Written in 1937, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Russian revolution, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 was premiered in Leningrad under the direction of Yevgeny Mravinsky, and it was widely acclaimed by the public. Shostakovich’s Fifth, in fact, is his most played and recorded symphony. But what is biographically important for the composer is that with this work he won back the socialist party’s favor, after having been condemned by Joseph Stalin. Musicologist André Lischke wrote that it is “an autobiographical work, that traces the tragedy experienced and overcome by the composer, and that ends with the final cry of victory, or of defiance. In the midst of the purges [...] the emotional tension of the symphony was perceived by the public with an exceptional acuity.” And Shostakovich himself said of the epic last movement of Symphony No. 5, “It is as if someone was beating you with a stick while repeating to you, ‘You must gloat, you must gloat, your duty is to gloat…’ And you stand back trembling with broken bones, and you start walking, mumbling ‘Our duty is to gloat, our duty is to gloat’ [...].”
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The story of the Symphony No. 5 starts in secret. After the public condemnation of Shostakovich by Stalin due to his political opposition (you can find a documentary about this in our superb archive videos), the Russian composer spent the spring of 1937 at Gaspra, in Crimea, in a rest home for scientists and artists. When they asked him to play something on the piano, words were useless. Shostakovich refused disdainfully. Nevertheless, a melody haunted him, what later became Symphony No. 5. In the early morning, as if he was allured by an invisible magnetic force, the composer stumbled into the music room to play an original theme that he then wrote on a sheet of music paper. Thus was born the Symphony No. 5. It was a strong feeling that drove him, as though a silent call came to him through some muffled cries. In fact, Shostakovich declared later that, “The majority of my symphonies are funeral monuments. Too many people in our land died who knows where. And nobody knows where they are buried. Not even their relatives know it. That is what happened to many friends of mine. Where can a monument be built for them? Music is the only thing that can do it.” Come hear the power of music and listen to Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 on medici.tv!