Ten Poems on Texts by Revolutionary Poets(Zehn Gedichte auf Texte revolutionärer Dichter) op. 88 (1951)
Revolutionary poets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (R)
Boosey & Hawkes / Sikorski
1 Boldly, my friends, we march on (Radin)
2 One of many (Tarasov)
3 On to the streets!
4 Meeting on the way to exile (Gmyrev)
5 To those condemned to death (Gmyrev)
6 The Ninth of January (Kots)
7 The shooting has grown silent (Tarasov)
8 They were victorious (Gmyrev)
9 May Day (Kots)
10 Song (Tan-Bogoraz, after Whitman)
‘Ten Poems on Texts by Revolutionary Poets’ is a strange and little-known work. In a sense, it should not work; it is an a capella choral setting of song lyrics and socialist poems from the late 19th and early 20th century and from the early Bolshevik period. It sets them in a style reminiscent of 19th century Russian composers like Musorgsky and Borodin, but with something of Soviet mass-song and popular music as well. But in fact the piece brilliantly and sinisterly succeeds, for the result is dark, dramatic and even at times operatic (the model is clearly the great choral scenes of the opening of Musorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov‘).
This is a work that demands enormous skill and stamina from the singers, the ability to create great masses of choral sound, to change mood and speed. The texts are by no means as bad as their propaganda function would suggest. Some of them are genuinely powerful poems from the earlier years of revolutionary struggle, and Shostakovich captures that power. We are used to a capella choral works being religious in content, and Shostakovich was far from a religious man (although he had a religious upbringing to begin with). But Russian music has quite a long tradition of secular choral music, inspired by the solemnity and techniques of Russian church singing but directed towards other ends. This piece of Shostakovich is a very fine 20th century example of that tradition.
Note by Gerard McBurney