Reading Kyle Gann's post about Shostakovich put me in the mood to listen to some funky Russian neoclassic licks, but not my typical Piano Concerto #1 or Symphonies 5 or 8. So I got out a disc of Symphonies 9 and 15 performed by the RPO with Ashkenazy that Mary contributed to our collection. I know Symphony 9 pretty well, from working on the trumpet excerpts. But I didn't know #15 at all. The quotes, especially the William Tell snippets, stand out as unusual for Dmitri, but they really work well. The first few times the "Hi Ho, Silver" quote came in, I got a dreadful feeling that Shostakovich would be undone by popular culture's assimilation of that motive, much like Puccini's quotes of the Star-Spangled Banner in Madame Butterfly. But each time the motive was swept away in chromatic lines that integrated the quote seamlessly with Shostakovich's own language.
The second movement has a wonderfully angry section, full of piss and vinegar. It reminded me of a story that Charlie Geyer, trumpet professor at Northwestern, tells. Charlie is a big proponent of audience outreach, to the point of bringing neophytes to concerts himself and talking with the people afterward. Neighbors, relatives, colleagues from other disciplines, no one is safe from Charlie's musical evangelism. One time Charlie brought a neighbor to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert. This neighbor had never seen an orchestra before, and was very taken by the whole experience. But the first question that he asked Charlie after the concert was, "Why was the trumpet player so angry?" He wasn't referring to any faces made about fracked notes, or any physical gestures the principal trumpeter (Bud Herseth) made. It was all about the sound of the trumpet, powerful and bold, leading the rest of the orchestra. Hearing this story made me listen to timbres very differently.
I'm very taken by this symphony, enough that I'll have to listen to it again on the drive home from Bloomington. But now, I must do some analyses of Elliott Carter for Monday's class (camping trip for the next three days). Hi ho, Metric Modulation.