Life Chronicles

In the summer of 1939, Shostakovich began writing the Sixth Symphony.

November 5th - First performance of Symphony No.6 (ор.54).
Music for the cartoon film: ”The Story of the Silly Baby Mouse” (ор.56).
“The Great Citizen” (op.55) - Part II.
The “Autobiography” was written.
On tour as a pianist.

“I am dreaming at the moment of writing a film-opera in accordance with every rule of a realistic musical production. <...> In the theatre action, broken up into a number of episodes, inevitably becomes fragmented. In a film the same action shown in a continuous sequence of imperceptibly changing shots, retains the full impact of an integrated experience. What a gratifying task for a composer - to catch the rhythm of this dynamic sequence of film-shots and to create music which is on a par with the action.”

“My dreams of a film-opera have unfortunately up till now not come to anything. The eternal question as to the co-operation between poets and composers, which has sometimes been successfully resolved in musical drama, has not even been raised in relation to film-operas. Indeed the question of film-opera as such has not yet been raised. All my attempts to enthuse poets, librettists or directors with this idea are in vain so far.
Using ‘Literaturnaya Gazeta’ as a medium I should love to shout out to poets and directors: ’Who would like to get involved in the creation of a film-opera?”

September 28, 1939, Sverdlovsk

“Our mutual friends have told me that you are very angry at me. And rightly so. Of course, I should have told you a long time ago, what I think about you as a figure from the world of art. It would have been better to say this to you personally instead of to Tikhon. It was wrong of me and I deserve your just anger. Why had I not told you my ideas on the above-mentioned question before? Somehow there was no reason for doing so and I was reluctant, since I set great store by my good relationship with you. Neither was I sure, whether you, after hearing my views, would be brave enough to maintain our good relationship, by which, as I have already said, I set great store, since I am fond of you and value you. I blurted out my views about you, when I was feeling really put out by Tikhon Khrennikov’s very bad opera. Trying to understand why a composer of great talent had written such rubbish, I came to the conclusion that there must have been some influence, a very bad influence. It was probably yours. In general, I have noticed your unfortunate servility throughout the whole of our acquaintance. You are an able man, but not among the most inspired. You have no talent and no creative pathos, because of the lack of talent. You do have a good nose, though. You always smell out the fries and how to grab them without much effort or bother. The people who helped you get at the fries were Afinogenov, Korneichuk, Dzerzhinsky, Khrennikov and I. Dear Pasha, it is unpleasant and painful for me to write all this to you, but I have to, because you are angry with me. It bores me and I don’t enjoy it. Let’s talk about it, if you’d like to. If you don’t want to, let me know. If I don’t receive any response to this letter, I shall assume that you don’t want to continue our acquaintance. We shall need to sort out a few details in that case. If we bump into each other by chance we should shake each other by the hand and not punch each other in the face. If you feel we should drop the hand-shakes let me know and we can confine ourselves to a slight bow of acknowledgement or even do without. As regards the second option (face-punching and so on) I am categorically against that.
I hope that you are too. When all’s said and done, I am very fond of you and I shall feel very sad if our good relationship comes to an end.
P.S. I don’t want you to think that I regard you as finished in relation to art. No, the very opposite: with your culture, your knowledge and your abilities you can accomplish a good deal. What you need are more courage, and independence and to stop being a time-server, a toady and a slavish lackey.”

November 20, 1939, Leningrad

“...all the bad things are behind me. The good ones lie ahead. I was somewhat upset by the sad notes in your letter. I am very bad at comforting though. <...> Tomorrow my Sixth Symphony will be performed. Mravinsky is doing everything in his power. It is going quite well. If it does not fail at the first performance and will be performed once or several times more, it will be wonderful. There is still some lack of confidence in the last part.”

December 7, 1939

“All (sic!) composers are indignant at my Symphony. What can I do: I failed to please them, it would seem. However hard I try not to be upset by this, it still grates a bit. Age and my nerves all take their toll.”

Krzysztof Penderecki:

“I became acquainted with Shostakovich’s music long ago, when I was still a student. In Poland at that time we were cautious in our approach to his work, because we always associated Shostakovich’s music with Soviet power. He was an official composer.
We students were already more interested then in the Western avant-garde.
Gradually I began to take a closer interest in his music. In the seventies I started to rehearse his music and at one of my first concerts I conducted Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and then his Ninth, Sixth and Fourteenth. This music was part of my life throughout those years together with other works of his. I often used to conduct his Cello Concerto.
I consider Shostakovich to be the greatest writer of symphonies in the 20th century. There are many great composers, such as Prokofiev, who wrote splendid symphonies. I believe, however, that Shostakovich wrote symphonies as dynamic forms and as symphonic cycles. I also feel that his main interest in music was the symphonic genre, and also symphonic form, which he had deliberately taken over from Mahler, since he was very interested in Mahler, considering him to be the great composer of symphonies at the turn of the century, when symphony-writing was in decline. After Mahler a pause set in, so to speak. Composers were avoiding the symphonic genre. After the compositions of Debussy and particularly Stravinsky, it would somehow have been ridiculous to create a major symphony, as understood in the 19th century.
It would have been impossible. Shostakovich was the first, no, perhaps it was Prokofiev and then later Shostakovich, who started to write symphonies again. These symphonies later became the crowning achievements of symphony-writing in the 20th century.
This music is really close to my heart.
I am convinced that music, and especially great music, cannot be viewed against a background of politics: something similar befell Wagner, because Hitler supported his music and went to Bayreuth to concerts and for that reason in certain countries Wagner, as far as I know, is not performed.
I don’t want to make any comparisons, particularly because I do not want to talk about Wagner now.
Shostakovich’s music is truly universal. Even if for some reason or other he was forced to give titles to some of his symphonies - for example to the Second or Third - or even some non-musical, political titles, this did not in any way influence the music of those works.
The Sixth Symphony is so filled with tragedy, it is the work of a man torn apart by contradictions, who cannot say what he is thinking but can express it in his music. With the sarcasm in the two fast parts he is cocking a snook as it were, showing that he is able to say all this in his music, come what may.
When I was a student, I could not, of course, understand all that, understand Shostakovich’s music, which was brought to us at the same time as Zhdanov’s aesthetics. That is why Polish composers tended to take a negative view of Shostakovich’s music.
Young people, however, fail to understand many things and it is not the composer’s fault that he is drawn into all that political manoeuvring, when his work is used as a political weapon.
I am sure that we musicians should look for understanding outside politics having as our medium the most abstract of all the arts - music.”