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Abbreviations (PDF)

This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes / Sikorski for the UK, British Commonwealth (excluding Canada), Republic of Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Israel.

World Premiere
Moscow Conservatoire, Moscow
Vitaly Gromadsky, bass / Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra / basses of the Republican State Choir / Choir of the Gnessin Institut / Kiril Kondrashin
Repertoire Note

1 Babi Yar
2 Humour
3 In the shop
4 Fears
5 A career

With his imposing Thirteenth Symphony for bass soloist, male chorus and orchestra, Shostakovich repositioned himself as a political composer, after the disappointments of 1960 when he agreed to join the Communist Party.  In this work, setting the highly emotional and demonstrative poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Shostakovich reclaims his position as a composer prepared to go against the official grain, writing music addressing moral issues of public concern and ready to make music about questions that the Soviet government would have preferred to have been brushed under the carpet. The Thirteenth is essentially a non-religious and strikingly polemical oratorio about human values, about how people live and die in the modern and especially the Soviet world.

Each movement tackles a different aspect of Soviet life. The first and longest is a lament for the victims of the notorious wartime massacre of Jews at Babi Yar. Both poet and composer found themselves in trouble for the ending of this poem in which the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis is explicitly compared with the fate of the Jews at the hands of the Russians and Ukrainians. The provocation here was the refusal of the Soviet regime to confront or discourage the compulsive presence of anti-semitism at all levels of their society (indeed, as everyone knew, the Soviet government was often to be found actively encouraging anti-semitism). In the following four movements Shostakovich and Yevtushenko turn to the necessity of humour when facing Soviet reality, to the humiliated and wearisome position of women in that society, to the pervasive atmosphere of fear and intimidation which held everyone in its thrall, and finally to the depressing moral choices facing anyone from that or any other society who is subject to pressure from the authorities.

The musical language of this piece is direct and deliberately old-fashioned, looking back to the songs and operas of Shostakovich’s beloved Musorgsky, but transmuting that rich and emotional 19th century idiom into a bleak reflection of the composer’s own time.

Note by Gerard McBurney

Recommended Recording

Ayik Martyrosyan (bass), Russian State Symphonic Capella, Russian State SO, cond. Valeri Polyansky
Chandos CHAN9690

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