Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Shostakovich Symphony No. 13

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel

According to one review, Kuznetsov’s Babi Yar is: “A disturbing book that screams to be read.”  Truer words were never written. Despite its titular reference to the ravine in Kyiv known as Babi Yar, only the first part of the book deals with the murder of Kyiv’s Jewish population there on September 29 and 30, 1941.  Beyond Babi Yar, the majority of the book is an account of the invasion, destruction, and occupation of Kyiv by Nazi Germany, as eye-witnessed by the young Anatoly Kuznetsov himself.  (The subtitle of the book, “A Document in the Form of a Novel” would more accurately read “A Memoir in the Form of a Novel.”) The prescribed edition of the book came out in 2023, to mark the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.   As can be seen from the copyright dates listed above, this is not a new book.  Nevertheless, given that yesterday’s Music History Monday post dealt with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, subtitled “Babi Yar,” and given that today’s headlines continue to talk about whether factions within the Congress of United States will be willing to support Ukraine against its current invaders, Anatoly Kuznetsov’s […]

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Music History Monday: Shostakovich Symphony No. 13

On December 18, 1962 – 61 years ago today – Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 received its premiere in Moscow.  The symphony stirred up a proverbial hornet’s nest of controversy, and we’re not talking here about your everyday hornet, but rather, those gnarly ‘n’ gnasty Asian Giant Hornets! It was a symphonic premiere that almost didn’t take place, though, in the end, the show did go on.  Nevertheless, the authorities (the Soviet authorities, notable for their heavy blue serge suits, vodka breaths, and deficient senses of humor) did everything in their power to squash the symphony out of existence.  In this they failed miserably, and Shostakovich’s Thirteenth is today acknowledged as not just one of Shostakovich’s supreme masterworks but as one of the most musically and politically important works composed during the twentieth century.  A Good Communist During the late 1950s, Shostakovich was increasingly used by the Soviet authorities as a sort of artistic “figure head,” meant to represent the supposedly “free” Soviet intelligentsia.  In 1960, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) – decided to make the 54-year-old Shostakovich the chairman of the newly founded RSFSR, the Russian Union of Composers.  […]

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Music History Monday: The Show Will Go On!

On December 18, 1962 – 55 years ago today – Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 received its premiere in Moscow. It was a premiere that almost didn’t take place, one that did indeed take place even though officially it did not really take place! Here’s what happened Joseph Stalin – the “great leader and teacher” and butcher par excellence – died in March of 1953. He was succeeded as “First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union” by Nikita Khrushchev. In 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin as being “savage, half-mad and power-crazed” in his famous “secret speech”. Delivered to the 20th Party Congress in February of 1956, the speech was, in fact, anything but secret. Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin initiated a period called the “Thaw”, during which domestic repression and censorship in the Soviet bloc were scaled back significantly, until Khrushchev’s ouster in 1964. The Thaw reached its climax in 1962 with the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and the premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13. Never mind that the Soviet authorities did everything they could to undermine the Symphony’s premiere, and that it was banned outright […]

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Music History Monday: Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13

The Premiere That Almost Wasn’t: Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 Wednesday, December 19, 1962 was significant for something that didn’t happen. On the day before – Tuesday, December 18, 1962 – Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 received its premiere in Moscow with Kirill Kondrashin conducting the bass soloist Vitali Gromadsky, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, and the basses of the Gnessin Institute and Republican State Choirs. The symphony – which set to music five poems by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (who was 29 years old at the time of the premiere) – created a sensation. Yevtushenko recalled: “At the symphony’s premiere, the audience experienced something rare: for fifty minutes, they wept and laughed and smiled and grew pensive.” The Russian-American sculptor Ernst Neizvestny remembered: “It was major! There was a sense of something incredible happening. The interesting part was that when the symphony ended, there was no applause at first, just an unusually long pause—so long that I even thought that it might be some sort of conspiracy. But then the audience burst into wild applause with shouts of ‘Bravo!’ At the time of the premiere, the 56 year-old Dmitri Shostakovich was a Soviet icon, an institution, the most famous and […]

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