-war years ... Too many of our people died and were buried in places unknown to anyone, not even their relatives. I think constantly of those people, and in almost every major work I try to remind others of them. By 1956, eight years after Shostakovich had also come under fire from the authorities for formalism, the composer was lamenting that the work into which I put
shostakovich SyMPhONy NO. 8 IN C MINOR, OP. 65
so much thought and feeling had not been performed in the Soviet Union for many years.
Subsequently, however, the stock of the Eighth has risen to the point where it is now seen as one of the greatest of all his works. It may be that it is the ever-increasing distance in time from the War and from Shostakovichs predicament as a Soviet artist that has enabled it to emerge to advantage, less encumbered and in a more revealing light. For all that the War continues to maintain a strong presence in our collective emotional consciousness a presence that Shostakovichs music of that time undoubtedly still connects with the details of it recede, with the result that a work such as the Eighth can begin to be seen more as a symphony that is great in its own right and on its own symphonic terms. yes, it is a war symphony, if that helps; but it is also a symphony by a towering master of the genre, for whom, however much we may pore over the background, the music ultimately does the real talking.
Like Mahler, Shostakovich was freely pragmatic in his approach to formal outline in his symphonies only six of the 15 are in the traditional four movements. The Eighth has a particularly Mahlerian shape,
its five movements containing two adjacent march-scherzos, a spacious and wide-ranging finale, and, to start, an epic sonata-form slow movement that in terms of duration makes up almost half the work. It opens darkly in the lower strings, sounding in the very first bar a three-note motif a note followed by an adjacent note and then the first note again that will recur memorably and in many guises throughout the Symphony. The texture builds eerily until a more lyrically relaxed tune is heard on violins over a gently throbbing accompaniment. After this has been heard a second time, the development section begins quietly and almost with the calm flavour of a fugal exposition, but, propelled by horrifying transformations of the earlier throbbing accompaniment figure, the music soon builds to a fff climax. This gives out onto two faster sections, the first shrilly agitated and the second a grim march, at the end of which percussion rolls pitch us into an even more ear-splitting climax featuring restatements of the three-note motif from the opening. In formal terms, this is the moment of recapitulation, but the first thing we hear after a stunned silence is a long and heartbreakingly mournful cor anglais solo. The earlier themes then return in a new order as the movement winds down to a hushed ending.
The first of the march-scherzos follows. At first it seems to be in celebratory, almost Russian nationalist mood, but its attempts at carefree jollity (borrowed from a movement in the second Jazz Suite of 1938) are repeatedly stamped out by interventions and transformations that are variously sarcastic, ugly, grotesque or macabre. The second march shows not even a hint of a smile, however, being a relentless moto perpetuum of mechanistic brutality, with an absurd, self-important trumpet melody for a central trio; if it is a depiction of militaristic totalitarianism it could hardly be more damning.
This horrifying episode crashes to a halt on a rudely aggressive drum-roll, and probably few listeners would expect at this point that the next movement is about to follow straight on, even less that it is to be a noble and generously unfolding passacaglia. The spacious, mysteriously undulating bass line is stated 12 times, forcefully at first to combat the drum-roll, but quickly subsiding as variations are calmly spun over it in gently shifting colours. The movement then slides without a break into the finale, which starts in apparently lighthearted vein with a trio for bassoons. Further relaxed episodes follow, but when a fugue opens up the tension builds
with it as reminders of the horrors of earlier movements begin to appear, culminating in a shattering reappearance of the violent climax of the first movement. Following this the music winds down, but without its former cheerfulness, as if stung by the memory of this final outburst. Eventually the Symphony dies quietly away, but if its lack of a real sense of peaceful repose does not quite affirm for us Shostakovichs assertion that everything that is dark and gloomy will perish and disappear, and the beautiful will triumph, it at least allows us reason to hope.
Programme note Lindsay Kemp
gennady Rozhdestvensky conductor
Gennady Rozhdestvensky was born in Moscow in 1931. he studied piano with Lev Oborin and conducting with his father, Nikola Anosov, at the
Moscow Conservatoire. At the age of 20, he was engaged at the Bolshoi Theatre where he made his debut conducting Tchaikovskys The Sleeping Beauty. his was to be a long-term relationship with the Bolshoi: he became its Principal Conductor between 1964 and 1970, and in 2000 was appointed General Music Director. For many years, he also headed the Moscow Radio Orchestra and became the first Soviet conductor ever to be appointed Principal Conductor of various foreign orchestras: the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, and the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Rozhdestvensky also conducted an impressive number of performances at the Royal Opera house, Covent Garden (Boris Godunov and new productions of The Golden Cockerel and The Nutcracker); the Paris Opera (The Queen of
Spades); and La Scala (The Tale of Tsar Saltan and Der fliegende Hollnder), among others. he has also participated in dozens of world premieres of new or newly found works, some of which were dedicated to him: works by composers including Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Schnittke, Rodion Shchedrin and Sir John Tavener. In 2001 he gave the first performance of the original version of Prokofievs opera The Gambler at the Bolshoi Theatre.
his prolific discography reveals his insatiable curiosity and makes him one of the most recorded conductors of all time. his present catalogue features well over 400 recordings, comprising an astonishing 786 different works.
Rozhdestvensky is the recipient of the French Legion of honour, of the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, and an honorary Member of the Stockholm and British Academies.
In 2011 he celebrated his 80th birthday and the 60th anniversary of his conducting debut with a special evening at the Bolshoi Theatre in which he conducted scenes from The Sleeping Beauty, the Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov, and Rachmaninovs Second Symphony.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra is known as one of the worlds great orchestras with a reputation secured by its performances in the concert hall and opera house, its many award-winning recordings, its trail-blazing international tours and its pioneering education work. Distinguished conductors who have held positions with the Orchestra since its foundation in 1932 by Sir Thomas Beecham include Sir Adrian Boult, Sir John Pritchard, Bernard haitink, Sir Georg Solti, Klaus Tennstedt, Franz Welser-Mst and Kurt Masur. Vladimir Jurowski was appointed the Orchestras Principal Guest Conductor in March 2003 and became Principal Conductor in September 2007. The London Philharmonic Orchestra has been Resident Symphony Orchestra at Southbank Centres Royal Festival hall since 1992 and there it presents its main series of