Saturday, November 22, 2014

Site Navigation

  • News and features
  • Events
  • Membership
  • About Us
Radio
Back in the U.S.S.R.

Dmitri Shostakovich just couldn't win. "It seemed he was always trying to make up for some artistic transgression which could be really serious and have serious consequences," says host Bill Morelock of Classical Minnesota Public Radio. Thankfully, Shostakovich's music is much revered today.

September 25th is Shostakovich's 100th birthday, and Classical Minnesota Public Radio will mark the centenary with special programming featuring the music of the great composer. Respected though he is, Shostakovich remains somewhat of a mystery. Some argue that his true creativity was held back by the heavy-handed critique of the Soviet media. Others say Shostakovich was the ideal composer for the Soviet Union, capturing the zeitgeist of the communist system in an oeuvre that includes symphonies, film scores, dance music, even traditional folk songs.

Rex Levang, Minnesota Public Radio's classical music director, casts politics aside. "On the one hand," Levang says, "he wrote symphonies with clearly big, important messages. Then there's a satirical side to Shostakovich. These are two parts of his makeup as a creative person."

One need only look at Shostakovich's fifth and ninth symphonies to glimpse these two sides. At its premiere, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony earned the composer a 20-minute ovation. "The reaction was so strong," Morelock says, "some party functionaries accused him and his supporters of planting the audience. It was so over the top, it seemed staged."

By contrast, Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony seemed a parody. "A composer's ninth symphony is supposed to be a big statement," Levang says, "but Shostakovich's Ninth is on the short side, and a bit cheeky. Beethoven's Ninth it isn't!"

Regardless of the piece, listeners will find magic in Shostakovich's music. They might even see it in his appearance. "He had these characteristic round glasses he wore all his life," Morelock says. "In his youth, he looked like Harry Potter."

(This article also appeared in the September 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)