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Posted October 1, 2010
The least of Shostakovich's moods is the satirical, but it serves as effective contrast to his nobler heroic-tragic and elegiac moods. In his Symphony No. 13 on the World War II massacre at Babi Yar, he gives vent to his satirical muse in the isolated second movement. He calls the movement "Humor" but there is nothing funny about it. Serious iconoclasts of the type bred in Soviet Russia regard "humor" as a means of expressing protests against bad leadership. In the words of the concluding poem by the work's unaccompanied reader, "Everyone is a leader but no one leads." Despite Shostakovich's frequent displays of musical wit, the great feature of his music is its dead earnestness. It reminds me of Robert Frost's complaint that New York critics were judging him by the false standard of Russian fiction without regard for how "unterribly" life goes in America compared to Russia. What could be more perfectly terrible than the lugubrious movement "Fears" based on life spent under tyranny? The symphony's last movement "Careers" draws out the standard liberals' stale plum Galileo-- a discoverer of truth employed since his time to discredit greater truth. In 1962 when the symphony premiered, Russians needed heroes to hang their idealism on. Galileo served as well as any. Oops, the Galileo movement returns to the satirical vein and I was listening for a heroic finale. The symphony's program dictates a persistent theme of knuckle-wrapping chastisement. There is something "terrible" even in that.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.