Symphony No. 5
Leningrad Philharmonic Bolshoi Hall; Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Yevgeni Mravinsky (conductor).
Moscow, Leningrad, 1939
Manuscript lost. RSALA, rec. gr. 2048, inv. 1, f. 6 (sketches, piano score); the Glinka All-Russia Museum Association of Musical Culture, rec. gr. 32, f. 273 (sketches)
Premiere: November 21,1937.The Great Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonia. Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Leningrad Philharmonia. Conductor Y. Mravinsky.
Premieres abroad: June 14, 1938 in Pleyel Hall in Paris. Conductor R. Desormière.
May 1940. New York, Orchestra of the New York Philharmonia Conductor A. Rodzinsky.
First Edition: Score, “Muzgiz” Pubishers, Moscow, 1939.
“A long period of inner preparation preceded the birth of the Fifth Symphony. Perhaps that is why the actual work on the symphony only took a relatively short time (for example, I wrote the third part in three days) ...
The subject of this symphony is the shaping of the individual. I saw man with all his experiences as central to the idea behind this work, which is lyrical in essence from start to finish. The finale of the symphony provides an optimistic, invigorating outlet for all the tragic tensions of the earlier parts.
Sometimes the question arises here as to whether the tragic genre is legitimate at all in Soviet art. In such discussions true tragedy is often confused with a sense of doom and pessimism. In my view Soviet tragedy as a genre has every right to exist. Yet the content has to be imbued with a positive ideal, like the life-affirming pathos of Shakespearean tragedies. In musical literature there are also many pages of genius, where the stern dramatic characters of Verdi’s and Mozart’s Requiems are able to fill men’s souls not with weakness and despair but with courage and the will to struggle...”
Symphony No 5
The fifth symphony was completed and performed for the first time in 1937. “The birth of the Fifth Symphony was preceded by lengthy internal preparation,” related Shostakovich. “And perhaps because of this, actual work on the symphony went relatively quickly (for example, I wrote the third movement in three days).
After writing the drafts of the first three movements rather quickly, the composer apparently slowed down his work on the symphony, and composition of the finale and writing of the score as a whole took much longer.
Direct work on the symphony, which began on 18 April, continued until 20 September, and possibly until the end of October 1937, that is, for no less than five, and perhaps even six months.
The premiere of a new symphony by a disgraced composer just recently the target of public persecution for compositions written for the music theatre and who had removed his previous symphony from the repertoire apparently did not interest any of the venerable conductors. Yevgeny Mravinsky, a young and little-known composer at that time who had just recently taken up the rostrum of the Leningrad Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, was assigned performance of the symphony.
The premiere of the symphony was held on 21 November 1937 in the Grand Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic and was an absolute and unprecedented success. Composer Maximilian Steinberg, Shostakovich’s professor from the conservatory, wrote in his diary: “The ovation was stupendous, I don’t remember anything like it in about the last ten years.” “During the finale,” testifies another contemporary, “the audience, one by one, began involuntarily rising from their seats. ... By the time it ended, as though possessing some truly electric force, the music had brought the entire hall to its feet. The thunder of applause was so immense it shook the columns of the white philharmonic hall, and Mravinsky raised the score high above his head as though to show that this tumultuous applause and shouting was not for him, the conductor, and not for the orchestra, but for the music—the music!— and for the composer of the Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich.” The applause, which continued, according to eyewitnesses, for about half an hour, assumed a demonstrative nature. “The audience ... put on a show to raise the roof—the ovation was rabid and demonstrative [in response] to all the persecution poor Dmitri had been subjected to,” artist Lyubov Yakovleva wrote in her diary after the concert. “Everyone kept repeating the same thing: he retaliated and retaliated well. D.D. came out onto the stage as pale, as pale as could be, biting his lips. I think he might have burst into tears.” “It was an absolute triumph,” recalled Shebalin. “Dmitri Dmitrievich was summoned onto the stage so many times it almost became a demonstration—after ‘Muddle Instead of Music’ and all the rest. Ivan [Sollertinsky] was very concerned about D.D., he and my wife tried to stop him as best they could from going out onto the stage and led him away.
