Thursday, May 1, 2014

Shostakovich - Piano Trio No. 2 In E Minor Opus 67

Dmitri Shostakovich was refining his technique and losing some of his more radical avant garde style before the official denouncement of 1936, but  the denouncement forced him to try and write works that would curry public and more importantly Stalin's favor.  It was a life or death situation for the composer, and he knew it.

The 5th Symphony was written and titled An artist's creative response to just criticism. The work was a great success officially and with the public and Shostakovich had at least temporarily dodged the literal bullet, even though he put some subtle hints in the work that suggest it wasn't as heartfelt a rehabilitation as it appeared on the surface.  But Shostakovich had learned his lesson well. Stalin and his cronies were not men to be crossed, so Shostakovich wrote music to please Stalin, (all the while inserting subtle nose-thumbing) along with music that he wrote to please himself. He called these "works for the drawer", compositions that he could experiment with out of the public view. Many of these compositions remained in his desk drawer until the death of Stalin.

Shostakovich and Sollertinsky
Shostakovich was one of the great composers of string quartets of the 20th century, as he wrote 15 of them. They stand far and away as the form that he wrote most of his chamber music in.  He wrote the 2nd
Piano Trio in 1944 during World War Two when he was 38 years old.  Shostakovich had come to international attention with the writing of his 7th Symphony earlier in the war, and as the 7th Symphony has been called a requiem for the 25 million Russians who perished in the war,  the 2nd Piano Trio can also be thought of as a requiem; this time for his good friend Ivan Sollertinsky, a critic and musicologist that suddenly died of a heart attack.
  The trio is in 4 movements:

I. Andante -  The work begins with the solo cello playing a theme in high, eerie harmonics. The violin enters, and the piano enters as all three instruments participate in a fugue that acts as an introduction to the rest of the movement.  Part of the fugue theme is incorporated into the first theme of the movement proper. Other themes are presented and the tempo varies as Shostakovich develops them all in the spirit of a folk tune, but with an edge. The movement ends quietly.

II. Allegro con brio -  The scherzo has Shostakovich sarcastically thumbing his nose as notes are repeated and tossed back and forth between the three instruments. The music never settles into anything more than a frenzied dance, and soon ends.

III. Largo -  The piano begins the movement with heavy chords. The violin enters with a sad theme as the piano chords continue to plod underneath. The cello enters and sings the lament as the violin plays a counter melody. This music is in the form of a chaconne, a set of variations over a ground bass played by the piano. The music remains slow and mournful throughout the movement, and ends with a quiet whimper from the strings.

IV. Allegretto -  The last movement begins with a Shostakovian dance tune, a theme that has the feeling of Jewish folk music,  first heard in the pizzicati violin, and then in the piano while both strings play pizzicato. The material of the march is developed at length. The theme from the first movement introduction returns, the dance music interrupts at length until the chords from the third movement chaconne appear out of nowhere. The Jewish dance tune briefly returns, slowly played in the strings, and the movement quietly ends in E major with the strings playing pizzicato over a piano chord.

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