The New Yorker Reviews Beethoven and Shostakovich Symphony Cycles

by ttucker23 on November 21, 2006

Here’s a great article on classical music: The New Yorker Reviews the Beethoven and Shostakovich symphony cycles at the Lincoln Centre. I was made aware of this excellent example of music criticism via a post by Charles Noble on the Daily Observations blog. Sample extract:

Yet the two composers [ie Beethoven and Shostakovich] are not polar opposites. Beethoven, too, has his wry, perverse, morbid, obsessive moods. Think of the transfixingly strange Scherzo of the Fifth Symphony, when the music effectively stops moving and the timpanist drums lightly on the note C like a finger tapping on a pane. All the jubilation that follows can sound like an attempt to forget whatever existential threat the Scherzo poses. Conversely, Shostakovich at his bleakest still offers his listeners slivers of hope, usually in the form of cryptic jokes. The Sixth Symphony begins with an extended, multipart theme, a kind of solemn oration. In the second section, where you would expect to find a rigorous development of the initial material, Shostakovich instead picks out two details—a minor third and a decorative trill—and fixates on them in a fabulously eerie hundred-and-twenty-bar passage, as if to prove that he can hold you enthralled with next to nothing. At that moment, he and Beethoven are essentially playing the same occult symphonic game.

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