Symphony No. 14
Hall of the Academy Cappella, Leningrad; G. Vishnevskaya (soprano), Y. Vladimirov (bass), Moscow Chamber Orchestra, R. Barshai.
Moscow, Muzyka, 1971
Dmitri Shostakovich’s Archive, rec. gr. 1, section 1, f. 65 (score), 66 (piano score), 67 (sketches)
Dedication: “To Benjamin Britten”
Premiere: September 29, 1969. Leningrad, Hall of the Glinka Academic Capella. Moscow Chamber Orchestra conducted by R. Barshai. Soloists: G. Vishnevskaya and Y. Vladimirov.
October 6, 1969. Moscow. Great Hall of the Conservatoire.
Performance abroad: 1970, Great Britain. Conducted by Benjamin Britten.
January 6, 1971. Philadelphia. Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Conductor E. Ormandy.
“I orchestrated Mussorgsky’s vocal cycle ‘Songs and Dances of Death’ - it is a great work. I always revered it and still do so. Then I thought to myself, that perhaps its only shortcoming is.... its brevity: in the whole cycle there are only four pieces. Then I thought, perhaps I could be bold enough to try and continue it. But at the time I simply didn’t know how to go about it. Now I have returned to the idea again, after listening to a large number of works of great Russian and foreign classical music. I was struck by the great wisdom and artistic power with which the ‘eternal themes’ of love, life and death are presented in them, although I myself use a different approach to the themes in my symphony.
I want the audience to go home after listening to the symphony with the thought: ‘Life is wonderful’.”
“When we played it I had the feeling that it was flying by, this large work, flying by in a single minute. I felt quite unaware of how much time was passing: on each occasion I felt as if I was under some kind of hypnosis.
<...> It is a symphony about death. Shostakovich himself said, as we know, that Mussorgsky’s work ‘Songs and Dances of Death’ had made a big impression on him and that he wanted somehow to continue this theme, but, as he pointed out, not because he had a gloomy view of all this and could see no way out. He said: ’I am protesting against it, protesting that this should not be. That is why I composed this work’. The impact of the music is such that you cannot say the composition is a religious one. Although other requiems are bound up with celestial thoughts, this work is very much of our earth, a very human one. He depicted in it various aspects of the tragic side of human life. I would have said that this is a work which should not be taken on tour - when it would have to be played every day or every other day - because of the impact it has on the performers themselves.”
“Some time in the spring of 1969 I had a call from Shostakovich with an invitation to come to his home and hear a new work. R. Barshai and R. Bunin had also been asked round. Shostakovich showed us his Fourteenth Symphony.
It was difficult for him to play because of the pain in his hands. At the same time he was singing the vocal part in a quiet, almost child-like voice. Even then several lyrical moments (of ‘The Suicide’, ‘The Death of the Poet’, ‘O Delvig, Delvig!’) made a tremendous impression on me. We could feel that this work was particularly dear to Shostakovich. When it was over and we were drinking tea, he said in passing that he had not been able to sleep for a few nights after handing over the score to the copier. ‘I kept trying to work out whether I could piece it together from memory, if the original were to get lost’.”
Symphony No. 14
The Fourteenth Symphony, Op. 135 (1969), is the fourth symphony in Dmitri Shostakovich’s oeuvre that features vocalists and lyrics and the only one that does not introduce a full orchestra. Scored for soprano and bass voices, strings (19 performers) and percussion (3 or 4 performers), it consists of eleven movements. The symphony is dedicated to Benjamin Britten.
The composer began working on it at the beginning of 1969 while he was in the Kremlin hospital undergoing treatment. The score was finished on 2 March 1969.
A major symphonic opus dedicated to the topic of death was something absolutely unprecedented for official Soviet culture. The choice of such a topic demanded ideological justification, and the composer gave it in an extremely conformist text intended for the national newspaper Pravda: ‘Something Nikolai Ostrovsky wrote particularly resonates with me: ‘Man’s dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so … that, dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world—the fight for the Liberation of Mankind.’ I would like the listener to think about this when reflecting on my new symphony, which I dedicated to British composer Benjamin Britten, think about what inspires him to live honestly, productively, for the greater good of his people, his homeland, for the greater good of the best and most progressive ideas that prompt our socialist society to move ahead. …I want the audience to go away after hearing my symphony thinking: life is wonderful!’.
The Fourteenth Symphony was first performed on 21 June 1969 in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. It was an open full‑dress rehearsal of the composition; the solo parts were performed by Margarita Miroshnikova and Yevgeny Vladimirov, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra was conducted by Rudolf Barshai.
