Dmitry Shostakovich. Vocal cycles for Bass. Volume 2

Dmitry Shostakovich. Vocal cycles for Bass. Volume 2

NF/PMA 9916

Text: Yuri Serov. English translation: Sergey Suslov.

Design: Anastasia Evmenova & Oleg Fakhrutdinov

Dmitry Dmitrievich Shostakovich (1906–1975) Vocal Cycles for Bass
Volume 2
1. A Foreword to my Complete Works and a Brief Contemplation in Respect of this Foreword. Words by D. Shostakovich. Op. 123 (1966) 2.52
2. Anti–Formalistic Raree Show (“Anti-Formalistic Rayok”) Words by D. Shostakovich. For bass, mixed choir and piano (1948–1968)


3. Spring, Spring… Words by A. Pushkin. Op. 128 (1967)


Suite to Words by Michael Angelo Buonarroti. Op. 145 (1974). Russian version by A. Efros
4. Truth


5. Morning


6. Любовь


7. Separation


8. Wrath


9. Dante


10. To The Exiled


11. Artistry


12. Night


13. Death


14. Eternity


  Lidia Kovalenko, bass
Yury Serov, piano (1 – 7)


Recorded: St. Catherine Lutheran Church, St. Petersburg, February 2002 (2), February 2003.
Text: Yuri Serov. English translation: Sergey Suslov. Design: Anastasia Evmenova & Oleg Fakhrutdinov

A Foreword to my Complete Works and a Brief Contemplation in Respect of this Foreword was composed by Shostakovich specially for his author’s concert dedicated to his 60th anniversary. Slightly tampering with Pushkin’s epigram The Story of a Versemonger to put it in the first person, the composer then enumerates his many titles generously awarded to him by the Soviet Power in the last years of his life. There is some surprising, almost painful irony sounding in each word, in each phrase of music, strikingly different from satire and humour frequent and familiar with Shostakovich. Eight years after, the composer will say after Michael Angelo, “…I see no threat from luxury’s encumbrance, / I’ve long had nothing here for me to do; / I fear rich apparels like Moor fears Medusa…” This small Contemplation probably is just an attempt to “shuffle off the rich apparel”, to quit the “encumbrance” of the official recognition, which was a drag on Shostakovich no less than the official persecution of the Thirties and the Forties.


In its final edition the Anti– Formalistic Raree Show (Anti– Formalistic Rayok) may probably be defined as a single– act satiric opera or cantata. The genre of the opus is traceable, without doubt, to a similar opus of Modest Mussorgsky (Rayok), and from that piece, to the folk raree show, or the ’pic theatre’. In the early Twenties in St. Petersburg young Shostakovich could still see and hear the last live raree showmen. On holidays they showed in the street their farces, where colorful, often caricature moving pictures (pics or rarees) were displayed with comical vocal comments.
The work on the Raree Show started in May 1948 as a direct response to the events of the early months of that year. These events were the Resolutions of the Communist Party Central Committee of the 10th February, and numerous meetings (some of them lasting for weeks), rallies, and press publications denouncing those belonging to the “anti– national, formalistic line in music.”
It is hard to over– emphasize the pain of the blow caused to Shostakovich by the events. The author of the Seventh “Leningrad” Symphony, which had told the whole world of the horrors of war and of heroic Russian people, and which was performed with enormous success in dozens of countries by the most prominent conductors and orchestras, was ruthlessly and pointlessly criticized in public not only by Party bosses, but also by fellow composers, musicologists, and performers. He was called a composer with “an underdeveloped sense of melody”, a maker of “disgusting” music, “cacophony”, and “brain– twisters”.
Shostakovich was dismissed from the faculty of the Conservatory of Leningrad “as personnel reduction”; the Soviet Union’s largest orchestras and performers ceased to play his music (to be on the safe side). Shostakovich offered excuses, extended “thanks for the criticism”, promised to reform, and assured that he “will try to compose music that is clear and close to people.” He issued an oratorio titled “Song of the Woods”, a number of patriotic mass songs, and music to war movies. And — in the meantime, he was secretly working on the Raree Show, in which he sneered at his degraded critics and colleagues, letting loose his biting irony and sparkling wit.
The Raree Show is the only large work written by Shostakovich to his own words. The plot of the Raree Show is a meeting of ‘music figures and figuresses’ dedicated to “Realism and Formalism in Music”. The Host successively gives the floor to three speakers. The delighted house acclaims the “experts'” speeches. The literary base of the text are the actual declarations of Party leaders of the time (Firstman clearly resembles Stalin, Secondman resembles Zhdanov who was the mastermind of the events of 1948, and Thirdman sounds like Shepilov), their typical speech habits, even wrong accents in words. The role of various citations in the Raree Show music is important. For example, during the speeches of Firstman and Secondman we hear a continuous flourish traditional for such kind of meetings; the speech of Firstman is mainly based on the melody of Georgian folk song Suliko so much loved by ethnic Georgian Stalin; the final episode of Secondman’s speech features popular Caucasian dance Lezginka; the address of Thirdman starts with the tune of Russian folk song Kamarinskaya, followed successively by intonations of Tikhon Khrennikov’s song from popular movie “True Friends”, Russian folk song Kalinka, and finally, in the scene with chorus, the famous chanson couplets from Planquette’s comical opera The Bells of Corneville (Les cloches de Corneville).
The first version of the Raree Show was ready by the summer of 1948. Shostakovich showed it, in secrecy, to just a few of his closest friends. The socio– political changes of the ‘Khruschev Thaw’ in the late Fifties — early Sixties justified hopes for a public performance and publication of the opus, so the composer completed the second, refined version, with an enhanced role of the choir, and with a number of remarks and notes directly related to the behavior of the performers. With the ban on performance of the Thirteenth Symphony of Shostakovich in 1962, and a line of loud political trials in the Soviet Union, the hopes for a public performance of the Raree Show were dumped, but all this urged the composer to issue the third, and last, version of the opus, in which the Thirdman speech scene was extended and amended. According to the composer’s close friends, the Anti– Formalistic Raree Show in its final version was completed in 1968.
Today, fifty years after, the appalling phrases of the Show’s “characters”, and their caricature images are not so up– to– date, and, apart from their historical and political context, cannot be fully understood by the audience, be it in other countries or in Russia itself. We may be primarily attracted today by picturesque musical images of the opus — fireworks of the composer’s ideas, citations, and witty switchovers. The Anti– Formalistic Raree Show reveals covert aspects of the Shostakovich music, and invites us to better understand his inner world and creative motivation. But first and foremost, it is a striking document of that bygone era, an evidence of a great witness.
Spring, Spring… to words by Pushkin is the only finished song of the conceived new Pushkinian string. The bright atmosphere, and even some radiance of the composition (especially when accompanied by piano) is largely consonant to the composer’s disposition in the spring and summer of 1967: Moscow was awaiting the premiere of the Second Violin Concerto and the Blockian cycle, the illness had retreated for a while, and he was in a very good shape.


