Michael Lear: Part Seven: Russia's Eternal Tragedy
By Michael Moriarty
Shostakovich is Russia. Yes, even the Russia of today.
Heavily, agonizingly, eternally intimidating. A nation forever trapped in its tragic self-image.
Its only Gods? The likes of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and now, God help us, Vladimir Putin.
Despite the impression that the composer had left with many of us, Dimitri Shostakovich was a loyal Soviet.
Russia's permanent love of its own tragedy.
A soul best captured by the composer that refused to leave: Dimitri Shostakovich.
Yet, like his "Peter", Prokofiev knew "The Wolf".
To a great extent, at least in my humble opinion, Shostakovich was "The Wolf" itself.
His compositions have a ravenous appetite.
That is what makes them so thrilling, particularly his 10th Symphony.
Here you have one of its greatest interpretations, by conductor Gustav Dudamel and Venezuela's Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra.
The greatest proponent of Russia as An Eternal Tragedy, Shostakovich poured his vision and his visionary rage into this symphonic masterpiece, the Shostakovich 10th.
Then, with his 11th Symphony, he tells us that at least Russia under the Soviets is better off than it was under the Czar!
As if exterminations didn't occur under Stalin on a weekly and, at times, daily basis.
This version of the Shostakovich 11th Symphony and the introduction to it portray Shostakovich as unequivocally a Russian patriot, supporting, if only by contrasts with the past, the Soviet Union.
In the composer's own words: "This would indicate that I have succeeded, to some extent, portraying patriotism in my music… which is, has been and always will be my aim."
"No musical work can exist without it!"
Perhaps no major musical work can exist without reference to the composer's nationality… even it the reference is severely critical.
What makes Shostakovich's music so powerful?
The mystery not only contained within it but also the mysteries contained within critical estimates of its meanings.
Few critics can completely agree about its meanings.
In addition, the volume of his symphonic works alone leaves one always at a loss for any, all-encompassing estimate of what Shostakovich wished to say.
One can be safe saying the composer's theme throughout all of his work was, "Russia! Russia!! Russia!!!"
The richness of this composer's creations might very well vie with the actual blessings and glories contained within the nation itself.
That impression alone is quite an accomplishment… and… well… listening to one of the composer's more glorious climaxes, here in the 11th Symphony, beginning at around 45:30 into this performance by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales… so quintessentially Russian… rather corny at first… yet once the strings enter around 46:45… the building harmonics of this section are breathtaking!
Then, of course, the pounding, yes pounding insistence of the last movement… rising and rising and rising… until the attainment of a full hours music…
The startlingly quiet strings and a lone oboe.
After the violence of that military and viciously militant parade… then we enter the coda.
Bizarre and bizarrely orchestrated… yet emotionally?
So divinely appropriate.
The crushing force of sheer power!!!!
That's how Shostakovich describes both that symphony's titular meaning, "The Year 1905", but also, having been written in 1957, that nightmare's contemporary relevance. He may well have included Hungary's crushing defeat at the hands of the Soviet Union when Hungary began a revolt in 1956.
The Shostakovich Code
I don't presume to know the code but the fact that there is a code which the composer created for himself, enabling him to criticize Stalin and the Soviet Union while at the same time make him appear to obey the tyrant and his tyranny and please both… sufficiently enough to stay alive… and to even win Soviet prizes!!
His survival alone required genius… as an actor… feigning loyalties that didn't really exist… let alone as the creator of vast amounts of music.
A body of work that attempted to match J.S. Bach's!
How many artists, particularly those attached to Hollywood, are merely pretending to support The Progressive Left and The Obama Nation?!
How many can still maintain a shred of Shostakovich's integrity?
Why? They haven't the genius or the capacity to love which Shostakovich had.
His love for Russia and Russian history?!
That love knows very few equals.
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.