"Poem of the Motherland"
1947, "Union of Soviet Composers" Publishers, Moscow, Score, Piano score.
The score is in the RNMM (Stack 32, Item 18)
Dmitry Shostakovich’s “Poem of the Motherland”
In the autumn of 1947, the music community celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Great October Revolution on a grand scale. Several anniversary concerts were held in Moscow, Leningrad and other major cities of the USSR.
Dmitri Shostakovich prepared two compositions for the anniversary celebrations. The first of them—Festive Overture. The “Poem of the Motherland” for mezzo soprano, tenor, baritone, bass, choir and orchestra, Op. 74— essentially Shostakovich’s first composition in the cantata-oratorio genre.
The exact date the “Poem” was written is not known— the composer only gave the year ‘1947’ in the manuscript of the full score. It appears that Shostakovich began working on the suite in the summer of 1947 when he was at the dacha in Komarovo, and finished it at the beginning of October. The score was submitted to the printers of the Moscow Union of Composers almost immediately and, as early as 11 October, with a circulation of 500 copies, was signed to press. Following the full score, the piano score of the “Poem” was also signed to press in the same number of copies.
A gramophone recording of the “Poem” was not long in coming. As follows from Shostakovich’s notes in his diary, the work was recorded as early as 27 October at the Moscow House of Sound Recording, and this gramophone record is the only one of Op. 74 in the discography to this day. Leading singers of the time, soloists of the Bolshoi Theatre—Stalin Prize winners Sergey Lemeshev, Mariya Maksakova, Aleksey Ivanov, People’s Artist of the USSR Maksim Mikhailov, People’s Artist of the Georgian SSR David Gamrekeli, as well as the choir and orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, took part in the session. The release of the record was announced in the newspaper Vechernyaya Moskva on 31 October 1947.
As we can see, everything was set for rapid popularisation of Shostakovich’s new work, which was expected to be a worthy offering from a leading Soviet composer for the 30th anniversary of the October Revolution. However, the “Poem of the Motherland” was not quite as successful as expected, and the reason evidently lies in its music.
Structurally, the “Poem” is a suite compiled by Shostakovich from the popular songs of several composers (including his own “Song of the Counterplan”) and interlaid with orchestral linking passages. According to Shostakovich, the composition was supposed to express the main milestones in the history of the first thirty years of the Soviet state.
Each of the six quoted songs Shostakovich introduced into the score characterises a specific stage in the history of the birth, formation and flourishing of the Soviet state.
The “Poem”, which consisted of hit songs written by prestigious composers, was unlikely to be rejected in the upper echelons of power. On the other hand, it could have been evaluated as a formal “dismissal”, Shostakovich’s refusal to participate personally and make his own original contribution to the universal musical “treasure trove” of the October celebrations. And his colleagues and critics probably perceived the “Poem of the Motherland” precisely as a pure formality.
On 14 February 1948, Order No. 17 of the Main Administration for Monitoring Spectacles and Repertoire of the Art Committee signed by M. Dobrynin was issued, which listed “Poem of the Motherland” among Shostakovich’s works prohibited from performance. However, it appeared that the authors of the document were not entirely sure about the future of this particular work: the line referring to the “Poem” was crossed out in the original of the Order. A year later, on 16 March 1949, Stalin cancelled the Order.
We have been unable to find any reliable information about the date of the premiere of the “Poem of the Motherland”.