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Shostakovich’s Fifth is without doubt one of the greatest symphonies ever written, and it is also one of my personal favorites. This genuine masterpiece represents a mirror image of the world around Shostakovich: in it he depicted in music the reality of life in Leningrad in 1937 from his own perspective. For him this was the ‘worst of times’. After the premiere of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and the official denunciation of the opera prompted by Stalin’s stormy reaction to the work, the composer was closely watched by the Party.(…) This sense of threat however did not silence his need to compose. He had to find a way to cope with the sense of pressure, and to create new music which would please the authorities and keep the danger of public criticism at a safe distance. His Fourth Symphony had been denounced for its dissonances, its bleak atmosphere, and its ending, fading away into silence. So for his Fifth Symphony the composer deliberately simplified his musical language in order to produce a work that might be considered ‘accessible’ by the Party: one that would be perceived as full of positive spirit, with a resoundingly triumphant conclusion.
One might imagine that such dubious circumstances could have destroyed the talented young composer, and turned him into a Soviet propagandist. For on the surface, the piece appears to be full of orchestral bravura, optimistic, ‘happy’. On the contrary, I believe the symphony to be actually extremely tragic….” Krzysztof Urbański (extr)