Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev, conductor
From the booklet notes...
A musical anarchist...
Dmitry Shostakovich´s eleventh symphony in G minor op. 103 titled "The Year 1905" was composed in the years 1956 and 1957. In the article " Reflecting on the course of my life" (published in Sovetskaja muzyka 9/1956) the composer wrote this about the work "At the moment I'm working on the eleventh symphony which will be finished this winter. The theme for the symphony is the Revolution of 1905. I feel personally very close to this period in the history of our country. It is one that is strongly echoed in workers songs. I don't know if I'll extensively quote them in the symphony but, of course, it will be closely related to the musical language of Russian revolutionary songs.
On the 9th of January 1905 troops, following the orders of Tsar Nicholas, fired on 100,000 unarmed demonstrating workers, women and children, killing thousands. Abroad this day became known as "Bloody Sunday". There followed plundering and unrest. This fateful scenario colours the four movements of the symphony which carry the following programmatic titles: 1st Movement, Palace Square - 2nd Movement, January the 9th - 3rd Movement, In Memoriam - 4th Movement The Toscin.
The premier of the symphony on the 30th of October 1957 (incidentally the 40th anniversary of the Revolution) allowed one to check the above quoted thoughts of the composer. Yes he largely used revolutionary songs to build the melodic material of the work and which he distributed throughout the four movements. Not less than nine of these songs were used: "Take Heed", "The Prisoner", "Oh Tsar Our Little Father", "The Monarch Exposed", "The Immortal Victim", "Forward March Brave Comrades!", " Greet the Freedom of the Unrestrained Word", "Rage on you Tyrants", and "Warschawjanka 1905". These musical quotes serve a double function. On one side they create a concrete musical relationship to the time of the Revolution, and on the other they are proof of extra musical levels, whose conscious use allows the listener access to the thinking of the composer. Naturally the symphony's content doesn't just contain quotes from other sources, Shostakovich composed motives and themes which are both in oposition to the quotes and also blended with them. Behind these musical quotes lie intense and detailed composing: they were expanded and orientated on the compositional approach used by Shostakovich in his film music. The consequence is a disentangling of the extracts from their isolated context which, through their integration with the movements, gain a new meaning.
On a formal level the single movements are interrelated through intensive thematic linking, non the less there are themes which appear to come more from an elongated "huge symphonic poem" (Meyer) than from a symphony in the usual sense, which can, maybe, be explained by programmatic content. But is the "Bloody Sunday" of 1905 really the only basis for Shostakovich, or did the work have further levels of meaning? In his Memoirs, first published in the USA in 1979, the, and from the soviet leadership coddled, composer gave a surprising explanation „... although I named it "The Year 1905, it refers to the year 1957". It's about the people who have lost their belief because the chalice of misdeeds has overflowed" In reality, under the cloak of the happenings in 1905, Shostakovich had levelled coded criticism at the Soviet aggression against Hungary in 1956 which lead to the violent putting down of the uprising. Shostakovich the composer was treated with perfidious deceit by the authorities, he was feted as an artist filled with promise one minute and the next in mortal danger of falling a victim to the Stalinist purges. Shostakovich forged his own route through this conflict with the authorities. He never entered in an open (and hopeless) dispute with the state machinery or did he follow the official line in a traitorous way. He was much more than a composer, he became a jurodiwy - a holly fool. The holy fool can see and hear what others cannot even suspect. And he reported on this world in a coded way. A type of anarchist without rules. Shostakovich was such an anarchist. A musical anarchist.
English translation: Charles Kenwright