The Gadfly

Dmitry Shostakovich

The Gadfly

Op. 97a

Recommended recording

Curated by Guy Jones, Head of Curation

About this work

When Shostakovich wrote this film music, the propaganda machine had so far shut down that he was able to write without ideological interference and this music reflects the advantages of this unaccustomed liberty. The story involves the rebellion in the nineteenth century of the Italians against the Austrians. The structure of most of the pieces is a simple one of A-B-A. There are more selections in this suite than in most of the film music suites, a mixed blessing since four (seven through ten) of the twelve sections are very much alike in their somberness and this produces a lack of balance.

The overture is almost Handelian in its broad nobility. The second section is a graceful dance with a middle section with oboe and clarinet. The Fair is appropriately festive with muted brass and tricky tympani. The Interlude is a sober string meditation with low reed accents. The Barrel Organ Waltz is a waltz in form but a polka in feeling. It has glockenspiel accents and the close is like a carousel slowing down to a stop. The Galop has skipping, even stuttering, strings and uses the snare drum to great effect. The Introduction, Romance, Intermezzo and Nocturne all express melancholy or profound sorrow. The sameness of mood is relieved by differences in orchestration. The Introduction uses oboe and clarinet in the second statement of the main theme. There is a violin solo in the Romance and a viola solo, followed by a cello solo, in the Nocturne. The penultimate section (Scene) has a Finlandia style opening, rich instrumentation and dramatic music punctuated by trumpet cries. The Finale opens ominously with a martial sound and long lines of trumpet calls and swirling wood winds. After a reprise of the main Overture theme, the music surges to a dramatic close.