The official premiere of the Fourteenth Symphony was held on 29 September 1969 in Leningrad, in the Hall of the Glinka Academy Cappella with the participation of Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano) and Yevgeny Vladimirov (bass); on 1 October, the symphony was performed again in the same place with Margarita Miroshnikova singing the soprano part. The Moscow premiere was held on 6 October in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory (soloists—Galina Vishnevskaya and Mark Reshetin). In all of these performances the Moscow Chamber Orchestra was conducted by Rudolf Barshai.
The first performance outside the Soviet Union was held on 14 June 1970 during the Aldeburgh Festival (Suffolk, England); the English Chamber Orchestra was conducted by Benjamin Britten, the soloists were Galina Vishnevskaya and Mark Reshetin. In the 1970/71 season, the symphony was also performed in many other countries, including under the baton of prominent conductors. In particular, Eugene Ormandy conducted the American premiere with the Philadelphia Orchestra on 1 January 1971 in Philadelphia with Phyllis Curtin and Simon Estes performing the solo parts.
In 1970, the Melodiya Company put out the first gramophone record of the symphony (Margarita Miroshnikova, Yevgeny Vladimirov and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Rudolf Barshai). During Shostakovich’s lifetime, Melodiya released another two records: in 1974, the studio recording of 1972 performed by Galina Vishnevskaya, Mark Reshetin and the Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow State Philharmonic under the baton of Mstislav Rostropovich; and at the beginning of 1975, the rendition by Evgeniya Tselovalnik, Evgeny Nesterenko and the Symphony Orchestra of the Moscow State Philharmonic under the baton of Kirill Kondrashin. The first foreign commercial recording of the symphony was done and released in 1971 by RCA (Phyllis Curtin, Simon Estes and the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy). The recording of the above-mentioned performance of the symphony with Benjamin Britten conducting came out in 1999 on a CD in the BBC Legends series.
- Margarita Miroshnikova (soprano), Yevgeni Vladimirov (bass), Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai. 1969 // Melodiya CM 01933-4, 1970
- Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano), Mark Reshetin (bass), Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai. 1969 // Russian Disc RDCD 11 192, 1994
- G. Vishnevskaya (soprano), M. Reshetin (bass), English Chamber Orchestra, Benjamin Britten. 1970 // BBC Legends BBCB 8013-2, 1999
- Phyllis Curtin (soprano), Simon Estes (bass), Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy. 1971 // RCA Red Seal LSC 3206
- G. Vishnevskaya (soprano), M. Reshetin (bass), Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, M. Rostropovich. 1972 // Melodiya CM 04009-10, 1974
- Yevgeniya Tselovalnik (soprano), Yevgeni Nesterenko (bass), Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Kirill Kondrashin. 1974 // Melodiya C10 05477-8, 1975
- Zara Dolukhanova (soprano), Yevgeni Nesterenko, (bass), Leningrad Chamber Orchestra, Lazar Gozman. 1976 // Melodiya C10 07673-4, 1977
- Teresa Kubiak (soprano), Isser Bushkin (bass), New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein. 1976 // CBS 37270
- Julia Varady (soprano), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink. 1981 // Decca SXDL 7532, 1982
- Makvala Kasrashvili (soprano), Anatoli Safiulin (bass), USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. 1985 // Melodiya A10 00213 001, 1987
- Hildegard Harting (soprano), Peter Meven (bass), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrucken, Myung-Whun Chung. 1986 // Schwann Musica Mundi VMS 002 107, 1988
- Elizabeth Holleque (soprano), Michael Devlin (bass), Minnesota Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin. 1987 // Minnesota Orchestra, 2004
- Lyuba Kazarnovskaya (soprano), Sergei Leiferkus (baritone), Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi. 1992 // Deutsche Grammophon 437 785-2GH, 1993
- Marina Shaguch (soprano), Michail Ryssov (bass), Prague Symphony Orchestra, Maksim Shostakovich. 1999 // Supraphon SU 38902, 2006
- Karita Mattila (soprano), Thomas Quasthoff (bass), Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Simon Rattle. 2005 // EMI Classics 358077-2, 2006
- Larissa Gogolevskaya (soprano), Sergei Aleksashkin (bass), Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jansons. 2005 // EMI Classics 3 56830-2, 2006
- Tatyana Monoganova (soprano), Sergei Leiferkus (baritone), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski. 2006 // London Philharmonic Orchestra LPO 0099, 2007
- Marina Poplavskaya (soprano), Mikhail Davidov (baritone), Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano ‘Giuseppe Verdi’, Oleg Caetani. 2006 // Arts Music 47723-8, 2006
- Joan Rodgers (soprano), Sergei Leiferkus (baritone), NHK Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy. 2006 // Decca UCCD 1187
- Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra. Alexander Sladkovsky. 2017 // Melodiya. MEL CD 1002470, 2017 (13 CDs)