The Symphony No. 15 in A major (Opus 141), Dmitri Shostakovich’s last, was written in a little over a month during the summer of 1971. It is said that the composer used five musical notes in the symphony’s theme to spell out the name “SASCHA, his grandson who was nine years old at the time; this was similar to the composer’s use of “Elmira” in the Symphony No. 10.
The composer had a toy shop in mind for the first movement; use of a glockenspiel, as well as trumpet fanfares, drum rolls, and solo passages for bassoon and xylophone make up the brightly-colored, infantile sound world of this movement. If you listen carefully, you can hear some references to the music of Rossini, as well…
Also, it is worth noting that Shostakovich, as he often did in his late scores, includes certain aspects of twelve-tone writing in the music. We don’t know much about this, other than the obvious experimentation with Schoenberg’s work which revolutionized the approaches to composition in the early 1900’s.
Also on this CD is the Symphony #1 which was composed much earlier, between 1924 and 1925; and it was first performed in Saint Petersburg by the Leningrad Philharmonic in 1926. Shostakovich wrote the work as his graduation piece at the Leningrad Conservatory, completing it at the age of 19. It provides a strong contrast against the work composed some 50 years later.
Valery Gergiev is, of course, a terrific conductor for these compositions, and my sense is that we have here two outstanding interpretations of these symphonies.
Here’s a video of the Shostakovich – Symphony No. 15, 1st movement;. Royal Danish Orchestra/Jesús López-Cobos
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Tags: Shostakovich, symphonies 1 and 15, Gergiev