Practicing Shostakovich this week, along with his comrade-in-angst Mieczyslaw Weinberg, for a concert with ACME. I haven’t much thought about Shostakovich’s musical language since sophomore year of high school, when my attractions tended toward the loud, the dissonant, the minor-mode. Shostakovich symphonies were just the ticket.
It’s presenting me with an interpretational challenge this time around—what to do with all the filler, the stuffing in between the themes. There’s so much of it, both in the Shostakovich and the Weinberg (which sounds a bit wackier, maybe just because I wasn’t familiar with it), page after page of passages like the following:
One of the first great mysteries of writing music was, for me, just this—how to stuff a piece so it wasn’t just a theme, repeated a few times. What was all that musical caulk filling in the gaps? What do you do after you’ve stated your theme (and restated it, in Weinberg’s case)?
It’s still kind of a mystery to me, what fills in the gaps in Shostakovich. We’re told the stuff is somehow “political”—that it’s purposely banal, or ironic—saying lots of words and meaning the total opposite. How to convey that in a performance, though? Powerless as music is to communicate a concrete thought, is it even worth trying? Maybe the best I can hope for is to shout “Loud, Dissonant, Minor”, and the rest will take care of itself.
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