Symphony No.4

Dmitry Shostakovich

Symphony No.4 in C minor

Op. 43

About this work

Shostakovich began composing his Symphony No. 4 in September 1935 and put it aside in January 1936 while he went on tour with his cello sonata. On January 28, he read the unsigned editorial on the front page of Pravda condemning him and two of his works and predicting he would come to a bad end if he didn't literally change his tune. He finished the Fourth in May 1936, but withdrew the work while it was still in rehearsal. The piece was premiered by Kiril Kondrashin in the U.S.S.R. in 1961 and in the West in 1962. Although Shostakovich had enough sense to withdraw the Fourth, he also had enough guts to finish it as he started it: as a fusion of his own archly ironic modernism with the deep emotionalism and vast scale of the Mahlerian Romantic symphony. The result is a gargantuan work for enormous orchestra in three movements, lasting more than an hour in performance. The opening movement is a nearly half-hour Allegretto poco moderato profligate in themes, bracing in orchestration, unfathomable in form, and unrelentingly violent in expression. With an opening theme clearly based on the opening theme of Mahler's Symphony No. 6, Shostakovich's Fourth goes its own way toward savage brutality and more savage irony. Through volcanic eruptions and tectonic disruptions, the Allegretto pushes and punches its way to a grinding conclusion. The central movement is a relatively brief Moderato con moto that slithers and sneaks through a blasted landscape, trailing themes from the Scherzo of Mahler's Second over ominous percussion rattling. The closing movement is as large as the opening movement, but set in several contiguous sections: an opening funeral march Largo à la Mahler, a fast and tough Allegro with a two-note ostinato, a sarcastically sentimental Viennese Waltz, a grandiloquent peroration for the whole massive orchestra, and a quietly ticking coda haunted by trumpet calls and a ghostly celesta.