Open a Virtual Bookshop and Support Real Ones!

Reviews, recommendations, books to avoid. What have you been reading?
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Reviews, recommendations, books to avoid. What have you been reading?

Re: Open a Virtual Bookshop and Support Real Ones!

Postby GregB » January 7th, 2016, 8:24 am

I haven't seen the documentary though I have read the article linked to below* about the symphony's Leningrad (now thankfully renamed St Petersburg) premiere performed by a starving orchestra during the great siege of the city. I've never much cared for the symphony myself, although it has its moments and the opening movement is powerful and has a certain grandeur. The marching theme and variations which gathers force with each variation (supposedly reflecting in music the inexorable advance of the German army on the city) has become a well-worn cliché having been played for dramatic effect in so many films and documentaries and, like the 'fate' theme in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, has had its musical impact drained from it through such constant repetition and often banal overuse.

Bartok, who detested the Russians, and Shostakovich in particular as being just another Soviet musical hack and Stalin toady, famously mocked and parodied the theme in his Concerto For Orchestra, one of his last works.** Of course, he was unaware at that time of the hidden anti-Stalinist, and anti-totalitarian per se, meaning ascribed to many of Shostakovich's works, especially in Ian MacDonald's excellent book, 'The New Shostakovich' and - after initial doubts now generally believed to be authentic - Solomon Volkov's transcribed memoirs of the composer, 'Testimony'. MacDonald's analysis of the Fourth Symphony (my favourite) is masterful as a depiction of the grim 1930's in the Soviet Union. (More could be said about this fascinating topic, perhaps on the Talking Music thread in another moment.)

** (It starts just after minute 26.40.)
"I hate reality but it's still the best place to get a good steak."
- Woody Allen
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Re: Open a Virtual Bookshop and Support Real Ones!

Postby different glory » January 10th, 2016, 10:44 am

It's a fascinating topic, indeed! Or several topics, in fact - the importance of culture for national survival, heroism under seige (heroism of many different sorts - and not this siege alone), the dodginess or not of memoirs*, music (and every other art form) as ideology - and the musical conversations of composers!

Latest concert attended here was Sibelius, Violin Concerto, which I really liked - very cerebral, I thought- very much humming with intense turn-of-the-century zeitgeist. (Then there was intermission, and after that the New World Symphony - but you know my feelings that one major work a night is enough!)

*It's a while since I looked at it, but I thought there were serious doubts about sections of Testimony. I haven't come across the MacDonald book, though - and there's another recent addition to the field - Leningrad, Siege and Symphony, Brian Moynahan - which I've never seen, but which has been well reviewed.
That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works. - Psalm 26
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