Infinite sadness. Fear. Pending violence. I see a man. The man is alone and he walks through the desert. Glaring heat. Sharp rocks hurt is feet. Behind him – nothing. Ahead of him – the unknown. The man kneels down and prays silently. He rises up, stretches his arms towards the sky in a silent cry of pain.
February 1948. The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party lashes out against a number of composers and condemns them as “formalistic” and “alien to Soviet art” after Andrey Zhdanov, a close collaborator of Stalin, had stated that Soviet music was in a deep crisis since “…under the banner of illusory innovation, [the incriminated type of music] conveys a rejection of the classical heritage, of national character in music, and of service to people in order to cater to purely individualistic experiences of a small clique of aesthetes.”
Shostakovich, the master of irony. Shostakovich, the pawn. Shostakovich, the genius. Shostakovich, the believer. Shostakovich, the patriot. A man with multiple facets. A man who continues to fascinate me. During the summer of 1964 he wrote his String Quartet No. 10 in A flat major, Op. 118. It reflects many of Shostakovich’s facets. His tenderness, his love for beautiful melodies, his penchant for the grotesque, the tension that dominated his life and permeates every piece he wrote. The question of life and death of an artist in the Soviet Union that in some way or other haunted him for as long as he lived.
It’s party time and I will have no party without proper music. So here we go, bridging the nowadays-not-so-large-anymore gulf between classical music and jazz. I invited my very good friend Dmitry to this occasion, so please, take a few minutes, and with his Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 1 we will celebrate the fact that another year of a thrilling life – mine – has gone by. May there be many more. Here’s a toast to Dmitry Shostakovich, one of my favourite composers, and to Riccardo Chailly and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, who have recorded the piece!
“Nature gives me more than useless layers of fossilized academicalism”. To whom Edison Denisov may he have referred too? Certainly not to his teacher Dmitry Shostakovich. To the “Union of Soviet Composers” who ostracized him for the influence of Western contemporary classical music on his work? Denisov’s music did not intend to charm the ear and certainly not to conform to the official doctrine of Socialist Realism. It did rather intend to express the composer’s ideas and feelings about the Socialist reality in the Soviet Union, an ambition that the Communist party could not tolerate.