This piece was written for entirely official purposes as a piece of pure public propaganda on the occasion of a celebration of the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution, but it is so vivacious and brilliant an orchestral firework that it has found a secure place in the international repertoire. The clear model is Glinka’s wonderful overture to his opera ‘Ruslan and Lyudmila’, which combines astonishing orchestral virtuosity and death-defying speed with instantly catchy melodies. Shostakovich, who actually composed his piece at preposterous speed (supposedly in a few hours, although this is probably only an anecdote) and was said to have laughed at its subsequent success, uses and abuses his Glinka model with extraordinary and sarcastic brilliance, speeding the fast up even faster so that a large-scale symphony orchestra begins to race around like the ridiculous accompaniment to a cartoon-film of the Tom-and-Jerry kind. The tune for these hi-jinks is borrowed without acknowledgement from his opera ‘Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District’, where it accompanies the drunken discovery of the corpse of the anti-heroine’s husband and the immediate reporting of the crime to the police.
Shostakovich bookends this already over-the-top work with a colossal and splendidly vulgar fanfare, complete with added brass-band. This fanfare has acquired a separate life of its own as the signature-tune of various sports events, including the 1980 Olympic Games.
Note by Gerard McBurney