The symphony aroused a furore in the press—about twenty articles were published. After the Moscow premiere, reviews in the central newspapers appeared almost every day for a week. Discussions were held on the symphony in the Leningrad and Moscow unions of composers. Professional critics and well-known composers, musicians and performers came forward with assessments of Shostakovich’s new work.
Despite the overall unanimously positive assessment of the work, there were also quite a number of negative statements in the press, which at times were rather harsh. According to Alexander Ostretsov, “the spirit of suffering [in the symphony] was in some places raised to a naturalistic shout and howl”. The finale of the cycle was criticized with particular frequency. Here, wrote Israel Nest’ev, “the sense of humanity and vivacious emotion is lost, which was so vividly expressed in the first three movements.” He also warned the composer against “exaggerating exclusive subjective human emotions” and against “excessive sensitivity in showing” these emotions.
The composer himself, however, considered the Fifth Symphony a great creative achievement. “I like this composition of mine very much,” he said. In 1940, during a conversation with writer Marietta Shaginian, to the question of which of his works he considered his best, the composer first mentioned the Fifth Symphony. At the same time, in an interview that was principal and concluding in nature, he said: “One of the central works in my creativity was written in 1937, the Fifth Symphony.”
By the end of the 1930s, the symphony had acquired widespread international renown, and subsequently became one of the most popular pieces in the world symphonic repertoire.
- Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Ye. Mravinsky. 1938-1939 // BMG Melodiya BVCX 8020, 1998.
- Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski. 1939 // Victor 15737-42, 1940.
- Cleveland Orchestra, Artur Rodzinski. 1942 // Columbia 11861-5D
- New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein. 1945 // Symposium SYMP CD 1295, 2002.
- New York Philharmonic Orchestra, A. Rodzinski. 1946 // AS 631, 1991.
- Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitsky. 1946 // AS 571 (mono), 1991.
- Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Ye. Mravinsky. 1954 // MK D02283-4 (mono), 1954.
- Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, A. Rodzinski. 1954 // Nixa WLP 20004 (mono), 1955
- Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, Aleksandr Gauk. 1957 // Brilliant Classics 8866
- Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy. 1958 // Scora Classics scoracd 005 (mono), 2004.
- Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, L. Stokowski. 1958 // Moscow Conservatorie SMC CD 0030, 2008.
- New York Philharmonic Orchestra, L. Bernstein. 1959 // Columbia ML 5445 (mono) and MS 6115
- Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Karel Ančerl. 1961 // Supraphon SUA 10423 (mono) and SUA ST 50052, 1965
- Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Kirill Kondrashin. 1964 // Melodiya C0909-10
- Philadelphia Orchestra, E. Ormandy. P 1964 // Columbia MS 7279, 1969
- Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling. 1966 // Harmoni Mundi HMX 2905255, 2002.
- USSR Symphony Orchestra, Maksim Shostakovich. P 1970 // Melodiya CM 02353-4
- Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Arvid Jansons. 1970 // Altus ALT 094 12004, 2005.
- All-Union Radio and Television Largo Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Fedoseyev. 1975 // Melodiya C10 06515-6, 1976
- USSR Symphony Orchestra, Yevgeni Svetlanov. 1978 // Melodiya C10 10303-4, 1978
- Cleveland Orchestra, Lorin Maazel. 1981 // Telarc TE 10067 (digital)
- Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink. 1981 // Decca SXDL 7551 (digital), 1982.
- USSR Symphony Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov. 1981 // Revelation RV 10025, 1996.
- Berlin City Symphony Orchestra, K. Sanderling. 1982 // Deutsche Schallplatten ET 5168
- National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, Mstislav Rostropovich. 1982 // Deutsche Grammophon 2532 076 (digital), 1983.
- USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. 1984 // Melodiya A10 00103 009 (digital), 1985
- Scottish National Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi. 1988 // Chandos ABRD 1336 (digital) and CHAN 8650, 1989
- Kirov Orchestra, Valery Gergiev. 2002 // Philips CD/SACD 470 651-2PSA, 2004
- Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko. 2008 // Naxos 8.572167, 2009