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In order to truly understand music, you have to understand it’s context. The meaning of a work morphs and changes over time as culture and politics change. To understand what a work meant when it was composed, you have to look at the environment it was composed in. The idea for this program was born from my love of Shostakovich’s viola sonata, who’s haunting melodies and depth captured my heart as soon as I started to play the viola. Although what it means to me has changed over time, the music still haunts me with the same intensity. I began this project in order to understand how Shostakovich’s music could hold such potent intensity of emotion, from exquisite tenderness and rapture, to volatile rage and fear. For this concert, I embarked on a study his life in order to understand his work. I put together a project that combined the study, and performance, of Dmitri Shostakovich’s music in the form of an academic paper, and a concert program exploring the role of political censorship on Shostakovich’s musical style.
The two pieces in this program, the String Quartet No. 4 Op. 83 in D major, and the Sonata for Viola and Piano Op 147 in F Major, differ in their orchestration, style, period, and emotional content. The quartet was written in 1949, and premiered by the Beethoven quartet in 1953. The Sonata was written in 1975 and was the last work that Shostakovich ever wrote. It was dedicated to first performed by Fyodor Druzhinin on Oct. 1, 1975 in Leningrad. These two works span decades, and at first listen seem to show how Shostakovich’s style changed over time. Yet this quartet and Sonata share a common element. The Fourth quartet was hidden in a drawer for a few years after it was composed, waiting on a political environment that would be able to accept it. The Viola sonata was the last music that Shostakovich ever composed, after Stalin was dead and the period of war and terror was over. As I explored the political environment that surrounded his compositional career, I began to see a relationship emerge between censorship and creative freedom, between fear and restriction, which shaped the music he produced throughout his lifetime, and the way he composed at times when he was free of political restriction, and the way he composed when he was in danger. War, political censorship, and a culture seeped in patriotism and fear, are all elements reflected in Shostakovich’s and biography. This struggle for creative freedom at the risk of being censured and silenced gives Shostakovich’s music a potency that is evident long after the political climate he lived under has dissipated. This contradiction and struggle can be seen in the harsh atonal elements, and the floating silver melodies, and it is shared uniquely in these two pieces. Shostakovich said that music was capable of expressing, “pure rapture, suffering and ecstasy, fiery and cold fury, melancholy and wild merriment” At the very least, his music was.
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Rile-Schmidt, Matthea, "Censorship and Creative Freedom in Shostakovich’s Compositional Style: Music as a Tool for the State, or the Soul?" (2017). Senior Projects Spring 2017. 188.