Charley talks with violinist Leila Josefowicz about her appearance with the Colorado Symphony tonight and tomorrow.
Also, Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival
Alisa Weilerstein, cello; Adam Neiman, piano; Colin Jacobsen, violin; Chee-Yun, violin; Max Mandel, viola
Stravinsky: Italian Suite from Pulcinella
Shostakovich: Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57 (7/20/04)
And, Manuel Ponce (arr. Jascha Heifetz): Estrellita
Leila Josefowicz, violin; John Novacek, piano
Philips 462 948 Track 8 3:26
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57
Soon after the premiere of the First String Quartet in 1938, the Beethoven Quartet asked for something they could play with Shostakovich as pianist. “I shall definitely write you a quintet and play it with you,” he said to the Quartet’s leader, Dmitry Tsiganov.
The Piano Quintet was completed on September 14, 1940, between the composition of the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. The first performance took place in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on November 23, 1940. The Scherzo and Finale were encored, a practice so common that the Quintet was often described as a work “in five movements of which there are seven.” It won the Stalin Prize the following May.
"Hearing the Piano Quintet for the first time in 1941," recalled composer Bernard Stevens, "during the first great Nazi assault on the USSR, was for me a profoundly moving experience. I realized the greatness of a musical mind that could speak in such simple and direct terms….With this work Shostakovich spoke with a universal voice. No longer would the understanding of his music be in any way dependent on knowledge of and sympathy for its Soviet background.”
The opening Prelude begins with a solemn piano solo in the style of a Bach prelude. This is then answered by the quartet and followed by a restrained and serious Fugue, which starts with muted strings, later joined by the piano playing low octaves.
According to Ian MacDonald in The New Shostakovich, there are two ways to take this Quintet, either as "pure music," without any topical allusions, or as "a volatile hybrid of the abstract and representational." He points to the next three movements as perhaps reflecting the times in which it was written.
The usual meaning of scherzo as a "joke" is loaded with more allusions. "Far from being harmlessly high-spirited," he writes, "the scherzo is a clumsy rustic dance with brutal undertones….Its hammering of tell-tale repeated notes is loutish, not mischievous, and the 'wrong notes' in the piano part are as sarcastic as those in the second movement of Prokofiev's contemporary Sixth Piano Sonata. This, in other words, is another allusion to the 'revolt against intelligence'--Stalin's generation of cultureless country bullies. In the same way, the return of the keening lamentation of the first two movements in the intermezzo should move the heart--but not to the extent that the mind overlooks the menacing stalk of the piano's staccato bass-line."
"To the Jewish-Gypsy anguish of the intermezzo's closing bars, the finale responds in the manner of a kindly babushka murmuring 'never mind, never mind'--the sound of credulous self-deception (and a version of the 'betrayal' motif, itself to be found on violin in the previous movement). The second subject, announced with naïve grandeur by the piano, inverts the fanfare traditionally played to signal the coming of the clowns at Russian circuses, quickly drumming up such excited throngs of repeated notes that it loses track of its own chords. On cue, the babushka returns, drowsily reiterating 'never mind' in the bass-register of the piano like a cooing woodpigeon, before a puzzled recollection of the Quintet's intermezzo momentarily stills the music's placid motion. But the finale is too foetally asleep to be troubled by the composer's forebodings and its blandness resumes, linking arms with the 'clowns' theme and wandering dreamily off into the wings."
MacDonald relates this to Stalin's dismissal of intelligence that German forces were massing. On June 21, 1941, he said, "We are starting a panic over nothing." Six hours later, the Luftwaffe destroyed most of the Soviet air force, and 3.5 million German troops stormed the border.
In the Quintet, says MacDonald, Shostakovich "stands in storm-light at the edge of a great darkness, crying like Cassandra of coming catastrophe. Hearing him, Russia stirs vaguely in her dreams before rolling over and going back to sleep--a vision at once comic and terrible which could have come from no other composer."