Suite to Words by Michael Angelo Buonarroti was written by the composer in 1974, one year before his death. On the wave of interest on the sculptor’s heritage aroused by his 500th anniversary, Shostakovich addressed sonnets of Michael Angelo, finding in his poetry motifs surprisingly consonant with himself. Moreover, in this opus the approach to selection of poems seems so utterly personal as nowhere else. It looks like nothing has changed in the world in the last five hundred years. Just as before, “heaven is indifferent to earthly merits”, and as before, “the fierce populace don’t need works of mine Art”; just as before, “‘Tis sweet to sleep, e’en sweeter to be a stone, / When ’round me there is shame and crime alone. / There’s some relief in it when you can’t feel, nor see…”
Another feature of the Suite is the sincerity of love expressions, which is generally not typical for reserved and shy Shostakovich. It was only in his early composition Six Poems by Japanese Poets that the composer permitted himself to be so sensuous. The exclamation ending the second part, “O how much is here for my hands to do”, or the passionate plea in Love, “Dare I, my treasure, / Exist without you, in lasting tortures, / If you are deaf to pleas to mollify the separation? / I do not keep in my sad heart any more / Outcries, nor sighs, nor sobs. / What can I show you, Madonna? Yoke of suffering? / Or my death which is now so nigh?” All these are echoes of a great inner trepidation in which poetry of the great sufferer of the Renaissance fused with music of another sufferer of another time in a delightful emotion of love, which is so representative for any epoch or system of government.


The scenario of the cycle presents a quite clear and orderly plan. Truth as introduction, followed by the three parts Morning, Love and Separation as meditations on private happiness in all its most elevated manifestations. After them, Wrath, Dante, and To the Exiled, three episodes addressing the personality of an artist, about a creator “forever revenged by meanness”. Thoughts on the essence of creativity in Artistry and Night. Finally, Death and Eternity as the epilogue. Having passed all that was predestined, the circle of life closes, which is also verified by a common musical theme pattern firmly joining the Suite into a fresco of a symphony scale.
In the final part, Eternity, some new, never– explored worlds appear. Transcendental trumpets that blew with a grave cold in the preceding piece give way to a childish– naive song. The Macrocosm sounding in the tiny bells of the piano’s higher octaves opens towards the future generations. Just as he himself in the Finale of his Fifteenth Symphony, or Beethoven in his last quartets, the composer parts with all that is earthly. It seems that the creator knows something that cannot be perceived by those now living. Having told his version of the eternal story of life, creation, love, and death, Shostakovich probably had never been so close to eternity, to his own Immortality, as in this amazing composition:
I seem to be dead, but, to soothe the world,
I live as a thousand souls in the hearts
Of all those who love; therefore, I am no dust,
And am not subject to deathly decay.
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