Music Born Of Fear Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5


Following its premiere there was widespread speculation—from an ‘official’ review by Alexei Tolstoy to Shostakovich’s son Maxim’s remarks many years later—about just what Shostakovich was saying. Reading how others interpreted the music may help you decide what you think this controversial symphony means.

alexey tolstoy

“This movement is a light-hearted respite from what had come before.”
—Alexei Tolstoy

But Shostakovich’s son Maxim disagreed with Alexei Tolstoy and offered a much more sinister interpretation.

Maxim Shostakovich

“The critics call the second movement a Mahlerian waltz. I strongly disagree. Mahler was in his tradition, but this is not a waltz. It is the aggression of a soulless negative force. A machine of destruction."
—Maxim Shostakovich

Clearly the music affords widely varying interpretations. Compare the way that Maxim describes the tune of the Trio with the descriptions by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony's concertmaster, Alexander Barantschik:


“And then there’s a deluxe dance master with his little kit violin and his rubato raffiné.”
—Michael Tilson Thomas

Alexander Barantschik

“In the middle of that movement, suddenly a little ballerina starts a dance given to the violin solo.”
—Alexander Barantschik

Maxim Shostakovich

“Reh. 57, a violin solo, is a child’s voice from beneath a soldier’s boot. It is not a waltz. The flute repeats the solo, a defiant fist is raised.”
—Maxim Shostakovich

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