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Shostakovich (1906-75) - Festival Overture

Although relieved by Stalin's death in 1953, Shostakovich still had it far from easy. His new compositions were getting played, but everything prior to the Zhdanov purge of 1948 was still banned, and he himself was still officially “unpersoned” and living from hand to mouth. Then he was offered a deal: in effect, “Welcome back to the fold, provided you cooperate in a restoration of our world image”. The Festival Overture, written for the 37th anniversary of the Revolution, was part of the deal, and its uncomplicated merriment, whilst reflecting his increased financial security, surely had something to do with not having Uncle Joe breathing down his neck any more. 

In most of his short numbers (e.g. his Ballet Suites), Shostakovich used simple repetitive classical dance structures. Occasionally, as in the finale of the Sixth Symphony, he sidestepped into a developmental mode, spinning out an intoxicating string of variants. So it is here. There are no coded messages, no concealed meanings. This is less than Symphony, but more than Music Hall. You can imagine his thoughts: “First, for the Party Members, Grand Celebratory Flourishes (OK, so it's a bit OTT, but who cares?), then dash off into a first subject specially for the Komsomol, all skirling woodwind, fizzing strings, and good, old-fashioned oom-pah. Ease off the gas, but not the tempo, for a seductively flowing second subject, sumptuous on 'cellos and horns to please the Ladies. Delight the Intelligentsia with a development that makes much more of the materials than they'll expect. Recapitulation? Hmm . . . No, let’s not bother, just chuck in more of the Grand Celebratory Flourishes (well, it's the Party's party, isn't it?). Finally, a quick charge for the line to bring them all to their feet, cheering”. I think it's brilliant, a recipe for a hit if ever there was one.

© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


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