The Symphony No.14, Op.135, by Dmitri Shostakovich was completed in the spring of 1969, and was premiered later that year. It is a work for soprano, bass and a small string orchestra with percussion, consisting of eleven linked settings of poems by four authors. Most of the poems deal with the theme of death, particularly that of unjust or early death. They were set in Russian, although two other versions of the work exist with the texts all back-translated from Russian either into their original languages or into German. The symphony is dedicated to Benjamin Britten (who gave the UK premiere the following year).
Besides the soloists, the Symphony is scored for a chamber orchestra consisting only of strings and percussion. The strings consist of ten violins, four violas, three cellos, and two double basses, and the percussion section (three players) includes wood block, castanets, whip, soprano, alto and tenor tom-toms, xylophone, Tubular bells, vibraphone, and celesta. Interestingly, the percussion section does not include common instruments such as timpani, bass drum, cymbals, or triangle.
The first movement begins with the violins playing a theme reminiscent of the Dies irae, which plays a prominent role in the history of Russian music. Fragments of the theme are developed in various sections throughout the symphony; it recurs in its entirety in the climactic penultimate movement.
The work shows Shostakovich's willingness to adopt new techniques. All but two of the movements include themes using tone rows, which he uses to convey a sense of the abstract. He also makes dramatic use of tone clusters, such as the fortissimo chord illustrating the lily growing from the suicide's mouth in the fourth movement.
The Fourteenth Symphony was a creative response to Modest Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death, which Shostakovich had orchestrated in 1962, as well as to the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia following Alexander Dubček's Prague Spring reforms there. Like Mussorgsky, Shostakovich brings back the subject of death in various images and situations. The Mussorgsky cycle contains only four songs – too few to do justice to Mussorgsky's concept, Shostakovich felt. He proceeded to expand it by selecting 11 poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, Guillaume Apollinaire, Wilhelm Küchelbecker and Rainer Maria Rilke.
Shostakovich attached great importance to this work, commenting in a letter to Glikman: "Everything that I have written until now over these long years has been a preparation for this work".
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
♪ Symphony No.14 in G minor "Lyrics for the death", Op.135 (1969)
1. Adagio. "De profundis" (Federico García Lorca)
2. Allegretto. "Malagueña" (F. G. Lorca)
3. Allegro molto. "Loreley" (Guillaume Apollinaire)
4. Adagio. "Le Suicidé" (G. Apollinaire)
5. Allegretto. "Les Attentives I" (On watch) (G. Apollinaire)
6. Adagio. "Les Attentives II" (Madam, look!) (G. Apollinaire)
7. Adagio. "À la Santé" (G. Apollinaire)
8. Allegro. "Réponse des Cosaques Zaporogues au Sultan de Constantinople" (G. Apollinaire)
9. Andante. "O, Del'vig, Del'vig!" (Wilhelm Küchelbecker)
10. Largo. "Der Tod des Dichters" (Rainer Maria Rilke)
11. Moderato. "Schlußstück" (R. M. Rilke)
Makvala Kasrashvili, soprano
Evgeny Nesterenco, bass
Moscow Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Rudolf Barshai (1924-2010)
Recorded in 1975
(HD 1080p – Audio video)
First publication: August 8, 2014 – Last update: May 6, 2017
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