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The Intersection of Science, Art, Music & Humanities

Shostakovich Fifth Finale: Leonard Bernstein

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Given the détente-deficient times we are living through and the fact that our Colorado Springs Philharmonic also chose Dmitri Shostakovich's brilliant Fifth Symphony to close last week's season opening, we present a recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting the 1959 New York Philharmonic's version of Shostakovich's Fifth finale for today's Sunday Morning Stop at the Intersection of Science, Art, Music and Humanities.

The 2017 / 2018 Colorado Springs Philharmonic nine-month season is dedicated to Leonard Bernstein and his 100th birthday.


Shostakovich wrote his Fifth Symphony in 1937 in Leningrad when the Soviet Union was in the midst of Stalin's Great Terror. Millions were arrested and tortured then summarily executed or exiled to Siberia and Central Asia.

History has presented Shostakovich as a hidden dissident who abhorred injustice and political repression, but also one who valued social commitment, participation in one's community, and solidarity with the people.

Our symphony program promised Shostakovich's Fifth would open with a broad theme, a constant presence underlying a melancholy in the upper strings, which would pass through a violent transformation during the course of the movement.

The promise was kept.

"The short scherzo was a rhythmic waltz evoking everything from Viennese ballrooms to music boxes. The largo was a somber outpouring that, no doubt, reflected the composer's mood during those terrible years.

"The finale opened with a military quick march, blaring in the approved 'Socialist Realism' style. It quickly went from strident militarism to pensive melancholy and a very somber middle section. It was as if Shostakovich was surveying his environment at the beginning of the finale, grimly pondering in the slow middle section, and, in the final measures, fatalistically accepting it."

In Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony finale recording above, Bernstein treated it differently, which did not please many people at the time, but certainly pleased me, since I found some of last week's Fifth finale's repetitive middle section more than a bit mind-wanderingly lethargic.

Music circle rumors suggest that Shostakovich himself approved Lenny's interpretation, since it added even more to the utter rage and sorrow of his Fifth Symphony. Shostakovich is quoted as saying, "My music was used as a means of Aesopian truth-telling in a society built on falsehood."

Enjoy and have a thoughtful Sunday morning.

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff